Friday, August 10, 2012

More on Shepherds, Sheep, Fences, Religion, and Relationship

Today is Iris and my last day in Europe. It's been a wonderful time in so many ways. We've caught up with old friends, seen sights, encouraged laborers (and been encouraged by them), rested in the Alps and eaten enough good European bread to last us for a while.

Yesterday, we were with old friends and NavStaff Roy and Debbie Garren. Roy and Debbie left a pretty confortable situation in Florida to follow the leading of the Good Shepherd to minister to young military people in Spangdahlem, Germany. As we were having lunch (enjoying that good, hard crusted, German Bread), Debbie showed us a picture she had taken of some sheep behind a fence (not the one above, but one like it), she pointed out that sheep behind a fence provide a pretty good picture of what man-made religion does to people. Such religion does not point to a Shepherd, but instead imposes rules designed to keep people from doing wrong things. That really got me thinking.

Then this morning (I could call it a coincidence, but I won't insult your intelligence), my quiet time happened to be in John 10:1-21: the story of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. As I read through the passage - probably influenced by yesterday's conversation - I noticed how Jesus used the word out in the passage:

John 10:3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

John 10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.

John 10:9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.

Functioning both as the gate to let the sheep out of the pen and as the Shepherd who leads them out, Jesus provides all of the protection that religion promises, but ultimately fails to provide. He leads them out…when He has brought out all his own…he will come in and go out. When a person is being led by the Good Shepherd, he does not need fences. Religion is a man-made fence designed to keep people living within certain boundaries. What Jesus brings is shepherding. If Jesus finds you within the fence, He will lead you out. Those who follow Jesus have all of the safety that religion purports to give, without the fence. Following the shepherd means to go out. Jesus is the open gate; Jesus is the Good Shepherd.


  1. "Such religion does not point to a Shepherd, but instead imposes rules designed to keep people from doing wrong things."

    Could you explain this statement to me?

    My understanding is that any "ought" is a "rule". You ought to love your wife. You ought not to look at porn. You ought not to curse. You ought not to judge. You ought not to covet. You ought not to lust at another man's wife. God has imposed a fence with a "do not enter" sign around sin. Our God is one who commands, and we ought to obey. We follow rules, laws, and commands as a Christian all the time.

    The second thing is being anti-religion. No matter how decentralized or informal is one's view of the Christian life and practice, it is still religion. Reading a spiritual text (e.g., the Bible) is religious activity. Meeting together for fellowship is religious activity. When someone says "it's not religion, it's a relationship" he's just presenting a false dilemma. It's really both.

  2. Stephen, I'll make one attempt to clarify what I was saying with this statement. This statement is NOT saying that rules are bad or wrong or should be ignored. It is simply saying that a relationship in which one follows Jesus as the Shepherd is superior to following rules. I can love my wife, not look at porn, not curse and not judge, etc because I am following rules. That is certainly better than doing those things. I'm simply pointing out that there is a way that is superior. I do not feel that I'm alone in this. The writer of Hebrews does that throughout his entire letter. These are the contrasts I found in Hebrews during a recent Bible Study (yes, I study the Epistles).

    Old or Inferior: New or Superior:
    God speaks in many ways God speaking through Jesus
    Angels as intermediaries The Son as mediator
    Old Message New Message
    Moses faithful as a servant Jesus faithful as a son
    Moses the house Jesus the builder of the house
    OT Children of Israel NT Believers
    OT Priests Jesus the High Priest
    Abrahams faith Faith of the Believer
    Melchizedek Jesus
    Old Covenant New Covenant
    Levitical Worship System Intimate Relationship
    Law on stone Righteousness in hearts
    No solution for sin Sin dealt with once and for all
    Limited access to God Full access to God
    Looking forward by faith Receiving by faith
    Mount Sinai Mount Zion
    Abel’s death leading to vengeance Jesus’ death leading to grace
    Shaken by fear Unshakable kingdom
    Animal sacrifices Once for all Jesus’ sacrifice
    Sacrifice of blood Sacrifice of praise

    By making these contrasts, the writer of Hebrews is not saying that the old things are "bad", but that the new things are better.

  3. I think you’ve hit the issue: what changed between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant? This is one of the most important issues in Christianity. No one questions that something has changed and that the New Covenant is a “better” covenant. But it does not follow that the fact that something has changed means that everything has changed. Now, I’m not saying that you believe this to be true, but this blog post continues the typical “I hate religion and man-based rules” rhetoric that has led to antinomianism. The problem is that when you juxtapose “religion” and “rules” with “relationship” you’re really juxtaposing “form” with “intention.” People get the impression that all form (e.g., the traditional elements of corporate Sunday worship) is to be avoided completely, that only the intention behind the event matters. In other words, they think that all form is wrong and disingenuous. According to this understand, there is no way, form, or prescribed ceremony for worship, either corporately or individually. There is only pure will and intention. The result is the McCommunion where a bunch of buddies at the PX do the Lord’s Supper with a Popeyes biscuit and a Diet Coke. This form of worship (and, despite what they say, is a form of worship) is the highest form of arrogance a Christian can have towards God. Your religion/relationship and rules/relationship false dilemmas are partly the reason for this. And I think it goes back to the fundamental problem of Navigators, that it views the Gospels and Acts as completely sufficient to detail the requirements, vision and direction of ministry.

    In your clarification you didn’t really explain what this “better” relationship entails. From what I can tell, you still think that rules matter, but God’s people no longer perform them for rule’s sake. Is this really a change from the Old Covenant? The God of the OT and Jesus both quote “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt. 9:13; Hos: 6:6). It has always been God’s program for his people that their obedience should be a response to their relationship with him. God never wanted his people to obey him for rule’s sake. Also, it does not follow from this “change” that all form is no longer valid.

    As I said on the Army Navs site, the only way I can fit together your understanding of the Bible is to recognize that you take the Gospels and Acts as completely sufficient for detailing New Covenant ministry. The rest is just supplementary or enhancing. I listened online to the leader of the Savannah Navs group claim that the “endurance” of the Book of Hebrews refers to continuing the “laboring” found in the Gospels. That is clear evidence of my claim. You know that is pure eisegesis. As the result of this faulty hermeneutic, your ministry has driven young Christians from submission to elders, from formal corporate worship, from corporate singing, from the Lord’s Suppers, from preaching, from ordination, from properly administered baptism, and much, much more.

    The following verse should be the theme of the upcoming Nav conference:

    “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” James 3:1