"so help me God"
I would also like to submit that Piper's biblical reasoning on this issue could benefit from an examination of the Reformed/Baptist confessional heritage. Today, there are many who distrust confessions of faith (and works of systematic theology in general), believing that they necessarily force an interpretive grid upon Scripture. But as I read Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ by Nehemiah Coxe and John Owen, I see Owen (the architect of the Savoy Declaration) and Coxe (the architect of the Second London Baptist Confesion) drawing their arguments by careful exegesis of specific passages. And on this issue as well, it is better to take our older brothers' words into consideration than to have each generation pretend as if they are thinking through disputed issues for the first time. So, for example, we should consider Chapter 23 of the Second London Confession, "Of Lawful Oaths," where it declares:
In matter of weight and moment, for confirmation of truth, and ending all strife, an oath is warranted by the word of God; so a lawful oath being imposed by lawful authority in such matters, ought to be taken. (Heb 6:16; 2 Cor 1:23; Neh 13:25)We should look at the reasoning of the Confession and the Scripture proofs it cites to see if there is wisdom from our elders that will benefit us.
John Piper, in his advice against oaths in court, is trying to be faithful to the command of His Lord. In this, he is to be commended. However, I am convinced that he is wrong on the question at hand, and that his error-however honest-has the potential for serious consequences.
Piper envisions himself, if in court, refusing to give an oath. Instead, he believes he would give a miniature sermon: something like Stephen before the Sanhedrin. But, though United States judges and justices have made wicked decisions at times, our court system is not the Sanhedrin. It is, however, an environment in which many witnesses have a reason to lie, and the judge and jury need a formal mechanism by which people are either bound to tell the truth, or else they face legal repercussions. It is not a place where each witness can establish a reputation whereby everyone can know that his "yes" is "yes" and his "no," "no." It is not a place where each witness can give a theological dissertation based on private opinion. Introducing unusual language into the proceeding just confuses the matter at hand. Instead of providing the opportunity for witness that Piper imagines, failure to give a simple answer may make the Christian seem unnecessarily obnoxious, and place him-again, unnecessarily-in danger of contempt.
Finally, apart from the specific example at hand-the question of a Christian who is a witness at trial-the approach that Piper takes to this question introduces a detrimental method of biblical interpretation. People have used this method-taking a single phrase from the Sermon on the Mount out of context, not interpreting Bible verses by the light of Scripture as a whole-and they have argued for absolute pacifism (based on "love your enemies"), they have argued against proper Christian discernment (based on "judge not"), and they have promoted even worse errors.
Several of Piper's works have been a great blessing in my own life. He is greatly influential with many in our churches. But I would urge anyone reading this to re-consider his exegesis concerning oath-taking; in general, I would hope that we will all strive to interpret every Scripture in context.
Labels: Bible study