I listened to a sermon by Doug Wilson a week or so ago in which he said,
Often we rebuke not the ones who need it, but the ones who will take it.
I’d like to work that soil a bit and talk about why we do that.
Rebuke is a strong word, and not every situation requires it. With that said, situations that call for rebuke usually are not the ideal teachable moments where the other person is listening and wants to do better. When rebuke is necessary it probably means that the other person isn’t thinking or listening or responding to gentler measures. Who wants to step into that? Who wants to plow a field full of boulders?
So instead, we search for softer fields. We aim our rebukes at those who don’t need to be rebuked, but at least we will feel like we accomplished something. Rebuke isn’t always necessary when the other person is already listening, already sensitive. But that’s the person who will feel our blow and, not only will they learn how wrong they are, they will also learn how much more we love righteousness than they do. What a large pile of dirt we can show after digging where the soil was already turned over.
Why not just remain quiet? Say you’re not strong enough to rebuke the hard case, why lay into the weaker one? Not everyone does, some are always quiet and occasionally that’s wise and not a compromise. But why do some go for the scold? Because at least that keeps the attention on someone else. Recrimination and credentialism are defensive techniques to avoid confessing sin ourselves. Rebuking those who don’t need it is an offensive move, but still deflection. We think it keeps people from seeing our own field full of boulders.
[O]ur time of confession ought not to be about a list of items, kept or broken. We are in the process of becoming a certain kind of person. Everything we confess is that which interfered with that process. If it did not interfere with it, then there is nothing to confess. But the rules are not floating above our heads, independently autonomous. No, God’s rules are simply a description of what He is like, and what we would like to become like.
—Doug Wilson, Becoming a Certain Kind of Person
Doug Wilson writes about a local church’s advantages “to support a hundred missionaries at $25 a month,” namely, to diversify and minimize risk. The entire article is worthwhile, but this is his summary.
I think it was Andrew Carnagie who said to put all your eggs in one basket, and then to watch that basket. But watching the basket involves work. We would rather put 25 eggs in 25 different baskets, and then not watch anything.
The mantras of “personal knowledge” and “investment in lives” sound really good, almost hip even. But there is no way to do it without the willingness of the elder board to say to someone that they want him to “stop that.” And it cannot be done without an acknowledgement on the part of those who are sent that they are submitted to personal and real authority.
And the final kick in the pants:
But because we love our independence, because we are soft in our doctrine of how the Trinity knits us together, we would rather diversify the risk. We love our mutual funds.
“Keeping a rule,” however technically correct, falls easily into the trap of abstraction and impersonalism. As a result we oppose sin with a false standard of holiness, and then are surprised at its impotence. But gratitude, thanksgiving, contentment, and joy are always personal, by definition. Jesus is there, and if you thank Him, then that gratitude fills up all the available space.
—Doug Wilson, Clean Contentment
Children learn far more unspoken theology than we tend to think. Suppose parents have operated with the doctrinal assumption that the kids might or might not turn out, who knows? Why should the children have any confidence about it? Unbelief is the constant, unspoken option. And one day, the option is spoken out loud. But it was always there, hidden away in the hearts of the parents, who always hoped for their childrens’ faith, but never believed for it.
—Doug Wilson, The Pastor’s Kids, Again
Having the eggs doesn’t mean that you know how to make the omelet. But if you don’t have the eggs, it doesn’t matter if you do know how to make the omelet.
—Doug Wilson, Word Fussers and Whowhomers
It is not possible to sit this one out.
—Doug Wilson, The Critical Spirit. Brief but fantastic article on the differences between a critical spirit and a discerning spirit, with a reminder that we will have one or the other.
Wilson’s childrearing advice can also be summarized by his educational goal.
No one can go into a marriage relationship to find out what it would be like to be married to this person without being married to them already. This means that with the scriptural system of courtship, the commitment comes first, and true intimate knowledge of the spouse comes second.
—Doug Wilson, Her Hand in Marriage, 89