Mute dogs unable to bark...

His watchmen are blind, All of them know nothing. All of them are mute dogs unable to bark, Dreamers lying down, who love to slumber; And the dogs are greedy, they are not satisfied. And they are shepherds who have no understanding; They have all turned to their own way, Each one to his unjust gain, to the last one.

"Come," they say, "let us get wine, and let us drink heavily of strong drink; And tomorrow will be like today, only more so." (Isaiah 56:10-12)

One of the most discouraging aspects of the church today is the refusal of shepherds to say God's "no" as well as His "yes," and to say it in person as well as from the pulpit. We are mute dogs unable to bark.

The Holy Spirit commands us to "Let judgment begin...in the House of God," but we are very careful to make sure judgment is kept outside God's House. We save our prophetic words for pagans: "Hear this, you wicked people of San Francisco and Madison and Las Vegas!" Yet the Apostle Paul commands us not to judge the world, but instead to judge those who call themselves "brothers":

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

Shamelessly, we do the opposite of what he commands. We castigate those who make no claim to Christian faith, but we observe a strict hands-off policy toward flagrant sinners within the church. And if an elder or pastor tries to obey the Apostle Paul, and to judge someone who claims to be a Christian but lives a life of rebellion against God, we reserve our most intense condemnation for him.

"But he's on our side!" we exclaim. "He's a Christian and you're treating him like an unbeliever! Jesus said, 'Let him who is without sin cast the first stone' and 'Judge not lest ye be judged.' So why are you judging your brother? Who made you judge over him, anyhow? How do you know he's not a Christian?"

We talk and act as if the Apostle Paul had commanded us to judge those outside the church, but never those inside the church; as if Paul had commanded us to disassociate ourselves from the greedy and sexually immoral who make no claim to faith, but never to cut ourselves off from the greedy or sexually immoral who do claim to be Christians; as if God's people are to hide themselves from sin in the church, seeing, naming, and condemning only the sin of those outside the Household of Faith.

No wonder our churches are filled with hypocrisy. We have no way of dealing with sin because correction, rebuke, and discipline are only for unbelievers...

So everyone denies their sin. "The discussion of sin is a messy business," we say, "and it shouldn't be allowed in the church. It would leave stains on our carpets and scandalize our sweet elderly widows."

Or, as a prominent evangelical pastor once said to me, "Tim, I used to confront people but they always got mad and left the church. So I stopped doing it."

Pastors and elders have good reasons for not confronting sin in the church. They once did it, but it got them into big trouble and they learned their lesson. No more public or private rebuking of fellow Christians. People won't stand for it. Not the one rebuked, nor the people in the pew who heard of his rebuke, nor the board of elders whose ears are burned by irate congregants who can't believe Pastor Smith would talk to Mr. Rogers that way.

Yet biblical pastors can't quite resign themselves to their entire ministry consisting of saying nice things about pussycats. They must have some edge or it'll be clear they're a fake. But where and when should they rattle their saber? If 'no' has to show up somewhere, let it be where it presents the least risk to the peace and unity of my church and where there's the smallest chance I'll lose my job.

Here are two of the most common solutions.

First, there is the pastor who turns his pulpit and church into a museum of past battles, trusting that his knowledge of those battles, their tactics, weapons, and heroes, will rub off on him and give him a reputation for steadfastness. This pastor can explain the difference between the infusion and the imputation of Christ's righteousness. If you ask, he'll be happy to recite the Westminster Shorter Catechism word for word. He loves to recount the history of the Westminster Assembly and can give you a blow-by-blow of the main debates among the Westminster divines. He tells you Stonewall Jackson, J. Gresham Machen. and Martyn Lloyd-Jones are his heroes. Each summer he takes part in civil war reenactments.

But this same man, steeped in dead men's conflicts and courage, can't quite figure out where or by whom the Word of God is being opposed within his own presbytery or board of elders. Nor has he ever preached to his own congregation in such a way as to suffer their wrath the way the Apostle Paul or Jonathan Edwards suffered the wrath of his congregation.

Second, there is the pastor who uses his pulpit to attack the world. He makes a big show of courage, acting the prophet against Larry Flynt, Donald Trump, Howard Stern, Justin Timberlake, and Teddy Kennedy. But he never prophesies against the sins of the People of God--against prominent Christians like Tony Campolo, Steve Hayner, Tim LaHaye, Rick Warren, Stan Gundry, N. T. Wright, Gordon Fee, or Jerram Barrs. Nor does he address the sins of his own congregation--his widows, sons and daughters, or elders board. Amazingly, his vision is 20/20 when it comes to the world's sodomy and greed, but he's got hyperopia when it comes to the fornication and idolatry of his own heart, home, and congregation.

These are shepherds who muster the courage to say "no" to Hollywood and Washington D.C., but wouldn't dream of pointing the finger at Wheaton, Trinity Broadcasting Network, or the Christian Booksellers Association. After all, those people are fellow believers and God's using them. Their theology may be a little different from ours, but who are we to judge?

Of course, this is not to say that it's worthless to know history and to lay wreathes on the tombs of dead prophets and soldiers. Where would we be without Dabney's tribute to Stonewall Jackson, Murray's to Martyn Lloyd-Jones (Volume 1) and (Volume 2), or Hart's to J. Gresham Machen? One of the more courageous pastors I know cried when he came to the end of the second volume of Murray's biography of Lloyd-Jones. And I've met no one who has read those volumes and not been profoundly influenced by them in the way he carries out the work of his ministry.

Shepherds must study and learn from those who have gone before. Yet we should never mistake the history of courage and faithfulness for courage and faithfulness themselves. To know how Edwards opposed the halfway covenant in his Northampton parish is not the same thing as opposing similar compromises present in our own churches.

The pastor is called to speak the Word of God to unbelievers as well as believers; and not just in the safety of his pulpit but also in the public square. John the Baptist lost his head because he spoke as God's prophet condemning Herod for taking his brother's wife. And in this, he was not condemning the sin of a member of his rural parish but the local regent of the mighty Roman Empire. But John the Baptist never viewed his prophetic witness to Herod as justification for silence in the presence of his fellow Jews or the Scribes and Pharisees. He held a good bit of his courage in abeyance, rebuking the Pharisees who jumped on the repentance bandwagon. When they asked him to baptize them, he responded:

You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Matthew 3:7b-10)

So John the Baptist's preaching never lacked courage. He confronted his own congregation boldly when they came to sit under his preaching out in the wilderness. But his confrontation of Herod was even bolder and led to his grisly execution.

We have no record of what Tony Campolo, Bill Hybels, or Jesse Jackson said to President Clinton when he invited them to come to the White House to provide him spiritual advice in the middle of the public scandal over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. But we do know that there was never a hint of any of them being in danger of losing his head because he had angered the president by rebuking him. In fact, I find myself suppressing a chuckle over the thought of any one of them allowing himself to say something that would cause Hillary (or any woman, for that matter) to ask for his head.

Pastors today seem to be cut from a different bolt of cloth than Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, Stephen, Athanasius, Knox, Edwards, or Schaeffer. But we're not. They were jars of clay and so are we.

Yet they had learned that God's servants must choose between the fear of man and the fear of God.

Each of them chose the fear of God.

Comments

AMEN and AMEN. This is a timely piece. Thank you for writing and posting it.

~Phillip

(Isaiah 56:10-12) Isn't this verse speaking *to* pastors? What does one do, in light of this verse, when the pastors are wicked, dishonest and hide behind their pulpits for their own greedy gain? What are God's people to do when the pastors need judgment, rebuke and correction?

The verse is speaking about wicked pastors. It speaks of pastors who are greedy, drunkards, loving to slumber, dreamers and without understanding.

Judgment SHOULD start in the house of the Lord pastors should not fool themselves to think they are above such judgment.

"One of the most discouraging aspects of the church today is the inability of shepherds to say God's "no" as well as His "yes," and to say it in person as well as from the pulpit."

But, who is going to tell the "greedy dogs" aka blind watchmen God's "no" as well as His "yes"?

There is a big problem in the church today and this verse addresses the problem- its leaders. All one has to do is look at all the scandals going on in our own Presbyterian and reformed churches to see what I am saying is true.

The verse tells us what God's leaders are mute dogs unable to bark- it is because of their OWN sin that makes them so.

" We castigate those who make no claim to Christian faith, but we observe a strict hands-off policy toward flagrant sinners within the church. "

Amen! I totally agree. This is such a good point. Again, some very popular leaders come to mind when I read your quote above.

What is a sheep to do about these wicked leaders that Isaiah 56 talks about? What if they won't listen to reason or God's "nos" or God's "yes"? What then?

God promises that those who maintain justice and do what is right will have salvation and will see His righteous revealed. This is the first part of Isaiah 56.

This is a great verse but I believe it is being applied in the wrong direction.

From the "math" post :

"Tim,
Are you saying that Ms Morton is not a follower of Christ and an agent of the Evil One???

Do you really want to say this?

[[[NOTE FROM TIM BAYLY: Thank you for your question, 123. Taking it seriously, I'll be answering it in installments. The first is my latest post, "Mute dogs unable to bark." Other posts will follow.]]]"

I'm having a hard time following how this is an answer to the mysterious 123s question. Perhaps you wouldn't mind elucidating?

Brian,

You actually read it and don't understand? That seems hard to credit...

Greetings! Wholehearted amen here that we ought not be judging outsiders, but it is acceptable to discern whether a person is saved or not as well.

This response was to a question about a commenter's salvation, whether she were saved or not.

Are you implying by this recent entry that the woman who is egalitarian is saved? And that you were not in a mode of judging an outsider, but rather were judging one whom you consider to be a sister in Christ?

Good post. As a person whose heart is for the church to be caught up with the missio dei, I've always found this paradox to be heart-wrenching. We will keep Christians who are disobedient, rebellious, and have no intentions of repentance around in the name of God's love but we won't engage the lost for fear of catching their sin as if it were like a cold or something. A Christian that is living in sin and unrepentant is more dangerous than a transexual hooker any day of the week.

Amen, brother. Thanks for your clarity and discernment regarding shepherds who fall under the condemnation of that verse. I recently ran across a George Whitefield sermon on Jer 6:14 ("...peace, peace, where there is no peace") which begins:

"As God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere, and upright ministers, so the greatest curse that God can possibly send upon a people in this world, is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm and unskilled guides."

I hope you continue to teach on this.

Not only are pastors hesitant to rebuke open sin (I could tell you nightmarish stories of husbands allowed to attend churches with their mistresses while the wife was encouraged to leave out of fear that she might "make a scene") but they are hesitant to mention common sins from the pulpit. Few will preach against divorce, pornography, gluttony, or greed, for example.

Amen! Interestingly enough, God's OT prophets preached against the sins of Israel, not the sins of the pagan Philistines.

David Gray :

"You actually read it and don't understand? That seems hard to credit..."

Tim, perhaps you can answer my request in a little more beneficial fashion than Mr. Gray here? Thanks.

Dear Brian,

The church today--that is, the evangelical, fundamentalist, or Bible-believing church--seems fixated on drawing boundaries between those who are Christians and those who aren't, and we make the determination solely on the basis of a man's own claim. If he says, "I'm a Christian," that's it--what more could you ask for?

Scripture, though, pushes us again and again toward fruit and obedience, not a minimalist profession of faith. But we forget that.

And since we consider it inappropriate to judge within the church (reserving our judgments only for outsiders), our ire is raised by those who condemn doctrine and behavior of people claiming to be inside the Household of Faith. "But he claims to be a Christian! How could you say he's a heretic? A false shepherd? A spokesman of Satan? You're saying he isn't a Christian! Apologize, you nasty and censorious brute!"

But of course, no one has ever said he isn't a Christian. Only that he is a false shepherd whose behavior and doctrine are in opposition to our Lord and His Word.

If the only thing necessary to hold membership in a church is a profession of faith in something approximating what most people would call the Christian Gospel; and if once accepted into membership, the church can be depended upon to overlook almost any sin, focusing her discrimination on unbelievers; then of course naming sins, calling out doctrinal rebels, and all the other work referred to in Scripture as "guarding the flock" will scandalize us.

If, on the other hand, we restore the gift of discernment to the church herself, and regularly practice guarding the flock and the good deposit, then when someone is said to be a rebel against God and an agent of Satan we'll think, "Oh yeah, that's what happened to Peter when Jesus said, 'Get behind me, Satan!' I guess we all fall in many ways, don't we? I'll have to be careful or Satan will use me, too."

The disciples were in the habit of taking rebukes from Jesus so they never made the error of concluding that such rebukes meant they weren't disciples. We have no record of the other eleven letting out a corporate gasp and saying to the Master, "But Jesus, are you saying Peter isn't a Christian?!?"

Today, our questions are all wrong. The only thing we want to focus on is whether someone is a Christian or not. Then we determine the state of his soul solely on the basis of the evangelical ex opere operato sacrament--the repetition of the sinner's prayer.

I could go on much longer but I'll leave it with this: Biblical Christians today must work to see discernment and judgment brought back within the Household of Faith. Without them, the sheep will die and God will hold the shepherds accountable for their deaths. Yes, those who determine to be faithful shepherds will have many sheep (and many other shepherds) accuse them of abusing the sheep, of being arrogant, of being divisive and judgmental--and those sins do exist.

The primary reason such accusations come against shepherds seeking to guard their flocks, though, is that the flocks have grown acclimated to unfaithful shepherds, mute dogs that cannot bark. So when the dog barks, the sheep jump and think he's about to eat them. But of course he's only scaring off the wolf.

You will understand, dear brother, there is a limit to my time and these words don't write themselves. So please be gracious when I don't respond to every challenge or question posted as a comment.

I do plan to say more later, but in a different direction. For now, this will have to do.

Love in Christ,

Tim Bayly

"You will understand, I trust, dear brother that there is a limit to my time, and these words don't write themselves. So please be gracious when I don't respond to every challenge or question posted as a comment."

I understand that and appreciate the answer. However, the matter of calling someone "an agent of the Evil One" seems important enough to clarify so that you are not misunderstood.

So, if I understand you correctly, you are not saying that Ms. Morton is not a Christian. Just that she is wrong in this one doctrinal matter. Yes?

In which case, since we are all imperfect, we would all be agents of the evil one in some area or another since noone has perfect doctrine.

Well, sure, all of us could, at one time or another, see our Lord saying to us, "Get thee behind me, Satan!" But it would have to be one of the most sober rebukes of our lives. Similarly, I would hope that Mrs. Morton would take my rebuke, as an officer of Christ's Church, as one of the most sober rebukes of her life.

As for whether or not Mrs. Morton and other feminist rebels against God are Christians, that's not the question I was addressing. But do you think Peter wondered about his eternal destiny when he heard our Lord's rebuke? I can't imagine he didn't.

Okay...

I hereby declare as agents of the evil one all those who hold to Covenant Theology. Be ye so rebuked!

Gee, that was kind of fun. :)

Brian,

My heart sinks to see you take such a weighty rebuke and use it in such a trite way.

I can assure you that Tim does not take enjoyment in rebuking Light, or in excummunicating church members who still profess faith. He does both in faithfulness to God.

You pose as one who wants to understand Tim's meaning, but your mocking rebuke makes it clear that you have not tried to understand why Tim views Light's errors with such gravity.

Essentially, you say, "If any Christian is an agent of the devil, then all of us are." With this you declare that you prefer the situations Tim described above, where only non-Christians or dead people are rebuked.

I pray that you will repent, that you would understand why Paul warned the Ephesian elders night and day with tears about the ravenous wolves that would come, and that you would desire that all pastors would give such intense warnings both in the pulpit and in the living room.

Jerram Barrs?
What's he done?

Much good, I'm sure, but on the meaning and purpose of sexuality I'd put Barrs with Roger Nicole and Gordon Fee (two of my own seminary profs). Yes, they've gone beyond him, but he's on the same trajectory.

Well, after a couple days of sitting on it, wishing I could leave Eric's loving rebuke as the sole response, I believe I ought to say publicly that I am heartsick over Brian's September 14, 10:26 AM comment above. All of us must be on guard against the deceitfulness of sin and the hardening of our heart that turns us into cynics and mockers.

I would think that on a blog where humor, sarcasm, and other rhetorical devices are in use that my little comment would not have caused such a reaction. Seriously.

What you guys don't seem to get is that if I think you are in doctrinal error(and CT was just an example - although I don't agree with it) then by your standard it is perfectly legitimate for me to rebuke you and consider you an agent of the evil one. How do you want others to react when you rebuke them? Then you should act the same way when rebuked.

Yes, what I said was tongue-in-cheek. But only to point out what could be a legitimate accusation towards you as well. If you don't like my tone, then fine. It seemed to fit in with general tenor of what others had written. The bigger issue would be if you deny that I had the right to make such a rebuke in the first place.

>then by your standard it is perfectly legitimate for me to rebuke you and consider you an agent of the evil one

What authority do you have?

And it isn't something to be taken lightly.

Amen David. Amen. Spot on that.

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