Careful theologians do not build their doctrine of the church merely around the use of the word ekklesia. The New Testament uses many images or word pictures to reveal truth about the church. One of the most instructive is the image of the flock, found in John 10. It occurs in one of the few parables in John’s gospel.
The parable should be read in view of the miracle story of John 9. In that story, Jesus healed a congenitally blind man. The healing infuriated the Pharisees, partly because it occurred on the Sabbath, and partly because Jesus performed it in a way that was calculated to annoy the legalists. The story concludes with a stark contrast. On the one side stands the formerly‐blind man, who turns to Christ in trust and worships Him. On the other side stand the Pharisees, who clearly reject Jesus and persecute everyone who confesses Him. This contrast sets the stage for the parable of chapter 10.
The parable is about a sheep fold. Within the fold are sheep. Different individuals present themselves to the sheep, but only one is the true shepherd. All the others are thieves and robbers. The true shepherd calls His sheep, and when they hear His voice they follow Him. The sheep that do not follow Him are not His.
I’ve come full circle.
Back in 1999, I was working with a family who had lost a daughter in the Columbine massacre here in Littleton, Colorado. We were working to put a small-cast play in publication so youth groups could use the story in their local churches to make a positive impact. While in production, a Christian retailing chain came out with a line of merchandise with the martyred girl’s final words of faith spelled out in motto form. In the front page of the catalog, quotes were given from the parents that appeared to be an endorsement. The family couldn’t
have been more irate. I saw their anger and picked up the phone. I talked to the WWJD guy, and within a few weeks we formed a line of stuff that the family approved of and had control over.
I would do things differently today. While I believe that some Christian products serve a good purpose, most Christian merchandising, or Jesus Junk, cheapens the very faith we seek to proclaim. I’m not against all use of Scripture or Christian lingo on products. I just think I’m against most of them.
Recently, my wife and I vacationed in the Colorado Mountains. Colorado is our home state. While having breakfast on an outdoor patio, watching a deer scamper up a flower-covered slope nearby, we also noticed a man take a seat at a large table near us. He placed a basket of Bibles in front of him as more adults and children joined him. The group finally was composed of three couples plus some children. We could easily overhear their conversation which centered on Ephesians 2. It became apparent this was a regular meeting at the same time in the same place on Sunday morning, and they were studying Scripture. Was this, then, a church? Did they have a pastor? Did they have a constituted membership? Were they able to exercise church discipline in any sense of the idea? Or any of the other ministries a church should have?