CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Where Are the Real Shepherds?

Aug 2, 2020

Where are the bold prophetic voices that are so much needed today?

Now more than ever we need Christian leaders who will stand up and be counted. We need shepherds who will actually lead and not just follow. We need prophetic voices who will sound the alarm. We need watchmen on the wall who will give clear clarion calls about the many dangers we face.

Yet for the most part we have sheep in the pulpits who are afraid to open their mouths, afraid to stand up for the gospel, and afraid to resist the darkness that is descending upon us. They are far more concerned about not rocking the boat and in pleasing men than they are in sounding the alarm as God would have them to do.

And in all this we of course have solid historical precedent. God constantly warned the religious leaders of ancient Israel about how they too were failing in their calling. He sent real prophets time and time again to rebuke these useless leaders.

Just today I again read from the book of Isaiah. What we find written in Isaiah 56:10-12 some two and a half millennia ago is perfectly relevant for today’s church:

His watchmen are blind;
    they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
    they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down,
    loving to slumber.
The dogs have a mighty appetite;
    they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
    they have all turned to their own way,
    each to his own gain, one and all.
“Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
    let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
    great beyond measure.”

Strong words indeed – and oh so relevant to the church of today. Let me offer a few bits of commentary on this passage. Barry Webb offers these remarks:

For a community under stress, the quality of its leadership is critical. Leaders are to be watchmen (56:10), alert to dangers that threaten from the outside, and shepherds (56:11), nurturing and strengthening the inner life of the community. Where such leadership is lacking, the sort of situation develops which we see here. Instead of being open in the right sense – to people sincerely seeking the Lord – the community becomes open to evil people who want to exploit it (56:9). Good people are attacked, and no-one comes to their defence (57:1-2). Superstition and false religion flourish and become a cover for all kinds of wickedness (57:3-10). The fear of the Lord is lost, and other, unhealthy fears take over (57:11). And finally, God is left with no option but to judge (57:12-13a). It is a depressing picture, painted in broad, bold brushstrokes and sombre tones.

Gary Smith reminds us of how bad this situation was:

The text emphasizes that “all of them” (vv. 10 and 11), all the prophetic watchmen (cf. Ezek. 3:17), are spiritually blind. The phrase “all of them” emphasizes how terrible the spiritual situation is, for none of these prophets know what is really happening. This suggests that they are not listening to what God is saying, so they are not able to warn people about moral issues and the dire consequences of their sinfulness. These watchmen are compared to “dogs,” a very strong derogatory condemnation (2 Sam. 16:9) that evokes pictures of filthy mongrels, the scum of the earth that would eat anything. Usually dogs bark incessantly whenever they hear a strange noise or see something out of the ordinary, but these prophetic “dogs” are worthless because they are completely mute. Since they are not able or willing to bark, they provide no warning about the dangers that are coming.

And John Oswalt makes this comment:

Three times in this verse and the next it is said that they do not know. In the first instance no object is specified. They are simply unaware. They do not understand the critical nature of their task, they do not know the desperate nature of the times, they do not know the nature of their people, they do not know their own failings….

Because these leaders of the community have allowed their sense of calling to become dim, laziness has overtaken them and destroyed them for their critical task. Pieper well says, “physical laziness is the inseparable companion of spiritual lethargy.” Those who are in the position of leaders of God’s flock today should heed these words. Let us feel the terrific burden of alerting our people to the threats and of equipping them in their spirits to meets these threats, and spirit of lethargy and drowsiness will soon disappear from us.

As I was penning this piece a friend had posted on the social media the following passage. It pretty well sums up why we have so few church leaders who are willing to speak up: “They hate him who reproves in the gate, and they abhor him who speaks the truth.” (Amos 5:10).

That has always been the case. Jesus was put to death for speaking the truth, as were so many prophets and disciples. But we must not flinch at a time like this. We must not succumb to fear. We must not give in to cowardice. Instead we must speak up, regardless of the cost.

Let me close by mentioning two brave Christian champions. They are NOT pastors or church leaders – they are simply professional sportsmen in America. But they put most of our church leaders to shame. Why? Because they dared to be a Daniel when Daniels are in short supply. Both refused to bow the knee (literally) to the spirit of the age. Both stood (literally) for Jesus Christ the Lord. Let me briefly share their stories:

At the Giants vs. Dodgers game in Los Angeles, every player could be seen taking a knee during the anthem and holding a black cloth, except one. “I’m a Christian,” Sam Coonrod, San Francisco Giants relief pitcher, told multiple media outlets after the game. “So, I just believe that I can’t kneel before anything besides God.” “I just can’t get on board with a couple of things that I have read about Black Lives Matter,” he said. “How they lean toward Marxism, and they’ve said some negative things about the nuclear family. I just can’t get on board with that.” www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/im-a-christian-mlb-player-explains-why-he-refused-to-take-a-knee-during-national-anthem

My second example is similar:

Forward Jonathan Isaac was the only Orlando Magic player to neither kneel during the national anthem nor wear a Black Lives Matter shirt prior to Orlando’s game against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. According to Bleacher Report’s Taylor Rooks, Isaac said after the game that while he believes Black Lives Matter, “kneeling or wearing a Black Lives Matter T-shirt don’t go hand-in-hand with supporting Black lives.” …. “I believe Jesus is the answer. Black lives are supported through the gospel. All lives are supported through the gospel.” nba.nbcsports.com/2020/07/31/magics-jonathan-isaac-kneeling-wearing-blm-t-shirt-not-answer-for-him/

Well done Sam. Well done Jonathan. So where are all the others? Why only two out of thousands? Why will so few stand up for truth in a culture that is awash with lies? Why will so few show us a bit of backbone in a toxic society that is rushing down the gurgler?

Will you be a Daniel? Will you be a Sam? Will you be a Jonathan? If not, why not?

[1208 words]

9 Responses to Where Are the Real Shepherds?

  • Sadly, I have to express some disappointment in my own denomination in Australia which has done and said little to “speak truth to power” in regard to the pandemic.

    Yes, I know it takes a long time to turn a large ship and within a whole denomination there will be some who are prepared to be those Daniels, while many others float along, just “driftin’ with the tide” and a few others who still believe that government as an institution is somehow a friend of the Church.

    Sadly, I can guess the general attitude (negative) to the legal action taken by John MacArthur (Grace Presbyterian) and Dr James Dobson regarding the blatant abuse of the US Constitutional protection of religion in their respective States.

    But I can’t see even the “radical” Pentecostals in Australia daring to challenge the inconsistencies of the diktats of Premier Dan Andrews of Viktoriastan.

  • Hmm, it seems pastors and politicians have the same dis-ease: so we can rewrite Bills 2nd para as “Yet for the most part we have sheep in the parliament who are afraid to open their mouths, afraid to stand up (and) resist the darkness that is descending upon us. They are far more concerned about not rocking the boat and in pleasing men than they are in sounding the alarm as statesmen would do.”

  • Thanks Bill. Spot on again I’m sad to say. We keep praying!

  • Yes, I agree that both MPs and Pastors and indeed many of us in Christian organisations are too often more worried about what others will say, than saying what we know to be right. But there is light ‘in the tunnel’ as individual sports people, and other popular personalities show their beliefs by their actions. However, I believe that right now during this latest epidemic, we can be excited about the opportunities our Lord is giving us ‘to get the ears of people twitching’ and listening to what they will eventually come to recognise as the truth. The Holy Spirit can and does do this work of enlightenment. We even have plenty of technological helps to make it happen all the more while we are locked down (especially in the Eastern states of Australia), and as church members find that they need to get the gospel out as they help with offers of comfort and support and indeed prayers.

    During the ACL callout this weekend, I was in contact with some who were in need and also a number of farmers who were experiencing magnificent turn-arounds, both financially, and spiritually as a result of their blessings.

  • Thank you for your post. The Sovereignty of God is such that when it comes to this point, it is a result of judgment. Spiritual blindness, deafness, inability to speak—this is what Divine judgment looks like on a people who have turned aside and tossed the Truth behind their back, crying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace.

  • Dear Bill,
    How many “Truths” have we allowed to be eroded over time?
    Now we have biological “Truths” abandoned.
    God is still sovereign, He will not be mocked and He always turns evil into good.
    What breaks the heart is luke warm believers.
    I’m praying for revival and I am confident, Bill that you are being moved by the Spirit , as many are to spur on another on to love and good deeds – speaking the Truth.
    Raise ‘em up, Lord raise ‘em up.
    Cheers
    Mark Bryant

  • Well Issy Folau did it again. And yes the church seems to have vacated the public place completely. You can go to a cinema but not to church. It’s pathetic. My latest book “Strong to the end” addresses some of these things. It will be available on Amazon soon.

  • One pastor is taking a stand! Watch

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=dyOV6tngT8U

  • For many I have run into the phrase watchmen on the wall means watching for the Lord’s return period. To them you shouldn’t keep an eye on what satan is doing just look at Jesus. They watch the sky while the enemy has breached the gate and assailed the walls and only when he has his sword at our throats do they cry “to arms men to arms”! Of course it is too late then.

    “You say the words but your hearts are empty, your ears closed to the truth. You stand for nothing but your own petty interests!” From

    “The good times are here again let us enjoy for they will never end.”

    As far not knowing their own failings some will say the church is the spotless bride of Christ and thus can do no wrong. Others are to blame for problems we face we did nothing wrong.

    I’ll close with a line I heard many years ago: the darkness spreads like fear with lies no one can hear all sense is twisted.

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