For a society that prides itself on tolerance for a vast range of ideas and opinions. The prevailing morality is distinctly black and white. As Captain Jack Aubury would say, “What a fascinating modern age we live in.” Christians struggle with this in many ways. Calling out sinners in the style of Bunyan seems a little harsh, no matter how Biblical it was or obvious that his honest pleading was in fact loving. And there we struggle too, sounding loving, when we are being screamed at that our truth is hurtful to someone else’s truth, objective reason, evidence and history on our side being damed. We get off kilter because of fear of man, or/and ignorance of Scripture.
A Quick Reminder
Briefly it should be pointed out that our greatest weapon in our offensive against the kingdom of this world is Scripture. Many christians have bought the lie that they can not use the the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God simply because the enemy has told us it won’t effect them. To use an illustration of Voddie Baucham’s; if you are a knight preparing to fight another and he tells you “I doth not believe in thine sword.” How do you convince him? You hit him, with the sword, hard. Or as Doug Wilson would have it the problem with the christian who would not hit him is that it is not the other knight that doesn’t believe in the sword, it is the christian. Any Christian that backs down from using scripture doesn’t believe in scripture
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12
Someone says, “I don’t believe in the authority of scripture” the natural response should be, “That is interesting because scripture says that I am charged to, ‘preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.’ and scripture goes on to predict you saying, ‘For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
A Forgotten Category
That said, there is a Biblical category, and it’s opposite, which has been neglected which, if recovered would help us to add some color to our binaural chromatic worldview. That of the Fool. Naturally the counterpart of a wise person is something that is acknowledged in church circles, but when was the last time fools were called out. I think during the era for Mark Driscoll, but he hurt the feelings of a lot of Peter Pans in his church so it all stopped. Yet this category was given to us, by God, and for a reason.
And it is useful. Foolishness is that breeding ground for sin. It is the time of stacking kindling that will burn a path to hell. Proverbs describes the fool as the simple, lacking sense, putting himself in a position to sin more easily.
“For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.
And behold, the woman meets him,
dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart.” – Proverbs 7:6-10
It it the premeditative stage, where no easily recognizable sins have yet been committed and the justifications for the sin to come can be aligned like good alibis.
Sinners are committed, fools are dabblers. Much of the time fools are neglected because they have not committed any obvious sins, yet. They appear harmless, almost childlike. However, just as a good parent knows a child want’s to play with a power outlet that does not mean that the child is given carte blanche with a butter-knife and the socket. Fools should be corrected, directly, pleadingly and (my personal favorite) short sharp satirical rebukes.
The Objection Met
As usual there is anecdotal evidence pointing to fools who became hardened sinners because they weren’t respected or their feelings were hurt. I do not deny it. At the same time I will point out that by doubling down and committing to sin and rebellion they proved their status as a fool. As well fools do not deserve respect, respect is earned, fools are living examples of emperors with no clothes, it is the job of the wise Christian to point out the unseemly nudity of the fool pretending to be king, no matter how embarrassing it my be to the nudist.
As well the call of the Christian is to faithful obedience to Christ. Regardless of the outcome the obedience is what matters. As Spurgeon* teaches, “The same sun that melts wax hardens clay.” Some fools will turn to sin out of spite, and others will repent. It is not up to the person providing the rebuke how they respond.
As well a person who rejects correction because the correction was not delivered in a way that they liked is evidence that they are a fool. Elevating feelings over and against wise counsel is a display of lacking good sense.
“Even as fools walk along the road, they lack sense and show everyone how stupid they are.” – Ecclesiastes 10:3 (NIV)
More Than Rebuke
With the categories in place the corrections can follow appropriately. Rescuing from the fire is not enough, there must be healing and instruction on how to avoid falling again. This is where teaching comes in. They should be introduced to Truth, who is a person:
“I am the way the Truth and the life”… John 14:6 (Emphasis added)
It should be expected for a fool to recoil from some of the character of Christ that they are to conform to. Those used to the soft surfaces sin provides early on are not always prepared for the granite that is the Chief Cornerstone. Feelings should not be allowed to reign, they are filled with folly and are ever changing.
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” – John Adams
The truth of Scripture should be taught in season and out. This does not mean that love will not enter into the fray. On the contrary it is love that motivates the fight against imbedded idiocy. God has given ways to teach truth, the broad range of those tones, approaches, and methods should not be neglected. Yet the ways should never abort the truth because due to the feelings of the one being corrected.
Taught the Fear of the Lord
Fools go merrily through life never knowing how close they are to danger. They neither notice or care that the wrath of God tarries for them. They don’t learn from errors because they can not conceive that they have actually erred. They are like Maeby Fünke from Arrested Development narrowly avoiding disaster and simply thinking “that was a freebie.” And while the Lord is slow to anger, and abounding in love. He does store up wrath, there are no actual freebies merely delayed consequences.
Fools need to be rebuked and made aware of their precarious position. And taught a healthy fear of the morass he is in. Part of the danger is that a fool often stays in the mire, teaching the dangers takes time.
“Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” – Proverbs 26:11
Without a fear of the Lord there can never be a love of the Lord. The beauty of the law is that it drives us to Christ. It reveals the quagmire of sin we live in, It reveals the holy character of God and how we have fallen short and justly deserve wrath. Yet there is Christ bearing our sins. His glory can not be beheld until it is first feared. The peril of a fool is in his complete and total disinterest in the things of God, he runs on false assumptions, which place him in the crosshairs of divine wrath.
God is abounding in love, but his anger does burn, it should be feared. Out of that healthy fear they should begin to show the early sprouts from repentance which is wisdom.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” Proverbs 9:10
Lift up their Eyes
Instilling fear is relatively easy thing to do. The hard work comes in the work of stirring the affections, as the puritans called it. When a fool has been taught the fear of the Lord he has the beginning of wisdom. But those embers need to be stoked into a roaring fire. The must be rebuked first but then exhorted and encouraged and trained in righteousness. The logs must be stacked on the kindling. The beginnings of wisdom must be grown. As Piper paraphrases 2 Timothy 1:6-8.
“Feed it, Timothy. Feed it. Feed this flame! Because if you don’t, it will go out. Don’t quench this spirit, Timothy. It is a gift from God. Fan it till it is white-hot. Feed it till it is all ablaze… Timothy, keep feeding the white-hot flame of God’s gift — of unashamed courage to speak openly of Christ and to suffer for the gospel.” – John Piper, Feed the Flame of God’s Gift***
The danger is to teach the former fool to fall back into his emotionally driven ways. The flames are fanned by a hot gospel of knowledge. Not a dry academic one. Many fools are in the academy with more degrees than fahrenheit and they are solidly fools. They must be taught knowledge that engages the mind but lives in the heart. Only then will the law of God be as honey on their lips because by the law they know the nature and character of God and their desperate need for him. Their eyes must be lifted up to him.
“All intellectual knowledge begins with sense perception. To acquire knowledge, Scripture refers man not to his own reason but to God’s revelation in all his works. Lift up your eyes, and see the one who has created all things; [lift them up] to the teaching and the testimony; otherwise, they shall perish. Whoever rejects the word of the Lord can not have wisdom. This truth of empiricism: being a reality to which the sense perception the subject corresponds.” – Herman Bavink, Christian Worldview
In refusing to make use of the category of the fool for fear those who are foolish will be offended; the church has fallen into creating a space where people can navel gaze while they stack kindling for future sins. They are not clear on their position before the Lord. They wander around in the state fuddled state Screwtape**** longed for all humans to remain in until they could really begin sinning.
God gives categories, and he gives them for good reasons. It is only because our feeling have become too sensitive and ears too delicate that we worry about using them, “Out of love.” Leaving a man to his sins is not loving. Just because he does not wish to be snatched from the fires of hell does not mean we should refuse to do so.
Bunyan has fallen from style, and that is to our detriment. The day has come when calling a sinner a sinner, or a fool a fool is desperately needed. The holiness, nor the wrath of God does not change simply because we have grown sensitive. As the first of Luther’s 95 Theses states: ”When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” Funny how little things actually change.
*This has also been attributed to “Puritans.” I have not put in enough research to find out the proper origin.
**Let me take a quick poke here at our recent history “The fool says, there is a corona virus outside I may catch it…”
****Did you really think we were going to get this far without Screwtape showing up?