The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Concerning dogs and their ears

with 17 comments

It struck me again recently that the internet, and not least social media and blogs, enables us to have arguments with people we would never normally meet about things that would never normally swim into our ken, if I might be permitted a nod to Keats.

Many of these engagements are carried out with scorching pyrotechnics, eschewing the trammels of grammar, punctuation and spelling with a view to the devastating broadside of scorn and abuse. If not, it tends to take place in portentous tones of great sombreness, often in language that is doubtless intended to carry weight and express spiritual gravitas, but which often ends up sounding like the pompous tones of what would be a great style for a lampoon if it were not intended to be serious, in language that actually reveals that the writers – who evidently think that by writing thus they sound intelligent and theologically mature – actually don’t quite know what all the words they use mean or how to use them.

And so, like techno-knights jousting across the broad field of the interweb with slightly unbalanced but highly polished lances overdecorated with the bunting of rhetoric (Q.E.D.?), we clash with people we do not know over things that do not concern us (or would not if we had not made it our business to look into someone else’s).

I wonder how many blogs would dry up and ‘ministries’ would fold – or, at least, how many fewer posts would be written – if we got on with the work of the kingdom that is in front of us instead of carping at and meddling with the way someone else is doing it a thousand miles away. More particularly, how much progress might we make in our own spiritual development or in the intensive and extensive growth of the kingdom if we engaged with good words for profit (receiving and then giving) rather than seeking out bad words for criticism. I am not arguing here for the suspension of the critical faculty, nor that love should ignore a multitude of heresies, I simply wonder how much of it is really our business.

Shepherds are not wolf-hunters, nor do they need to be. Our primary concern is for the sheep appointed to our care; for some, that means a small flock in an out of the way place. Others, by virtue of gift and opportunity, under God, have larger flocks. Others still, often by dint of unusual insight and long experience or particular training (perhaps in some specific area), are sought out by other shepherds for advice, and so might give counsel that will have an impact on the health and wellbeing of several flocks. But, in any of these instances, the shepherd need not go looking for wolves. He simply needs to watch for their approach and to prepare to deal with those particular wolves who are a danger to his particular flock. And it is his particular flock which is his concern; again, there are right times to send messages to other shepherds on the same hills warning of wolves roaming the area, but there is not necessarily a need to broadcast that warning to all shepherds, not least because not all shepherds need to worry about them. And the fact that wolves exist, and that some wolves have a wide range, does not legitimise our agitating about all wolves all the time.

We are not wolf-hunters, but sheep-herders and sheep-defenders. Be faithful in the work that God has given you to do, and you will have no need to go hunting for error and spiritual danger: it will come hunting you and your flock, and you must respond when it does. If you have spent all your time and invested all your resources in spectacular but largely pointless wolf-hunting then you might find yourself caught unawares or engaged elsewhere when the wolves in your area come hunting.

That is the thing about dogs and their ears: “He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a dog by the ears” (Prv 26.17). Once you have that dog by the ears you are trapped: before it was only a dog, but now it is an enraged dog, and you cannot afford to let it go. You are stuck with the beast snarling in your face, unable to disengage lest those well-stropped claws find a grip in your flesh and those gnashing teeth find a lodging in your throat. And while you and your dischuffed dog are locked in a mutually unproductive tussle, who knows what is going on around and behind you. So leave quarrels to the people who need to have them, or are ready to indulge in them.

When the Lord Christ returns, I doubt his first concern will be with how many wolf-pelts you have hanging on your walls. “Where are my sheep that I committed to your care? How are they?” I doubt that he will be impressed to find you hanging on with all your might to the ears of some passing dog. “Why are you not feeding my lambs?”

The apostle Paul had a legitimately wide scope to his ministry; there were plenty of wolves to fight and warnings to be given. But we do not find the apostle indulging in slanging matches for the sake of it, but putting his body between the wolves and the sheep for the sake of the flock, and for the glory of Christ: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” (1Thes 2.19).

Let us pick our fights with care, focusing on the needs of those committed to our keeping and investing in those wider spheres in which the Lord himself has given us legitimate opportunities. Let us leave alone distant wolves and passing dogs, and deal with those who need to be dealt with. And who knows? Maybe this year your own soul will be fed and the sheep will grow healthy. Maybe you might find all the fighting you desire on your own doorstep. And maybe you will have all your energies rightfully taken up with all those things, and the kingdom shall be all the better for it.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 4 January 2012 at 17:01

17 Responses

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  1. Metaphor fails here. At what point does calling yourself a shepherd and lay people sheep become offensive? There is one Shepherd. I’ve seen so-called ministers showing themselves to be sheep or laying in like wolves. I’ve seen lay people shepherding. Keep calling people sheep and they’ll act like sheep. Keep calling ministers shepherds and their ego will make them fall harder. Also, the quarrel/dog by the ears proverb has limited application to the internet where a public forum is created to allow you to make your own arguments and leave without getting bit.

    That said, we should prioritize our time according to our principles and flavor our conversation with grace. So, point taken. We all need to be reminded of this; not just ministers of the word. Thanks for the reminder!


    Thursday 5 January 2012 at 18:01

  2. “Metaphor fails here. At what point does calling yourself a shepherd and lay people sheep become offensive? ”

    Metaphor fails? Tell the Apostle Peter!

    At what point does calling yourself a shepherd and lay people sheep become offensive? Never.

    1 Peter 5:2-4 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

    JP Wallace

    Thursday 5 January 2012 at 18:51

    • Never? What about when the Chief Shepherd appears? I’m not going against the idea of leadership, however, I think we all have the same gift of the Spirit bringing us to belief. We do not have special dispensations of the Spirit like in the new testament post pentecost era. So, in one sense, pigeonholing people into roles of sheep and shepherd I see as a problem and creates imposed limits that will then be more difficult to overcome. Ministers can be teachable…yes, even by lay people. So, when that happens, who’s the shepherd and who’s the sheep?? Lay people can be propelled into leadership. So now who’s the shepherd? Just don’t hold too tightly to this metaphor. I think some ministers become enamored with it…which of course, Peter cautions against.


      Thursday 5 January 2012 at 19:12

  3. “Never? What about when the Chief Shepherd appears? ”

    No the metaphor will be no more offensive then than now. How could it be? It’s the Chief Shepherd who created and recorded the metaphor!

    “So, in one sense, pigeonholing people into roles of sheep and shepherd I see as a problem and creates imposed limits that will then be more difficult to overcome.”

    So you have a problem with The Holy Spirit and Peter the inspired Apostle then. It’s them who have created the metaphor, the structure and limits. As you note Peter puts controls on it.

    “Just don’t hold too tightly to this metaphor.”

    I’ll hold very tightly to the metaphor because I must….2 Timothy 1:13-14 13 Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 14 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.

    JP Wallace

    Thursday 5 January 2012 at 20:30

    • “So you have a problem with The Holy Spirit and Peter the inspired Apostle then.”

      Of course not. I am aware that Peter is speaking to a particular audience, though. There are some limits that are related to audience and aeon.


      Thursday 5 January 2012 at 21:27

  4. Wiglaf – you are flying in the face of church history, sound exegesis, and the very plain record of Scripture. Neither have you taken into account, it seems, the concept that all under-shepherds are still sheep, shepherded by the Great and Good Shepherd. No-one creates these labels other than Christ and his Spirit, so you’d best think hard about denouncing them as irrelevant to a bygone age. The point of this biblical metaphor is very clearly to acknowledge the calling of some men (not that they take it to themselves, mind you) to church office and particularly to the function of shepherding. The picture of a shepherd, had more relevance to the audience then than it does now – granted (though go to the middle east or other rural areas, and it makes perfect sense), but that doesn’t negate the principle it is stating. Your argument that you’ve seen some ministers who behave like wolves, and lay people shepherding is, frankly, irrelevant. Those two facts do not negate the principle of shepherding as laid down in all of Scripture, not just the New Testament.

    And Jez, I think your overall point is well-taken.

    Matthew Holst

    Thursday 5 January 2012 at 22:02

    • Well, I don’t know, Matthew, how is it that people don’t “take it to themselves?” Did God call them from a burning bush, or blind them on the way to Damascus, or give them an acute, special dispensation of the Holy Spirit, or send them in the right direction in the bowels of a whale?

      But aside from all that, I’ve found that many ministers do not have a teachable spirit. The aura surrounding the “caling” or “anointing” or whatever people call it plus the seminary education plus good speaking skills plus the shepherd designation seems to foster a mentality that ministers do not think wrongly or make theological errors, and that church goers should blindly follow them. Of course, this all makes the internet discourse even more intense when ministers who don’t agree with one another hash it out and since it’s public, no one is ever gonna back down. They both see each other as wolves. Seems there is some pride and vanity in the whole process. I hope you see what I’m getting at. In addition, there is certainly great relevance to the fact that we live in an information age. A person can obtain a great amount of knowledge without ever going to a seminary or becoming a minister and a minister can cross his fingers behind his back when giving his oath. Look at the PCUSA over the years.


      Thursday 5 January 2012 at 23:21

  5. If only someone would write a post about the strange way the internet allows us to have have arguments with people we would never normally meet about things that would never normally swim into our ken, and encourage growth in grace and Kingdom work…


    Thursday 5 January 2012 at 22:45

  6. Wiglaf … a couple of things

    Not sure what you are talking about in the first part of your post. I made the comment, man does not take office to himself – that is why a man is examined and ordained – by other people. Self-ordination is no ordination – I would have thought that point would have been obvious.

    Again, whether you have found teachable or unteachable ministers, lay people who have learned a lot from the internet, or ignorant seminarians is irrelevant. You are dodging the bullet – which is the clear message of Scripture concerning office and shepherding. I’m not trying to beat you down on this issue, just answer you previous statements which denied the clear meaning of Scripture.

    And I thought (perhaps for others here as well) that Jeremy had a blog for the sake of edification and discussion. And it’s not just ministers who suffer from vanity and pride in this process either! I hope you see what I am getting at.

    Matthew Holst

    Friday 6 January 2012 at 16:46

    • Are you honestly shooting figurative bullets at me? Matthew, I think you’ve made my point and Jeremy’s point well without any help from me. Let’s get back to your point that my observations are irrelevant because scripture says so. Can you conceive of the possibility that the direction of your “rebuke” of my statements is entirely off base? That maybe you aren’t “listening” to what I’m saying because you want to prove that your theology is right and what I stated is wrong? I’m pointing out what I see in the church. You’re demanding that what’s reality doesn’t matter; only a correct understanding of scripture. You demand that I recant what I observe. I ask you to look at what’s right in front of you.

      The truth is that all metaphors, analogies, parables fail at some point. They can only be taken so far as they fit the purpose of their use as an example. A metaphor is kind of like a vague map and that map is not the territory. We all have a bit of “wolf”, “sheep”, “dog”, “shepherd” in us. We recognize different authorities in regards to applying these metaphors to offices (as opposed to office holders). It can never be as simple as, “this is the metaphor in scripture so I’m going to hold on to it tightly because it’s scripture.”


      Friday 6 January 2012 at 17:37

  7. adaysmarch – utter genius.

    I call for a new prize for the best comment in 2012


    Mark Loughridge

    Friday 6 January 2012 at 17:57

  8. PS is that the Matthew Holst that I met on a campsite in 1990’s?

    Mark Loughridge

    Friday 6 January 2012 at 18:11

  9. Wiglaf – don’t mistake someone disagreeing with you for pride or intolerance. Don’t mistake someone disagreeing with you for a “rebuke”. And don’t mistake someone disagreeing with you for not listening to you. I read your comments and responded. You have not given me the same courtesy.

    And if you want to determine true biblical principle (it matter not whether I am right or wrong) it seems that Scripture, not your experience, is the place to start.

    Mark Loughbridge – was that camp site in West Wittering in southern England? I was there with my family (two brothers and parents) – I think also Jeremy was there, for at least one year of camping.

    Matthew Holst

    Friday 6 January 2012 at 20:01

    • Matthew,
      “don’t mistake someone disagreeing with you for pride or intolerance.”
      Your inference
      “Don’t mistake someone disagreeing with you for a “rebuke”.”
      You said, “you’d best think hard” and ” you’re dodging the bullet”. Perhaps a light rebuke, but that’s why I posted it in quotations. You are castigating me for allegedly “flying in the face of church history.”
      “You have not given me the same courtesy.” -That’s exactly what I mean by you not listening to me. You are not listening to me. I’ll try one more time.

      A metaphor has limits. If a person goes beyond those limits, then he is wresting scripture from its context and using the metaphor to “lord it” over others or using it as a crutch to absolve himself from responsibility by placing it on others. In fact, the metaphor should often take a much lesser role when having a discussion so that it doesn’t appear that a person is using his office rather than reason to make his point. I knew a guy who at one point stated that he was right and my friend was wrong because he had read more books.


      Friday 6 January 2012 at 20:54

  10. Hi Matthew – thats the one – Dont tell me Jeremy was there too!! How ironic.

    Mark Loughridge

    Friday 6 January 2012 at 20:47

  11. Ok Wiglaf – you are right and everyone else is wrong. My mistake.I’ll move on to greener pastures, if you don’t mind.

    Mark – as I remember there was a group of you all camping in West Wittering – I believe my dad still had the photos. I’ll contact you through your website – it will be good to catch up, brother. Blessings.

    Matthew Holst

    Friday 6 January 2012 at 21:32

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