Where the Real Wolves Are

Town Hall Meeting of American Churchianity, sometime in 2013:

“I’d like to thank you all for coming this evening. I know you made a lot of sacrifices to be here, but we all know it was necessary,” said the kind, gray-wooled mayor, “I’ll assume you all read the warning in the newspaper?”

The last few sheep wandered into the remaining folding chairs, hooves holding styrofoam cups of heavily creamed coffee. Several seated sheep murmured affirmation to the mayor’s question. Even in the dim lighting of the town hall, anxiety showed on every face, eyes flicking back and forth among the herd, wondering who could be trusted. One freckle-faced lamb, clinging to his mother’s leg, broke the awkward silence and bleated out, “I’m scared about the wolves!”

His statement gathered more reaction than the mayor’s opening question.

“That’s right!”

“We all are!”

“How do we know you’re not a wolf, mayor?”

“I didn’t come here just to be scared all over again!”

 “Yeah! Let’s decide right now who’s in and who’s out!”

Three large claps from the wooden gavel and the crowd settled. The mayor cleared her throat, hooves raised in a posture of calm, like a preacher blessing their congregation.

“The service announcement in the newspaper was not placed by me or anyone in my office,” she said.

Commotion erupted again at this statement, shouts ranging from anger to confusion, but the voice of Baa Baa Black Sheep from the back row carried the room, “Then who did write that announcement?” he asked.

“That’s a great question and one my team and I have tried to figure out,” said the mayor.

“Was it a wolf in sheep’s clothing?” said a voice from the back row.

“That’s where it gets interesting. You see, we’ve been studying the content of this public service announcement for quite some time. Before it appeared in the newspaper, our office has received numerous letters, faxes, and emails warning us about the wolves amongst our very own flock. We believe the animals responsible for the warning in the paper are the same animals who sent the warnings to our office,” said the mayor.

“You’ve been studying it, eh? So which of us is a wolf then?” said one angry sheep.

“I think that’s the wrong question,” said the mayor, “I think the right question is: what is a wolf rather than who is a wolf?”

The flock fell silent at their wise leader’s words. Baa Baa Black sheep again broke the quiet.

“Can we hear your answer to that question?”

“Yes. Yes you may. But I will start with this affirmation: I love you all. I am just a sheep trying to follow the Good Shepherd myself. I have no agenda other than trying to follow His voice and love my fellow sheep. These answers I give you are from that heart, and I hope they point us all in that direction. In my limited studies, the Good Shepherd warns about wolves in sheep’s clothing only once. It’s in His sermon on the mount where He does warn His disciples to watch out for them. But He says the distinguishing way we can identify wolves is by their fruit. In the immediate context of that sermon, I cannot help but think the “good fruit” he meant was the humility and peace-keeping of the beatitudes, the  turn-the-other cheek love of forgiveness, the lack of hatred for enemies, and the contrite prayers of those who desire the rule of Christ. The “fruit” He condemns in the sermon consists of harsh anger, hidden lusts, big talkers, revenge-seekers, religious rulers broadcasting their great deeds, and judgers of other sheep. Right after He mentions these wolves, He says not everyone who seems to be religiously awesome actually knows Him.”

“Hold on a minute, mayor! The way you’re talking right now sounds like wolves are identified by their attitudes and habits and not by their theological differences. The newspaper announcement said the wolves were the ones whose theology was different than mine!” said a portly sheep in the second row.

“I’ll discuss that more in a moment, but yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Because that’s what Jesus said. He’s the one that warned about ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ And He’s the one that told us how to recognize them,” said the mayor.

“But don’t we sheep have an obligation to defend the gospel? Isn’t it under attack? The announcement was very clear about that, it even used multiple exclamation points to affirm the severity of the emergency,” asked another sheep.

“How did Jesus defend the gospel? With angry arguments and accusations? He defended the gospel by submitting His privileges and powers to the mercy of the worldly system. His defense was a ‘laying down’, not a ‘standing up’! The Apostle Paul is the only person to use the phrase ‘defense of the gospel’ and he used it while defending the gospel by humbly and graciously submitting to his own unjust arrest!”

“I’m glad you brought up Paul!” shouted a grandpa sheep, his forelegs crossed over his chest, “He clearly says some will arise and distort the gospel!”

“Yes. Distort it how, though, grandfather?” said the mayor, “The Gospel is distorted when it is not communicated with the gentleness and compassion of the Savior who represents in Himself the Gospel itself. The Gospel is distorted when it is no longer about grace but about knowledge. The Gospel is distorted when it is accompanied by acts of arrogance rather than legacies of love. The Gospel is distorted when power isn’t perfected through weakness and suffering but only through position and popularity.”

“But you’re still not giving Paul a fair shake on this,” said grandpa sheep, “He told those Ephesian elders that wolves would come and scatter their flock. And he told them preacher boys Timothy and Titus to watch their doctrine on account of those folks that would twist the gospel!”

“Thanks grandpa, for reminding me of the time Paul mentions wolves. I think it’s important. In that final speech, he calls the gospel the ‘gospel of grace’ and he declares he was always preaching the Kingdom. He also states that these savage wolves would be trying to lure disciples away from their congregation by distorting the truth. Lastly, he prays with those elders, and tears are shed all around because of the deep relational intimacy he shared with that congregation. So I ask the following questions about this passage in regards to identifying wolves: Is their Gospel one of grace or one of exclusion? Is the Kingdom ever mentioned in their gospel or is it all about technical details of an individual belief system? And the supposed wolves out there: are they trying to steal members from your flock or are they just shepherding their flock a little differently than yours?

And I would also ask those who wrote the extreme announcement warning us all of wolves: does your gospel lead you to have close and rich relationships with a diverse group of people? Community where people would mourn your personal absence rather than just your massive influence? Or do you only warn us other sheep of a distorted Gospel from an impersonal tower separated from the smells of the flock?”

The mayor paused, letting her words soak into the harried herd, dear friends she knew by name who had spent all week weighing each other on mental scales. She pulled in a deep breath and resumed her speech.

“As for Timothy and Titus, he repeatedly warned them about divisive people, about those who argue about words and break up the unity in the flock. That is the mark of wolves! Division and devouring! Causing sheep to separate or turn on one another in fear and mistrust. They are the source of controversies! Ask yourself: when did I get paranoid about wolves in sheep’s clothing, when did I begin to accuse my fellow sheep of Gospel distortion? It was when that newspaper announcement appeared! The stated goal of Paul’s command to his young preachers was love, not going on wolf hunts.

The Gospel of Jesus that Paul preached was one of unity, a unity he consistently stressed throughout his letters. The false prophets Paul warned of were guilty of counterfeit miracles and deceptive signs rather than alternate wordings of certain phrases. They were folks spying on the Kingdom community because they wanted to destroy the freedom the disciples found in Christ. Wolves make people into slaves of their particular brand of knowledge!

Lastly, the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I think we make a grave mistake thinking of those evil objectives in material terms. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy our relationships. First with our Creator, and secondly with each other. The Good Shepherd’s sheep know His voice and follow Him, experiencing life, life to the fullest, and thus have an otherworldly unity because they follow one Master. Wolves and thieves destroy that beautiful unified life. The Good Shepherd also warned us against the arrogant hypocrisy, hidden greed, and self-righteousness of the religious rulers of His day, calling it a yeast that spreads. This is what we should be on guard against.”

“Whew, mayor! You sure sound like you’re defending things now!” said grandpa.

“Maybe I am. But I don’t think the cross needs more defending, I think it needs more carrying, and that’s what I’m trying to say,” said the mayor.

“Should I still be scared of wolves?” asked the freckle-faced lamb.

“Nowhere does it say we should be afraid of wolves. Fear is of the enemy. We follow the Good Shepherd and He does not run when the wolf appears--nor should we. Should we be on guard against wolves in sheep’s clothing? Certainly, but the way to do that is to pursue more and more the sound of the Shepherd’s voice. A voice of life, unity, grace, humility, and compassion. When you hear something that doesn’t sound like that, ignore it and just keep nibbling the grass right in front of you with the sheep already around you.”

“Who do you think wrote that announcement, was it wolves in sheep’s clothing?” asked Baa Baa.

“At best I surmise it was sheep in sheepdog’s clothing, and at worst, wolves in Shepherd’s clothing,” she answered.

“Thanks, mayor. Your words were helpful,” said grandpa, “I make a motion we adjourn the meeting. All in favor?”

“AYE!”

“Opposed?”

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