Regarding Responsible Reformation
Al Maxey

Issue #31
April 20, 2003


Quotable Quote

"Ridicule is the best test of truth."
--- Lord Shaftesbury (1621-1683)


The Fine Art of Godly Mockery

An acquaintance of a noted Greek philosopher once lamented, "They deride thee, O Diogenes!" Unperturbed, the philosopher replied, "But I am not derided." Diogenes, who lived from 410-320 B.C., understood that truth, if it is truth, can never be truly harmed by mockery, ridicule or derision .... nor can those who promote it. Falsehood, on the other hand, will easily wither under intense and finely focused disparagement. Thus, ridicule and mockery have long been employed as legitimate devices for distinguishing fact from fallacy.

There is a fine line, however, between responsible ridicule and malicious mockery, and what begins as an honorable effort to separate truth from falsehood can quickly deteriorate into vicious villainy. Thus, there is indeed a fine art to practicing what might be termed godly mockery. Since so few people have mastered this art, most critics suggest this device should not be utilized at all. Some even believe it sinful to employ it. That is a case of casting out the baby with the bath water, however. There is no need to be so radical, if one is simply willing to be responsible.

A scalpel in the hands of a surgeon may result in healing for the one upon whom he uses this blade. In the hands of a sadist that same instrument will inflict harm. It is not the device itself, but the mindset of the one who would employ it, that determines the nature of the outcome. The same with mockery. It can result in suffering or salvation depending upon the heart and mind of the mocker. Some young lads, for example, mocked Elisha and were torn up by two female bears (2 Kings 2:23-24), whereas Elijah mocked the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27) and won a great victory over them at Mount Carmel. The latter was skilled in the fine art of godly mockery, the former were not. The difference was one of life and death!

While it is certainly true that there are perversions and abuses of mockery, ridicule, sarcasm and other legitimate biblical devices, and that these have on occasion been maliciously employed to stir up strife and generate schisms, it is equally true that these devices have been employed responsibly resulting in positive outcomes. Just because there are fake diamonds being manufactured and sold on the market as genuine jewels doesn't mean there are no real diamonds to be found. One must simply be discerning.

The Pharisees likely did not take kindly to the picture Jesus painted of them as blind men guiding blind men head over heels into a pit (Matthew 15:14), or as legalists straining out gnats while swallowing camels (Matthew 23:24), but this was subtle mockery with a spiritual message! Earlier in the latter chapter, Jesus mocked the rigid religious leaders with these words (aptly paraphrased in the Living Bible) -- "You would think these Jewish leaders and these Pharisees were Moses, the way they keep making up so many laws! And of course you should obey their every whim!" (Matthew 23:2-3). Mockery! But, godly mockery! Jesus sought to alert the people to the arrogance, as well as the dangers, of their leaders, portraying them as Moses-mimes and mandate-makers, men whose whims were expected to be obeyed as though their pronouncements had fallen from the lips of Moses himself. I believe the people got the message. So did the leaders, who wasted no time in seeking to destroy Him. The truth conveyed by the mockery was unmistakable, and it made a lasting impression upon impressionable minds.

As noted earlier, Elijah, one of only two men spared the pain of death, as he confronted the false prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, "mocked them" (1 Kings 18:27). Through this device the people came to perceive the ridiculous plight of these men as they called out to their lifeless idols and cut themselves in frustration over the deafening silence of their deities. The godly mockery utilized by Elijah presented a profound message to those assembled to witness this duel of deities. What was the outcome? "And when the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, 'The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God" (1 Kings 18:39).

The prophet Ezekiel was instructed to prophesy to the people of Jerusalem that God would bring mockery against them for the purpose of shaming them. When sin has brought a people low, derision is one device which just might help facilitate their repentance. "You have brought your days to a close, and the end of your years has come. Therefore I will make you an object of scorn to the nations, and a mocking to all the lands. Those who are near and those who are far from you will mock you" (Ezekiel 22:4-5). The ultimate intent of godly mockery is to restore a people, not to ruin them! Responsible ridicule will bring reformation in its wake, although its barbs may initially be quite painful to bear.

In the first chapter of Proverbs we find Wisdom, personified, speaking rather bluntly to those who have rejected her. "Since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you" (Proverbs 1:24-26). As with Jerusalem during the time of the prophet Ezekiel, sometimes mockery becomes necessary as a means of bringing a people to an awareness of their spiritual plight. Godly mockery can indeed be used effectively to bring about godly responses from those who have succumbed to the folly of falsehood.

Some of God's people today are ill-informed and misguided. For a few, however, these characterizations are much too generous! A healthy dose of responsible ridicule and godly mockery might just be what the Great Physician requires for some professing His name! Some people respond well to subtleties .... others need a two-by-four between the eyes! That's where mockery, derision, sarcasm and ridicule come in. Used sparingly and responsibly by Spirit-led disciples it may well bring about spiritual healing and reformation.

Joshua Clark, from Washington state, in an article entitled "Satire and Sarcasm" (published on the Internet: July 18, 2002), made some insightful remarks that we would all do well to carefully and prayerfully consider:


Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Mississippi:

Thank you, Al. I am still a little confused, but I think that is because I fall pretty much right smack dab between you and Mr. Thrasher. I will say that Reflections #28 and #28a have definitely caused me to do some digging into God's Word, and I will continue to dig and look at the Scriptures both you and Mr. Thrasher have referenced. Thank you for being so patient with me and for taking the time to answer my questions.

From a Minister in New Mexico:

I most certainly agree with you that the one example we find in Scripture of celebrating the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week is not sufficient grounds for legislating that frequency. Being a non-traditionalist, I have to question whether there is any mandate whatever for a religious ritual. Even if there is no mandate, however, it's a wonderfully worthwhile experience to observe a memorial celebratory of the resurrection of our Savior. That resurrection surely is the central event of all history .... an event worth celebrating often. You do good work, brother!

From a Reader in England:

Your Reflections #30 was excellently stated, and I've believed this for quite some time. I too have a heritage of taking the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis. I now live in a place and worship with a small group that does not take the Lord's Supper on a weekly basis, but many months in between. While I am not offended by such, I find myself MISSING the more frequent observance I grew up with.

From a Reader in Washington:

I respect your view on feeling comfortable communing on Sunday each week. I personally value having the Lord's Supper each week on Sunday. I had to readjust my thinking, however, when the fellowship we are with began to take the Lord's Supper following someone being baptized into Christ. Then I asked myself, "Why not?" I was bound to the traditions I had been raised with in the Churches of Christ. What better time to remember the sacrifice of Jesus than when we put Him on in baptism? It is such joy to be free and no longer shackled with those who would bind traditions and make them into LAW.

As you went on to say, "Jesus said, 'as oft as you do this ... do it in remembrance of Me." Helllooooo!

From a Reader in Missouri:

Brother Al, I live in Kansas City, Missouri and have been greatly blessed by your writings. I think for me, not growing up in a Church of Christ group had its advantage. I am willing to continue to evolve in the Truth. You do a good job at pointing out what the Scriptures say in your Lord's Supper article, and also in showing the difference between the precepts of the Lord versus the traditions of men. May we all be like the Bereans (Acts 17:11).

From a Reader in Michigan:

Excellent article today! The problem with establishing a frequency pattern can be illustrated mathematically by the following example: 1,2,X. The question is: what is X? The answer depends on what the pattern is. If the pattern is to increase each number by 1, then X=3. BUT, if the pattern is to double each number (that is, multiply it by 2, not simply square it), then X=4. The only way to know is to have another number in the pattern so we can determine the relationship of the space between the first & second numbers and the second & third numbers. In other words, we need THREE examples in order to establish THE PATTERN. With Acts 20:7 we not only don't have three examples, we don't even have two. We only have one, all by itself, with nothing to indicate what happened before or after it.

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Al, another well written article (Reflections #30). Recently, a brother whom I once knew in the conservative church found out about me "defecting" from the Non-Institutional church to the "progressive" church. I think he felt it was his job to convert me back. So, several email exchanges occurred. I emailed him some of your Reflections (especially the one concerning the Lord's Supper). The brother was not kind to me at all, and it eventually boiled down to a personal attack on me. Regarding your articles, he actually got somewhat personal in his accusations about them. He called your type of reasonings regarding "as often as" -- "sneaky" and "a ploy." I confronted him on this.

Incidentally, my wife and I took the Lord's Supper three times last week. I know we are breaking all the "rules," Al, but I feel such a degree of difference between my spirituality now than when I was lost in legalism.

From a Reader in Florida:

Bro. Al, I may be telling you what you already know. Ron Halbrook does not walk in agreement on all issues with the Non-Institutional brethren either. In the Florida College Lectureship in 1983 a young preacher named Mike Schmidt gave a lecture, The Sins Of Being Right. It was not too popular with some brethren as it spoke of the rise of Phariseeism in the church. Mike paid a price and still does for his belief.

From a noted RM Leader in Texas:

Al, I want to join others in commending you for taking Biblical exposition seriously, and for believing in your readers that they are willing to think and consider a different point of view. You consistently show both resourcefulness and responsibility in your essays. Soldier on!

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