Talkative Fools

I don’t know why it has taken me so long, but I am finally reading the complete and unabridged version of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrims’s Progress (I have read various abridged versions before). It is one of many classics available free for the Kindle, or elsewhere online, though I am reading a print version.

Yesterday I came across a passage that was particularly striking to me, given a conversation I had Thursday evening with a group of college students that are reading through The Reason for God with me. We were talking about nominal Christians; those who are Christians in name only, but whose actions and words harm the witness of true Christians. In Keller’s book, he mentions the need for believers to stand up and speak out against those who would speak on behalf of Christ when they are not living in accordance with what the Bible requires of Christians.

In The Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian commends his friend Faithful, who has just spoken clearly and forcefully to a man named Talkative, who has a reputation for duplicity. To strangers, he is charming, and in public, he seems a model believer. In private, however, he is deceitful in his business and family relationships. He is a hypocrite through and through, like many in our churches today.

Today, as in Bunyan’s 17th century, these type of “Christians” turn many people away from the Gospel. Those who genuinely seek truth are confused by mixed messages coming from within the Church. The apostle Paul writes that, while we are not to judge those outside the church, we are to judge and hold accountable those who bear the title “Christian”. In fact, we are to “purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). Church discipline is difficult, but it is an act of love, done with the intention of bringing the offender to repentance (1 Corinthians 5:5).

With that in mind, listen to Christian’s commendation:

You did well to talk so plainly to him as you did, there is but little of this faithful dealing with men nowadays, and that makes religion to stink so in the nostrils of many as it doth; for they are these talkative fools whose religion is only in word, and are debauched and vain in their conversation, that (being so much admitted into the fellowship of the godly) do puzzle the world, blemish Christianity, and grieve the sincere. I wish that all men would deal with such as you have done, then should they either be made more conformable to religion, or the company of saints would be too hot for them.

Amen! These are words to live by today.

For more on church discipline, I highly recommend Jonathan Leeman’s book, The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love (my review).

5 comments on “Talkative Fools

  1. altonwoods says:

    John,

    I have just stumbled upon your blog and read this post, please forgive me if I have missed your point or if my comment seems off topic.

    It’s only that I think any discussion concerning the sincerity of another’s faith or commitment to Christ is one that should be undertaken with the utmost sensitivity and compassion,whatever the circumstances may be. And while I do understand the point you’re making here I guess I’d prefer to see more emphasis placed on the efforts towards the restoration of a misguided or errant brother in Christ than that of ridiculing them.

    In truth, I am as frustrated as anyone I know with the indifference of certain aspects of the body of Christ and am equally concerned with the damage to the gospel that some Christians are responsible for. However, I suppose that what I’m most concerned with is the church becoming known for having a “We shoot the wounded” policy, or for giving people the mistaken impression that we ourselves don’t also fail as followers of Christ rather consistently.

    As the books title says, it’s the “pilgrims progress”, not his destination!

    Perhaps I am also a “talkative fool”

    1 Corinthians 3:18 Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you seemeth to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.

    • John Gardner says:

      Thanks for the comment.

      I’m not sure where you feel that anyone is being ridiculed here, but that is certainly not the intention. In fact, biblical church discipline has the exact purpose you’ve mentioned: restoration. Again, the Jonathan Leeman book is great, and includes a great many practical considerations for achieving the restoration of those whose actions have necessitated discipline.

      What I did leave out of this post (simply for the sake of brevity) was the actual conversation which Faithful had with Talkative. Bunyan’s portrayal of this encounter is an extraordinarily grace-filled example of how God’s faithful can and should stand for the purity of the church while simultaneously seeking the salvation of those “whose religion is only in word”.

  2. altonwoods says:

    “for they are these talkative fools whose religion is only in word”

    Calling someone a fool seems like ridicule to me.

    • John Gardner says:

      It isn’t ridicule when it’s true. Those who claim wisdom apart from the saving knowledge of Christ are fools by definition (Psalm 14:1).

      John Bunyan was no more ridiculous in his usage of the word “fool” than were Solomon (Proverbs 12:15), Paul (Romans 1:22), and Jesus Christ (Matthew 23:17).

      • altonwoods says:

        John, What you’re saying is the truth and I know that…

        I think that my motivation to pursue the point I was trying to make was (and is) motivated by my own personal experience of being a “Talkative Fool”. Of being someone who’s heart’s in the right place but who also happens to be greatly struggling spiritually. By Gods grace I’ve come a long way from where I was at one time,but thinking about my past and the scenario you mentioned of having someone tell me the truth about just how foolish I was probably would have crushed me at the time. I believe God knew that as well and so kept me from any encounter with someone who might of been able and willing to show me this sort of “Christian love”.

        That’s why I have such a tender heart for others in whom I see a reflection of what I once was. And why I feel compelled to defend those who certainly may have some very obvious,very important things wrong in their lives (or their theology), but who also love,and ARE loved by the Lord in what ever capacity or station they happen to be at, at this point. I’m sure you know that many people have been hurt by “good church members” trying to do the right thing in just such a way. I understand the need to rid the church of seriously unrepentant troublemakers like Paul was addressing in the church at Corinth, I just wouldn’t want anyone to get the idea that this is how the church should deal with hurting/struggling people in this day and age who’re at their own particular level of maturity, I’m sure that wasn’t the message anyone intended…Thank You for you time and your insights! Please keep up the fine work you’re doing here for the Kingdoms sake!

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