The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He makes me down to lie
Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by.
With bright knives He releaseth my soul.
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places.
He converteth me to lamb cutlets,
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger.
When cometh the day we lowly ones,
Through quiet reflection, and great dedication
Master the art of karate,
Lo, we shall rise up,
And then we’ll make the bugger’s eyes water.


From the song “Sheep”

From Pink Floyd’s Animals Album 1977



Jesus often referred to Himself as the good shepherd and his followers as the flock.  At the end of the Gospel of John, Peter is reinstated by Jesus telling him to “Feed my sheep.”


In a comment below by Christian Husband he makes reference to the importance of having a pastor to act as a shepherd for the flock, thus fulfilling the commission Jesus gave to Peter.  This got me to thinking; what’s the difference between the sheep and the shepherd?  How does one get to be a shepherd?  If a person is a sheep, are they sheep forever?


Let’s talk a bit about sheep.  From my animal science 114 class, I learned that sheep are similar to cattle that have a stomach with multiple compartments.  Rumen, abomasum, omasum and reticulum, if you’re curious.  The rumen is the powerhouse enabling the cattle and sheep to break down cellulose into digestible components through bacterial action.  These creatures produce tons of methane gas, and there you have the basis for XH’s stinky reference.  Lot‘s of greenhouse gas emissions are made by these animals.  So your burgers are as responsible for global warming as your car if you follow that line of thinking.


As XH said, sheep are amazingly stupid.  My neighbor raises sheep, and he describes them as “animals just looking for an excuse to die.”  They are vulnerable to bad weather, bad terrain, bad feed, bad dogs, coyotes, lions and wolves.  When threatened or excited, they bunch up and bleat and just look dumb.  They are extremely gregarious.  In fact this is what makes them relatively easy to herd as opposed to cattle or chickens of cats.  They like to stick together and if you want to get sheep to go somewhere you get a couple of them and take them where you want the others to go, and the flock usually follows.  The male sheep (rams) can be a bit aggressive sometimes, but they don’t compare to their goat cousins. 


When it comes to protecting sheep, shepherds and farmers have used a variety of strategies over the years.  Normally, it’s not rocket science.  Even a young boy can take care of a decent sized flock which is what David was doing while his brothers were doing more important things like fighting for the king.    However there were times when it was difficult as in cold weather, storms or in David’s case having to fight off a lion.  As long as animals or rustlers weren’t threatening, it was a very boring and lonely job.


Today, farmers and ranchers in the eastern part of the country raise sheep in smaller spaces so protection is easier.  But there are still threats from wild dogs and coyotes around these parts.  But my neighbor discovered the perfect protector for his sheep.  It’s not a shepherd.  It’s not a dog.  It’s not a duck.


It’s a donkey.


That’s right.  The donkey is the best protector for his flock because a donkey will fearlessly, stubbornly and ferociously attack any dogs or coyotes foolish enough to enter the sheep pen.  And that might say something about modern day pastors.  You too can protect the flock if you’re a big enough ass!


XH also mused about how such stupid animals could have ever survived in the wild.  The answer is that they would not have.  The reason why these animals are so stupid and helpless is because humans made them that way!  The way you create a stupid animal that can’t survive in the wild is to domesticate them to the point where they are totally helpless without constant human intervention protection and support.  We do that because we don’t want them running off.  We want them to stay with us and to rely on us.  In the process we create dependent animals.  Most dogs have been domesticated into perpetual adolescence and stupidity the same way and for the same reason.  Through selective breeding we have been able to de-evolve these animals to make them less intelligent and we’ve purposefully designed them to serve our needs.   As farmers and ranchers we’ve been pretty much playing god and have become the ones who decide almost every significant aspect of a sheep’s life.  The sheep are the way they are because that’s the way we want it.  How easy do you think it would be to shear a sheep if it wasn’t docile, passive and stupid?  In return for that, we provide all the food and protection for them.


Is this the sort of dependent relationship that Jesus was referring to?   And did He expect the sheep to remain sheep perpetually?


I think there will always be people who will prefer the role of sheep.  After all, the shepherd assumes all of the responsibility.  All the sheep really have to do is provide for themselves and the shepherd and in many churches this is the way it is.  The people pay their money and expect the clergy to do the rest.  As sheep, there aren’t all that many expectations fit to be put on them.


In churches today, people are kept in a state of perpetual domestication because it suits the shepherd.  What choice does he have?  If he lets the flock run wild, he will not be able to control them.  And the more sheep a shepherd has in his flock, the better off he is materially as well as in reputation.  If he divides the flock with another shepherd, that’s so much less money and prestige for himself.  So it’s in his best interest to keep the sheep relatively domesticated.  But is this all we are to aspire to?


I keep thinking of this scene in that old movie Porky’s II where the minister and his congregation are in the school office: 


Reverend Flavel: Blaspehmy! Shakespeare must go! So sayeth the Shepherd!
The Flock Members: SO SAYETH THE FLOCK!
Reverend Flavel: And what sayeth you, Mr. Carter?
Carter: [very angry at this point] Get the Flock out of here!
[the students all start cheering]
Reverend Flavel: This means war! HOLY WAR! Flock! FOLLOW!


I’ll never understand why that movie didn’t get an academy award nomination.


I want you to think about a couple of things.  First, Jesus really only recognized one church office in Matthew 23, and it was that of the Pharisee.  (The scribes and Pharisees are almost always linked together, and Paul in his former life was linked to both.  This is in effect a single office)  Read the entire chapter to see the views of Jesus on Pharisees.   And this is really how the modern day clergy function today in the authoritarian Christian sects that Christian Husband speaks of.  The Pharisees came into being in order to protect the Jewish people from heresy during and after their exile.  They were ministers, leaders of worship and evangelists.  They were the professional clergy, the shepherds and the authorities in the prevailing religious culture.  Not many pastors would embrace the title of Pharisee nowadays, but that is, in fact, how many (most) function.


The last thing is this: what about the Holy Spirit?  In the Old Testament, God’s spirit rested on select members of the people.  But with Pentecost there was an outpouring of the spirit and this was presumed to be available to all believers.  And yet today we see a very few who are actually exercising their gifts.  Could the professional clergy as it exists today be squelching the Holy Spirit by accident or design?


I’m not singling out the Church Growth Churches, here.  Too see that, you’ll have to visit my other blog.



26 Responses to Sheep

  1. FTN says:

    Oh boy.

    And this is one area where I probably tend to disagree slightly with the thoughts of some of the other Christian bloggers in these here parts.

    Jesus is my shepherd. Man, on the other hand, is fallen and sinful, and I would be extremely wary of putting TOO much trust and dependence upon any one “pastor” to lead me anywhere. I’m not saying we should eschew all leadership and go for a model of anarchy, but we need to be careful. I guess I’m just a tad cynical sometimes (or often) when it comes to church leadership.

  2. Xian Husband says:

    Digger: In discussing sheep you forgot one very important point. Shepherds would (and do) take their flocks out to pasture durin the day but to protect them at night they lead them back to the sheep-pen. Multiple shepherds with different flocks would come together at the same place to lock up their sheep.

    So, how did they sort out which sheep belonged to which shepherd in the morning? The shepherds would move out and start singing. And the sheep would recognize the voice of their shepherd and go to him and gather around him. Sheep may be very stupid, but they KNOW their shepherd.

    John 10:25-30:

    Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

    We should also meditate on this.

    As for why sheep are the way they are, you can say that man made them that way, but I think it is more correct to say that God made them that way. They are as they were created.

    We are called “sheep” for a reason. We tend to wander off and get ourselves into trouble without a shepherd to guide us. That is why I have issues with statements like FTN‘s. One just has to look at the Christian world today and see massive evidence of the sheep wandering in all directions. Because we’ve, as a whole, rejected the leadership of those God put in place to guide us. We’re too American in that; we’ve too deeply accepted the ideas of democracy and think they apply with God and the Church, too, which is simply not so.

    But of course God did not give us leaders so that these people can gain power for themselves, but because we need guidence. We are sheep.

    Jesus certainly recognized more “church offices” than that of the Pharisee — because he was creating a community WITH leadership. So, in Matthew 18:18 he is explicitly giving the Apostles authority over all things; and in Luke 10 He sends out His followers with the statement, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

    Which should certainly give us pause.

    This same picture was continued by the Apostles. As the church grew larger than they personally could oversee they appointed other men in the same roles. So we have Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14 appointing Elders in every city. Later, when Paul visits with the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 he tells them:

    “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

    Who made them overseers and shepherds? Not man, but the Spirit! Identical idea to what he says in Ephesians 4:

    “He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

    And similarly Peter says in I Peter 5:

    “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

    Is Christ our Shepherd? Of course, but that does not in anyway take away the necessity and reality of human shepherds, that God Himself chooses for us as leaders. We can certainly choose not to listen, but know that when we reject the leaders God has given us we are rejecting God Himself.

    The part that is interesting, Digger, is your comment, “Do we stay sheep forever?” What is interesting in the Church is that our shepherds come from the flock. We, as sheep, should ALL aspire to grow in the knowledge of Christ and maturity of faith and godliness so that we, too, can be chosen by God to shepherd His flock. Because His shepherds don’t come from somewhere else, and the sheep and shepherds in this situation do not differ in some essential makeup or fundamental quality. They are us, but the best of us, men chosen because (as Paul highlights in I Tim 3 and Titus 1) they have demonstrated unreproachable moral character and dedication to the teachings of the faith.

  3. xi summit says:

    Just to be a complete compromiser I am going to try and meld FTN’s thoughts with CH’s admonition. In general what CH says about leadership and the Church I agree with. However …. you knew that was coming, right? However, this does not entirely preclude FTN’s way of thinking. Let me explain (confuse) my thoughts on the situation.

    Note the importance of what CH says about the day-time. The sheep are led to pasture where they have and can exercise independence but periodically (in the analogy’s case, daily) are gathered back together again for protection, for safety, for togetherness. Then when it is time again, the shepherd leads his sheep back out to pasture, which in this analogy allows the sheep to move about as they wish. And, at the end of the day, they can choose whether to follow the Shepherd back or not. If not, the Shepherd will come looking but there is nothing that can force the sheep back into the fold. Either he has to choose to return or the shepherd has to capture him and force him back. There’s an interesting image that I willnot get into because, well, that’s off-topic.

    So in light of that, how could FTN possibly be right at the same time, or at least not entirely incorrect? Jesus is the good shepherd. The rest are substitutes and, I would argue, may or may not be chosen by God to fulfill that role. Ultimately most Churches allow the leadership to choose who fills that role and, as hopefully all of you know, that means people. As in sinful people. And they do not always follow God’s leading in choosing who will shepherd so we must be on our guard to ensure that those who shepherd us are worthy and chosen, by God, to be in that position.

    Does that mean that they must be perfect? Oh no, they’re people and have the same weaknesses as we ourselves. And they can fall even if they are proven over many years. And as His sheep we are called on to discerne God’s will for our lives as to which shepherd we follow.

    Ultimately, as both agree, Jesus is the one shepherd we can rely on through it all. The rest are earthly substitutes called on to work directly in our lives.

  4. Xian Husband says:

    True, except for Romans 13: there is NO authority except that established by God. We can’t use the “they were picked by man” as an excuse to ignore their God-given authority. All authority that is, is established by God. Rebelling against it, then, is rebellion against God.

    Our obediance to them is part of our obediance to God so we certainly do not follow them in places contrary to God’s clear commands, but that is not excusing rebellion. We don’t say, “You were wrong in this one place so I do not have to listen to you in any place.” The example of the Apostles in Acts 4 and Acts 23 show that.

    It is, as Cardinal Newman put it in Tracts for the Times number 90 (written while he was still in the Anglican church): It is God’s Providence that gives ANY church leader — or any secular leader — his authority, so while God’s Providence is with them we have the duty to God to obey them. He then summed it up by saying, “The powers that be are ordained of God while they be, and have a claim on our obedience; when they cease to be, they cease to have a claim.”

    We are certainly active with our free will in choosing leaders, but that God’s Will is still done in this area such that only those He chooses to give authority to are given it by us is clear in the scriptures.

    As far as the sheep in the pens at night, in the pasture by day thing; I think you are stretching the metaphor too far. We are called “sheep” because we have a tendency to wander away from safety into danger, doctrinally, and need shepherds to guide us along the paths of Truth. The mainstream Protestant world has, in large part, rejected all such shepherding, and the doctrinal evidence of the results is readily aparent. There are over 10,000 Protestant denominations today. We have said to hell with our shepherds and then wandered every which way we can.

    This is not God’s plan. His plan is for us to know the Truth, live the Truth, and teach the Truth, and to do so in all unity. That requires godly and devout shepherds able to teach the true faith and lead us away from falsehood, but it also requires sheep willing to hear the voice of their shepherd — and the voice of the Chief Shepherd speaking through them. Which is something we’ve generally given up.

  5. diggerjones says:

    I promise that I’m going to do a post about leadership before this is all over. I might even do a bunch, because it is such a huge issue. but in this instance, I find myself leaning in FTN’s direction.

    there are generally two types of authority. Positional authority is that which jesus points out in matthew 23, where the scribes and Pharasees have assumed the seat of Moses. Jesus did not dispute that they had positional authority. however *functional* authority is a gift given by the Holy Spirit. The two are NOT the same! We’ve all seen examples of people who were given titles who were absolute doofuses. And we’ve all seen people who had very small positions who engendered such confidence that people would naturally follow them. Some people happen to have both. God’s ways are not the same as ours, which lends a bit of credence to both views.

    The danger of XH’s view is the lethal examples of Jim Jones and David Koresh. These two leaders were promoting the exact sort of thinking that he gives here, namely that disobeying them is the same as disobeying God. Any leader who says, “You will obey my word as if it were the word of God” is flashing a neon lunatic sign. No, each person should be like the Bereans and search the scriptures for themselves to ascertain the Truth. They should test the spirits as John admonishes.

    There’s too bloody many wolves masquerading as shepherds for us to act like stupid sheep and blindly follow a leader just because they are a leader. I suspect FTN is capable of hearing his Master’s voice and properly following it in most matters. That is the working of the Holy Spirit which the stricter view of authority totally emasculates.

    And perhaps I should speak to unity for a second. Unity is not the same as corraling the entire flock into a single pen. Imagine the stench! It is not even having every sheep grazing in the same pasture. It should be every sheep belonging to the true Master and Shepherd. At the present time, we have these underling junior shepherds all competing for a bigger share in the wool business, stealing the sheep from one another, beating each other with their shepherd’s staffs, beating on the sheep and generally acting like goats and thieves more than caretakers. And you tell me that this is the way God ordains it? Am I compelled to join in this downgrade because you say to do otherwise is to disobey God?

    I don’t think so. Acts 4 and 23 are examples where Peter and John (in ch. 4) and later Paul (ch. 23) are confronting the chief priests and the Sanhedron and basically in both instances they stood up to those authorities. In fact Paul basically spat an insult back at the high priest who ordered him struck for confessing the truth! Not much of a sheep, was he? This is a perfect example of functional authority trumping positional authority. The high priest occupied the position, but God was plainly on the side of the person He had chosen to function as a true leader in the church.

    Which would you follow?


  6. Xian Husband says:

    This conversation is really starting to overlap the one going on in your other blog, so take this as a response kind of to both.

    We are all as individual Christians called to each personally believe in Christ and submit to God’s will. We are all called to study His word. But we are not all individually called or empowered to decide on Truth. It is not the individual Christian, but the Church as a whole that Paul calls “The pillar and foundation of the Truth” in I Timothy 3.

    Christianity is not an individual sort of thing in so many facets. Christ came and created a church, a community. None of is a church in and of ourselves. None of are called to personally by ourselves do all these things. We have a whole body of people, each gifted by God in different ways, and all called to work together.

    When it comes to deciding what is and is not true — to determining doctrine — God has gifted and empowered certain individuals with His Spirit just to do this job. And these are the people the Bible calls “pastors” because they are to shepherd our faith. As Paul told Titus, the entire job of the Presbyter is to, “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”

    Again, this is not blind obediance as the Bereans demonstrate, but godly and humble submission to the authority God establishes over us explicitly for this purpose. Where they are contrary to God’s word they are wrong — and it cannot be emphasized enough that such a thing is not just possible or likely but certain to happen at times — but we also have to remember that this does not terminate their authority. As well, we are not called to each create our own individual interpretation of what the scriptures say. Our own individual interpretations do not trump what our leaders say in the correct interpretation as they and not us are the ones empowered to teach doctrine.

    So, where scripture is not plain and a leader has not demonstrated that he is teaching something contrary to scripture, just contrary to your individual interpretation, it is your duty to submit to his teaching.

    To say that we can all just hear the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Great Shepherd ourselves individually so we can all just know what is right “for us” is absolutely contrary to scripture in multiple ways. Paul says all authority is established by God. Paul and Peter both say that God has given us pastors to shepherd our doctrine. We are told in multiple places that we do not all have the same gifts. We need each other. We can’t do it on our own.

    Bad leaders? There are bad people everywhere, in every walk of life. There ARE wolves in sheep’s clothing. Which is why Paul gave us very clear-cut rules on who we should and should not consider as leaders — as pastors. I Tim 3 and Titus 1. It’s all about the two tests of the faith: doctrinal and ethical. If someone is not holding onto the truths of the faith but is wandering into heterodox doctrine they are not qualified for the presbytery. Similarly, if the evidence of their lives is sinful and not above reproach they fail the ethical test. Such people shouldn’t be in leadership at all.

    But instead we pick the wrong people because they teach us what we want to hear instead of the Truth, all of which is born of an arrogance that says I myself am the ultimate arbiter of all that is true and holy.

    None of which bears even a passing resemblence to what is presented in the New Testament.

  7. Digger Jones says:

    This is where we’re going to sharply diverge, you and I. But I don’t really have to go too far to prove the point because you and I can have a meaningful conversation about Truth (albeit disagree) even though we are not remotely under the same earthly jurisdiction as you would have it. When Jesus spoke to His disciples as you quote in Mathew 18 and Luke 10 above, this was not a private thing intended for just those 12. the instructions and teachings were intended for ALL of us.

    Functional authority is given by God according to those gifts doled oput by the Holy Spirit. Not everyone has the gift of being a pastor or apostle or prophet, although many more should be in each of these areas than are exerting it. *Positional* authority is accorded by *human* insitutions that may or may NOT be acting according to the will of God.

    Want some evidence? How about this one:

    Here’s a pretty orthodox Baptist church who are going at things in a little different way, aren’t they? Is this where God is moving? Would you be willing to submit to this pastor’s authority?

    There’s nothing in the Bible that explicitly forbids picketing at a fallen soldier’s funeral. I think you might find a lot of things there to agree with, XH. In your system of belief, which is pretty much obeying a pastor as the word of God, one would be grieving the Holy spirit if you opposed their picketing efforts, spoke out against such efforts and teaching or staged counter protests. Fred Phelps Sr. is solidly in this same exact camp. At least you have some famous comapny!


  8. Square1 says:

    This is a conversation that I really can no longer participate in, since I’ve recently converted to Islam. One of the reasons for that is, it encourages questions, and “testing the spirits”. It will be interesting to see how this conversation further develops.

  9. diggerjones says:

    At this revelation, I think I’d rather read about your conversion, Square. Because 2 weeks ago you were quoting from the book of Romans. And you’ve STILL got DC Talk playing!

    It’s nice to know that us infidels can be entertaining!


  10. Xian Husband says:


    First of all, putting the words “orthodox” and “Baptist” together is, um, interesting.

    Second, I never in any way advocated listening to any human leader “as the word of God.” That’s simply not what I said. But I DID say that not everyone is equally gifted by God to decide on Truth.

    Which is absolutely not to say that nobody else is, as every Christian is gifted with some level of discernment of these things; and it is not to say that leaders — even gifted ones — can never err.

    These two points of view — that one doesn’t have to listen to our leaders because the law of private judgment trumps all, and that everyone has to obey the leaders as the voice of God because they are inerrant — are two sides of the exact same coin. They are both one group telling the other “I don’t need you.”

    Which is not what Christ created. He created a community that is intradependent. None of us can do it without the others. Part of that is recognizing that God has gifted us all differently as part of calling us to different things. And leadership is absolutely a call — Eph 4 — and is a call to a particular thing for a particular purpose.

    So, you cannot be in a situation as God wills for us without respecting your leadership for who and what they are. That doesn’t mean disconnecting your brain, not studying on your own, and not calling them out when they are obviously wrong, but it does mean — as Paul calls us to in Romans 13 — giving respect to those you owe respect, honor to those you owe honor.

    And rebellion against this is rebellion against God Himself.

  11. Digger Jones says:

    That last line gives cause for pause as the only time anyone invokes this is for the cause of tyranny. But I dare you to use it on your wife in telling her she’s supposed to submit to you!

    “Orthodox Baptist” – Perhaps I’m thinking more C.H. Spurgeon-like.

    I do appreciate the time you’re devoting to reading my musings and responding.


  12. Xian Husband says:

    That last line was a near quote from the book of Romans!

    For there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. -Rom 13:1b-2

    Look, this is fun and all, and this sort of conversation is what really gets me going, but some of this is getting tedious. Like how you seem intent on continuing to take things you know I would never advocate and saying that it IS what I advocate. It’s annoying.

    And considering that I’ve got a massive project for class due in about a week AND another major task laid on me at work, I’m going to have to be a bit more scarce for a bit. So let me just leave you with one last observation.

    It seems that you are really searching because you aren’t satisfied with what you are experiecing right now. Which is good. But you seem to be searching in the wrong places. You’re spending a lot of time talking philosophy on these things: what it means to you, what other people say and do, what you think God really cares about and wants, etc. Which is good and all as we need to put stuff in mental context, but have you ever thought about asking Him for these answers?

    You’re making a whole lot of assumptions here: about what different churches are about, what different people believe, what is important and is not, and, most importantly, about what God really wants and means. If you want answers — real answsers — you’re going to have to cast aside all these assumptions and go straight to the source. Go straight to the Word and search without preconceptions — well, as much as you can — and see what He really says. Because it seems to me that while proclaiming your hunger for a scripture-based church experience you are simultaneously advocating worship and church systems that are at times dead-opposed to what scripture actually says. And that’s because of assumptions about what it says without actually taking it at face value and searching it.

    At some point you need to distance yourself from the details like “Well, the CGM churches say this, and the Methodists say this, and blah blah blah” and go back to first-principles and see what GOD says about church and worship and leadership, etc. Only when you have the standard clear in your mind can you compare it to real churches you’ve seen.

  13. FTN says:

    I’m 99.9% sure that what Jesus did during much of his ministry was “rebelling against the authorities.” The pharisees didn’t exactly have a love affair with the guy. XH (and I know you’ve got others things to be doing), I’d be interested to see how you reconcile that.

  14. Xian Husband says:

    Well, I did have time to just stop and see if Digger had said anything. So, quickly, let me answer that.

    Did Jesus rebel against the authorities? Did He teach others to do so?

    Matthew 23:1-4:

    Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

    Christ certainly pointed out their flaws and called them to task for what they had done to God’s Word, but He never countenenced rebellion nor rebelled Himself. If He had, their accusations against Him that led to His crucifixion wouldn’t have been baseless.

    Besides, if all authority is established by God and Christ is divine, then why rebel against those leaders He Himself established? A house divided against itself cannot stand.

    Now, that would lead to asking why God established those particular leaders, and that is where you get the interesting thoughts. For instance, I submit that Christ’s crucifixion was not an accident nor something God just let happen, but was planned by God from the beginning. It just happened through the actions of people — according to their own free will no less. And when they rejected Christ and crucified Him they sinned. God choosing leaders explicitly to do His will yet doing so through their free-will choices to do sin.

    As well, there is always passages like I Kings 22:19-23.

  15. therese says:

    XH, Friend,
    I find myself agreeing with you much more than not in this line of discussion, but I have to ask, how do you personally know when authority is established by God?

    There is NO authority except that established by God. We can’t use the “they were picked by man” as an excuse to ignore their God-given authority. All authority that is, is established by God. Rebelling against it, then, is rebellion against God.

    If I, or lets say RS so its a man, went out and formed his own church and developed a large flock, wouldn’t that act alone be defying already established authority? I mean, isn’t that how most churches are formed? As Catholics we believe, as the early church did, that to know authentic authority you have to see if they are in line with apostolic succession (which includes the many orthodox churches). Aren’t churches that have clear human founders by virtue of their existence rebelling against authority, divine or human?

    I guess I am unclear as to how everything you’ve said in this discussion practically relates to your average church goer. How do you personally judge what authority is God-given?

    as one who used to own, raise, and birth sheep, I understand a lot of what you are talking about. However the sheep analogy is not always a negative one. After all, Our Lord was called the Lamb of God more than once in scripture. As the Son of God, Christ submitted to the will of the Father Himself even though it meant His own death. So docility isn’t always a bad thing and it is one of Christ’s own virtues.

  16. Xian Husband says:

    After stepping out for two days, I thought there would be more discussion on this. I guess I can come here less AND not miss much. Good combo for me right now.

    Therese: In light of the passage from Paul in Romans, asking which authority is established by God is somewhat nonsensical. Paul says that there is NO authority that is not established by God. He didn’t say that God establishes some authority, but not some other, so it’s up to us Christians to sort it out so we know who to follow. What he said was that ALL authority is established by God, so we aren’t to rebel against ANY of it.

    Which still leaves some interesting questions (like, for what purpose did God establish some person in some particular authority? Which is why I brought up the passage from II Kings). But answering your next point — bringing in Apostolic succession — can’t be answered without coming face to face with the implicit paradox in Paul’s statement. The paradox of God’s sovereignty vs man’s free will.

    Paul’s statement about God establishing all authority is an absolute — and, in that, it is totally consistent with the view of God’s control presented in the Old Testament prophets — but it causes us issues.

    So, the Pope is in authority over all churches in the West. He has authority, so, according to Paul, that authority was given to him by God. Then some churches rebel — something Paul, here, calls sin — and someone else gets authority over churches in, say, Germany. But they have authority, too, so it must ALSO be established by God.

    There is a paradox here, and it cannot be resolved because it is implicit in the entire Biblical testimony on this subject. You have to live with the paradox. Which means you end up saying, as Newman did on this same point by the way, that God gave the Pope his authority, through divine Providence, and removed that same authority through the same means. BUT God’s Providence was working here — as it usually does — through people making their own free-will choices. One of those choices was a choice to sin and rebel against the God-established authority.

    Which says that all-things — truly all things, as Paul says — work for the glory of God. He even uses our own choices and our own sin to do His will. And if you find this idea scary or new or weird then I have one question: how big is your God? Is there anything truly out of His control? If so, then your God isn’t big enough. Not by far.

    But that would say that, when the Pope had authority, then it was sin to rebel against that authority. But, after the Pope’s authority was removed — ultimately by God’s design — then rebelling against what God established in the Pope’s place would be equally sinful. An argument which can make one dizzy, to be sure, and which leaves you with really only one course of action in life. To do what Paul told the Thesselonians to do: to strive to live a quiet life, minding your own business, and letting God handle the big issues. If you ever set out to “fix” things — and to do so by rebellion against any authority — then you are, in a sense, trying to take God’s place and do His job.

  17. therese says:

    XH – I believe that God can use any evil and make some good come out of it. It isn’t an end justifying the means at all, to be clear, but there is no atrocity that God isn’t powerful enough to bring some good out of. So yes, my God is big enough to do that.
    That said, I think an awful lot happens in the world that IS NOT God’s will. God doesn’t desire sin and evil, but He also doesn’t let it just end there, when He surely could.

    As to the rest of your argument, the pope’s authority was never removed. He still has it. The pope is still the head of the largest religious body in the world with over 1 billion members. It is just that people have chosen to create their own authority. The problem I see with your argument is that in the end, following what you have said, anyone can do whatever they want, rebel however they want, and claim that they have their own authority by virtue of the fact that they have taken it from someone else.
    How can you say that we have to follow authority and then say with the next breath that if someone created their own church, then they would have authority too? That’s a pretty huge contradiction that means absolutely nothing in practical application.

    Now, not everybody looks at authority the same way as you do. However, with you saying that you must submit to authority, and then say that if someone seized it they would have legitimate authority as well doesn’t make any sense. The two can’t both be true.

    If it is, then you must not value unification as much as you think you do, or think God does either, because your mindset actually justifies the fragmentation of the Christian Church, doesn’t it?

  18. therese says:

    XH – in re-reading my last comment, I realize that the close probably comes across as an attack, and I’m sorry. I’m really not trying to be argumentative for the sake of being argumentative.

    You’re right that I find the idea weird. Not scary, though, because I simply do not understand how your two positions can both be true. Maybe if I do understand I can start to be scared, but not before then. 😉

    And I feel the need to remind you that both you and I have the same God. My God isn’t smaller than yours because they’re one and the same, right? 🙂

  19. Xian Husband says:

    We have a basic impasse here, and it comes down to the question: what is the source of what you believe? Do you form what you believe on a particular subject from philosophy or “common sense” or from what your church teaches or from a book or whatever and THEN go to the Bible to justify it? Or, do you simply take what the Word says at face value and believe THAT?

    Because when you say things like “It is just that people have chosen to create their own authority” you are directly disagreeing with Paul who said that there is NO authority not established by God. Here you are not arguing with me, but Paul — and through him, with God.

    The God who tells us over and over in the scriptures that it is HE that is in total control at all times.

    Isaiah 46:9-11:
    Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.

    I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.I say:
    My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.

    From the east I summon a bird of prey;
    from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
    What I have said, that will I bring about;
    what I have planned, that will I do.

    Daniel 2:20,21:
    Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever;
    wisdom and power are his.

    He changes times and seasons;
    he sets up kings and deposes them.

    Isaiah 10:12-15:
    When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes. For he says:
    ” ‘By the strength of my hand I have done this,
    and by my wisdom, because I have understanding.
    I removed the boundaries of nations,
    I plundered their treasures;
    like a mighty one I subdued their kings.

    As one reaches into a nest,
    so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations;
    as men gather abandoned eggs,
    so I gathered all the countries;
    not one flapped a wing,
    or opened its mouth to chirp.’ ”

    Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it,
    or the saw boast against him who uses it?
    As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up,
    or a club brandish him who is not wood!

    And, of course, Romans 9:14-21:
    What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

    One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

    This is not God “bringing some good out of evil” this is God in total control at all times in all things — His purpose will not be twarted, it is by His plan. It’s not like there’s all these big battles between good and evil and, oops, sometimes God doesn’t win them all. Too bad. But at least He can salvage something.

    Not my God. My God is bigger than that. There’s nothing he doesn’t win. There’s no place His will is twarted. What He wills to be is what is.

    How else do we interpret the idea that God spoke the world into existence? The answer to “what is real?” is “whatever God says is real.” To the point that when God says, “this is reality” reality comes into being. The very fabric of our universe is a testament to the fact that what God wills to be is what IS.

    That is my God. If your god loses the battles (even if he wins the war), if he isn’t in control of all things, then I might have to question if we really DO worship the same God. Because my God proclaimed over and over and over “I DID THIS! NOT YOU. ME. I AM IN CONTROL.”

    So, England under Henry VIII. The Pope’s authority WAS taken away in that place at that time. Who did that? Was it man doing it against all of God’s plans and frustrating His will? Did God somehow lose that battle?

    How big is your God?

    If the Pope ever had authority anywhere it was because God gave it to him. If he ever had his authority taken away then it was because God took it from him. Because man is not the one who establishes and removes kings (or popes). It is God. How do I know? Because He told me so.

    Now, this doesn’t mean one can do whatever they want — and I thought I made that clear. To rebel against any authority is sin. To be the one who rebelled against the Pope was to sin against God. But, after the rebellion, after his authority was removed, it would also be sin to rebel against what God established in his place. That isn’t doing whatever you want. Kind of the opposite. It is living in the world God gives you, without telling Him He did it wrong.

    Anyway we all have a choice. We can all take our beliefs from other sources and then just approach the Bible to justify what we believe with what matches up well, and then explain away what’s in the scriptures that doesn’t; or we can approach God’s Word and listen TO HIM. And if He says something that we don’t understand, we say, “OK, I believe you even if I don’t understand how this can be.” We don’t say, “The two can’t both be true,” when God says they ARE both true. We just say, “You are bigger than me, Your wisdom is greater than mine, if you say these are both true then I’ll trust in you and not in myself.”

    So, like Solomon in Prov 3:5, I say, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” Because the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of man.

  20. RS says:

    XH, you crack me up!

    Only God can give authority, I agree with that. So, could you please explain, in more detail, how God gave authority to Henry VIII and in turn TOOK IT AWAY from the Pope?

    I am extremely curious, because from my viewpoint he looks like just another guy starting his own chuch!


  21. therese says:

    I guess, XH, what I don’t understand here, is that it seems to me that you are saying God wills us to sin to accomplish what He wants. Does God WANT us to sin? Does He EVER desire us to sin?

    I mean, if God gets His way through us sinning, then we really don’t need redemption, do we?

    And then how is someone to discover authority in a country like the US, where there IS NO clear authority? I ask again, how does all of this fit in with what scripture said about unity? I thought you valued it, and yet you don’t seem to have a problem with the fact that there are 30,000 different Christian denominations who all have their own (according to you) God given authority. The Bible DOES say that unity is important. So how can all the division in the Church be God’s will if one is to follow what scripture said on that issue?

  22. therese says:

    XH – it can be very damaging when we as Christians start to doubt that we even worship the same God. We may perceive and understand Him a bit differently, yes, but by bearing the name “Christian” we are acknowledging His relationship with us. By following Christ, we have the opportunity, all of us, to achieve salvation.

    You, me, Digger, XI, and FTN all have different particular beliefs, but I think there is a danger in saying that we don’t even follow the same God, the logical conclusion being that we aren’t even all Christians. That isn’t something I think any of us should be saying about another.

  23. Xian Husband says:

    Well I’m glad somebody is amused. That makes one of us.

    Therese and RS, both of you, from what you are saying, are having trouble coming to terms with the paradox. And that paradox is there in scripture, everywhere. The paradox between man’s free will and God’s sovereignty. When you say, “because from my viewpoint he looks like just another guy starting his own church!” or “it seems to me that you are saying God wills us to sin to accomplish what He wants” you are intrinsically resolving the paradox in one direction.

    I didn’t say God’s sovereignty and no free will, I said God’s sovereignty AND free will. It is a paradox. And it is there in scripture. Everywhere.

    We as people always want to resolve that so we can understand it. So, either the bad things we choose to do are all against God’s will and God’s plan and makes things not go how God wants frustrating His purpose and design — resolving the paradox in favor of free will — or God’s will is always done and we are just automatons — resolving it in favor of God’s soveriegnty. But both are presented in scripture as equally real and equally revealed. You can’t resolve the paradox. It is both, simultaneously. How does that work? How should I know? I’m a mere mortal, like yourselves.

    What I DO know is that it is clear from scripture that all authority is established by God. That Henry VIII had authority is a historical fact, so it must have been established by God. But, from a human standpoint, his authority came because he chose — freely chose — to rebel against the Pope and start his own church. So, who did it: him or God? Both. Henry chose it, Henry did it, but it accomplished God’s purpose exactly as God planned it.

    Therese brings up a good point: how can God use our sin to accomplish what he wants if he doesn’t want us to sin? Well, first, that he does this is obvious — in the example of Pharoah in Egypt this is explicit. Pharoah oppressing the Israelites and keeping them from following God was sin, yet God says that was all according to His purpose and design.

    But there is a deeper question here. If God is truly omnipotent and omniscient — he can do anything and knows everything, including all the results of every action He takes — then why is there sin in the world? If God can truly do ANYTHING then could He not have created us to be perfect? Could He not even have created us to have perfect free will and yet to always choose the right thing? That sounds like a paradox, but if God is truly the Almighty then could He not even do that?

    If you then assume that sin is here against God’s will then you either assume that God could NOT create us perfect or that God made a mistake. Either way, it is presenting a God who is either not omnipotent or not omniscient. We are left with the only valid conclusion possible — the only one in accordance with what God tells us about Himself — that sin is here on Earth in us by God’s design. Not that He created it, but that His creation was specifically and specially designed to allow it. It was by our choices — our free will means that WE bear the responsibility — but was also in accordance with God’s created design in a very exact and precise way.

    These things matter. God is not just whoever we want Him to be. He is not whatever we make Him out to be for ourselves. He is who He is, and faith means believing that He is who He says He is.

    The God each of us worships is the God-concept that is in our heads. If our God-concept is in accordance with who God Himself tells us He is, then we are worshipping the real and true God. If our God-concept is NOT in accordance with who God says He is and is, instead, the product of man’s mind then are we really worshipping God? I can say, “I believe in God” all day long, but if my God-concept is, say, Zeus just by a different name, does that faith profit me anything? Am I really believing in and worshipping Jehovah? Does just saying, “I worship Jehovah” mean that you really do if who you believe Jehovah to be is not in accordance with who He Himself tells us that He is?

    Our relationship with Him is built completely and totally on our belief and trust in Him, but what does that mean? It means that we believe Him when He tells us who He is, we trust in that and in what He promises us. It’s not some weird abstract “I believe that there must be A god” but a belief in what He has revealed to us and that it is really for real True in the really real world. And His majesty and sovereignty over all the Earth — and for really real, meaning not just that we should acknowledge Him as such, but that He really IS such — is a big part of that. I could have listed a ton more scripture on this subject. It is everywhere throughout His Word.

    So, does even our sin work for His purposes?

    Prov 6:4:
    The LORD works out everything for his own ends—
    even the wicked for a day of disaster.

    Wis 15:7:
    For the potter, tempering soft earth, fashioneth every vessel with much labour for our service: yea, of the same clay he maketh both the vessels that serve for clean uses, and likewise also all such as serve to the contrary: but what is the use of either sort, the potter himself is the judge.

    Is 45:7:
    I form the light and create darkness,
    I bring prosperity and create disaster;
    I, the LORD, do all these things.

  24. diggerjones says:

    I’m in a rather busy season, but have been trying to keep up.

    Ah, the paradox. Or I might call this “the double bind.” If you’re going to take Romans 13 at face value, just about every single hero in the book of Judges accomplished God’s will by sinning because they went against whatever prevailing ruler was in place that God had used to overun the Isrealites for their disobediance. At the same time, they were doing what God told them to do. So they could either revolt against a ruler God put in place (and sin) or revolt against God (and sin).

    God is soveriegn over all. I think taking a view of “knowing in part” might be the best we can do. God has our best interest at heart all the time and knows what He’s doing whether He is setting up an authority or throwing it down. And He did it with His chosen people All. The. Time. And when you look at the Middle East today, God is still actively setting things up for His purposes. Keep an eye on that fellow in Iran: he thinks he’s a modern-day Xerxes or something. God uses even maniacs like that to accomplish His purposes.


  25. […] A struggle for freedom « Right Now Authority May 4th, 2007 Oh my.  That whole Sheep discussion has sort of gone off and taken on a life of its own!  But the main issues are the same: […]

  26. Emily says:

    Actually, I find myself quite puzzled by XH’s views on authority, because they would seem to result in virtually complete passivity in the face of unjust leaders.

    To rebel against the Pope is a sin. But if Henry VIII (a murder, adulterer and tyrant) abolishes the Pope’s authority and takes his place (primarily so that he could marry his lover) Henry VIII doesn’t seem to have committed any sin – at least not one that would justify overthrowing him in his turn. In fact, it turns out that GOD put him in power!

    Somehow, this just seems to be the argument that, whatever is, is right.

    By this token, was it wrong to rebel against Hitler, the mass murderer? Should those few brave Christians who stood against him and ended up in concentration camps have saved themselves the trouble? Should Christians have assumed that Pol Pot was also God’s chosen leader for Cambodia?

    Is it being overly provocative to say that the whole argument sounds…er… a bit silly?

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