One Flock, One Shepherd
It always disturbed me. There are 33,820 Christian denominations or similar distinct organizations worldwide1, yet we have Jesus words as follows:John 10:16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.Yet in 1947 I listened to the preachers, suppressed my reservations, joined the church with which I was most familiar and pressed on. It was the beginning of a difficult time as I struggled to force my conscience to comply with the reality of all those 33,820 Christian denominations -- although I don't suppose there were quite that many then.
When the heartstrings that bound me to the church were finally broken after many years, I was liberated beyond my greatest expectations. In my new freedom, granted to me by the Lord Jesus, I was at last able to revisit this old contradiction and try to understand it. As with every similar question, Jesus gives us the answer. We need only listen -- and believe!
The Full Extent of the Contradiction
Why are there 33, 820 of them when Jesus assures us that there is only one? Or, if there is in Truth only one, where is it? Is it one of the 33,820? Or is it altogether something else?
The figure of 33, 820 is actually a vast understatement. What Jesus stated is that there is to be one flock and also -- this is crucial to understanding -- one shepherd! The fact of one shepherd is crucial because it pinpoints the crux of the issue. The issue is not one of denominations, although that is part of the picture; no, the real issue is one of shepherds! If we can resolve that issue, the denominational contradiction will be a cinch.
So, how many shepherds are there around the globe? When we pause to realize that a shepherd of sheep is the person who actually guides and directs the way for a small flock in a single range of pastures, we must acknowledge that the shepherd is the leader and guide for a local congregation. It is impossible that the shepherd of a flock in the field adjacent to Nazareth on the night of the Savior's birth, for example, can be the same as the shepherd of the flocks that ranged outside Bethlehem. How many of these shepherds are there around the world?
I don't know of any source of a reliable answer to that question, but let us make a rough estimate beginning with the 33, 820 denominations.Assumption No. 1: An average of only 100 local "flocks" per denomination.On the basis of these two assumptions, the estimated number of shepherds (and flocks) is:
Assumption No. 2: Each local flock has its own shepherd.33,820 denominations X 100 flocks X 1 shepherd / flock = 3,382,000Now lets check to see if this is a reasonable assumption. The same source tells us that there are now 1.9 billion professed Christians around the world. If we divide this number by the total number of local flocks:
shepherds (or local flocks).1,900,000,000 / 3,382,000 = 562 sheep per flockThis number, 562, is the estimated average number of sheep in each flock and under one shepherd. Does this seem reasonable to you?
It is at least in the same order of magnitude of what seems reasonable. To be frank, I think the number is considerably too high, but we let it stand with the assurance that we have a conservative estimate of the number of "shepherds" in the world at the present time -- that is, 3,382,000.
Next, let us consider how we must identify each one of these shepherds, since as a matter of fact one seldom finds "shepherd" as the official title of anyone in any of the flocks. We do this by checking on the definition of the word, shepherd, and we find it to read as follows:21. One who herds, guards, and tends sheep.We are speaking of people and not sheep, so only definition No. 2 applies, and we find that these 3,382,000 shepherds can each be identified as the minister or teacher of a group of people or congregation. Now, since we are assuming only one shepherd per flock, or local congregation, this must be the chief minister of the congregation, usually referred to as "the pastor".
2. One who cares for and guides a group of people, as a minister or teacher.
Now, let's check this definition by examining the origin of the English word, pastor. We do this and we find as follows:2Middle English, from Old French, from Latin, pâstor, shepherd.Ahah! It finds its origin in the Latin for . . . what else . . . shepherd!
So, the shepherd is the pastor of each local flock, or congregation. These 3,382,000 flocks, local congregations, or churches as we normally refer to them, have among them at least 3, 382,000 shepherds!But Jesus said, there shall be one flock, one shepherd.And this, mind you, is only those who are alive and active. We have not included the many retired shepherds, pastors emeritus, assistant pastors, ministers of music -- and then there is that vast multitude of pastors (shepherds) who have, during the past two millennia, already gone on to meet their maker. If we knew the full number, would there be 10,000,000 of them? 20,000,000 of them? Only the Lord knows!
By our reasonable estimate, there are 3,382,000 flocks and 3,382,000 shepherds functioning in the world today.!But he said, . . . there shall be . . . one shepherd.The churchmen are in a real quandary here, aren't they? Quite a pretty pickle! Isn't this a fine kettle of fish?
A Real Quandary
Of course, the churchmen are not going to give this matter any attention. It is far too threatening. Best ignore it. As one of my mentors at Southern Seminary explained when I asked him how to apply the hard sayings of the Sermon on the Mount:
"Those are better left alone; they will only cause you trouble."
Besides, they don't need me to remind them of this gross imbalance in the books. They, like me, read the Fourth Gospel; they know what he said, but they jog merrily along and pay absolutely no attention to him. It is as though they think they will never have to deal with an auditor! And the books are so far out of balance!
They read it, but they aren't hearing and understanding. Why don't they hear what Jesus says so very, very simply and clearly? This reminds me of another group of "ministers" to whom Jesus directed (and answered) this question:John 8:43, 44 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.That aside for the moment, what is the essence of their quandary? Just this: either1. Jesus was mistaken and knows not of what he speaks, or
2. This vast apparatus of shepherds and flocks is a charade, a fake, a travesty, an immense bundle of counterfeit bills destined for the fire!
The One Shepherd
I, for one, will not agree with option No. 1. To the contrary, all my faith is invested in the validity of the utterances of Jesus of Nazareth, including this particular one that informs us that:. . . there shall be . . . one shepherd.To apply qualifiers to this statement is also entirely inappropriate. For example, one might suppose that he meant to say that there is only one shepherd in the world at any time, or that each local congregation, or flock is to have only one shepherd, or that his church worldwide is to have only one chief shepherd -- the Pope or Patriarch. To apply such geographic, temporal or hierarchical qualifiers to his words is to do something Jesus never did, and in fact does not allow. No, his Word stands for all Eternity, and it says:. . . there shall be . . . one shepherd.We ask the obvious question: Who is this shepherd?
Jesus is our source, so it is only necessary that we go to him to identify this person. He does not disappoint us!John 10:11 I am the good shepherd.Jesus identifies himself as a shepherd -- the good shepherd; then he prophesies that there shall be but one shepherd. He is himself that shepherd!
Probably few will disagree with this, but the 3,382,000 "shepherds" throughout the world will insist that, while Jesus is the good shepherd -- the chief shepherd -- they are nevertheless also shepherds, under shepherds, so to speak. This doesn't work at all, for, as under shepherds, they are yet shepherds, but this cannot be; there is only one shepherd, and that one is Jesus. We are back to attempting to apply hierarchical qualifiers to his Word, which the Good Shepherd does not allow.
For them, option No. 1 above remains the only reasonable selection. For them, Jesus was mistaken and knew not of what he spoke. But if they are mistaken in this, then option No. 2 is the only reasonable alternative.
How Does the One Shepherd Function?
How is it that a single person can function as the one shepherd of the sheep throughout all the earth and for all time? How does Jesus manage this?
First let me remind you of a certain specification he has made concerning his Words, his utterances:Mark 13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.We must keep this uppermost in our minds. His words, his utterances, are eternal. They do not pass away; They are present, vivid and alive today just as they were when he emitted them from his lips during that long ago time of his sojourn on the earth.
Another thing that must be established is the means by which Jesus, the Good Shepherd, can be present in the world and with his sheep through all ages. He has explained this:John 14:23 If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.A characteristic of any person who loves Jesus is that that woman or man keeps the word of Jesus. Then, when any one of us keeps his word, both Jesus and his Father move in with us and make their home with us! It is by the agency of his Eternal Word that the Good Shepherd is the sole authorized shepherd in the whole world and at all times to all eternity! He is not only in our midst, with us, but also in us and in our hearts, every moment of every day of every year. So it is that he shepherds all who keep his word. We are never, never alone for he is ever with us and we sense his presence -- his wonderful presence!
This also confirms that he is our only pastor. He has authorized no other, since a pastor and a shepherd are one and the same.
The One Flock
We must totally reject option No. 1 above. Jesus was not mistaken about anything. He is the one shepherd yesterday, today, and forever. This means that we are left with the ominous option No. 2:2. This vast apparatus of shepherds and flocks is a charade, a fake, a travesty, an immense bundle of counterfeit bills destined for the fire!These 3,382,000 shepherds are surely not of the one flock. How can a shepherd be part of the flock? Nor are their flocks the one flock -- each has its own shepherd! Where, then, must we look to find that one flock? In this quest we must remember that, as with the one shepherd, Jesus does not permit qualifiers of his words. The one flock is the only flock -- here there, and everywhere -- yesterday, today, and tomorrow. And he has surely stated:. . . there shall be one flock . . .Again, he has not failed to give the necessary insight through his words, not only for identifying the one flock, but for identifying the individual members (sheep) of that flock.John 10:1 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber;You see how it is that his words -- his voice -- is determinative for all things? The one flock consists of the individual sheep, from all times, peoples and places -- and these are those who hear his voice -- the voice of the Good Shepherd -- receive his words, and follow him because they know him and, as he stated, I know them.
2 but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.
3 To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers."
6 This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.
8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them.
9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12 He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
13 He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me,
15 as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.
John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me;
28 and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.
29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
30 I and the Father are one."
We are forced to the inevitable conclusion that the 3,382,000 "shepherds" or "pastors" are the strangers to whom Jesus points. They are hirelings and not shepherds. They are thieves and robbers who seek to break into the sheepfold and take the sheep. But they forever fail because, as Jesus stated of the sheep:. . . they do not know the voice of strangers.They, all 3,382,000 of them alive today, and the tens of millions who have preceded them and will doubtless succeed them, are all strangers. If they were not strangers, they would not pretend to be shepherds (pastors) but would rejoice to belong as sheep to the one flock. They would know his voice and they would heed him. If they knew his voice, they would know that there is only one shepherd and would not themselves, as hirelings, pretend to be shepherds of the sheep.
And what of the 1.9 billion Christians in the world today?
They are those who heed the voice of strangers, the 3,382,000 "shepherds" who ply the world seeking whom they may devour. But, as Jesus plainly stated of his sheep:. . . they do not know the voice of strangers.The Good Shepherd does not know them, those "sheep" who heed the voice of strangers. And what of the eternal destiny of those whom he does not know?Matthew 7:21- 23 Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'
There is but one shepherd. He is Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God. There is but one flock, consisting of those who heed his voice together with all who have or will ever heed his voice.
With one stroke, this explains the persistent divisiveness of churchmen. They struggle for unity but can never achieve it because they refuse to heed the voice of the only Good Shepherd, who ordains that there is, ever has been, and ever will be only one shepherd and only one flock.
In the light of these things it is impossible that there can be more than one, either of flocks or shepherds. It is vain to seek to "unify the church" which, by its very nature, does not heed the only and Good Shepherd but rather heeds these 3,382,000 strangers.
We therefore urge every one to cease striving for unity. It is not necessary. Rather, simply listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and enter into it -- into his one flock. It is his wonderful gift to you all, and it must be received as a gift by all who participate in it. Otherwise I greatly fear that you are destined to option No. 2, above:2. This vast apparatus of shepherds and flocks is a charade, a travesty, an immense bundle of counterfeit bills destined for the fire!Now, concerning this wonderful unity in the Lord Jesus through his word, I have selected one more of his relevant sayings to present in closing this paper.John 17:20 - 25 I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me.
1. Time Magazine, January 2001, p. 12.
2. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition © 1996 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation; further reproduction and distribution in accordance with the Copyright Law of the United States. All rights reserved.