Tuesday, November 17, 2015

On Harsh Words and Public Rebuke

Some small remnant of you readers may not be aware of the fact that I have, in the past, not shied away from engaging in rather harsh public rebuke toward certain individuals by means of my blog. I doubt this ignorance extends to very many of you because these posts have received far more views than any of the others. It's pretty much a no contest. This is the case in spite of the fact that these posts make up about 5% of everything I've written about over the years.

I wanted to say a few words about this. I've received varied responses to this type of thing, ranging from "yeah, go get em!" to "how dare you, you unchristlike, arrogant jerk!"

In order to address this issue, I simply want to summarize what my philosophy of public rebuke is as briefly as I can, and then try to extend some applications and precautions both to my readers and to myself.

My first assumption, and this should be obvious at this point, is that public rebuke is a biblical concept. It continues to surprise me how many people are not even willing to consider the fact that this is the case. Public rebuke, including naming names and naming sins loudly and publicly is not beneath the example of the Old Testament prophets, the Apostles and Christ himself.

Second, I believe that public rebuke is only for public sin. Given what my areas of study are, I am mainly referring to the public promotion of false doctrine and sinful living. This is generally the approach we see in scripture. Paul did not shy away from warning against apostates by name (2 Timothy 2:17). Jesus did not shy away from strong words of rebuke and condemnation toward those who led God's people astray (Matthew 23). Peter did not shy away from the most scathing condemnation imaginable when addressing teachers who would lead their followers into sin (2 Peter 2).

Third, I believe a person should make sure they are qualified to engage in this type of thing. I obviously am operating under the assumption that I fall into that category. While it is nearly impossible to try to make this point without risking self promotion and pride (or at least the appearance of it), I will simply point out that I have formally studied theology for several years and have completed a masters degree on the topic. I am also submitted to the elders of a local church who are able to (and have) corrected my failings in this area, as well as others. I also have recently begun teaching systematic theology in that context.

Fourth and finally, I believe that biblical rebuke takes a variety of forms, and these do not exclude solemn seriousness, tears, and pleading. Nor does it exclude harsh words, sarcasm, jokes, even name calling (see Matthew 23 and 2 Peter 2 for the most shocking examples of this).

I think Doug Wilson (notorious for his use of satire) summarized this point well when he said,

"Prophets, the apostles and our Lord Jesus all exhibit a vast array of verbal behavior, including tenderness, love, insults, jokes, anger, and more. What standard do we use to sort this Material out? When this standard is a scriptural one, the same range of expression will be found in those who imitate the Scriptures, and that range will exhibit scriptural proportions. But when the standard is nonscriptural, and has excluded a certain type of expression as being a priori un-Christ-like, it then will not matter how many passages are cited which show Christ being un-Christ-like. And at that point we may take a jibe from Christ's arsenal and say that wisdom is vindicated by her children."

The most difficult aspect of engaging people about this issue is that, even if they concede that such a category of rebuke is necessary, they often have a one size fits all category of what Christlikeness looks like in such a situation.

I will admit, discerning what Christ would say or do is not always easy. I am sure that I've failed at this at times in my writing. The mistake we make is in thinking there is a simplistic feel good answer that will make everyone comfortable.

One of the things we must not do is allow the response of the person being rebuked to be the deciding factor in how we judge the merits of the rebuke we extend to them. What we must realize is that if a person slips into an unbiblical worldview, in part or in total, their taste for language that describes their worldview will inevitably shift as well. The more heretical and vile the error they embrace is, the more heretical and vile they will find your rebuke, unless the Spirit grants them repentance (2 Timothy 2:25).

To extend that thought to my readers as well, this should also compel us to judge our own hearts. If we find the rebuke that a teacher extends to someone (that someone not being us) offensive, there may be multiple reasons for this. It may well be that the teacher has gone too far and is no longer showing tough love. He's just being tough.

However, this offense may come from a shift in our taste buds concerning the doctrine at hand. It may be that we have come to agree with a false teacher where we shouldn't... or we at least don't see his error as being as serious as it actually is. For this reason, we must pray for discernment.

Ironically, I think this often comes down to not being judgmental, a charge that is often leveled at those who practice public rebuke. By judgmental, I don't mean making judgments. Contrary to popular opinion, Jesus did not tell us not to judge. He told us not to judge without the knowledge that the same standard will be used against us (Matthew 7:1-5). Hypocracy is a sin, not discernment.

When I say judgmental, I'm talking about thinking you can magically see what is in a brother's heart, a feat only God can pull off (1 Samuel 16:7). God does not call us to judge someone's heart, but rather what comes out of their mouth and life. You will know them by their fruit (Matthew 7:16). Yet we often turn this around and defend a false teacher, whose teaching is clearly a bad fruit, by appealing to the fact that we don't know their heart. We do this while simultaneously rebuking someone who tries to correct the false teaching, thinking we know the state of their heart. This is of course based on what we perceive to be the harshness of their words. We cannot assume that strong rebuke is bad fruit. It often is only treated as such because the person doing so has an unbiblical and unexamined presupposition concerning what kind of rebuke is or is not appropriate.

In summary, my goal here is simply to encourage us to be more well rounded when it comes to following scripture. We often times think we know what this means, but our definition is based on our personal sensitivities more than the Bible itself. This applies to me as well as all of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have definitely had to repent for my words before, and I'm sure I will have to again. At the same time, I know there are some of you awaiting repentance on my part, but it may be time for you to realize, depending on what offended you, that there just might be none forthcoming.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Realms

There are two ways of living in this world. We live with God as Lord of our hearts, or live our lives in attempt to claim rulership over God. Every human being that has ever existed, is existing, or ever will exist, dwells in one of these two realms. There is no realm of neutrality in between. That is not to say that the process of being converted, by the spirit, into a worshipper of God is not a lifelong process. It certainly is. Nevertheless, at the foundation of our being, we look up to God in reverence and are learning to do so more and more, or we look down at him in blasphemous condescension. We are either born of God, and are being conformed to the likeness of his Son, or we are not.

When we finally embrace this biblical truth, we are at once placed in a position to rightly interpret what we see, not only in the world, but in the church. Many Christians who claim to hold scripture in high esteem, cringe when sharp distinctions like this are made. This may well reveal an unwillingness to live consistently with their confession that God brought the very fabric of time and space into existence.

To be made in the image of God and to live in this world is all that a creature needs to be worthy of condemnation for not bending the knee.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse
(Romans 1:19-20).

As always, the ink in Paul's letter is still wet. We see this suppression of the truth every day in the world around us. We see human beings, made in God's image, writing books with the fingers God formed, shouting their unbelief with lungs that God gave them, breathing air that God blessed them with, and inventing words like "atheist" to proudly wear on their shirts. Fortunately God does not believe in atheists, and to the extent that we do, we trust the word of man over the word of God. To the extent that we make this exchange, the unbelieving world will sense our lack of faith in our every gospel presentation.

Not only do we see these two fundamental realms in the world out there, but as I mentioned, it can be seen in the church as well. Every professing Christian claims to have given their life to God. Yet even those of us who claim the name of Christ have the most subtle ways of subverting his rule in our hearts.

God blessed us with means of connection with him. God blessed us with glorious promises in the gospel. God is the end for which God made the world. God is the end for which God made us. We don't eat ice cream in order to earn the pleasure of washing the bowl. The ice cream is the point. We don't worship God for anything. He is the reward.

Yet when our hearts deceive us, we seek out other devices. The deception as Christians is that the devices often look strangly religious.

We see this in worship. Rather than worship God for God's sake, we worship for the sake of his gifts. Sometimes we get them. When we do get them in the midst of such a mindset, we cannot be thankful for them. We worshipped our way to them after all. Such hard workers we are... choking down that pesky ice cream.

We see this as we bow in prayer. We either see prayer as a means of releasing our burdens onto the only sovereign, knowing he works all things for good, or we try to twist his arm with our "sovereign" prayer, thinking we can work all things for good.

We see this as we contemplate the Gospel. We either think that grace, given through Christ on the cross, was an unmeritted gift to underserving sinners, or we think that it was God's apology for giving us a standard we "good" people should never have been expected to live up to.

We either think God chose us in love, in spite of ourselves, before the foundation of the earth, to bring glory to himself through our glorification, or we think that we chose God, because of ourselves, to bring glory to ourselves.

Whether we go by the term "believer" or not, we are living in one of these two worlds. Either we are using all of our God given faculties to dethrone God, or we have decisively been placed, by God's sovereign grace, into the right world. If the latter, we are growing into that world by that same grace, learning not to look back.