Sharp Rebukes, Delivered Daily

Where you go when an old-fashioned ‘rebuke’ is needed…or not.

Rebukes — because you need it

‘He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  [Luke 17:1-4].

‘Epitimao’ is Luke’s main word for ‘rebuke.’ Occasionally translated ‘warn,’ epitimao occurs in various contexts [see Lu 4:35, 39, 41; 8:24; 9:21, 42, 55; 17:3; 18:15, 39; 19:39; and 23:40].

What gets Rebuked

In several cases, it is demonic spirits which are rebuked.

‘…Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet and come out of him’ [Lu 4:35]!

‘Demons also were coming out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But rebuking them, He would not allow them to speak…’ [Lu 4:41].

‘… Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the boy and gave him back to his father’ [Lu 9:42].

Chaotic conditions [often regarded as demonic] are also rebuked.

‘He rebuked the fever, and it left her’ [Lu 4:39].

‘He got up and rebuked the wind and the surging waves, and they stopped, and it became calm’ [Lu 8:24].

There are cases of apparent misguided rebuking.

When a Samaritan village refused Jesus, James and John asked Jesus if they should command fire to fall from heaven to consume them [as if they were in position to do so].

‘But he turned and rebuked them — the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them’ [Lu 9:55].

‘…they were bringing even their babies to Him so that He would touch them, but when the disciples saw it, they began rebuking them’ [Lu 18:15].

‘Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, rebuke Your disciples”‘ [Lu 19:39].

Remaining Rebukes

This leaves Lu 17:3 and 23:40. IFB sects take the penitent malefactor of Lu 23:40 as a ‘death-bed’ conversion. But he may have joined in the mockery. The issue is, ‘with what inflection of tone do we hear his “rebuke.”‘ It may be that the second malefactor merely feigns to rebuke the first.

‘Don’t you fear God since you’re getting the same thing? We deserve this. Ohh but THAT guy — he NEeeever did any wrong’ [as if anyone believes THAT!].

I’ve no final answer as to whether Jesus was isolated from all humanity to die alone FOR all humanity, OR whether a guy beside him rooted for Jesus as many say. And I’m frustrated that Luke records only a cryptic reference to their being together in God’s Garden. But I do know this.

‘Rebuke’ in Lu 17:3

As Luke’s sole remaining ‘epitimao’ passage even remotely like the IFB take on it, I hear Lu 17:3 very differently. Lu 17:3 needs to be heard. But neither can we place more weight on this text than it can bear.

If they want to say that ever plentiful IFB rebukes are ALWAYS weighed justly, we should be able to ask why it is that demonic possession, chaotic conditions, and misguided intentions/actions feature so regularly in IFB sects. That, after all, is Luke’s handling of ‘rebuking.’

Other Lessons

While much more can be said about this subject, there are things we can conclude from ‘rebuking’ in Luke’s gospel. Jesus is the Rebuker in chief. He did it more than anyone. But generally, Jesus rebuked spiritual evil or manifestations of chaos. Would-be rebukers seem to get it wrong more often than not. In at least one instance, Jesus countered an act of rebuke by commanding permission and inclusion.

While it isn’t the intention of this post to address the doctrine of hell, Drew Stedman critiques that doctrine with a telling remark that easily extends to IFBdom’s routine use of chastisement/ostracism and the like. As Stedman sees it, we witness:

‘the cruelest kind of fear in order to manipulate people of good faith into accepting harsh doctrines which have empowered institutions of religion with enormous amounts of wealth and power for centuries.’

Regardless of what one does or does not believe concerning hell, the manipulation, institutional empowerment and amassed wealth/power charges have too much truth to be dismissed conveniently as mere unbelief.

Millstone Collars and Oracular Woes

Millstones. Care for one?

The jury is still out as to whether fundamentalists enjoy sin less, as much or more than the rest of us. But in any event, we suspect that fundies hear more ‘millstone collar’ sermons than many of us.

‘He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”  [Luke 17:1-4].

The trouble with Fundamentalism is that Jesus was right. Stumbling blocks happen inevitably. And if the regularity of rebuking is any realistic metric, Fundamentalism has at least its fair share of stumblers. Again, the proliferation of former Fundamentalists may imply that Fundamentalism also stockpiles stumbling blocks. Might this aid our understanding of Fundamentalism’s ongoing culture of reproaching/rebuking?

Of course, Fundamentalism doesn’t really entrench rebuking. That’s all a matter of perception. The real issue [as it always is in Fundyland] is fidelity to God’s word. It’s just that some people got the wild idea that Fundamentalism is every so much better at woes, millstones, guarding, rebuking and demanding repentance/returning than it is at forgiveness — let alone Jesus’ inexplicably liberal imperative that we do it seven times.

Still, Luke’s millstone, woes and rebuking is there. Could it be that Lu 17:1-4 vindicates IFB preachers for preaching such things baldly and without any qualification?


Lu 17:2 is Luke’s only millstone. But it’s hard to cut the mental tie between the Lu 17:2 millstone and the Lu 11:46 addresses to those who

‘…weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.’

Oracular ‘Woes’

Lu 11:46ff. is also related to Lu 17:1 by the oracular ‘woe.’

‘Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens…’

‘”It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!”‘

‘Woes’ in Luke

Luke’s gospel uses ‘ouai’ [woe] 15x; The contexts make interesting study.

  • Lu 6:24-25 — The well-fed wealthy who laugh and receive all the comfort they’re going to get in the here-and-now.
  • Lu 6:26 — Those praised by all, who are compared to false prophets.
  • Lu 10:13 — Chorazin and Bethsaida.
  • Lu 11:42-47 — Pharisees and lawyers.
  • Lu 11:52 — Lawyers.
  • Lu 21:23 — Pregnant/nursing women in the flight from Jerusalem’s 70 AD destruction.

These ‘woes’ all concern classes of people. If we want possible exceptions, Luke gives us but two texts. One is the passage under discussion, and the other arises from Luke’s version of the institution of the Holy Supper:

  • Lu 17:2 — It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come!
  • Lu 22:22 — ‘…woe to that man by whom He [the Son of Man] is betrayed!”

Preaching Lu 17:1-4

It isn’t yet clear to me why Luke seemingly connects these last two texts using ‘ouai-woe’ in a ‘singular’ and not a collective or class sense. Likely, he indicates some more personal or direct meaning. Or he may indicate the means or instrument through which betrayal or stumbling comes.

And in Lu 22, do we take Judas or Satan who entered him [v. 3] to be the instrument of betrayal? And if Satan’s instrumentality is predominant in Lu 22, should the same meaning be favored in Lu 17? What does it mean that ‘rebuke’ [‘if your brother sins, rebuke him’] is used in Lu 4:35 in rebuking unclean spirits? Might other clues in the text help us?

I have found that it is exactly when pastors grapple with finer points of the text, they do their best work. And they serve up their best preaching IF they can present it not like a professor but as a pastor.

I have also found that unless a pastor can offer a mature perspective on critical questions arising from the text, [s]he must handle the passage with the utmost of respect and their people with great care.

It is one thing to raise issues or questions. These can get people thinking. It is also good to admit that no, the pastor doesn’t know all things.

But if pastors charge into a passage, volleying blood, guts and thunder, pontificating of the eternal destinies of God’s people when they do not themselves know even the questions let alone the answers — that pastor stands to be asked whether he is a Luke 17:1-4 stumbling block.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Modern Day Lazarus
The rich man may have gone to hell, but at least he didn’t ridicule Lazarus telling him to get a job in a deindustrialized community like Camden, NJ.

With its rich imagery of eternal torment, few texts make better IFB preaching fodder than Luke 16:19-31. This text which records Jesus’ sayings about a nameless rich man and Lazarus, is routinely used to terrorize and torment sinners to respond to ‘accept Jesus’ and join the IFB sect. You see the upright but lost rich man, you see the good Lazarus, rich-man-in-hellyou see the first man’s five siblings. It is with them that we are supposed to identify. Lazarus becomes an example of what we are to be. The rich man in his unbelief reveals the fate of those who don’t believe. We are left to figure out what this means — hopefully while we still have time to do so. So this teaching concerns eternal destiny. It is oft heard proclaimed with urgency.

But what if Luke’s concern isn’t with the afterlife at all, but with today?

The Great Chasm

‘…between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us’ [Lu 16:26].

Middle Eastern society was highly stratified. You related to people in your own social class. If you did business with those beneath your station, this diminished your standing in the community and elevated the one beneath you. And people were very conscious of this. For the rich man to receive Lazarus at his table would have been scandalous. And yet, scandalous is exactly what grace is, and therefore what the Gospel is.

The chasm in the text is usually related to the afterlife. But what if it isn’t? What if that chasm refers to social stratification in Judah at the time? Each time he stumbled over Lazarus on the way to and from his home, the rich man reaffirmed that chasm.

Moreover even in the afterlife, the rich man esteems his dignity above Lazarus’. In life, he ignored Lazarus completely. In death, he is prepared to retain him as nothing more than a servant. Fetch me water! Run to my brothers with this message! He could not escape this social system in life, and he could not escape it in death.

This leads to an interesting point.

What if the text uses the ‘chasm’ to reveal the malevolent character of the social divisions that riddled life in Jesus’ Palestine? This matters, because social and economic class matters no less now than then. Yet IFBs are notorious for retaining class divisions even as they blame those terrible socialists for stoking class antagonisms.

But again — what if Lu 16 intends not to terrorize with horrific visions, but to call us to share in God’s life in a community that rejects the social divisions which separate us? Where does this situate IFBs and the broadly evangelical Christian crowd?

The Magnificat said that God ‘filled the hungry with good things and sent away the rich empty-handed’ [Lu 1:53]. This reversal of fortunes is exactly what we see in Lu 16:19-31. So if the Lu 16:26 chasm is the intensification of the social and economic divisions we affirm in life, then something decidedly more radical and all encompassing is needed than fundamentalism’s ‘get-them-to-the-altar.’

We are all the rich man sometimes. But in other moments, we do better. It is in those fleeting moments that we understand that the gospel is a gift. And having received such grace, one can only share out of humble faith.

Friday Challenge — Black Sheep Matter


Meet the Black Sheep

David Haywood’s ‘Black Sheep Matter’ cartoon generated some indignant responses based on the presumed reference to ‘Black Lives Matter.’

Yet for those raised in Independent Fundamental Baptist sects, the ‘black sheep’ metaphor takes on other connotations. The ‘black sheep’ of the family was the kid in the stuffed quiver that never took well to the quiver. The ‘black sheep’ was the one that caused the parents much of the grief. The ‘black sheep’ may be the member or adherent that left the IFB fellowship. Or, said sheep may actually have had the gumption to stand up and call out the preacher, telling him from the Bible why he’s wrong.

George Orwell’s works contain a number of famous lines. Perhaps one of the better known is taken from the last of the seven commandments found in Animal Farm. It said:

All animals are equal.

But as we know, some animals are more equal than others.

Today’s [Black Sheep] Friday Challenge

In the spirit of the Naked Pastor’s cartoon, and Orwell’s famous line from Animal Farm, what ‘more-or-less-equal’ sheep and/or black sheep stories can you relate from your experience or observations in the IFB movement? Do all sheep equally equal? Or is ‘equal’ decided by which family produced this particular sheep? Or maybe how much a sheep matters turns on how much wool the sheep contributes. What if the sheep really is ‘black?’ Or, do other factors count?

Where was this sheep black — in an IFB sect, a Christian Day School, or at Fundy College? What did this sheep do that made it black? Was the phrase, ‘black sheep’ actually used? What happened to that black sheep?

Have fun!