“A lion doesn't concern itself with the opinion of sheep.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones link
I have had the opportunity to move around the country due to my husband's job. As you know, my conversion was a bit unusual. However, I have always felt the love and care of my Father and His presence as I began to look for the fellowship of believers in new places. In fact, I looked at such changes as opportunities to learn how Christians in different churches and in different parts of the country express their faith. I never really cared about denominations. Instead, I looked for a church with folks who expressed a lively faith. Consequently, I have been a member or attended a variety of denominations and Bible churches: Episcopal, Christian Reformed, Southern Baptist, Congregational, Lutheran and assorted Bible churches with varying polity.
Perhaps the most unique church I attended was located on the Navajo Reservation(well actually in the Checkerboard area to be precise) which was Christian Reformed. We sang two hymns every week in Navajo and had the sermon translated into Navajo as well. I cried when I left. Along the way, I have met Christians of all different stripes and am thoroughly blessed to have learned varying views on all sorts of secondary issues.
Such differences were fascinating and not threatening until I joined an SBC church in North Carolina. There I learned some secondary issues were to be treated as ordained by the Gospel.™ However, that church led us to seek out a different place to worship in my area and once again I enjoyed visited a myriad of churches until we settled on one that we have now attended for almost a year.
Little did I know that I should not enjoy moving around and exploring different churches. According to 9 Marks I should have felt bereft of protection from my former church and should have felt afraid. Why? It appears, according to that 9 Marks (aka Hotel California), I am in need of protection and was in jeopardy each time I moved or switched churches. It seems that inviting God along on my journey is not enough. I need THEM even more to keep me away from being affected by heresies and Satan. Apparently, my conscience, my study of Scripture and theology, along with Holy Spirit is not enough to keep me safe because I am a really stupid sheep. I need THEM.
It's really scary out there for poor, defenseless sheep when they leave a church!
I have been enjoying the Dear Abby column that Jonathan Leeman has been running over at the 9 Marks website. His answers give me a better look at what they believe about Scripture, church discipline etc. In this particular segment, Leeman answers the following question (which says quite a lot about controlling churches to begin with.)
When a church member moves away from the area, at what point do you remove him or her from the roll? I’m talking about cases when a person moves due to a job change or something, not a problem situation. The individual is probably not going to join another church immediately, so allowing for a transitional period would make sense. However, how can church membership happen in a meaningful way if the person lives at a far distance? And what if in the interim the individual falls into serious sin? Could church discipline actually happen? That danger would seem to argue for removing him as soon as he moves away (or at the next members’ meeting). Would appreciate any thoughts you may have. Thanks.
It appears that the questioner feels churches need to tie up loose ends on the membership question once a person moves and has yet to join another church. He wants to know what he should do if said person falls into sin during that time in between memberships. Why is it that he isn't concerned how to be a good friend to the person as opposed to how to go after him if he sin?. Why wouldn't they want to encourage those who have left?
Former members should feel they need protection in a new place and plop down, post haste, in a new church since your former church drops you like a hot potato.
I like your instincts. My church encourages people to resign their memberships as soon as they move elsewhere because we cannot do much to fulfill our covenant with them from a distance. We cannot affirm or encourage them. We cannot warn them against sin. We cannot be the body of Christ in a 1-Corinthians-12, mourning-and-rejoicing sort of way. So, as a general principle, we encourage them to resign even if they have not settled on a new church yet. Membership is not some sort of force field that magically protects people apart from the active engagement of relationships, which is very difficult long distance.
In fact, I kind of hope they resign on their way out and then do feel a little unprotected once they arrive in a new city. Maybe that will incentivize them to act more quickly in joining another church! Of course, I wouldn’t say this for everyone leaving the church.
If a member leaves and doesn’t resign, one of our elders will probably begin an email correspondence within a month or two just to check in on them and to ask about their church search. This can go on for a few months, sometimes longer.
Apparently the church cannot encourage them or warn them against sin if they are no longer really present. Except, I know that pastors who really care can do so. 9 months after moving to Dallas, our daughter was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Guess who encouraged us and prayed for us from a distance. Our former pastor and a number of people in that church. Abby was put on prayer lists and even received some stuffed animals for folks at that church. You see, that church gave a hoot about us in spite of our move. We felt their care during our struggle.
20 years later, we returned to that church. We once again joined with friends who had cared for us and kept touch from a distance, including that pastor. It appears that real love and concern transcends some sort of manmade church contract which quickly ends when you are out of sight. Before I launch into a bit of a tirade on this answer, let's look more at long distance excommunication from Capitol Hill Baptist Church
You can't excommunicate me, I'm already gone!
If we caught wind of the fact that they were engaging in unrepentant sin in another city while in this process, what would we do? I don’t recall encountering that situation. It’s possible we would move toward excommunication, but there would be some reluctance to do so since we are not longer in active fellowship. It’s sort of like taking a person to court for a crime on the other side of the planet, where the defendant, the evidence, and the witnesses are over there, not in your courtroom. Uhhhh? Maybe we would if the facts were super clear and undisputed by everyone, including the member him- or herself.
Now you must remember, 9Marks believes they hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven and therefore are qualified and called to judge the church you join in another city. If it does not meet their standards, you are in sin. In their mind, you cannot join a church that 9 Marks thinks is a bad church, then you are still a member of their church. Therefore, excitement builds as they announce your name being placed on the care list which is lingo for you are on your way to an all out church hoop dee do of judgment. See, they can judge from a distance but they cannot encourage from a distance.
Imagine the scenario. Bubba leaves Capitol Hill Baptist Church, moves to Texas and joins the Church for Cowboys. CHBC finds out that this church gives communion in the bull pen. After being resuscitated, they decide that Bubba is a sinner in need of repentance. Suddenly, they determine he is still a member of CHBC. They flash a picture of Bubba in his cowboy hat, waving a lasso and recommend he be excommunicated. The members always agree so they aren't viewed with suspicion and be put on some sort of list. Most of them don't really remember Bubba since the cowboy mentality hasn't been cool since *W* left office. Anyone in a cowboy hat is definitely suspect.
So, is this idea of *protection* unique to 9Marks?
It is interesting. When I Googled church and protection, I got a bunch of posts which deal with protecting the church from pedophiles. More on that in a minute. When I Googled, "Is a church member under the protection of the church," I was directed to this post by John MacArthur (Grace to You). In an answer to this question "What is the pastor’s responsibility, besides preaching and studying?" GTY responded:
Shepherds Are Feeders
Sheep spend most of their lives eating and drinking, but they are indiscriminate about their diet. They don't know the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous plants. Therefore the shepherd must carefully guard their diet and provide them with pasture rich with nutrients.
Shepherds Are Protectors
Sheep are almost entirely defenseless–they can't kick, scratch, bite, jump, or run. When attacked by a predator, they huddle together rather than running away. That makes them easy prey. Sheep need a protective shepherd in order to survive.
Christians need similar protection from error and those who spread it. Pastors guard their spiritual sheep from going astray and defend them against the savage wolves that would ravage them. Paul admonished the pastors at Ephesus to stay alert and to protect the churches under their care:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 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 (Acts 20:28-30).
…Church leaders are undershepherds who guard the flock under the Chief Shepherd's watchful eye (Acts 20:28). Theirs is a full-time responsibility because they minister to people who, like sheep, often are vulnerable, defenseless, undiscerning, and prone to stray.
The dumb sheep ought to be glad they have a protector because they do not know what the heck they are doing. But, the church leader does. He (it's all he in this context) is to be obeyed and somehow he doesn't fit the category of a dumb sheep. Catch this. You can be an intelligent Christian with 20 years of Bible study under your belt. However, you need a 25 year old whippersnapper who just graduated from seminary to protect you or you will fall into heresy.
If your pastor is faithfully carrying out the duties required in his job title, remember to follow this admonition of Scripture:
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).
The *dumb sheep in need of protection* meme is an outgrowth of the abusive shepherding movement.
The dumb sheep theory is a perversion of Scripture which originated in the shepherding movement of the 1960s and 1970s. We have written a number of posts on this. Three posts that are worth reading in this regard are:
Our closing comment:
I have read one too many stories of people deeply hurt by current day churches. Some of these people have found their way to TWW- tired, questioning, broken down and beaten up by one too many leaders who treat them as if they are pond scum. They are told they are lucky to be saved as well as blessed to be informed just how rotten they are by egotistical preachers and leaders.
To these dear people, we are here to proclaim a wonderful Gospel. Jesus not only offers you unlimited grace and total forgiveness, He pursues each of you because He deeply loves you. He is the Great Shepherd and He willingly gave His life for His beloved sheep. Never, ever will He call you idiots.
In this Tim Challies describes sheep in need of a pastor to keep us from dying.
"Sheep can’t fight, they can’t run away, and they can’t scare away. So what does a sheep do when danger comes? It flocks. When a bear approaches, the sheep will gather with others in a pack and run in circles in complete panic, just hoping that the bear will choose someone else. Without a shepherd to protect them, they’ll be picked off and eaten one by one."
In this post, we quote Mark Dever who is extolling a book, Church Elders: How to Shepherd God's People Like Jesus. Here is what he had to say about Jesus' beloved sheep.
This book makes plain Scripture’s teaching on eldership. For example, the eight chapter titles actually summarize the biblical job description for an elder: "Don’t Assume," "Smell Like Sheep," "Serve Up the Word," "Track Down the Strays," "Lead Without Lording," "Shepherd Together," "Model Maturity," and "Plead for the Flock" (9). If you’ve read or taught on this subject, you can probably hear verses in your mind as you read those titles. It’s an instructive way to frame up such a short book. The headers that give shape to each chapter teach as well. For example, in the chapter “Track Down the Strays,” there’s a section titled “Five Species of Straying Sheep.” Already curious, aren’t you? Subheaders lead us through descriptions of “Sinning Sheep,” “Wandering Sheep,” “Limping Sheep,” “Fighting Sheep,” and “Biting Sheep” (62–68). [emphasis Deb’s] That’s a great section for a discussion over coffee with a prospective elder or for a team of pastors burdened for the flock.
Here is a pithy comment in that post by Deb.
We propose that Rinne has failed to acknowledge a sixth category of 'straying sheep', which we fondly call Savvy Sheep. One such sheep is Todd Wilhelm, our friend and fellow blogger who resides in Dubai. No doubt you remember Todd's tragic story. The leaders of his 9Marks church approached him about heading up UCCD's book ministry store. When he refused to promote C.J. Mahaney's books, the leaders rescinded their proposal to Todd. Shortly thereafter, Todd and his wife submitted their resignation letter. It took six and a half months for their names to be removed from the church roll.
Some thoughts on the views of sheep by both 9Marks (to include Mark Dever and Jonathan Leeman) and John MacArthur.
- The Bible consistently talks about the beloved sheep of the Savior. He runs after one who has gone astray and brings him safely home. The Bible does not linger on stupid and biting sheep.
- It is the men of harsh churches which denigrate the sheep as dumb, biting, and fighting. Sheep are problematic and need to be protected from themselves. The pastor can do this. They do not resemble the Great Shepherd in the least.
- If this is how sheep are to be viewed, why doesn't Scripture describe sheep in this fashion?
- Leeman talks about being protection for the sheep. Well, why did they kiss CJ Mahaney's feet and let him hide out in their church, knowing that there are serious questions about the alleged abuse going on in his churches? Why did they push Mahaney's book, The Cross Centered Life which leaves the believer at the foot of the Cross, constantly to be beat up by their sin? Why did they not reach out to the victims to ask about the abuse when they decided to host him and ask him to be a speaker, etc. at their events?
- Why did UCC Dubai go after the one guy, Todd Wilhelm, who showed discernment about the problems at Sovereign Grace Ministries? Why did they put him on their *this boy is in trouble* list? This is called protecting the church?
- Why did Leeman blow off the incident at The Village Church (yes, we dumb sheep knew what you were writing about) saying they were mistaken but *pious?* Baloney. Pious men do not abuse former members.
- So, did God protect me in my journeys despite the fact that I had *no one to protect me?*
- Why are sheep always referred to as dumb or problematic when it has to do with church leaders being in charge?
- What is the deal about long distance excommunication? Don't they ever give up trying to control and discipline people?
- If your pastor constantly refers to dumb sheep, get the heck out of that church. He is showing you exactly how he views you.
- Be sure to read some posts on the Shepherding movement. Authoritarian control led to serious abuses. Look at how Sovereign Grace Ministries got its start.
- Why is it that so many churches who think they are protecting their *sheep* come across as abusive.
- Why do some churches who claim they are protecting the sheep do a bad job job dealing with child sex abuse and domestic violence?
- Is it about protecting the sheep or protecting their *admiral in a rowboat* status?
Here is an excellent article called Are You a Dumb Sheep? at Exit Churchianity.
On dumb sheep and the shepherding movement:
As one can imagine, the Shepherding Movement became plagued by controlling religious leaders with a superiority-complex. They saw themselves as “the wise shepherds” and their followers as “lowly laymen” who didn’t know their right foot from their left foot. Believers were taught that “God calls His people sheep because sheep are dumb. They aren’t the brightest creatures. They’re stupid, rebellious, hardheaded, and defenseless.” The implication being that God’s people are brainless goats who “need to be corralled by a man of God who knows what’s best for them and can save them from their sheeple ways.”
Although the Shepherding Movement was dismantled decades ago, its abusive and demeaning teachings (including the dumb sheep concept) are alive and well. Believers continue to put themselves down in an attempt to seem humble (“Oh I’m just a dumb sheep dependent on the Lord!”), and religious leaders continue to insult and control their congregants by diminishing their spiritual identity in Christ
Does the Bible call the sheep dumb?
Nowhere in Scripture does it state that the body of Christ is a flock of “dumb sheep” or dumb in the sense of being stupid.
How does Jesus view sheep?
The Lord used the metaphor of a Shepherd and His sheep to illustrate His protective nature, guidance, provision, tender care, oversight, and sacrificial love for us. The Lord calls us “sheep” as a term of endearment, not to imply that we are idiots, aloof, or simpletons.
…Jesus has a complimentary view of His sheep. He said that we recognize His voice and come to Him, and that we follow Him because we know His voice. But we will not follow strangers, we run away from them. Does that sound like a “DUMB sheep” to you? Is that the behavior of someone who is stupid? Not at all. Following Jesus and avoiding false shepherds is discerning and spiritually-smart.
“Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)
Did Jesus send us out as “DUMB sheep” among wolves? No. As “wise serpents” (meaning INTELLIGENT, careful, and mindful).
How should we view leaders who do the "dumb sheep" thing?
In a world full of put-downs, insults, verbal abuse, and demeaning language – especially towards Christians, the last thing we need is to seek comfort and encouragement among the saints, only to be called “dumb sheep” by some “wise shepherd” who ought model the Chief Shepherd’s grace, loving-kindness, and tender care.
Frankly, if religious leaders think that congregants are so stupid and dim-witted, then that’s simply a reflection of their poor leadership and dumbing-down of the Gospel.
In other words, do not follow any leader who views you in a derogatory manner. Jesus doesn't and they shouldn't either. Never, ever forget, you are dearly loved by Jesus.
Look at the quote at the top of this post and think about it. Guess what such a church looks like in the long run?
"A lion does not concern itself with the opinion of the sheep."