Wednesday, September 02, 2015

On Rebuke and Humility

Many years ago, when I was young and a bit full of myself, [don't say it!] I took it on myself to correct Henry Schrock on a few points of his sermon.

He had mentioned First Corinthians 11 when he meant First Corinthians 13, for one thing.  And then there was some point of doctrine that I questioned him on also.  I don't remember what it was, but I remember my sister laughing at me afterward and saying, "Only you, Dorcas."

Henry's response was to listen carefully with his characteristically bowed head, to smile genially, and to take me a lot more seriously than I deserved.

I think of this now because I have not always been so fortunate in the years since.

There was the visiting preacher who had a bluff-and-bluster sermon about evolution, making it clear that anyone who believed in evolution was just stupid.

I spoke to him afterwards.  It might be more effective, I suggested, to just compare the two philosophies side by side, and consider both seriously but explain why creation makes more sense to you.  Because if you're going to play this game, "they" can make "us" look stupid too.

"But evolution IS stupid!" he said, visibly upset. And that was the end of that conversation.

Then there was the guy who had the same approach to Calvinism vs. Arminianism, and who had the same reaction to my gently-worded challenge.

And the guy who felt that all depression was caused by sin, and none of us need professional help.

I might have burst into tears when I spoke to him, having just lost a nephew to suicide.  His response was utterly devoid of compassion or sense.  He did not appreciate me or my question.

I am making Mennonite ministers look really bad here, so please note that our repertoire of guest preachers includes dozens who were Godly, sensible, and easy to be entreated.

I'm making a point here, eventually.

I don't go around correcting ministers all the time, either.  But if I have a question, I'll ask if the time seems right, with a more diplomatic spirit than I had back when I spoke to Henry Schrock.

None of the men I confronted said that I, as a woman, had no right to question them, although they probably thought that.  I'm guessing that anyone younger, female, or less ordained was disqualified from doing anything but heartily agreeing.

This can do crazy things to your mind.  Like: Oh dear, I'm just too forward.  Maybe I should have complimented him on something before I asked about that.  Maybe I'm just too full of my own opinion. If a well-known important person thinks I'm an idiot, maybe I am. Maybe I should have had Paul ask him instead . . . even though Paul would have wondered why I'm getting him involved if I was the one with the question.

Anyone in any position with a bit of power can fall into this trap, not just ministers. Parents, professors, anyone In Charge of Anything.  I once had a very secular psychology professor who claimed that the blind spot in the center of your iris and the blind spot when you're driving were the same thing, and when I asked her about it after class she smiled like a Rottweiler and tore me apart like one too.

"How dare you question me?" this attitude says.  "After all, I'm all these things that you are not."

And so you're left feeling bad.  About yourself, about them, about your voicelessness in something that really should not have become that big a deal.

Of course there's a right and a wrong way to speak to someone. 1 Timothy 5:1 says, "Rebuke not an elder, but intreat him as a father, and the younger men as brethren."  I'd say my approach was always "intreating," but if someone didn't want to hear it, they'd probably disagree.

I was driving home from Portland the other night and listening to a radio program, an interview with Dr. Henry Cloud.  He was talking about just this sort of thing, and how it affects relationships, and said something I'd never thought of.

The Bible, especially Proverbs, talks a lot about maturity and wisdom.  We tend to think the mature, wise person is the one who has it all together and does everything right.  But Proverbs doesn't say that.

Proverbs says, instead, that the mark of the wise person is that they listen to a rebuke.  They are humble and gentle when corrected.  Maybe even if they're older and more powerful.

The immature and foolish person will respond by being defensive, angry, and hostile, says Dr. Cloud.

"Whoever corrects a mocker [fool] invites insults. Whoever rebukes the evil person incurs abuse. Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning. –Proverbs 9:7-9 (NIV)"

Interesting, isn't it?

It seems a bit harsh to label a Mennonite preacher a mocker or fool, but it's also silly to think that his denomination and position might make him immune.  I'm married to a Mennonite minister who is getting older by the day.  Thankfully he is wise and humble, but he is not immune to pride because of his ordination or age.

We all face rebuke and correction, in a lot of areas besides what we say up front, as in all my examples here.  I suggest that we respond like Henry did back in 1978, and listen with an open heart and a patient smile, and make sure we understand.  Even if the rebuker is a sassy teenager who is way too full of herself. And even if it was an inadvertent and insignificant error like citing the wrong chapter in First Corinthians.

I think of him with gratitude and respect, all these years later.

James 3:17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.


  1. Thank you, Dorcas. This speaks to me!

  2. Goodcword. We have a banner in our Bible College about correcting the wise man. We encourage our leaders in being open to learning: being corrected is part of learning, help us Lord, as leaders and teachers to listen to corrections! Really article, thank you!

  3. I can't verify this, but my sense is that a leader not being easily entreated is one of the surest ways to alienate thoughtful people in the church--especially young people.

    Your reference to how not being heard raises "crazy-making" questions in the mind of the "entreater" is spot on, in my experience.

  4. I never comment here. But this time I must. It's very conflicting this need to challenge other's thinking and this learning to be wise and take rebuke! :) I so enjoyed this. Thank you!

  5. This is just spot-on. And I am left wondering how much of those negative responses depend entirely upon the gender of the person asking, or in your case, being a WOMAN.

    But that is another blog post. :)

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. This was excellent! It is a continual challenge to learn to be a person who is humble and responds correctly to pride can show up so quickly! Thanks!

  7. I love this. And it is a good reminder that if I feel hurt and silenced by the response of others, I need to make sure I don't do the same when others come to me.


  8. Years ago I heard a minister preach strongly against the chaos created by mission board projects and how important it is for only families to go on the mission field. He was an influential leader among a group of conservative churches. I wondered what he was referring to, but had no plans of asking him.

    However, afterward I had a good chance to ask him. I told him that I was glad to have had the chance to hear him preach, but I was curious what he was referring to in those comments. He mentioned two regrettable situations. One was a missionary who had wandered afield from what the mission board considered appropriate. The other was two 1-W young men (volunteers) who had been involved in an event which would not have met the approval of the mission board. I assured the minister that I think we have a lot of the same concerns but have come to different conclusions. I mentioned that I think it is important to have someone mature at each mission station, but if only families are permitted on the field, that will almost certainly reduce the number of people who are available to serve. He was congenial, and heard me out. However, I don't think either of us convinced the other to change our mind.

    Later I learned more details about the man who wandered from mission board goals. He had begged for a visit from the mission board, but ship travel was time-consuming and it went years between visits, leaving the missionary on his own and finally making decisions on his own. And the mission board learned that regular visits on the field are important.

    I don't suppose my appeal to that preacher had much or anything to do with the decision, but some time later this group of churches asked people from another church group how to organize a mission board. They now have a mission board, and not only families on the field, but also singles without their parental families.

  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  10. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  11. Interesting little story about Henry Schrock.... he now lives here in Kansas and is a member of our church, and I can easily imagine his sweet response to you. He is still so good-natured and gracious, at age 90. We love him and Lizzie!

    ~ Susanna

  12. Speaking of--- The sunrise/sunset photo on today's Hutchinson News weather page was taken by Henry Schrock! LRM