Church Life

False Shepherds

Some years ago now I was out walking with a friend who was a presbyterian minister, author and highly regarded theologian. At that time I was researching the history of the church and was very troubled by the fact that one of his heroes, Luther (1483-1546), consented to and even encouraged the persecution and execution of fellow christians who did not agree with him – primarily Baptists.

My friend said, in the same vein as someone I read of more recently – “Of course, virtually everyone persecuted in those days.” The inference being  that Martin Luther was simply a man of his generation and that he lived within the standards of his culture – so he was not to blame for his behaviour.

In our own day the same argument is used at the opposite extreme – anything goes because, after all, our God is a God of love and mercy.

In both cases I would suggest what we fail to realise is that embedded within the core of divine revelation are standards of righteousness and behaviour which are universal and timeless. If we use the “He was only a man of his generation” argument – then Jesus should surely have taken up arms to advance his kingdom – after all that’s what every other revolutionary in his culture was doing.

But the universal principle is summed up like this:

“He (God) has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Micah 6:8

We live in a very sad day in the life of the church in Scotland and throughout the western world in general. The appalling standards of belief and behaviour I personally have encountered has been well documented here – and I will not go in to it again at this point. Suffice to say that there is a desperate need to return to timeless and universal principles of righteousness.

What we require is a balanced combination of justice, mercy and humility. And this must start with the leaders and shepherds among God’s people. It is not without deep significance that God, through the prophet Ezekiel said, and this once again is a timeless call:

“Son of man, preach against Israel’s shepherds! Speak directly to the shepherds and tell them this is what the Eternal Lord has to say: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel whose only concern is to protect and nourish themselves! Isn’t a shepherd’s job to look after the sheep? Yet you exploit them in every way. You devour their fat, make soft clothes and blankets out of their wool, and slaughter the best sheep for your table. Meanwhile you don’t take care of the sheep at all. You have not sought to nurse the weak. You have not gone out to tend to the sick. You have not bandaged the injured. You don’t bring back the strays or look for the lost. You have led them with neglect, ruled them with harshness, shepherded them with cruelty!”

Ezekiel 34: 2-4

While I have many friends in leadership and I have also been in their shoes, I have seen enough selfishness, bullying, exploitation and cruelty among leaders in the church to put me off for life. I spoke to an old Christian lady a few days ago who told me she had been hurt far more in the church than she ever was in the world. And her hurt is almost universal in my experience. This surely should not be.

Some of us seem to think that the evils of our generation are to blame for the ills of the church and society. So we rail against the decline in morals, behaviour and godlessness. We raise petitions, write to our members of parliament, lobby for changes to the law and become disheartened when our petitions fall on deaf ears. Now perhaps there is a place for these things – but they are not the root of the problem. The church is!

Many of my friends are those who long to see renewal and revival in our nation. God is God – and we cannot dictate what he can and cannot do. However, once again I believe he has set out for us very clearly the requirements for blessing, renewal and revival. And these are not more outreach, more services, or even more prayer meetings – but a deep repentance and return to standards of righteousness which God himself demands.

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