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Part 2- Is the Church Calling Sheep or Corralling Goats?

December 28, 2016

Recently a friend of ours bought us tickets to hear Handel’s Messiah at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. I have lived near Atlanta all my life, I am familiar with the content and Scriptures of the masterpiece, and I even have an appreciation for such music. But this was the first time I heard the oratorio in person.  As Henry Suso said, “It is one thing to hear for yourself a sweet lute, sweetly played, and quite another thing to merely hear about it.”

Hearing and Hearing About

I suppose the superficiality that fills the church is rooted in the same notion. “Hearing” and “hearing about” are two different realities.  One is a conversation, the other is hearsay. One is a voice, the other is an echo. Hearing affords an experience in your presence, hearing about affords an experience of others in your absence.

One of the reasons we have little power in the modern church is because we have those (in attendance and those who minister) who only talk about things they have heard from others.  It’s one thing to walk away from Mt. Carmel with the fire of God as your virtue; it’s another thing to have only heard about it down in Joppa.  It’s one thing to descend the mount with the law of God in your hands and the glory of God on your face, but it’s another to be dancing around the golden calf when the holy tablets arrive. It’s one thing to be entrenched with the melody, the Scriptures, and the instrumentation of Handel’s Messiah in the acoustical auditorium, it’s another thing to be scalping tickets outside of Symphony Hall.

My Sheep Hear My Voice

Experience.  It is the missing element of our spirituality.  A.W. Tozer said, “One word from the lips of the man who has actually heard the lute play will have more effect than a score of sermons by the man who has only heard that it was played.”  Tozer goes on to say, “How long, in America, must we go on listening to men who can only tell us what they have read and heard about, never what they themselves have felt and heard and seen?”

The difference between hearing and hearing about is manifested through the demographics of sheep and goats.  What did Christ say about the matter?  He said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Sheep know the Shepherd, have been with the Shepherd, and stay in communion with the Shepherd.  Goats only hear about it.  And because it sounds so splendid and comforting and wonderful, they do not mind rehearsing what they have heard, but such a retelling will never equate to the glory of the reality, and it will never make a goat a sheep.

Return to the Shepherd

Our generation knows much about church-planting, but has very little understanding of what empowered the church at Pentecost. We have replaced enduement with education. What previous generations knew in practice, our generation only knows in theory.  What then, I wonder, will happen to the next generation? If we’ve only heard about what others have experienced, I suppose the next generation will only hear about what we’ve heard.  Such trickling down of truth diminishes its power and opens the door to apathy and eventually apostasy.  Instead of sheep telling others what they know about the Shepherd, we have goats telling others what they know about the sheep.

The answer to this spiritual quandary is for the sheep to return to the Shepherd.  1 Peter 2:25 exhorts us with these sobering words, “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” May the sheepfold of God be enraptured, once again, with the melody of the Lord’s lute.  May we hear it, experience it and feel it down in our souls.

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