Free Speech and the Ninth Commandment

            Freedom of speech has been one of the hallmarks of the United States and is the First Amendment to the US Constitution, but it is under attack in all corners of our nation today and almost everywhere throughout the world. Christians are being denied their freedom of speech for such innocuous reasons as wearing a tee shirt which has the name of Jesus on it. Several years ago, my wife and I were in Frankfurt, Germany and we saw a man there wearing a tee shirt that said, “—- Jesus.” I guess that is permissible with our modern world, but we Christians are are accused of offending others if we express our love for our Savior.

            The attack on free speech has also entered into the church. An acquaintance, a former seminary professor, wrote me recently an email in which he obliquely accused me of breaking the Ninth Commandment. I confronted him about that accusation and he neither denied it nor apologized. He referred to Sam Logan’s book, The Good Name: The Power of Words to Hurt or to Heal. On the basis of Logan’s thesis, this acquaintance stated the following: that we never have the right to denunciate a view we find hard to accept unless we have attempted to talk it over with our opponent first; that if we still think they are in error, we must deal with the matter through the church courts; and, that until the church courts agree with us, then we must remain completely silent. That is my acquaintance’s view of what the Ninth Commandment requires.

            Many of you know that I wrote a book against the Federal Vision, Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision. Within a year after my book came out, Doug Wilson waived the white flag of pretended surrender and said he did not want to be called FV anymore—though he also said that none of his views had changed. Others have also written against that heresy. The FV proponents used to chastise anyone who spoke against their teaching as violators of the Ninth Commandment. They would say, “You need to talk with us, so we can help you understand what we are saying.” I always thought it was humorous that the FV people touted their views as being for the common church members, but yet it is so deep that the best theologians have to receive special tutoring before they can understand it.

            Someone might ask, “What is the harm of just going to talk with someone about their views.” Well, there are a couple of reasons. First, there is the danger you can be deceived in so doing. A well-known pastor and author set out to write a book on justification to counter the New Perspectives on Paul. He allowed N. T. Wright to read and make comments on his manuscript as he was working on the book. He thought that was only fair. So, he published his book and he moved more in the direction of the NPP and away from the reformed view. Now, that minister is very confused on justification by faith alone. But… N. T. Wright wasted no time in writing a book to counter this American minister. Wright wrote that there was simply not enough time to let the other minister review his work before it had to go to print. In other words, that little matter of talking with our opponents only works one way for heretics. They are always quick to put out their new views without conferring with the church, other ministers who disagree, or with their church courts. Yet, they expect us to play by a different set of rules and if we do not they accuse us of breaking the Ninth Commandment. That is one reason not to go talk with such people before you counter their heresies.

            Here is a second reason. Heretics are deceivers. We are to warn against them. We are never told in Scripture to try to sit down with them and understand their position before we open our mouths to refute their heresies. We are warned against false witness, but not against true witness. We still have the right to be witnesses against heresy. Heretics, though, will try to deceive us. A friend gave me a great illustration of that recently. This friend’s wife used to attend a church where Doug Wilson would often speak. My friend knows Wilson and was recently speaking at a conference where Wilson was also speaking. So, Wilson says to my friend, “I don’t know where the term Federal Vision even came from.” My friend responded, “Well, Doug you and some others wrote a book and called it The Federal Vision. That is where it came from.” Wilson responded, “O, yes, that is right.” Anyone who believes that Wilson just had a bad case of amnesia is a little too naïve for my liking. It proves a point. If you go and talk with such people, do not expect them to tell you the truth. They will not do so. They are deceivers and they are going to do everything they can to make you think their doctrine is sound. The whole history of the church proves that point.

            This wrong-headed focus on the Ninth Commandment is a way in which the modern heretical church is trying to silence anyone who holds to orthodoxy. The view that is set forth by some is a denial of the rights of protest. It would make Martin Luther wrong and a violator of the Ninth Commandment for refusing to be silent when the Church had spoken. It would mean that the PCA, the OPC, and numerous other denominations were wrong because they split apart from denominations that did not hold to their views. It would even mean that you really cannot take the matter to Presbytery without being silenced as a slanderer of the brethren. It would mean that Paul was wrong when he rebuked Peter to his face in front of others and even wrote about it. It would mean that Jesus was wrong for breaking away from the Jewish Sanhedrin instead of simply submitting to their supposed collective wisdom. It would mean that Paul was a slanderer when he said he had handed Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan so that they would learn not to blaspheme. It would also mean that we would be prohibited from speaking out against any heresy from the past (where the proponents are deceased) or against any present heresy where factors prevent us from meeting such people in person. In other words, the Church would be subject to ravenous wolves and there would be nothing we could do about it. Such an interpretation of the Ninth Commandment is a monstrous idea that will cause great harm to the Church and is already doing so.

            The fatal flaw of this ill-advised view is that such people do not distinguish between bearing true testimony and making a false witness. The Ninth Commandment does not forbid us from bearing a true witness to what a person says, preaches, or writes. We are only forbidden to bear false witness. We can witness to what they have written or said as long as our witness is true.

            There is another side to this whole matter. I have not read Sam Logan’s book and can make no comment on it. My acquaintance, though, wrote me that Logan makes a very persuasive case that unless we talk to people in depth and really try to understand them, then we are guilty of hurtful and slanderous words. I think that is looking at the wrong end of the stick. Herein is the lesson. If you are going to preach something, if you are going to write something, then you better make sure that what you write is true. If you do not make sure of that and take pains to prove it as such, then you are the one who is guilty of breaking the Ninth Commandment. You are the one bearing false witness to the truth of God. If someone calls you out for your false teaching, they are not guilty of slander. False teachers are the slanderers. The heretic is the one who has broken the Ninth Commandment by bearing false witness to the truth.  

            Of course, my acquaintance never referenced the Federal Vision. Rather, he equivocated on the matter of same-sex attraction, homosexuality, and Critical Race Theory. He was trying to make me feel guilty for standing against those heresies. He was obliquely accusing me of being guilty of slander. After admitting that CRT has Marxist roots, he then equivocated about what it just means to some people today. Here is a suggestion. Do some research on CRT and Black Lives Matter. You will not have to dig very hard to find out that CRT and BLM are Marxist movements. They have tried to hide that fact now (as I said, that is the way heretics are), but that is why you do not need to be so naïve as to fall for the sales pitch. Be wise. Be discerning. And do not let it bother you when false teachers accuse you of breaking the Ninth Commandment. Have you read what accusations they brought against Jesus? The pupil is not above the teacher. The Church will try to silence you. The world will try to silence us. We need to be bold like Luther and say, “Here I stand, I can do no other.” Let us exercise our freedom of speech regardless what others say about us or to us. Let us not be guilty of silence out of fear that someone will wrongly accuse us of breaking the Ninth Commandment. We have freedom of speech. Let us use our freedom of speech to witness to the truth.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL and Moderator of Vanguard Presbytery

P. S. Since my last email, Vanguard Presbytery received TE Todd Smith and the Trinity Presbyterian Church in Slidell, Louisiana as members.  We welcome them both very warmly. We also have received information that 3 ministers want to be examined for membership in Vanguard and another man would like to be examined for ordination. We anticipate receiving another church in the near future. There are also some mission churches that will be applying to Vanguard. Additionally, we are in talks with a number of churches. I only report those who have joined Vanguard—not those who are considering joining with us.

P.S.S. The next Vanguard Presbytery meeting will be held on January 29, 2021 at the Chalcedon Presbyterian Church in Cumming, GA. Commissioners will have the first priority for seating, but it will be open to anyone who wants to attend as an observer. The morning will be a wonderful time of preaching, singing, praying, and worship.

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