Woe to the Hireling Shepherds

Jesus had some very strong words for those who are supposed to be leading God’s flock, but are not. False shepherds, or irresponsible and reckless shepherds, got a real serve from Jesus. He said in John 10 that he is the Good Shepherd, and he contrasts his work with those who are mere hirelings:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep” (John 10:11-13).

There are many ways in which the shepherds are greatly letting down their flocks. One major way is for them to refuse to sound the alarm, to warn of danger, to stand up in a time of crisis. When the church and its teachings are under direct and sustained attack, then the church leaders must be doing all they can to protect their people and rise to the challenge.

The church of Jesus Christ stands at a crossroads today. It can either defend its heritage, its commitment to the Word of God as the ultimate authority, and to the divinely ordained institutions of marriage and family, or it can sell its soul for an ugly bowl of politically correct porridge.

At perhaps no other time in the church’s history has the institution of marriage taken such a fierce battering as it is now. It is being undermined on all sides, not least of which by the militant homosexual lobby. Yet so many church leaders are doing nothing and saying nothing about this.

The shepherds have failed in their duty to warn of the homosexual assault on the church and on marriage, and the danger this poses. They have been just as Isaiah described them: “Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge; they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark; they lie around and dream, they love to sleep. They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain” (56:10-11).

These shepherds have completely let down the church in this regard. Of course it is not just the homosexual lobby’s war on marriage which has been the problem. Christians have done a pretty good job of destroying the institution as well. We have held in light regard God’s high standards here.

Thus the church must repent, and repent deeply, over the way it has allowed the institution of heterosexual marriage to decline and become a laughing stock. It needs to repent for taking such a lax and poor view of God’s design for marriage.

It needs to repent for allowing divorce rates – even in so-called Bible-believing churches – to equal that of the surrounding secular culture. It needs to repent of its utter disregard for God’s standards for faithfulness, holiness and purity, both personal and in the marriage bond.

The war over marriage

As to the biggest fight we have right now, the push for homosexual marriage and adoption rights, I have written an entire book outlining the sociological, medical, scientific, political, theological and biblical reasons why we must resist this with every ounce of our being. I refer readers to that book for the full case on why we must withstand the radical homosexual agenda.

But of real concern is the fact that so many churches and church leaders have caved in here big time. Sadly we already have traitors in our midst. Sadly many have already effectively gone over to the dark side, and have bought into the entire homosexual activist agenda, hook, line, and sinker.

They somehow have gotten so confused and adrift of Scripture that they actually believe the homosexual propaganda that homosexuals are born that way and cannot change, and that same-sex marriage should be the Christian thing to do. They are effectively calling Jesus a liar, and are claiming to be more compassionate than he is.

Jesus is in the business of changing people, and setting them free from the chains of the enemy. He is not in the business of allowing people to wallow in the stench of their sin and deadly addictions. Any pastor who thinks Jesus endorses homosexuality and wants people to remain in their chains is no friend of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

But what about so many other pastors and church leaders who have not bought the lies of the enemy, but are still too cowardly or intimidated to speak out to protect marriage and family, and see homosexuals released from their bondage? To those who object that the pulpit is no place to discuss “politics” let me say that if they cannot defend the authority of Scripture and God’s most fundamental of institutions, then they might as well get out of the pulpit.

I believe that despite all the thin excuses being offered, the main reasons why pastors and church leaders are not speaking out is because of fear, cowardice, and the insatiable desire to simply please men and just get along. If that is the case, they should leave the ministry immediately. They have no place there if that is the situation.

If the shepherds of Jesus Christ are not willing to stand up and speak out at such a time as this, then they might as well just stop playing games, close their churches, and forget about all the hot air they spew out. This matter is far too serious for timid and limp-wristed leaders to sit on the sidelines and somehow pretend they have no role to play in this important battle.

Indeed, our abject apathy, cowardice and indifference cries up to the heavens.  We Christian leaders need to repent of our desire to be men pleasers, to be empire builders, and to be popular, liked, and soaking in celebrity-status. We need to repent of majoring in minors and minoring in majors.

We need to repent for failing to speak out when it was so vitally important that we did speak out. We need to repent for not caring enough about the lost, the broken and the imprisoned, that we chose to go along with the world’s agenda. We need to repent for allowing all this to happen on our watch.

Perhaps the best way to close is to offer this sobering quote from a German eyewitness to the Holocaust, who reflected on why the church essentially did nothing about this great evil. Every single one of us needs to read this and let it break our stony hearts and seared consciences:

“I lived in Germany during the Nazi Holocaust. I considered myself a Christian. We heard stories of what was happening to the Jews, but we tried to distance ourselves from it, because, what could anyone do to stop it? A railroad track ran behind our small church and each Sunday morning we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks.

“We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars! Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we could hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.

“We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard them no more. Years have passed and no one talks about it anymore. But I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. God forgive me; forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians yet did nothing to intervene.”

[1350 words]

35 Replies to “Woe to the Hireling Shepherds”

  1. Thanks Bill – that Holocaust reflection sent a chill down my spine. Most of us can not imagine how the Holocaust could have ever happened but now when we witness the cowardice of people with regard to standing against the homosexual agenda, it becomes far easier to see how such atrocities occur.

    I had yet another conversation with a once close Christian friend who continues to say that the issues I keep going on about (homosexuality, abortion etc) are obviously my ‘hobby horses’ and not ones that God has placed on her heart. She defended the lack of a Christian presence at the recent stand 4 marriage day because ‘God puts different things on everyone’s heart’.

    Fighting the world and its godlessness is one thing, being flattened and continually discouraged by Christians who justify their lack of action using spiritual rhetoric feels like a much harder battle.

    Annette Williams

  2. Thanks Annette

    You are exactly right in everything you say. That quote should send chills down our spines. If it does not, we are dead!

    Yes the lousy excuses Christians make for not standing up here are appalling. If Hillsong alone sent its tens of thousands of worshipers there, it would have been amazing. So why weren’t they there?

    And yes, the pathetic response from so many believers really can be demoralising and discouraging. But we must fight on nonetheless. Thanks for your valuable witness.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  3. Bill, did that last quote come from Erwin W. Lutzer’s book “When a Nation Forgets God”? I found his short book to be very good. That also stuck in my mind. I have also his book earlier “Hitler’s Cross “which I have on the growing pile of books to read. I am currently reading Geoffrey Blainey’s “A Short History of Christianity”.
    Carl Strehlow

  4. Goodonya again, Bill,

    Revelation 12 has a fascinating take on the Christmas events. It’s in the typically symbolic Revelation style; but it’s clearly about the Incarnation. The fascinating take is that the birth of Christ is seen as a battle, a war. A war in heaven, and on earth, with the dragon trying (and failing) to destroy the child who will one day rule the nations with an iron sceptre.

    No doubt, in many pulpits there will be lots of talk this Christmas about love and joy and peace and hope. Well, I wonder how many preachers will see the Incarnation as a war. Yes, the victory will be the Lord’s, but it’s a war nonetheless, and all those who love the Lord Jesus need, as you say, to stand up and speak and not be silent at a time like this.

    Andrew Campbell

  5. Has Australia’s most high profile pentecostal fellowship been speaking out on this? And if not why not?

    I have already noted it’s most high profile singer supports same sex marriage, have they condemned this?

    What about Victoria’s largest Baptist fellowship?

    The churches silence is deafening!

    But then it is not the church is it!

    Rob Withall

  6. Thanks Andrew Campbell, your post has proved to be a great help to me. You see, the pastor of the church I attend will be on leave on Christmas Day and I will be preaching in his place. I have been thinking and praying about a suitable Bible text for the sermon. Now, thanks to you, I have it – Revelation 12!
    Graeme Mitchell

  7. The book Hitler’s Cross by Erwin Lutzer also talks about the compromise in the church in Germany at the time of Hitler. About 2/3 of the church thought Hitler was wonderful and went along with him but about 1/3 could see that what he was saying contradicted the Bible and were awake to him. That was the so-called confessing church.

    When you look at the ‘church’ in Australia today you can see the huge compromise with Scripture. The same situation is developing where they will go along with anything.

    Tas Walker

  8. Another insightful post that I’m sure you’d really rather not have ever written. When Pastors and Churches worry about what the world thinks, the big loser is the truth. Too many have forgotten that someday they’ll stand before God and give an accounting…oh, maybe they never knew or feared that fact in the first place. Good job Bill. Many blessings.
    Eric Barger, US

  9. I just wish your article was not true. God help us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Warwick Marsh

  10. Matthew 10:34-39 [NKJV]
    34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. 35 For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; 36 and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ 37 He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.
    Pete Laning

  11. Bill, thanks for your article. Your words are very convicting – I need to repent! As does a large percentage of the church. My pastor has just posted a short article on our church blog, echoing Peter Jensen’s concerns about what the redefinition inevitably means. I’m glad he has the guts to speak up.

    I’m going to write to my local politicians advocating for the biblical definition of marriage. It might be too late, but I think it must be done!

    Simon Kennedy

  12. Rob Withall wrote “Australia’s most high profile pentecostal fellowship … it’s most high profile singer supports same sex marriage.”

    I would think that Australia’s most high profile singer would be Darlene Zschech. I googled “darlene zschech gay marriage” and can find no reference to her supporting homosexual (1) marriage.

    Can you enlighten me? Is Darlene Zschech no longer the AOG/ACC(2)’s most high profile singer? Has she made comments that I can’t find on google.

    (1) I swap homosexual for gay as much as possible. I’m gay, Bill’s gay (I hope), all Christians should be gay. Not homosexual.
    (2) I assume the AOG/ACC is the “most high profile pentecostal fellowship” you are referring to.

    Graeme Cumming

  13. Thanks Graeme

    We will have to await his answer, but I suspect he may be referring to Guy Sebastian. I recall years ago reading him say he had no problems at all with homosexuality.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  14. Hi Bill, At the risk of incurring the wrath of all who would like to cheer you on, I would like to note that Pastors are a very soft target for a back-hander. It is a bit like giving the church in general a slur because it will be true of some.
    I am aware of Pastors who have made multiple trips to Canberra to talk with Politicians and have even met with the Prime Minister. I have met with an Age reporter and expressed my views that marriage ought to be between a man and a woman. Just last week I met with denominational leaders and expressed my concern on this matter. As you are aware I spoke at the launch of your book which we hosted at Crossway. In addition, I cosigned a letter that was released to the media but unfortunately my name was removed because I was to be the exclusive Baptist voice. My simple point is this, it is easy to criticise and many will cheer you on for writing as you have. I am concerned, however, that when you turn your sights back on Christian leaders that more harm than good takes place.
    respectfully submitted,
    Pastor Dale Stephenson

  15. Thanks Dale

    To offer concern about the general silence of the churches and their leaders is of course not to denigrate those who are in fact standing up. Certainly there are many who are doing right. I nowhere state in my piece that every leader in the Christian world is amiss here!

    Those who are doing a good job are of course to be commended. But I think anyone objectively looking at this situation would have to say that they are clearly in the minority. If 20 church leaders recently signed a document on same-sex marriage, we can all applaud that. But of course there would be many thousands of church leaders, and sadly many would even refuse to sign such a document.

    Given that I travel quite extensively around the country, speaking at all sorts of denominations, I can see to some small extent the lie of the land. I would think that those who are vocal and active – as people like yourself – would applaud the call to get all leaders speaking out on this and other important issues.

    When I travel and speak, I often hold you up as an example; for example, how you spoke twice at the pro-life rallies in Melbourne in 2008. But we need many more like you. It seems you may have taken personal offence here when none was intended. If all pastors were as active as you, then I would have no need to write such pieces. But sadly, as you would well know, most are not.

    And this article was not meant to be a “back-hander” as you suggest, but an encouragement to all leaders to take seriously their biblical calling. I would have thought that such encouragement and exhortation is something all of us could support.

    So thanks for what you do – we need more leaders like you.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  16. I was referring to Guy Sebastian, who as far as I know is closely connected to Hillsong and would be better known across Australia, not just within Christian circles but also in the secular scene.
    I ask why can’t Hillsong be absolutely clear and public on it’s stand against homosexuality both to it’s membership and outside in the greater society? Is it because certain members (unofficially of course) have marched in the Sydney gay Lesbian parade? I cannot substantiate that but some time back this was said to be the case.
    Being built on pragmatism and corporate modeling, being an offense may not be anywhere on their radar screen. There was a day when no AOG fellowship would consider having anyone who supported same sex marriage anywhere near their platform, no matter who they were.
    Why not blow a clear note on the trumpet? And if they have good on them but I haven’t heard about it.
    Rob Withall

  17. Hi Dale. it sounds like you are not one of the church leaders that Bill is referring to. Quite the contrary.
    I hope you do not mind but I wanted to give a quick overview of my own experiences for the last 15 years.
    The last 4 and a half year’s my family have regularly attended a Presbyterian church, 4 years preceding that a uniting church, 3 years preceding that an evangelical Anglican church, 4 years prior to that, a baptist church. In all of that time I have heard no sermons on abortion, not one. I have never even heard a prayer about it. I have heard no sermons about homosexuality not even a prayer about that either. My children who are now teens have grown up in these churches and have heard sermons about anything relating to sexual promiscuity about 4-5 times total.
    Bill is spot on. Most churches are not doing the job of shepherding that they should be.
    I am currently seeking to find a church that is not afraid of standing up on these issues and who considers these things very important – where I live it seems impossible.
    When we find a church that is being persecuted because they speak Gods truths, that is the one we will go to.
    I hope my experience is unusual – but I am doubtful.
    Annette Williams

  18. Thanks for sharing your story with us Annette.

    I suspect, unfortunately, that your experience would be far from unique. Many churches – perhaps most – will not even speak on these matters, for various reasons. While we have notable exceptions, such as Dale, sadly it seems most church leaders do not want to be involved in these matters. And it should be noted that I often said in my article that “we” must repent. I include myself here. I have too often wanted to take the easy path, to not upset others, to just get along, to be liked by others, and so on. I too need to repent for not talking seriously my calling in this regard.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  19. Thank you Bill! I totally agree with your sentiments; Christians truly need to wake up and stand for the Truth:
    Those “hireling shepherds”, who are leading their Church members astray will face the wrath of God, if they do not repent;
    They fear man more than they fear God!!!
    You quoted the reflections of a German Christian during the Nazi era; It caused me to think that those hireling shepherds are equivalent to the train driver!
    It takes more true love, to be able to speak the truth and tell people when they are in sin – with the hope that they will repent (turn away from their sin – that leads to death) and receive Jesus as Lord and Savior and then get Biblically discipled in a Church where the Word of God is preached without compromise!!!!
    Barb Hoc

  20. Bill, seeing as you mentioned the Holocaust and the Christians in Germany at the time, here is a article I read about Hitler and the German Christians.


    Jeffrey Carl

  21. Andrew, I must respectfully disagree with the interpretation of Revelation 12 you hold to. I can’t see why there would be a flashback to events thousands of years before those in the surrounding chapters in the middle of Revelation (remember also the chapters and verse numbers are not inspired so one should consider the context a passage is given in). Then you have to twist whats written a large amount to make it fit the Christmas story. Then there’s the 1260 days, the length of the Great Tribulation, I would see the events of Revelation 12 as being in the future.

    Having said that I may be wrong, and I do agree that war is connected with the Incarnation however I would refer to what Herod did and what Pharaoh did.

    Matt Vinay

  22. Part of the problem (for ordinary, media-less ie. powerless people, such as myself) is that any little things we try to do are ignored. If a majority of such people acted, however small they are individually, it would have effect (politicians would begin to fear our negative voting ability); but being a few, we can have no such effect (thus it is important when the (very) occasional celebrity raises his/her voice).
    Your closing words: the nearest parallel, today, is the abortion megaholocaust (much bigger than the 1940s one). The great tragedy is that so many Christians (should that be “Chistians”?) support it.
    John Thomas, UK

  23. I see the lack of engagement with public issues from church leaders and churches, as a sign of inherent weakness. I think this has come about by the creeping, (and now sprinting) secularism which pervades our society. If faith is merely a private matter, then what the church and it’s scriptures bring to bear should be kept private also. The secularists have made the church fearful of speaking out, because we have caved in to their demands for silence, and our sinful desire for an easy way out of public engagement. The secularists have made us Anabaptists!

    Ironically, the most public statements by Protestants are usually made by the Anglican Church, which seems most interested in left-wing agenda issues, like climate change and (pro-)abortion. “Evangelicals are too busy doing ministry to do politics” some say, and they probably are. But they should be busy doing both, because as evangelicals we should care about the societies we live in.

    Simon Kennedy

  24. Every little bit helps so the saying goes. I am fortunate that the editor of my local paper is not afraid to publish letters that criticise the politically correct war on Christianity.

    In the 10 years I have been living here, and the subjects of SSM, homosexuality, abortion, family breakdown etc. have been addressed usually by non-ordained Christians, I cannot remember one single letter from a minister standing up for the truth or supporting what has been said.

    What is that other saying? The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    Here is an idea for onside pastors that you might like to get involved in. How about you get all the ministers and your denominational leaders to write to every Federal MP every week starting from January 1st stating a different reason why SSM is bad for Australia? There is enough information on Bill’s site for you to do this.

    Or try this. Get every one of the members of Cyour churches aged 18 or over to do the same. Each week put a slide up on your screens at the meetings giving a reason they can write about.

    A few thousand, or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of letters/emails to federal MPs every week are very hard to ignore. Only an MP who is ideologically driven would do so.

    At the end of the day, whatever the outcome is, you will have the satisfaction that a negative result was not due to your indifference and apathy.

    And let me say that this is far more important than running nice programmes or preaching comfortable sermons.

    Roger Marks

  25. As Annette said, my experience has been the same. It’s not a witchhunt or my pet grumble to complain about churches – no, its with much anguish I say these things. Last week I had a serious talk with our current pastor about SSM and the need for action. I did my best to be polite and word things as God gave them to me. The pastor listened to my concerns and then said, I think Daniel, it’s a case of misunderstanding and your will and not Gods. Well in any case this prompted me to do a bit of research. I wrote a letter to every church in Bunbury WA asking were they stood on this issue (SSM). Not One Answer.
    Daniel Kempton

  26. Thanks Daniel and others

    Yes you are all making my point quite clearly. Those in Christian leadership who are courageously and biblically speaking out on things like SSM, or abortion, or other important issues, clearly seem to be in the minority. That should not be the case, especially in the so-called Bible-believing churches, and that is why I wrote this piece.

    Yet some will criticise me for even raising this issue! But when important moral issues are happening, the church has an obligation to speak out. As Martin Luther King rightly said, “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  27. Graeme, in retrospect, I am sure Darlene Zschech, (from your generation) has a genuine desire to worship and serve the Lord, but her ecumenical bent (unity at the cost of truth) and her participation in the Mass, (She sang just after the stations of the cross) during Catholic world youth day back in July 2008 is quite a concern to a lot of people.
    Quote: “We see world youth day as a great opportunity to serve the catholic church in it’s vision to present the gospel (Pope Benedict XVI’s gospel) and reach out to our city and nation and world”.
    One must ask isn’t this part of another gospel Paul warns us about in the first chapter of Galatians?
    It also is not that encouraging how Zschechs hero’s include Olivier Newton John, Julia Roberts, Bono and immoral rock singer activist Sting who she believes is anointed of God in the same way as King David was?
    Our young people need far better role models than the current talented, popular and famous who appeal to the emotions rather than the spirit.
    Rob Withall

  28. Thanks Bill. Your article is a breath of fresh air to me as is your book which I have almost finished. Why don’t most Bishops and Priests speak out against homosexuality and SSM? The simple answer is that they are not opposed to it but another answer might be that most of them know nothing about it and will not take the time to find out. They seem to have an in built resentment to the suggestion that they may be able to learn something from the non-ordained. It’s a kind of ancient clerical snobbery.
    B T Walters

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