Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)
The ten commandments were given as the ruling code of law for Israel, and was a constitution for their government. For this reason, we notice the ninth commandment appears as a regulation for judicial procedures and for those who conduct the courts. This is certainly true, but as we learned before, all the commandments are broad in governing all parts of our everyday lives. Thou shalt not bear false witness extends beyond the witness stand in the court of law to every dealing we have with every person. God never gives an excuse to lie even though we know lies sometimes protect people, may even promote their welfare in some degree, or in general may be told for the greater good.
It is the last of these that colors my article today—lies that are told for the greater good. Surprisingly, this is the excuse for ministerial lies. I will cover this aspect of lying more extensively in a later message, but it strikes me today as important because of what I heard recently from the pulpit of a fundamental Baptist pastor. I am very sensitive to what I term ministerial lies. I find no support for it in any place in scripture. Further, it destroys the integrity of the preacher who tells them.
At this point, you may be thoroughly confused. What are these lies? They are varied, but the several I just heard were fabrications of doctrine assigned to another group which the preacher claimed represented their beliefs. These false accusations were hurled for ridicule and were attempts to make the one who told them seem to be a defender of truth, a security force against heresy in his church. In this case, the preacher fabricated a conversation and debate with a man who teaches the doctrines of grace and proceeded to tear down doctrines the man did not believe. In other words, the preacher built a straw man to attack, and with what he described as his “debating prowess,” he tore down the straw man and conquered the gainsayer.
All of this may seem insignificant to you, but on this day, it is very significant to me. The preacher that was belittled, lied about, and ridiculed was me. The man was unable to defend his doctrine on its own merits, so he chose to invent some for me that nobody like me believes. Our Baptist churches are in sad theological shape when preachers resort to lies to make themselves appear theologically astute. The most unfortunate part of this encounter was not what he did to me, but to those in his own congregation whom he owes the truth. At times, he belittled them too for their lack of understanding. The only question we need ask is why don’t they understand? This man has been their teacher for 15 years—why don’t they know anything?
My point today is that it is unconscionable to tell a deliberate lie, and a thousand times worse if it is a ministerial lie. The pretense is that it will result in a greater good. If the man cannot defend his doctrine fairly, what else will he do? To maintain it, he must lie or else his ignorance is exposed to his congregation. The greater good is to protect his false integrity. If he had any integrity, he would deal with the real issues and take his lumps fairly and squarely.
I hope you have confidence in this Baptist pulpit. If you disagree with me, we can discuss it. But I will not resort to any lie to uphold any doctrine. Our doctrine stands without the support of lies. It is just that good because it is the doctrine of God.
Pastor V. Mark Smith