Using God’s Law in Vain
Jesus was faced with a dilemma. Before Him was a woman condemned to die for the sin of adultery. Also present was the group of self-righteous men who had brought her there.
Hoping to find a charge to bring against Him, the Pharisees asked Jesus what they should do with this woman since the Law of Moses said that she should be stoned. Jesus had before Him a woman who had broken God’s law and a group of men who took God’s law in vain. What God had given to His people to examine their own hearts and stand convicted before Him these church lawyers used as a weapon to bludgeon their enemies and prosecute them for transgressions – real and perceived.
We as Christians can be those same hypocritical Pharisees, abusing God’s law and taking it in vain. This has become particularly commonplace regarding the Ninth Commandment, (false witness).
Sometimes we falsely accuse others of violating the 9thCommandment. Other times we accuse them rightly, but do so with a lack of love. In such a case God is no more pleased with us than He is the liar. Wielding God’s law as a weapon is taking it in vain.
With this in mind, we should be exceedingly careful and ask ourselves some important questions before we begin accusing others of violating the 9th Commandment.
1) Am I using the Ninth Commandment in much the same manner as terms like “racist” or “homophobe”, to shut down conversation and unfairly tarnish another person?
Friends, if you are doing this then you are being cavalier with God’s law. God’s law is not a debater’s tool or tactic. Using the Ninth Commandment as a means of hiding yourself or of running cover for someone else will find you in worse condemnation than that person you have accused. Stop using the Ninth Commandment litigiously to shutdown conversations. Doing so, in and of itself, is a violation of the Ninth Commandment. God’s law will not be mocked.
2) Am I using the Ninth Commandment in an attempt to avoid accountability?
Churches, like the PCA, are connectional. We keep oversight and accountability over one another. If mankind, including Christians, was not sinful there would be no need for oversight. As things are, congregations and sessions must watch over one another. Presbyteries are a means of oversight and accountability for the teaching elders and churches that belong to them and the denomination is a means of oversight and accountability over presbyteries as well as our various institutions.
Recently, one of those institutions, Covenant Theological Seminary, made a decision to distance itself from the Revoice Conference via a video that was made public. Many of us are very thankful to Dr. Dalby for finally clarifying that CTS does not advocate for queer theology or people identifying as “Gay-Christians”.
What was troubling, though, was his lurching into the statement that “Much of what is being said about Covenant Seminary is sinful, slanderous violation of the Ninth Commandment.” That might possibly be, but it is also the case that much of what is being said about Covenant Seminary is of the plain old accountability type. Couple this with the lack of humble spirit shown by Dr. Dalby in the video, and many were left with a sense that he sought to erect a barrier against accountability.
The bottom line is that even if someone has slandered you, pointing to violations of the 9th Commandment to deflect and avoid answering probing questions is wrong. Do not abuse God’s law as a means to shirk accountability.
3) Am I using the Ninth Commandment as a weapon to attack or punish my enemies?
The point really should go without saying, but, unfortunately, it must be said. Within the PCA we have documentary evidence of a presbytery in the past who did not like the fact that an article, unflattering to one of their friends, was posted on a popular theological news aggregate site. Their ultimate recourse? It was to bring charges against the editor of the site for a violation of the Ninth Commandment! The charges were so tenuous that the man’s presbytery was able to investigate and dismiss the charges without any censure to the accused.
If you plan on using a claim of violating the Ninth Commandment for vindictive purposes, drop the idea now.
4) Am I applying the explications laid out in WLC 145 too loosely or broadly towards someone else?
A practice has erupted of throwing out, like a net, the broadness of the Westminster Larger Catechism question 145 looking to ensnare others within its minutia. The Catechism is so broad, that most anyone can look to accuse another of a nit-picky violation. If you are straining at gnats to make hay about someone having violated the 9th Commandment, you have become quarrelsome and a clanging cymbal. Like a Pharisee you abuse God’s law to advance your own cause. Think about the gravity of that for a moment.
5) Am I assuming a foul motive in another in order to apply the 9thCommandment to them? In other words, am I violating the Ninth Commandment to accuse someone else of doing so?
This is sort of self-explanatory, but, what is good for the goose is good for the gander. When you are accusing someone else of assuming faulty motives against another, do you have to do the very same thing to arrive at your accusation?
6) Am I feeling self-righteous, condemning and finger-waggy?
Friend, never should a Christian be gleeful about seeing another person in sin, especially not another Christian brother or sister. But, when we do find them there, we are told to restore them gently and to keep watch lest we too be tempted. Going public with a trumpeted claim of “We’ve been violated!” and “Repent or we’ll bring charges” is far from what Christ has commanded we do.
An air of condemnation and self-righteous pride only drives the fallen brother or sister deeper into their sin. There is a reason why Jesus tells us to go to a brother personally and tell them of an offense.
If you are feeling self-righteous, or finger-waggy, this is an indication of a sinful spirit in you and you are the one who needs to repent.
A pastoral note
God’s law is holy and good. It has been given to us as a means of measuring ourselves against God’s standard and for recognizing how far we fall short. This includes the Ninth Commandment. It is especially important that we consider it as we live in a social media world where many platforms seem to bring out the worst in us.
There have been a number of good articles written lately calling us as Christians to be mindful of how we conduct ourselves in light of the Ninth Commandment. One such article which convicted my heart was Tim Challies’ The Sins Forbidden by the Ninth Commandment in the Social Media World. In it, he urges us as Christians be much more circumspect and careful about how we engage others on social media, and he does so by properly using the Westminster Larger Catechism question 145, not to point fingers and condemn, but to properly point us towards God’s calling for us as His people.
Friends, take the Ninth Commandment very seriously, but let us find the planks in our own eyes. By seeking the specks in others’, we risk using God’s law in vain.