Sharp Rebukes, Delivered Daily

steve-anderson-demonstrates-the-2-fisted-rebuke
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.

Nurturing Dependence or Spiritual Empowerment

Nurturing Dependence or Spiritual Empowerment

This post is a reply to an inquiry from a reader.


Hedging your Flock

IFB pastors assure us that other churches don’t ‘preach it’ as they do. How they know that isn’t 100 % clear since they’re in their own pulpit Sunday mornings. But most fundies aren’t that deep. And why would IBF pastors want it otherwise?

Openly defaming other pastors and churches, reminding us that many other preachers get this wrong, telling us how tricky this passage is, or warning of the importance to be under faithful preaching, IFB pastors have many means to teach hearers to distrust their spiritual and biblical instincts. There are stories of shipwrecked faith and spiritual seduction.

The picture of a dark, scary world freshly impressed on their minds, IFB congregations are now thoroughly prepped to lean heavily on the superior wisdom of the IFB pastor. Ignore the other voices and perspectives. They are the winds and waves Peter ought to have ignored outside the boat.

Things to Note

There is some truth in this. Not all preaching is equal [and some IFB preaching is very unequal]. Christians are well advised to hear better preaching than not. Spiritual dangers do exist [including IFB sects].

If no real, spiritual dangers existed, no credible case could be made for hedging the flock. So how does one distinguish IFB pastoral efforts at manipulation from the call to grow into genuine maturity where our spiritual instincts develop as God would have them?

Nurturing Dependence

Answering this question begins with understanding why IFB pastors do what IFB pastors do.

IFB pastors may speak of ‘guarding the flock of God,’ or of their charge to ‘protect’ sheep entrusted them. And those tasks are mandated. But often, their concern is not to ‘guard’ or ‘protect’ sheep, but to guard and protect their standing in the flock that pays the pastor’s salary. Controlling and insecure pastors isolate and insulate followers from other believers as a means of job security. And the easiest way to do it is to invalidate the faith commitments of other pastors, churches and faith traditions.

Fear is extremely debilitating for believers. But that weakened condition is very empowering for IFB pastors. Why would they want it otherwise?

Nurturing Empowerment

There is a another way to approach this question, and it is this: healthy churches/pastors/faith_traditions develop parishioners’ spiritual and biblical instincts. Instead of keeping members pastor-dependent, every effort is made to liberate and empower the laity for ministry.

When believers want to develop their spiritual instincts, leaders in healthy churches do not tremble. They rejoice. This is not a thing to be avoided. Church leaders delight to assist them in this development.

To be continued…

On Fear and Trembling

Fear and Trembling


Fear and Trembling

An earlier post used the title, Working Out Your Salvation with Fear and Trembling as that motif seems to capture the fundamentalist spirit. But it also raised a reader question on the subject. By the time I finished a reply, it was too late to make another post. So that reply is today’s post. The tone is somewhat different, but this is offered affectionately none the less.


Fear gets plenty of traction in evangelicalism and fundamentalism. We put the fear of the Lord [or at least fear of their fathers] into our children.

We don’t hear good old fashioned hell-fire and brimstone preaching as much now, but we know that we need to hear good old fashioned hell-fire and brimstone sermons. We need ‘remember Lot’s wife’ sermons. We need ground opening up and earthquakes swallowing people sermons. We need sermons like 500 pound stones sitting on the rafters, that make us feel the flames of hell licking the soles of our feet, and smell the stench of sulfur in our nostrils. OK maybe that’s the roast burning at home…

It’s in the Bible!

…work out your salvation with fear and trembling [Phil 2:12].

Because Phi 2:12 says what it says, some IFBs have the idea that ‘fear and trembling’ theology is well vindicated. In fact, ‘fear and trembling’ is an idiom. It is a figure of speech. We know this because the expression ‘fear and trembling’ is used several times in both the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT, and the NT. In question is the meaning of the words ‘phobos’ [from which we get ‘phobia’ or ‘fear’], and tromos [trembling].

In Dt 2:25, YH says that Israel’s enemies will dread [tromos] with fear. In Dt 20:3, Israel is told, ‘do NOT fear or tremble.’ Eliphaz’ speech references dread and trembling [Job 4:14]. Ps 2:11 is interesting – worship YHWH with fear and rejoice with trembling. Clearly, that is no call to cravenness in worship. Moreover, Genesis, Exodus, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel also use phobos/tromos in combination. Verdict? This is an idiom.

The NT uses the expression ‘fear and trembling’ in Mk 5:33; 1Co 2:3; 2Co 7:15; Ep 6:5, and Phil 2:12. In Mk 5:33, [the woman with the bleeding ulcer] MAY [quite literally] have trembled in fear. But we can hardly say that God’s affection for us is granted in exchange for our fear and trembling [as 2Co 7:15 says, cf. Ps 2:11].

Again, there is no question that ‘fear and trembling’ is an ‘idiom.’ And that takes nothing from the language or authority of the text. What it does do is call for a little care in what meaning we invest IN those two words in each case. So context matters wherever this idiom occurs.

But What’s in a Word?

In Philippians 2:12, both ‘phobos’ and ‘tromos’ are translated correctly. However other readings are equally plausible and may be more appropriate in context of Philippians 2:12.

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines phobos under two categories:

‘fear, dread, terror [followed by various examples].’
‘reverence, respect [for authority, rank, dignity].’

Friberg’s Greek Lexicon does the same. It handles ‘phobos’ …

‘in a negative sense fear, dread, alarm.’
‘in a positive sense respect, reverence, awe, … respect for those in authority’ (Ep 6.5).

‘Tromos’ [trembling] is not so clear cut, although the hint of distinction is there. For example, Friberg says:

‘trembling, shaking, as an outward sign of fear or of being seized with great awe.’

Thayer says that tromos is…

‘used to describe the anxiety of one who distrusts his ability completely to meet all requirements, but religiously does his utmost to fulfil his duty.’

Fear and Trembling in Phi 2:12

In context of Phi 2:12, Paul writes of Christ’s humiliation [a theological term to describe his incarnation, suffering and death] and of his exaltation [a theological term to describe his resurrection, ascension, session to God’s throne, and eventual return]. In effect…

So – remember what he did … remember who he is … and have a care people … as he humbled himself, you be ready to humble YOUR selves, you esteem others of more import than yourself, you look out for their interests as well as your own. Remember that he who became a servant to suffer and die on a cross is also the one who is elevated to highest honor and glory …

That ‘reverence of person’ and respect for Jesus’ rank and dignity well suit ‘phobos’ [fear] in context of Phi 2:12. The willingness of the Son to come down, to serve, to suffer and to die fits a response of ‘great awe’ as a rendering of ‘tromos’ even if minus the ‘outward sign’ of shaking.

Despite Eph 6:5, owners didn’t expect slaves to cower before them. Even if Paul says, ‘with fear and trembling,’ he adds immediately ‘in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ.’ That is the ‘heart’ of the matter.

Do we REALLY Need Multiple Meanings?

In 1Pe 3:2, the ‘respectful’ behavior expected of wives toward husbands is ‘phobos.’ Presumably, wives are not expected to cower before their men. Although one or two IFB ‘pastors’ might convince us that they DO think that way, this would be an horrid way to conceive either marriage or our relationship with God. So we really do need to honor the fact that words have multiple meaning, and to determine what fits each context best.

What’s Wrong with ‘Fear?’

Such a conception of God violates several Biblical norms. The spirit of fear is contrary to the spirit of adoption [Ro 8:15]. We do not have the spirit of timidity but of power, love and discipline [2Ti 1:7]. We have been freed from the fear of death [He 2:15]. There is no fear in love and the one who fears is not perfected in love [1Jo 4:8]. We are told do ‘not fear’ scores of times in references that run from Genesis to Revelation.

Exactly Who Is God Anyway?

Behind all this is the question of whether God is a vengeful, hateful tyrant who loves to drop the house on us if a toe goes out of line, or whether God is a loving, heavenly Father who sends his Spirit continually and strives tirelessly with people in all times and places.

Fundamentalism has little choice but to depict God as a cosmic grouch. Every time people are illuminated by the Spirit and drawn into the stream of grace that flows from the throne in Glory, another potential supporter is lost to Fundamentalism.

If we want to make a case for ‘fear and trembling,’ we should base it on Galatians 2. If Peter can be carried off by works-based theology, we must recognize that we are all apt to wander into aberrant thinking however much we deny it and may pay lip service to grace.

Glory to Christ!