By Ross Engel –
In the Mel Gibson film The Patriot, there is a scene that I have always appreciated. The Colonial Militia solicits the men of a congregation to take up arms to fight against the British. Many men are motivated by the speech, grab their gear, and head off to fight. As this particular scene comes to a close, someone notices that the pastor is heading off with the Militia, musket in hand. When the question of his departure is raised, the pastor’s response is simple and direct, “A shepherd must tend his flock, and at times, fight off the wolves.”
In the setting of the church, when we hear talk of shepherds fighting off wolves, we rightly think of the pastoral duty to fight off the wolves that are false teachers and dangerous false doctrines. We think of the way preaching and teaching reveal who the wolves—the purveyors of false doctrine and the peddlers of trash that harms the flock—are and then attack it swiftly and directly. This is an essential task of the pastoral office—one that congregational leadership often is aware of and takes quite seriously.
“For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain.” –Titus 1:10-11
In addition to the wolves of false teaching, there are other wolves that the flock must also be defended from. For we have learned in recent years that there are indeed wolves who seek to kill and destroy not just the spirit but also the physical body. These are wolves that want to attack, hurt, kill, and in so doing, drive fear into the hearts of Christians. If you’ve watched the news, in the past few years, we’ve learned that sometimes there are wolves that enter the doors of a church not to teach false doctrine or to stir up trouble but to physically harm those who have been gathered to receive our Lord’s gifts.
In the past few years, there have been stories of pastors being shot while preaching, parishioners murdered in cold blood after Bible study, and various acts of arson, terror, and homicide enacted upon the children of God as they worship. As recent as July, a priest was beheaded in front of his congregation. Kyrie Eleison!
Now, as Christians, we are certainly supposed to be willing to lay down our own lives for our faith. There is no question about that at all. Our Lord Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow Him, and when we do, we know that taking up our cross and following Him means that we die to ourselves. We also know that one day we may be “asked” or forced to lay down our lives in confession of our faith, just as generations of Christians have done before us and are still doing even today. However, is there a difference between our willingness to lay down our life for our faith and making ourselves an easy meal for the hungry wolves of the world?
If a shepherd is to tend his flock, at what time and in what ways should the shepherd fight off the wolves?
I don’t think the answer is that every pastor needs to be a pistol-packing preacher. There is perhaps some confusion of the pastoral role of proclaiming God’s Word of Law and Gospel if, while preaching, the pastor is also packing a hand cannon under his robes and is anxiously waiting to draw down on potential or imaginary threats. Somehow, I think that standing in the pulpit proclaiming Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins one moment and “freeze sucka” the next is a terrible mix up of what a Shepherd should be doing during the Divine Service. There is a proper time and place for everything, and that isn’t either!
I do think it is wise for pastors and churches (especially the leadership) to talk about ways to better ensure the safety of those who have gathered to receive our Lord’s gifts. Most church insurance policies have safety recommendations and some districts in the LCMS even offer seminars or information that can help identify ways to better defend the flock from acts of violence. In troubling times such as these, it certainly can’t hurt to consider the various resources that are available to fend off, or at least discourage, wolves. Some are simple, like locking doors, which, while quite effective, can easily be overlooked. Most churches can’t afford to hire private security or off duty police officers, but starting simple, congregational leadership can consider how best to meet the needs of defending the flock and fighting off the wolves.
My goal this week isn’t to be a fear monger or call churches to arms. Instead, I want to encourage pastors and congregations to take seriously the task of defending the flock against the wolves and consider how they might fight off not only the wolves of false doctrine but also the wolves that seek to terrorize and destroy that which Christ has redeemed with His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death.
Our Lord Jesus does call us to turn the other cheek when we are struck by those who wish to hurt and harm us, but we are also called to come to the aid and defense of our neighbors. The vocation of Father includes the role of defending one’s family, even laying down one’s life for their safety. The church is never to be on the offensive or to go out to attack, but it would do us well to at least consider how we might keep safe those whom Christ has redeemed, body and soul from sin, death, and the power of the devil. We do so, not in fear of what may come, but rather, out of great love and care for that which Christ has suffered and died to save, for these have been entrusted to our care!