Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Robbers and Thieves and Wolves - Oh My!

[Second in a series including "SHEEP! WE ARE ALL SHEEP!" and "The Bible: Inspired and Inerrant?"]
[Crossposted at Street Prophets - where the comments are]

In a comment to "SHEEP! WE ARE ALL SHEEP!" (see Brain Cramps or Street Prophets) tobendaro asked some (to me) rich, rich questions - which I hope to do some justice too. This post started as one of my typical long-winded comments until it got too long-winded for even me.

A couple of things before that:

  • Since it is becoming less and less common for folks to capitalize pronouns and words connected to God, Christ and the Holy Spirit (and I do) - it should be said that the Shepherd in that other post (and any capitalized Shepherds in this post) are about the Good Shepherd of John 10: Jesus Christ. I know pastors are considered to be the shepherds of their flocks, and refer to themselves that way at times - but to me, theologically, they are not. They are the hired hands of the real Owner (God) who try to keep our eyes on the real Shepherd - Christ. When they forget that . . .
  • That brings us to the verses in John 10 I left out because I didn't think they were on point in the other post; and I wanted to save space. That was a mistake, and I apologize. I think this covers those who approach us sheep outside the person and teachings of Christ. [Karmakin: Please note this places your wolf analogy in very good company]
    1 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 "But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep . . . 5 "A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them. 7 So Jesus said to them again, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 "All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 "I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. 11 "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 "He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 "He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.
My placement of pastors as the hired hands, and not the Shepherd, of this passage is intentional: pastors are not our shepherds. Our elders are not our shepherds - nor our Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals, and yes, the Pope. If they teach us poorly and turn our eyes and ears off the person and voice of our True Shepherd where our trust must be placed - then they are leaving us for the thieves, robbers, and wolves of this passage. I at first thought Christ a little harsh here - surely some hired hands would fight off the wolves. Ultimately though, it is not true. If we place our trust in people, even our religious leaders (even the best of our religious leaders), we will eventually be let down. Our ears must always be turned, and continually tuned, to the voice of our Good Shepherd. The good hired hands do that, and never allow the trust of the flock to be placed in them so that when (not if) they become weak and flee, the wolves do not tear the sheep apart. Now to tobenaro:

As with everything, there are two sides to sheep. The fact that they follow a leader (shepherd) blindly and the nice feeling of being in a similar group of like thinkers who do things as a unit to produce comfort. Sorry if the metaphor of following bothers you but we have all experienced many people who follow blindly and that is not a good thing. I have no problem with people who want authority (shepherd) to tell them where to go, when and how to think. I realize the comfort and security that provides. They are welcome to that way and God Bless the simplicity.
God does bless the simplicity - remember "becoming as little children"; or "Blessed are the poor in spirit". Little children follow blindly and the poor in spirit seek the voice of God. The key to me here is that all people desire a source of wisdom that they can trust 100% of the time in all circumstances for the right answer. That is that God-shaped hole in each of our hearts. All humans are sheep; and frankly anyone that disagrees with that is intellectually dishonest - and I am sure they will quote some philosopher or other spiritual source, or themselves, to show me I am wrong. The difficulty is having a source for that knowledge; having certainty it is right; and then having it available all the time. Followers of Christ would love to have our savior at our elbow to give us the answers:

  • "Give him two dollars - he will use it on food";
  • "Don't give him two dollars he will use it on booze";
  • "Give him two dollars - he will use it on booze but you should have seen his morning";
  • "Don't pick up that hitchhiker, he will kill you";
  • "Pick up that hitchhiker, he is the reason I had you drive down this road"
My contention then is that we all seek someone who loves us, who is wise at all times, and that we trust so we can indeed follow blindly as children - we are all wired that way by God. The question has always been "who?" or "what?" we place in that position. Our wiring has been screwed up by the fall and our sin nature; our treatment by other humans; the philosophies of the world; and, of course, Satan - to name a few; but we are all wired to seek the voice of a shepherd.

I don't quite understand your defense of sheepish behavior. You are obviously not a sheep. You have educated yourself; you have searched and found a way comfortable and compatible with your personality. You have found your truth and you believe. Sheep leaders do not want that for their flock. They want to tell you what to believe and what to do . . . My thought on shepherds is they are not concerned of their flock but on their own ego's.
I hope I covered all this already. The core answer: the Good Shepherd is of course not concerned about His ego. His hired hands will of course struggle with their egos every day of their lives and all will fail at times in that struggle.

Is the crux of it that many do not take the Bible as literally as you do? Why does that bother you? If one is coming to God, what does it matter what path or beliefs he uses to do that.
This is the best of the good questions here. Do I care how you come to the Word of God; or God Himself? Yeah, but it's not a huge deal. Do I care if you follow the right Shepherd? Of course I do, I believe in eternal consequences (very good and very bad) for our good and bad decisions in how we relate to God. Again though, ultimately you, personally, will sort this all out - if I can influence that for the good great, but it is not under my control - and I am not your shepherd for sure.

Now, are you a hired hand in charge of part of the Good Shepherd's flock? That is a whole other story. Then we are talking about millstones and leading children astray; and hired hands leaving the flock for the wolves, thieves, and robbers. Since I am a minister of reconciliation (another hired hand, bought at a price) for God, seeing one of the Good Shepherd's hired hands pointing the sheep to the wrong voice is a definite issue. Also, what I say here makes this post not just about me; but about whether I am leading the sheep to the Shepherd's voice; or away from it - and that means it is no longer just about my personal walk. This is Karmakin's point that once I open my mouth in public I am fair game - and I cannot say "Gee, that is my walk and you cannot criticize it". If I am attempting to influence other sheep, I have responsibility to the rest of the flock - and certainly to the owner (God) and His Good Shepherd (Christ) for whether my din helps the sheep hear Their voices better or not.

How do we discern the real Shepherd's voice? Really only two ways:

  1. We know part of what He said; at least the part His direct followers and their companions (first split) were inspired (second split) to write about (third split?). Since we do not get to have Jesus following us around telling us which hitchhikers to pick up and which panhandlers to give money too - we first have to rely on His words and act in faith. The only words we have are in the Bible. That is just it.

    I personally believe any follower of Christ (Jesus Seminar, the 1800's and after German school of text criticism, etc.) publicly undermining the authority and inspiration of scripture is leading the sheep (intentionally or unintentionally) to a different shepherd than Jesus - and Jesus is the only Good Shepherd. These are hired hands leading you to the wolves; or leaving you to the robbers and thieves. Ponder why the German church of the 20th century was left, as Bonheoffer pointed out, with no Truth to stand on in facing the rise of Hitler. It was left that way because of the German theology of the 19th century which bowed to modernism - theology that is still cited today and continues in the "critical" schools. And folks ask why the US church seems to have no Truth to stand on in facing the actions of its government - while liberal theologians take jack-hammers to the foundation of the Truth and inspiration of scripture. This is, primarily, a mistake of liberal Christian theology (but not all liberal theologians of course)

  2. The second way we discern the Shepherd's voice is the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Jesus recognized He couldn't be at each of our elbows physically:
    John 14:16 "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.

    John 16:7 "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.

    The Bible is not living - the Holy Spirit is the Good Shepherd's voice and it is living - in us. It will lead us to the truth of a passage in whatever context we are in. It shows us what is history, parable, directive, precept, etc because scripture is spiritually discerned - without the Holy Spirit to "read it to you" you will not "get it".

    Reading the scripture without the leading of the Holy Spirit leads to legalism; and the mistake of the Pharisees in turning the truth and love of God into the restrictions and rules of men. This is a primary mistake of conservative theologians (although, again, not all of them). As Carl Palmer pointed out:

    . . . Many in our church come from conservative backgrounds where talk of the Holy Spirit was divisive . . . These were arguments over what the Holy Spirit did; what gifts it gave; and did all of this pass-away in the time of the Apostles. There were seminars and teachings over all the things the Holy Spirit no longer does - and we divided up - and the evil one just cackled. He cackled because he got Christians to divide up over God's Spirit, which is one of the stupidest things imaginable. Instead of being the source of loving one another, Christians were divided and angry with one another over the Spirit of God . . . The Holy Spirit is the thing that unites us together. We are baptized together into Jesus Christ through the Spirit. The Spirit is what makes the Body of Christ one . . . We need figure out what the Holy Spirit does do; and what He does for us; and His purpose for us; and what His gifts are and how we receive them; and how do we get the filling of God? We need to be powerful, spiritual people the way Jesus intended us to be.
This is not an "either/or" but a "both". Scripture gives us grounding to know whether the "voice" in our heart, or head, is the Holy Spirit or not - because the Holy Spirit will not contradict scripture. The Holy Spirit gives us God's love to apply God's word to our lives; and allows us to understand, as sheep, where we are to follow.

That is why I am a "Biblicist". And, that is why I will get irritated when the authority, power, and truth of scripture is attacked by Christians. I think they are dulling the voice of the Shepherd and allowing the wolves into the flock.

As Paul said, what non-Christians do about the Bible is not my concern.

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly