Lying has been brought to public attention in various and compelling ways in recent years, in the United States and around the world. Events have caused both Christians and unbelievers to take another look at the priority of truth.

The Communists have a kind of schizophrenia about lying. They subordinate ethics and morality to the interests of the class struggle. They repudiate all morality that is taken outside of human, class concepts. Therefore they consider it right to lie whenever a lie will serve to advance the Communist cause. However, the Communists find it necessary to insist that the teachings of Marx and Lenin are normative. All ideas must be judged in the light of their teaching. Thus total falsehood would bring even a Communist society to its knees.

Some Christians suppose that the commandment “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is something special that belongs to revelation and not to nature. This is erroneous. The Ten Commandments are based upon what is naturally in man’s best interest. Even if there were no commandment from God to tell the truth, lying would be seen to run counter to human well-being. In the long run lying is always destructive.

The Apostle Paul deals with lying in Colossians three. He does so within the larger context of the transformed walk of believers. They are to put away anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk. Then he says categorically, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices” (Col. 3:9). The meaning is plain: lying belongs to the old order of life, truth-telling to the new. Christians are not to lie to one another.

But is a lie ever justifiable? Must we insist that lying is always wrong and should never, under any circumstances, be engaged in? What about times when telling the truth would cause a Christian to break some other commandment of God? Corrie ten Boom faced this years ago. If she revealed the fact that Jews were hidden in her father’s house, she would then be a contributor to their later death in gas chambers. If she lied, she would sin but perhaps save them from death. What should she have done?

This question as we have framed it is far removed from the approach of the situational ethicist. We are speaking of evils, and asking whether the Christian is right in choosing the lesser of them. The situationist would reject this idea of greater and lesser evil. For him, a deed is either right or wrong depending on whether or not it fulfills the law of love. For the situationist, to tell the Nazi soldiers there were no Jews in the house would not be to choose the lesser evil; it would be to do what is good under the law of love.

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There are few times in life when anyone is faced with two evils, one of which he must choose. Often telling the truth may result in embarrassment, financial loss, or a score of other undesirable personal consequences. But these do not involve breaking another law of God. In such cases the truth must be told however expensive it is to us. In Acts 4:19 Peter and John gave their response to the Sanhedrin, which had commanded them never to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. They could have promised the Sanhedrin to do what was demanded of them, tongue in cheek, and then gone out to speak and teach in Jesus’ name anyway. And perhaps they could have argued that this lie was the lesser of two evils—for to obey the Sanhedrin would be to disobey Jesus’ command and to disobey the Sanhedrin might mean death. Surely to lie would be better than to die. But however embarrassing or costly the consequences, they told the truth: “we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).

If and when a Christian does have to choose one evil over another, he is not free from the guilt of the evil he chooses. If he lies, he is guility of having told a lie, no matter what his motives. In calling for truth the Bible mentions no exceptions. The commandment of Sabbath-keeping had exceptions; works of mercy and necessity were permitted. The law against killing allowed for exceptions; at certain points in the Old Testament, war and capital punishment were commanded by God. But the commandment of truth-telling had no exceptions.

If the Christian is convinced that he must choose to do a particular evil because the only alternative would be to do a greater evil, then he must do so with the knowledge that he has broken the law of God and must seek forgiveness through repentance and confession. Fortunately for us sinners, God’s grace is greater than all our sins—the many we commit selfishly, and the few we commit unselfishly.

Marxism, Religion: Impossible Bedfellows

One of the strangest alliances of our times is that which certain professing Christians claim to seek between religion and Marxism. Undeniably there are specific evils that Communists and all sorts of other observers can denounce and try to correct. (There are, to be sure, other specific evils that Communism and other totalitarian systems foster.) But Marxism is much more than just a catalogue of complaints against the way things are. It is a total world and life view that is utterly opposed to anything resembling historic Christian teaching—indeed, to the teachings of religions generally.

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Cuba, the Western hemisphere’s only Communist country, provides the best recent illustration of this. Cubans voted this year for the first time since Fidel Castro came to power seventeen years ago. The 5.5 million voters who went to the polls gave almost unanimous approval to the new constitution. That basic document had been drafted by the nation’s Communist party congress a few weeks earlier, but the congress also wrote a working platform. A comparison of the two is revealing.

Article 54 of the new constitution “recognizes and guarantees … the right of each person to profess whatever religion he pleases and to practice, within the legal limits, the worship of his choice.” The phrase “within the legal limits” could of course mean only that polygamy or the use of narcotics or loud noises would be prohibited. That it has meant and will mean much more is evidenced by the working platform’s explicit naming of one of the tasks of the ideological struggle as “the gradual conquest of religious beliefs.” This conquest is not to be by taking “coercive … measures against religion,” but “by adjusting scientific materialistic propaganda to the cultural level of workers.”

The Marxist view is clearly enunciated in the working platform: “… religion is a twisted and fantastic reflection of outer reality.” People who truly believe in a personal God to whom we are all accountable for time and eternity are not Marxists even if they are properly outraged by some of the same things that Communists attack. And by the same token, people who are Marxists have absolutely no business pretending to be Christians. They should have the courage of their convictions and profess openly their disdain of a supernatural view of the world in favor of what is proudly called “scientific materialism.”

To complement the tremendous latitude that the phrase “legal limits” allows for Cuban government opposition to religion there will doubtless be a very narrow interpretation of “the worship of [one’s] choice.”

Worship is indeed a very important part of the Christian’s responsibility, but so is evangelism, so is the teaching of converts, so is the performance of works of mercy in the name of Christ, so is the criticism of government or any other institution that sets itself up as the ultimate authority, claiming in effect to displace God. These Christian activities are not protected, even nominally, by the Cuban constitution.

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Some Communist protests and programs may seem right and attractive when lifted out of their ideological context. For differing reasons, both Christians and Communists might protest abortion, for example. But we have to go beyond rhetoric to an analysis of working Marxist systems, of which Cuba is the best example in this hemisphere. The testimony of its constitution should be clear to all: Marxism is one thing, Christianity is quite another. Let there be no confusion whatsoever between them.

Four Billion And Climbing

According to reasonably good estimates, the population of the world reached four billion persons earlier this month. Population is apparently growing at a rate of 1.8 per cent a year. If that rate continues, the population will pass the five billion mark before 1990.

As far as experts can tell, the population of the planet did not reach one billion until about 1850. Eighty years were required to achieve the second billion. Despite the ravages of World War II only thirty years were needed to reach three billion, which happened by 1961. Now it has taken only half as long to add the fourth billion.

The rate of growth is not so great as it once was; reaching the fifth billion is expected to take as long as reaching the fourth did. But that is little comfort to those nations that will see their already low living standards slip even more as human procreation continues to outpace economic production.

For Christians, the evangelistic challenge is clear. There are now one-third more people than there were fifteen years ago. But have evangelistic personnel (both missionaries and national workers) and fruitful efforts increased by that much also? Even if they had, which is doubtful, Christians would just be keeping up; they would not be advancing. Are there one-third more people attending Bible-teaching congregations now than there were in 1961?

As inhabitants of a planet whose population is increasing so rapidly Christians must face many other dimensions of responsibility. The complexity of the new problems is not cause for the Church to panic, however. God was well aware of this population explosion long before it happened. His commission to go into all the world carries with it the promise that he will be with us always. He has also promised the power necessary to follow his command.

It is certainly no time for the Church to be complacent, completely reliant upon methods that worked in bygone days. Today’s Christians have a commission to evangelize today’s people—all four billion of them—with the energy and methods that God provides today.

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A Setback For ‘Gay Liberation’

In a recent refusal to hear a case, the Supreme Court has rendered what might in time be considered a landmark decision on homosexuality.

At issue was a Virginia law that makes homosexual acts (sodomy) between consenting adults in public or in private a crime punishable by imprisonment. When this statute was tested by two homosexuals, a lower federal court ruled that the Virginia law was constitutional. It said (among other things) that forbidding sodomy is not an upstart notion, and mentioned its prohibition in the Book of Leviticus.

The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, but only three of the nine justices voted for a full court hearing, one fewer than the required number. The three did not necessarily think the Virginia law was unconstitutional; their vote meant that they thought the court should hear the evidence. Their colleagues did not agree, and so the decision of the lower court stands. Any state may therefore legislate that sodomy is a crime and is punishable by imprisonment.

The decision is in accord with the Judeo-Christian tradition based on the Old and New Testament Scriptures. Some homosexuals who claim to be Christians have rejected, on cultural or hermeneutical grounds, the scriptural prohibition against homosexual acts. But in neither of these ways have they been able to make a case that does not invalidate Scripture on this issue and does not open the door wide to the denial of more central biblical teachings—those having to do with salvation—as well.

Even if Christian homosexuals remain convinced that Scripture does not condemn homosexual activity, they can no longer say that laws against this are unconstitutional. The constitutionality of these laws has now been affirmed by the highest court in the land. Homosexuals should obey the law.

In welcoming the Supreme Court’s confirmation of what many Christians think is a scriptural teaching, let us not forget that homosexuals are persons for whom Christ died. Christian homosexuals need our prayers and support as they seek God’s help to overcome their handicap.

When The Covers Close

When Howard Hughes died several weeks ago, his life and death were featured on the front pages of the New York Times and other major newspapers and in the national news weeklies. Little or nothing was said about his religious convictions. Whether he had any religious faith only God knows. But his death does underline a couple of timeless religious truths.

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Hughes reportedly amassed more than two billion dollars’ worth of assets, including a large gambling empire in Las Vegas. But death is the great leveler. Howard Hughes went out of this life just as he came into it: empty-handed.

And when death overtook him, the books both of men and of God were closed. Nothing can now be added to or subtracted from the record of his life.

For us, the books are still open, for a while. We still have time to be better—better parents, spouses, children, employees, neighbors, Christians; to be more generous or loving or thoughtful, less self-centered, less short-tempered, less materialistic. But our books, too, can close at any time.

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