“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine . . . and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 This week’s assault on Facebook is 2 Timothy 4:3-4, with assorted memes and photos (one is a shot of the verse, in situ, […]
“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)
Jesus did not mean for His earthly flock to be left without wise, caring shepherds.
In this passage of Acts, the apostle Paul is speaking to the assembled leaders of Ephesus, and his words should make us all stop and reflect: Christianity, and its followers, have been under attack from the very beginning.
Now when someone says this, we tend to think, “Nero — he killed Christians!” or, “The Spanish Inquisition — that was a bad time!” and this is very true, but Paul’s words warn us — today — that the danger to the flock comes from within, amongst the very group of leaders that is supposed to protect and shepherd — and we cannot complacently accept everything we are told, just because someone in authority says that it’s so.
In the first place, we are not under Judaic law.
Now while this sounds painfully obvious (or it should, but many Christians, enamored of Jewishness and convinced that it adds something necessary to what Christ has completed, enjoy dabbling with elements of the religion, like saying “Yeshua” instead of “Jesus” or “Yahweh” instead of God), the point is that we are not under the rule of priests, nor are we obligated to put anyone there.
Where we attend Sunday morning (if we attend anywhere) is a free choice, and by showing up, we are not obligated to obey the hierarchy that is in place. The leaders, who are called to serve, are our fellow brothers and sisters, and when they start calling themselves, or thinking that they are, modern day apostles and prophets, we might want to use our commonsense and go someplace else.
“Hear, and Obey”
But the message of today, strongly promulgated by celebrity Christians — self-imposed leaders who pastor mega-churches, write books, and visit the Pope on behalf of the little people — is that we are a community, and as community members, we must make ourselves accountable to those “above” us — wives obey husbands (like slaves obey masters), laymen obey the elders, the elders confer with the pastor and form a leadership unit, the leadership unit is under the denominational aegis of whatever sect the church belongs to.
It’s all very Biblical and proper sounding, and if you question it at all, someone is sure to hammer you with Hebrews 13:17:
“Obey your leaders and submit to their authority,”
although “obey” can also be translated as “persuade,” “trust,” or “have confidence in,” and the word presented to us as “submit,” can also mean “yield to.”
Which brings us back to Paul’s warning at the beginning of this essay:
“Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth,”
something that only a fool would deny has ever happened, sometime, somewhere, or is not happening now.
We Must Be Awake
“So be on your guard!” Paul continues in 20:31. “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”
This is not a negligible issue: dishonest men, greedy for money and power, find it readily in a system in which acolytes are taught to not ask questions but to obey, to not speak up but follow the proper channels of presenting their concerns, to trust not in their own intelligence and acumen but in the words and commands of others.
Presented with “evidence” that their leaders are wise and good and in control — because these leaders are “blessed” by material wealth, or because these leaders “have the ear” of political magnates — most people back down, but one has to ask, just what is it, precisely, that the heralded 21st century human Evangelists say that is so earth shatteringly brilliant beyond what Peter, or John, or Paul, already wrote?
Or where, in the Scriptures, does God promise a private jet, large mansion, and television show to His prophets? Isn’t the purpose of wealth that we share it, lest we be like the rich man, who will have a harder time making it into heaven than a camel will, getting through the eye of a needle? (Matthew 19:23-24)
And given that these leaders assure us of their godly right to rule, based upon their wisdom and spirituality, shouldn’t they be concerned about the dangers that their riches are putting them in?
(As an aside, those of their followers who are concerned about this can easily solve the problem: just stop sending money to these people.)
There are wolves in the flock, my friend, and their presence is like tares among the wheat: it is difficult to tell the real, honest, meaningful shepherds from the false ones, and for those who are content to be sleepy sheep, readily following whoever calls the most convincingly, this is a problem.
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me,” Jesus said in John 10:27.
Our primary, and ultimate, shepherd, is Jesus. Get acquainted with His voice, so that you know when someone is imitating it.
Thank you joining me at Commonsense Christianity.