The Bible paints a wonderful loving picture of the Christian’s relationship with Christ by using an analogy to shepherds and sheep. This provides a simple way that the church can understand and relate to the love and care that a faithful shepherd has for his sheep and the innocent undoubting trust that the sheep have for their shepherd. A search of the Scriptures for the words shepherd and sheep will bring up an abundance of pertinent verses. Ps 23:1, John 10:1-16, 1Pet 2:25 are just a few of the many examples.
Sadly, due to some very bad teachings and bad practices that are commonplace in many churches today, a lot of Christians miss the symbolic nature of the shepherd-sheep analogy and apply it almost literally in the area of pastoral authority. This misconception degrades congregations to a subservient and almost animalistic level because it elevates pastors to supreme masters who think they are allowed to corral, control and even devour God’s people for the purpose of furthering their manmade agendas.
While the Bible teaches a symbolic analogy to be applied non-literally, the average modern pastor teaches a concrete under-shepherd scenario to be taken almost literally. The average modern pastor or elder goes way too far and paints a completely different picture than the Bible paints. These men, who are merely symbolic under-shepherds, go beyond that which is written and conveniently grant massive powers and privileges to themselves, power and privileges that Jesus simply does not grant them.
A Little Common Sense Please…
We know without a shadow of a doubt that we are human beings, not four legged animals that grow wool and graze on grass. More importantly, we know that Jesus is not a literal shepherd of any literal four legged grass-grazing sheep. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is the Good Shepherd over Christians who are people not farm animals. So even though Jesus is referred to as the Good Shepherd and even though Christians are refereed to as sheep in the Bible, that does not mean that Jesus is a literal farm shepherd or that Christians are to be treated as literal sheep. While there are many passages that refer to Christians directly as sheep, we know this reference is only symbolic. Here is one verse that on its own demonstrates a clear comparison:
For you were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1Pet 2: 25
Here it says that you were as (or like) sheep going astray. This is clearly just a comparison not a one-to-one correlation. Allegorical verses like this must never be “literalized”.
In John 10:11, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” In verse 14, He said, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” Before we go too far with this we must realize that in John 15:1, Jesus also said, “I am the true vine…” and in John 10:9 He said, “I am the door...” Is Jesus a literal vine or physical door? No. Of course not. Those too are symbolic references that illustrate important spiritual truths.
In Matt 18: 3 Jesus said, “…Except you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” In Mark 10:15 Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein.” Does this mean that we must stay literally young and foolish and cannot ever grow up? Of course not. Does this mean that adults should behave with the immaturity of a child, when in 1Cor 13:11 we see that it is normal and necessary to grow up and put off foolish things? No. Jesus often focuses on one or two positive aspects or characteristics of an example for the purpose of illustration, in this case the sincere belief and trust that children have. Jesus is not licensing Christians to take any of the other characteristics of children and remain immature. We also know this because other Scriptures on the same subject clearly shows this. This somewhat extreme example demonstrates the problem of over “literalizing” something that is given as more of a symbolic or allegorical illustration, and this is exactly the kind of thinking that we find among those who go too far with the shepherd-sheep analogy. Sadly we have no shortage of those who run wild and beyond common sense into extremism and error on a wide variety of subjects.
As It Was In Israel It Is Today
Although we see Christians regularly referred to as “sheep” in the Bible, man is created in God’s image and God has not degraded or demeaned human beings or put them on par in any way with animals. The Bible is not saying that Christians should be corralled and treated as subservient or less than human. But nevertheless this is exactly what we see going on today. Pastors (bad pastors that is) typically see themselves as the superior and wise humans (the shepherds) and, whether they admit it or not, they typically view the overall congregation as stupid animals (the sheep).
The sheep are instructed by those very shepherds not to question their doctrine or alleged authority. Those who have the good sense to question are marginalized as being rebellious and are often thrown out of their church. This is just one of many ways that these type of so-called pastors feed upon and devour the sheep. Israel had its share of bad shepherds as well, and as far as the results, we have basically the same kind of situation going on today:
6My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yes, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them. 7Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; 8As I live, says the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became food to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; 9Therefore, O you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; 10Thus says the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be food for them. Ezekiel 34: 6-10
1Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD. 2Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; You have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, says the LORD. Jer 23:1-2
The Bible commands pastors (or elders) to not lord over or rule over God’s people (see 1Pet 5:1-4, Mark 10:42-45, etc.). In other words, they are not to be controlling.
A Disturbing Church-World Parallel
While God does not permit pastors to be controlling, literal sheep (animals) must be ruled and controlled otherwise they would run wild all over the countryside unattended and in danger of being eaten by wolves. Ironically, it is this very argument (danger of wolves) that these authoritarian leaders often misuse and capitalize upon to try to justify their heavy-handed control-based leadership approach to the total denial of what God and His Bible commands to the contrary. In many ways these men become the very wolves that they claim to be protecting the sheep against.
In a disturbing church-world parallel, this is no different than how a runaway government tries to justify controlling the people and taking away more and more of their freedoms and money under the false guise of peace, safety, security and allegedly “protecting” them until they are ultimately and irreversibly enslaved. The trading of freedom for alleged protection is a grievous mistake. This is a door that once opened by freedom of choice may never be able to be closed by freedom of choice, for that very freedom is often lost in the process. Once you let the monster out, getting it back in its cage is whole different story.
This is exactly what we see going on in socialistic and communistic governments. One might wonder why if certain leaders prefer communism so much, then why don’t they just move to an existing communist country instead of trying to convert their country to communism? The answer is they don’t want to be under such a regime, they want to BE the regime. They don’t like communism at all from the perspective of being under it or on the wrong side of it. But they love the power and money that they can be gained by being the ones who convert a good country into a bad one.
Similarly we have no shortage of churchmen today who gain much power and profit by taking unwary freedom-based churches (at least freedom in some respects) and putting them under tyranny, or by building control-based churches from the start. As shocking as it may sound, many churches today are highly communistic in how they are run. Some have gone so far down the road in this regard that there is no solution but to disband the administration and start over. Of course the tyrants in power would never willingly allow such a thing and so they fight tooth and nail with everything at their disposal to maintain their power. Ironically, they are almost always able to use the money and power that they have gained from the people against the people in order to maintain their ungodly regime.
Many unnerving parallels can be drawn between the modern institutional church and the ways of socialism and communism. I have been working on a more in-depth article on these parallels for some time. I hope to release it fairly soon.
Lining Up To Be a Hot Lunch
Just like a runaway government gorges itself on citizens, false pastors gorge themselves and continue to gorge themselves on a never-ending supply of sheep. Astonishingly these are sheep who have a choice and yet still willingly serve themselves up as the main course. False shepherds delight in sheep meat. This is their favorite delicacy and they have access to an abundance of it without any cost whatsoever. It is supplied without question or resistance. In fact, the sheep even line up willingly to be devoured, even when they see other sheep being eaten! (Of course I am figuratively referring to Christians who observe other Christians being abused and mistreated.)
Pigs in a slaughterhouse, on the other hand, have far more “sense”. They squeal and struggle when they see their comrades being killed in front of their very eyes. They at least know instinctively that there is a huge problem going on and they would certainly run away if they could. But of course they can’t escape. They are trapped.
Modern evangelical sheep for the most part are not so “smart”. They can run away and yet they don’t. And even when the average professing Christian sees others trampled and destroyed by the giant meat grinder of the false church system (which processes people through the front door and spits out the empty shells of who they once were out the back door), these onlookers still remain in the problem at least long enough to become the main course themselves. They fail to use the greatest means at their disposal to make their escape: the Bible’s clear teachings about the duty and responsibility of a Christian to avoid deception and their full authorization from God to leave bad churches (See Eph 4: 14-15, Rom 16: 17-18, 2Thess 3:14-15, etc.). Instead they believe a lie and some even incorrectly reason that most of the problems they see going on must be part of God's plan and so they feel compelled and pressured to stay.
Of course the pigs I mentioned reacted by animal instinct and not by any human form of rational reasoning power. If pigs had that kind of human ability, they would communicate with each other and do everything in their power (including banding together and using combined force) in order to try to escape. If that didn’t work, they would try to confuse their captors, use distraction and subterfuge to try to break free and escape. They would utilize whatever was at hand that could be used as weapons. If they had the physical ability and if the necessary materials were available, they would try to build tools or other aids to assist their escape, just as any group of humans would try to do if similarly held in such captivity and grave impending danger. But animals have no such God-given human abilities. Christians do. Christians have every ability and opportunity to escape, but sadly because they are ignorant of or have rejected God’s Word on the subject of leadership and church authority, most have reduced themselves to having even less “discernment” in this area than animals who operate by mere instinct.
The Resulting Bad Fruit of This Deception
Many problems have arisen in the church from a misunderstanding and misapplication of Jesus’ teachings on shepherds and sheep. Many churchmen feel that they need to build bigger and bigger sheep pens (commonly called churches) to house (actually to entrap, corral and cage) more and more so-called “sheep” and effectively what they are doing is keeping them in cold storage for future consumption! Why? Because this is part of the process where the sheep are devoured and since so many Christians have reduced themselves to allowing leaders to treat them like animals, it’s no wonder that the problems in the church are so vast.
The abuse manifests itself at different levels or intensities depending on how heavy handed a particular church government may be. Of course any manmade church government is a departure from Scripture and is therefore abusive by default, but nevertheless there can be varying levels of how extreme the fallout can be.
Literal shepherds shear their sheep for wool and sometimes even slaughter them for meat. Jesus does neither. Not only did Jesus NOT participate in such things, He did NOT authorize such behavior in others. He forbade anything remotely close. In no uncertain terms the Bible warns of false shepherds who devour the sheep. The question for some of you reading this is: Will you heed those solemn warnings? Will you avoid those men and remove yourselves from the menu or will you continue to serve yourselves up as the main course?
- Paul Howey