Intolerance, Sheep Stealing, & the Good Shepherd
- 2007 23 Apr
A ministry called “Concerned Christians,” comprised mostly of former Mormons, distributed 18,000 copies of a DVD to homes across the state of Arizona last week in an effort to reach Mormons for Christ. AZCentral.com reports that Mormon leaders are outraged. “I'm disappointed. We need tolerance in our community, and religious tolerance is one of those things we need to do,” noted Dave Udall, a Mesa attorney and former church spokesman. Don Evans, LDS spokesman for Arizona stated, “The attitude of the church is there is freedom of religion. Our church would not go after another religion.”
However, Jim Robertson, a former Mormon and founder of “Concerned Christians” (over 35 years ago), said “the DVD was produced in response to aggressive Mormon missionary work. ‘They’re stealing sheep’ from other religions. ‘I don't like the fact that they lie to people to get them into the church. They're not telling people what the church is all about until after they have them hook, line and sinker.’” “The DVD contrasts the teachings of Jesus Christ with those of Joseph Smith.”
The reality is that sheep stealing has been an issue since the New Testament time period and the Lord Jesus Christ actually contrasts Himself with all other would be shepherds. In John 10 for example, Christ emphatically states that He is the good shepherd as opposed to the Pharisees who are implicit false shepherds (and attempted sheep stealers). In the face of an increasingly pluralistic culture, we must not be confused with empty rhetoric concerning tolerance and religious freedom, particularly from attempted sheep stealers. Those things have their proper definitions but the sad reality is that few understand them any longer. We must cling to Christ as superior to all other would be shepherds now more than ever.
First, Christ is superior to all other would be shepherds because those other shepherds do not enter by the door. Christ Himself declared, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.” In context, the sheepfold is national Israel, Christ is the door, and the Pharisees are referred to as thieves and robbers.
By way of application, the thief, whether it be a Pharisee, Joseph Smith, or any other false shepherd, tries to enter the sheepfold by a way other than the door. The reality is that false shepherds try to enter or teach others to enter life by means other than Christ. Some teach that eternal life is obtained by good works or law keeping. The problem is that we have already sinned and could never make ourselves perfectly righteous before a perfectly righteous God.
Others teach that life is obtained through one or more philosophical constructs. The problem with that thinking is that philosophy is, among other dynamics, speculative and man-centered. One cannot reason or observe his way to eternal life. In other words, one cannot reason or observe that which can only be revealed.
Others point us to science as having the answers to ultimate questions. Even scientists recognize that science has no such answers. The problem with science is that it doesn’t explain everything. It doesn’t explain metaphysical laws of logic, the existence or concepts of good and evil or ethics and morality. For all of the propaganda to the contrary, science cannot explain our origin or our destination. These things are beyond the observable, natural world and require a different kind of knowledge or experience to be ascertained.
Legion are those today who would point us to relativism as the answer to the individual’s search for meaning. The primary problem with relativism is that it is irrational and violates laws of logic including those of identity, non-contradiction, the excluded middle, and rational inference. It makes no allowance for objective truth and as such cannot explain the world in which we live or the universal reality we experience.
By way of example, some things are true for everyone (laws of logic; mathematic formulas; natural law; universal experience). Suppose you and I are riding in an automobile. If you say the car exists and I say it does not, then I am wrong. My assertion would not only be a violation of the laws of non-contradiction and the excluded middle (something cannot exist and not exist at the same time and it either does or it does not exist, there is no in between), but it would be a denial of the very reality I am experiencing, namely, that of riding in a car. Such a premise would be absurd. To hold such a worldview would make communication, inference, or any real interaction impossible or meaningless. We might as well deny our own existence and lie down and die.
Second, Christ is superior to all other would be shepherds because those other shepherds are nothing but thieves and robbers, as noted. Why would someone seek to enter in a way other than the door? When I was a kid, I would find myself locked out of the house sometimes and I would seek to gain entry through a window. Of course, thieves seek to gain entry through means other than the door so as to remain undetected. Those who don’t have access to the house seek to enter in by some way other than the door. This is the point Christ makes. Those who would seek to enter into life by means other than the door are locked out. In fact, they are thieves because they lead others to seek entry by means other than the door. In that sense, they seek to steal sheep that belong to Christ.
False shepherds seek to steal Christ’s sheep and they do so for personal gain. They may seek to take advantage of persons and their fears, desperation, adverse circumstances, or even greed to garner financial reward for themselves. They may seek power or accolades by stealing Christ’s sheep. Whatever the reason, they are robbers according to Christ.
Third, Christ is superior to all other would be shepherds because He alone is the true shepherd of the sheep. In vv. 2-4 we read, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
Note that as the true shepherd, the doorkeeper admits Christ into the fold (of Israel in context). Of course, Christ has access to the larger fold of His world.
Further, in v. 3, as the true shepherd, Christ calls His own sheep by name. Christ has chosen His sheep before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3f). He calls each one that He has chosen, His own, by name.
Beyond that, as the true shepherd, Christ leads His sheep from the fold (3). Christ leads His chosen ones out of the fold (of Israel and indeed the larger fold of His world). Not only has He chosen them, but He calls them effectually to Himself and translates them from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light (Col. 1:13).
Of course, in v. 4, as the true shepherd, Christ goes on ahead of His sheep. Christ is not a rancher who drives the sheep like a herd of cattle but a shepherd who leads His sheep. What a gracious, merciful, and loving Savior! He is indeed the true shepherd of the sheep.
Fourth, Christ is superior to all other would be shepherds because His sheep know His voice and they follow Him (3-4). The picture Christ paints was familiar to His audience. Two or three flocks of sheep might be in the same fold at night for various reasons. In the morning, each shepherd would call his own sheep. Each sheep knew the voice of his shepherd and followed him only. Christ so works in the human heart by grace that His sheep know His voice and follow Him.
Fifth, Christ is superior to all other would be shepherds because His sheep will by no means follow a stranger. Christ Himself said, “Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers (5).” Just last week, an Alabama pastor’s wife, Mary Byrne Smith, disappeared from a woman’s conference in Bossier City, LA. Her husband is the Pastor of First Baptist Summerdale. She is thirty years old, has two small children, teaches kindergarten, and appears happy in her pictures. Obviously, a real tragedy has occurred. But questions abound. What happened to her? Did she leave her husband? Was she abducted? Did she follow a stranger to her death?
Isn’t that one of the biggest fears of parents, that their child will follow a stranger? We teach them to flee from strangers. Just this year a convicted sex offender was arrested in our neighborhood as he was watching young boys in the rest room at a swim meet we were attending (one of my friends tackled him for the police). How I pray my children flee from those strangers who would seek to do them harm!
O, there are false shepherds who would steal your soul! And yet, the word of God gives the children of God a guarantee. Those who truly know Christ will by no means follow a stranger. They will not and cannot fly from Christ but they will fly to Christ as they flee from false shepherds. Christ has done that work in our hearts. It is a matter of Christ’s effectual work of grace in us. What comfort that dynamic ought to give us and what commitment to our shepherd that reality ought to foster in us by His grace, for His glory, and for our joy.
False shepherds seek to steal Christ’s sheep. Let us flee from them and follow after Christ, the Good Shepherd, to the end. Further, let us not be confused by charges of intolerance. Christians are tolerant of other religions and even false shepherds in the sense that we affirm and defend their right to exist and propagate their message in a free society. However, that does not mean that we may not attempt to reach them for Christ. In fact we must seek to win them. That is not intolerance but obedience to our God and love to our neighbor. Let us, as under shepherds of the Good Shepherd, proclaim the gospel of grace to all possible that Christ might call His own from the fold of the world to Himself.
Dr. Paul J. Dean is the pastor of Providence Baptist Church in Greer, SC, and hosts a daily, live, call-in radio talk show: "Calling for Truth." He serves as the Director of Applied Ministry at the Greenville, SC extension of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
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