Schafe können sicher weiden
J. S. Bach

Schafe können sicher weiden             Sheep may safely graze and pasture
Wo ein guter Hirte wacht.                    In a watchful shepherd’s sight.

(Fifth in a series.)

There are many dangers that threaten the souls of the Church, and if we read the history of Acts, it’s apparent the worst enemies of the sheep are commonly inside the church. Augustine himself said “many wolves within.”

This truth reveals what is some of the most difficult work of the shepherd. Guarding the souls under his protection requires him to wake his sheep to the threat posed by mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers they sit next to in the sanctuary and eat at the same table with at church and home fellowship groups.

Of course this is scandalous to the sheep, as it should be. Yet this scandal is what pastors need to warn their sheep of, and protect them from.

Why is it a stumbling block to the sheep?

Because love always expects the best, after all. Because if the church isn’t a safe place, where in the world is one to be found?

Still, any slightest reading of Scripture makes it painfully clear how often the greatest danger to the sheep comes from God’s Own people. From within the covenant community.

There were the sacramentalists on the verge of destroying the souls of the Galatian church whom the Apostle Paul opposed in the most strident way. There were the incest, pride, and super-apostles ruining the church in Corinth. There were the scribes, chief priests, and elders turning their converts into twice the sons of Hell they were themselves. Our Lord warned His sheep against them in the starkest terms and it was these same men who were the officers of Christ’s church who finally succeeded in murdering the Son of God.

Now say again that it’s those on the outside of the church we must be on guard against—not those inside the church.

Christian consumerism

Meditating on how opposed sheep and their shepherds are to any warnings against the church celebrities they’re clinging to, it popped into my mind that Christians today need to be woke to the fact that Western consumerism is one of the reasons we’re so vulnerable to false shepherds and hirelings.

Conferences, authors, podcasters, Bible versions, books, and churches aren’t so much the means of discipleship today as trademarks and brand names we conspicuously consume. Those Keller books splayed across our desks and coffee tables are similar to the eyeglasses we wear, the skinny jeans we pour ourselves into, our haircuts, and the non-ICE EV’s we park at the outer edges of our church’s parking lots. Think about how we brag about the colleges/unis our children got into, the foodie joints we take pics at for Instagram, the brews and cigars and ball caps we cop our pose with on our hipster church planting sites.

Take away a reformed baptist’s cigars and who is he? Take away a Presbyterian’s single malt and what’s left of him? Remove Keller’s books. Tell church planters they can’t use the words “passion,” “flourishing,” or “robust,” and oh my. What’s left of us?

We market ourselves to other Christians by our mustache, spectacles, brew, liturgy, podcast queue, and vocabulary. But especially names.

I’m of Apollos. I’m of Paul,

Oh yeah, buddy.

The Christian trademarks in vogue change regularly. At this point I could list the names year by year over the course of the past fifty years, but no one cares about the past. Consumerism religious and otherwise is only about the present.

Religious consumerism is aimed at clawing our way until we’re slightly ahead of the other schmucks we thereby prove aren’t as au currant as we are.

It’s high time we realize that the church’s theology and leadership mirrors scholars and their publications: as Chesterton put it, all the talk of what’s latest is nothing more than a giggling excitement over fashion.

Trust me, men like Tim Keller, Rusty Moore, Al Mohler, Rob Bell, Charles Stanley’s son, Carl Trueman, and (pick-your-current-name) are fads. Styles. Brands. Go down to Half-Price Books and watch as the shelves bend under the weight of their quickly-passing masterpieces. Soon they’ll be weighing the shelves down right there next to Gordon MacDonald, Robert Schuller, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Mark Driscoll, and Norman Vincent Peale.

Go back home and pray that the Lord will send a true and humble shepherd to pay you and your family a visit. At night. At your house. With tears. Someone you can love and trust for life. A real shepherd.

I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.

And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.

In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:29-35)

(Fifth in a series.)

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Image is “Jailoo” by CharlesFred, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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