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Thursday, February 08, 2018

Wolves Among Sheep

Paul, in his farewell address to the elders of the church at Ephesus, offers them a warning.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)
Okay, let's review. First, there is the flock. Then, there are the elders, to whom he is speaking. These he refers to as "overseers", the would-be shepherds of the flock. Finally, there are the wolves. Paul warns that "fierce wolves" will "come in among you." Worse, some of them "from among your own selves" will arise "speaking twisted things." Paul urges them to be alert.

How are we to view this warning?

First, it is significant that Paul refers twice to the threat being "among" us. The wolves come in among us and the false teachers come from among us. It's the very same thing John wrote about. In his version, they are "anti-christs" (1 John 2:18) who "went out from us" (1 John 2:19). That is, the problem is an internal one to the church, not an external one from anti-theist enemies. We are well aware that "the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God" (Rom 8:7), but there is clearly a threat from within as well, and apparently it's not a small threat.

Second, compare the difference between a shepherd and a wolf among sheep. A shepherd's concern is for the sheep. He feeds them, waters them, houses them, and protects them. A wolf's concern is for self. The wolf is looking to kill and to feed, but not to care for the sheep. In the same way, those tasked with caring for the flock are to have the flock's best interests at heart while the wolves will have an ulterior motive.

Modern wolves are easy to find. They broadcast their de-conversion stories; people like Bart Ehrman, Rob Bell, Peter Enns, and Jen Hatmaker. These are not people who simply change their beliefs and move on. They are on a mission -- to kill the sheep. They are former Bible scholars, pastors, and well-known Christians who have "seen the light" ... that God's Word is not as reliable as you thought and Christianity is not what you've been led to believe and it's time to throw it out and start over. Oh, they often do that while "defending the Bible", but it is always with the idea that "I have figured out what the Holy Spirit failed to tell the Church for the last 2,000 years and they were all wrong while I'm finally right." So they begin by undercutting Christ's promise to send the Spirit to lead us into the truth and then assure you they're defending the truth. ("You know," they say, "there hasn't been agreement on almost anything ever," while they point at homosexuality and gay marriage and suggest that they are in line with Scripture. Never mind that on this point all of Church history has always been in agreement -- homosexual behavior is a sin and marriage is the union of a male and a female.)

The concept of the wolf in sheep's clothing comes from the lips of Jesus Himself. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves." (Matt 7:15) Thus, we are assured that they will exist, that they will dress themselves like us, and that they do not intend our best interests. "Therefore be alert."


Anonymous said...

Where does John Piper fit in this description, with his false teachings on justification, hedonism, future grace?

Anonymous said...

Is your usage of "false prophet" broad enough to include Flat Earthers? In the 1970s I had a Flat Earth Sunday school teacher.

Stan said...

While I disagree with your description of John Piper's teachings as "false teachings", in general there is a difference between a "false teacher" (wolves among sheep) and a mistaken teacher. I know of no human teacher with which I agree 100%, but my disagreement doesn't mean they're false teachers distorting the gospel and destroying the sheep.

I suppose that answer should answer the second question on flat-earthers. Do I think they're wrong? Absolutely ... even embarrassingly. Are they distorting the gospel or destroying the sheep? Not so sure on that.