There was a recent article published at The Gospel Coalition titled Beware of Broken Wolves. While I appreciate the notion that we need to beware of wolves, this idea that wolves are broken is something that has permeated the church and has no biblical basis. We have spoken to dozens of churches in recent months and I can assure you that the vast majority of them are sympathetic to the wolves who are child rapists (this is not to suggest that only child rapists are wolves; more about this in the next post). I recently wrote about churches defending child rapists here. “We need to gently restore this brother” is the mantra of the day. It’s become so predictable that we expect this phrase to roll off the lips of church leaders as blood and flesh are dripping from the wolf’s. We have grown weary of churches who want to nurture the wolves back to “health.” The root of the problem is that church leaders don’t really think in terms of sheep and wolves. They are thinking like sheep, so they assume that wolves are really just broken sheep who can repent and come back to the sheep pen. They are not. They are wolves. Genuine wolves. Wolves do not convert into sheep. They disguise themselves as sheep. This is a crucial difference. What church leaders overlook is how wolves are described in Scripture and, most importantly, that Jesus and his disciples never spoke to their conversion or repentance.
Jesus used word pictures to drive his points home. He used parables and metaphors to describe the Gospel. He used images that connected the brain to the heart and moved people to action. When he was on a rural mountain, he told his disciples to “beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15 ESV). He was in sheep country. It’s likely that there were sheep grazing within eyesight of the disciples as Jesus was preaching this very lesson. No shepherd would have heard these words and thought Jesus was calling them to be gentle, kind, or understanding of a wolf. Shepherds didn’t sit wolves down and say, “What pain is in your life to make you like this?” In fact, in this context Jesus didn’t speak of pain at all. He spoke in terms of fruit! “You will recognize them by their fruit. . . the diseased tree bears bad fruit.” He shifts images from a wolf to a tree. Does God’s justice require the wolves to turn their hearts and become sheep, or the bad trees to become good trees? No! In fact, Jesus’ words are chilling: “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:19, 20). There was never a plea to rescue them from the flames, like we find in Jude 1:23. A clear distinction was made between sinners and wolves.
In John 10, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd who is the door for the sheep. Those who enter by way of the door will find pasture. What about the wolf? Does Jesus call him a “brother?” Does he speak about his or her pain? Let’s listen to His words, “The thief only comes to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). Is Jesus clear enough? This is who they are. Though they deceive and disguise themselves as sheep, they are not sheep. They never were. Their diabolic mission, their very identity is to seek sheep to devour. They have no interest in repentance.
We also have the tendency to apply “wolf” to people in the church who cause division. Not all people who cause division are wolves. Some people are like wrecking balls and they are so ignorant they don’t even know it. Others are well intentioned but still manage to run people off. When the Bible describes wolves, it’s not describing what they do. It’s describing who they are. I grew up in a very conservative church where anybody who taught doctrine that wasn’t in line with our tradition was labeled a “wolf.” I received a letter after guest preaching once where I was described as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by a youth minister from one of the extreme right schools in the Churches of Christ. Wolves are not other Christians with whom we disagree. They are not “brothers” or “sisters” who got caught up in sin. They are what they are. They are wolves. They are diabolic. They crave the flesh of innocent lambs. And they will do anything to kill and destroy the souls of people.
Contrast the descriptions and responses that Jon and I hear when we work with churches who have child rapists with the truths of the Bible. Here are the things we hear most often:
He’s a pillar of the community
This man is one of my best friends
I believe he genuinely loves the Lord
We are willing to do whatever it takes to help guide him back to the Lord
We want him to be surrounded with love
The Lord expects us to forgive
The Lord hates the sin and loves the sinner
Everyone has abandoned him, it’s our duty to rally around him
He’s been a member of this church for 30 years
Nobody is beyond redemption
The Lord’s grace is sufficient
Here are some of the things the Bible says about wolves and false prophets who, by the way, are false teachers because their goal is to ultimately destroy the souls of God’s children:
The wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience (Eph 5:6)
Evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived (2 Tim 3:13)
Secretly bring in destructive heresies
Irrational animals, creatures of instinct
Born to be caught and destroyed
They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime
They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you
They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin
They entice unsteady souls
They have hearts trained for greed
Following the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing
Waterless springs and mists driven by a storm
For them the gloom of utter darkness is reserved
They entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error
The dog returns to its own vomit
The sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire (all the above from 2 Peter 2)
Make no mistake. Genuine wolves derive pleasure in inflicting harm on innocent souls, and the most effective way to do this is to do it in the name of Jesus. Why do we fail to see what’s already clearly laid out in the Bible? I will follow up with a blog post or two giving us practical things that we can actually do to identify who the real wolves are and how we protect the flock from them.