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).