(Ninth in a series.)

Since the G.R.A.C.E Report prised open and released a carefully limited pile of information about the malfeasance and connivances of their pastors and elders in connection, particularly, with the sexual abuse of their sheep, much has been written about the officers of Tenth Presbyterian Church and Philadelphia Presbytery. Such importance has been placed on them that observers of the mess might be tempted to conclude the future of the congregation of Tenth is in the hands of those leaders.

This is largely true. Even those with no experience caring for a flock of sheep or herd of goats or cows have read in Scripture how central the shepherd is to the wellbeing of his flock. We know this from the tenderness of Psalm 23:

A Psalm of David: The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever. 

Here is a most tender and simple explanation of the relationship between the sheep and his shepherd. Note the total dependence of the flock on their shepherd.

David wrote of his own dependence on the Lord for all his needs. The Lord is David’s Shepherd. David wrote as a sheep, and yet David was also a shepherd. First he was the shepherd of sheep, then the shepherd of God’s people, Israel:

[God] chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance.

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands. (Ps. 78:70-72)

More than three-hundred times, Scripture speaks of “sheep” and “shepherds.” But this doesn’t quite get at the importance of this Scriptural theme. Beyond the words “sheep” and “shepherd,” there are countless allusions to this theme so central to salvation history. God’s people are sheep and pastors and elders are shepherds still today.

The word “pastor” is just the word “pasture.” This is the name we give the men who feed, water, and guard our souls. We dignify them with the time-honored name of their duty. The pastor is called “pastor” because he pastures his flock.

What then is there to think and say concerning the sheep and flocks of God whose pastors fail to pasture God’s flocks; who fail to feed and water and guard those God has placed under their pastoral care?

This is the horrible condition God’s people are abandoned to over and over again throughout Scripture. From the Bible, we know that, when the shepherds of God’s people betray their trust, it angers God. He Himself denounces those shepherds.

Take for instance this word God spoke to Ezekiel. It is applicable to much of the Evangelical church in America today, but it’s most applicable to the presently harassed and helpless, wandering and vulnerable, flock of Tenth Presbyterian Church. They have long been abandoned by their shepherds so that this rebuke of shepherds given by God through His prophet Ezekiel may be a comfort to them:

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. 4 Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 They were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. 6 My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill; My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth, and there was no one to search or seek for them.”’”

Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 “As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.”’” (Ezekiel 34:1-10)

It is imperative the sheep of Tenth Presbyterian Church see the desperate nature of their condition. Without recognizing their flock’s tragic history of being abandoned by their shepherds, they will not grasp either their need or the Biblical solution.

What could keep them from recognizing their condition?

No Reformed Christian in the Western world today naturally thinks of himself as needing a shepherd. But talk about it to God’s good shepherds and they freely speak of how difficult it is to feed, water, lead, and especially guard sheep who think they are quite capable of feeding, watering, leading, and guarding themselves.

Most sheep don’t want shepherds today. They want chaplains. They want men who know how to play dress-up and officiate functions and ceremonies properly, placing on display sufficient sophistication that the rich and important of their flock are proud of them. Senior ministers’ currency at tall-steeple churches is crud like degrees, accents, vocabulary, and suits (or untucked button-downs or robes)—whatever the congregation’s arbiters of taste prefer.

When we turn to Tenth Presbyterian Church, another level of not-needing-a-shepherd steps up.  There’s all that East Coast history. There’s Philly’s own Center City pride. Tenth’s sheep are very well bred. Their pedigree includes Jim Boice, the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and Machen’s Westminster Theological Seminary.

Tenth is no church of stupid sheep needing shepherds. Back in the days of Scripture, people didn’t have books, conferences, and famous shepherds’ podcasts, so of course they were stupid and needed shepherds.

Now let’s just put this to a stop right now. Any congregation who thinks this way is running toward a cliff and needs to turn right around and run for their lives—away from that cliff.

All God’s sheep are stupid and need shepherds. God has ordained it this way. Those who despise the specific men God has delegated authority to watch over our souls are not just rebels against God, but fools. Can we and our children and grandchildren need anything more than watch-care over our eternal souls?

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you. (Hebrews 13:17)

Do we or the members of Tenth think we’re better equipped to handle being without shepherds than Israel at the time of Ezekiel. Israel at the time of Jesus?

Remember our Lord’s repeated lament:

When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34)

This is the condition of Christians in America today, whether or not we know it.

The unique privilege of the sheep of Tenth Presbyterian Church is that they know this now—beyond a shadow of a doubt. They are harassed and helpless. The wise among them are mourning over it.

When will they be taught?

When will they be fed.

Who will comfort them?

Tragically, many of Tenth’s sheep have already responded something like this:

I used to think I needed a shepherd, but look what it got me. I’m done with that.

Sure, Christians go to church, so I’ll keep going somewhere. But I’ve learned my lesson and I’ll never let myself be vulnerable to pastoral authority again. Don’t need no one keeping watch over my soul as men who must give an account. I’m done with trusting any elder or pastor.

If this is you or someone you love at Tenth, it’s the wrong lesson to learn. Concerning the offices of authority that God has ordained within Christ’s Church, it needs to be said incessantly today that the abuse of this good thing does not negate its proper use.

Jesus’ response to the crowds surrounding him whose shepherds had abused and fed upon them was not to shrug His shoulders and send them away. Nor did He fault them for being stupid and needing to be guarded and fed.

Rather, He exposed and excoriated the faithless hirelings posing as shepherds of Israel. He took up the work Himself and was faithful in that work to the very end:

Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. (John 13:1)

It’s never time for God’s sheep to despise God’s shepherds, yet it’s always time for God’s sheep to learn to discern who are true shepherds of God and who are hirelings and wolves. Then, to tie themselves to those true shepherds.

So far our posts have focused on exhorting those at Tenth to seek the discipline of their hirelings, false shepherds, and wolves on their Session and in their pastoral offices and pulpit.

Now the time has come for those good sheep who have refused to allow rebellion to have its way in their hearts. either to leave and find a faithful shepherd they may look to for faithful care; or to stay at Tenth, to gather together and form a search committee, and to find and call a faithful shepherd to serve them.

They must not allow any pastor or elder in Philadelphia Presbytery or Greenville Seminary or Covenant Theological Seminary or Westminster Seminary or the Offices of the Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America to deter them from this work.

Now is the time to be wise as serpents. Many of the men who, in Tenth’s hour of need, will present themselves to Tenth’s sheep as so-called “conservatives” in the PCA have nevertheless, somehow managed to continue within the post-Revoice PCA without making any fuss noticeable enough to get the powers-that-be angry at them.

How does that work? Tenth’s congregation has had enough of so-called “conservatives” who hide from dangerous work!

Don’t go with the old and established again. It’s done you wrong. Of course, the powers-that-be will assure you they didn’t like Revoice, personally. They will tell you they said this or that thing in this or that private meeting of very important people.

Do not believe them. Such men will not be the slightest help to you.

Instead, find a humble shepherd out in the boonies who has stood against the PCA’s decadence. Get his advice. Or, better yet, hire him.

Really, it’s not difficult to find a faithful shepherd as long as you don’t waste time paying attention to men with the terminal degree, the patrician carriage, the denominational honor, and the foreign accent.

Man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart.

Go out to the countryside and find the man everyone else has forgotten; the man who’s alone and busy guarding the sheep.

His name might be David. Issue him your call.

(For thus says the Lord GOD) “Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them; I the LORD have spoken.

“I will make a covenant of peace with them and eliminate harmful beasts from the land so that they may live securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 I will make them and the places around My hill a blessing. And I will cause showers to come down in their season; they will be showers of blessing. 27 Also the tree of the field will yield its fruit and the earth will yield its increase, and they will be secure on their land. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I have broken the bars of their yoke and have delivered them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be a prey to the nations, and the beasts of the earth will not devour them; but they will live securely, and no one will make them afraid. (Ezekiel 34:23-28)

(Ninth in a series.)


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