"CHURCH TRAMPS & SHEEP STEALERS"
First John 2.18-20
1. In Revelation chapters two and three we find seven letters dictated to seven Churches, seven local congregations, by the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is one letter that is of particular interest to us as we make our way to this morningís text. Thatís the letter to the Church at Ephesus.
2. Though it was a wonderful Church, the Lord of the Church issued a warning against the pastor of that Ephesian Church, because he had left his first love, Revelation 2.4. Listen to what the Lord of the Church wrote to that Ephesian pastor in Revelation 2.5: "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent."
3. Folks, the candlestick is the Church, according to Revelation 1.20, which reads, "the seven candlesticks which thou sawest are the seven churches." That pastor was warned by the Lord Jesus Christ. In so many words Jesus said, "If you donít return to your first love, if you donít straighten up, if you donít give back to me your heart, it will be the end of the Church." A great deal rises and falls on spiritual leadership. Amen?
4. Do you suppose there are a great many Churches in the day in which we live whose candlesticks have already been removed? Would these not be Churches whose pastors led them from the faith, if they ever were in the faith? Would these not be Churches whose pastors no longer preach the Gospel, if indeed the Gospel ever was preached in most of these so-called Churches?
5. My friends, I think an examination of Biblical truth would lead many these days to the undeniable conclusion that most Churches are rank, and a large number of those who claim to be spiritual leaders simply are not spiritual leaders at all, but are carnival ringmasters and charlatan Elmer Gantrys, who seek not to bring the lost to Jesus, but are engaged in the use of manipulative methods to provoke visitors into making professions of faith that do not reflect a new creature in Christ.
6. Especially in light of Matthew 7.21-23, where Jesus said, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity."
7. So, there is ample Scriptural evidence to support, at the very least, a most cautious attitude toward pastors and Church members. What Paul adds to the mix is enough to make a fellow even more wary. In Acts 20.29-30, to prepare the Ephesians for his departure from them (and he would never see them again this side of heaven), Paul warned them of the spiritual danger they would face: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them."
8. So, to set the stage for what I want you to consider this morning, I have established the existence of three truths in Godís Word: First, not all Churches are Churches. Some Churches have had their candlestick removed by the Lord Jesus Christ, though they continue on as religious organizations. Second, many who claim to be Christians are not Christians at all, but only claim to be and only hope they are, according to Jesus Himself. Third, Paul warned that men would come into Churches, men described as "grievous wolves," who could be identified not by their appearance or their personalities, and not even by their doctrines, but by their behavior; they speak perverse things to draw disciples after them. That is, they cultivate Church members to follow their leadership instead of the leadership of the pastor.
9. How should I, as a pastor, react to these Scripture passages Iíve brought to your attention? First, I should look after myself, to make sure I have not left my first love, that I am a committed lover of the Savior. Second, I need to recognize that many Churches in name are not Churches in reality. Third, I need to recognize that many Christians in name are not Christians in reality. And finally, I need to recognize that men will come in and try to get you people to follow their leadership instead of mine.
10. Folks, this isnít a pink tea party weíve been invited to. Amen? This is spiritual conflict, and the stakes are very high, indeed. And the Marquis de Queensbury rules do not apply. This is bare knuckles spiritual combat.
11. Now, to get more directly to the point of this morningís message, please turn to Exodus 23.4: "If thou meet thine enemyís ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again." In other words, if you see a manís live stock wandering from where they are supposed to be, even if you and the guy who owns them donít like each other, you get that live stock back to where they belong.
12. Now turn to Deuteronomy 22.1: "Thou shalt not see thy brotherís ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother." This verse is no surprise. If you are obligated to return your enemyís live stock, itís obvious you should do the same for your brotherís animals.
13. "Doth God take care for oxen? Or saith he it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written," First Corinthians 9.9-10. Folks, things written in Scripture are not written for the benefit of donkeys and horses and sheep, but for the benefit of Godís people. For your benefit and mine.
14. So we have here a principle found in the Bible that dates back to the second millennium B. C. Itís the principle that livestock should be returned to their proper place. But since such things are written for our sakes, let us make proper application to our own situation. What should a pastor do when a Church member wanders from his own Church over to another Church and begins attending regularly? Should he not send that member of the flock back to his proper pasture? Thatís what I did with Stan Laughlin, folks.
15. Now, I can understand a preacher who doesnít send sheep back to where they came from if where they came from isnít really a Church, by Scriptural standards. But if a pastor accepts someone into his Church, and grants that they have been Scripturally baptized by the Church they came from, then he is guilty of wrongdoing in at least one of two ways:
16. Either he is guilty of not returning a sheep to the flock it came from and should rightly stay in, or he is guilty of taking into his Church unconverted and unbaptized people, since only legitimate Churches are authorized to baptize only converted people. This is why Baptists have historically relied only upon evangelism to grow their congregations, bringing people to Christ and baptizing them to build up the flock. And only on somewhat rare occasions would someone come into a Baptist Church from outside, and then only when they had a letter from their former Church recommending that they be received as members in good standing.
17. Oh my, does confusion and spiritual anarchy reign supreme in most Churches these days, where Church members transfer in and then transfer out at the drop of a hat, where growth almost never comes as a result of laborious evangelism. There are actually Baptist Churches these days who openly publicize how many transfers they hope to attract to their membership each year!
18. So, though most pastors have not yet resorted to preying upon another Churchís members like grievous wolves, like a pastor in Long Beach I know of, they could properly be characterized as sheep stealers, since any sheep who wanders nearby will be lassoed and lured into their Church membership, with not the slightest inclination or effort to return them to where they are supposed to be . . . which is where they got converted and where they ought to remain until Jesus comes.
19. So, Iíve labeled the kind of pastor who takes in members from another Church, without making any yeomanís effort, without making any manly effort, to restore them to their home Church. These sheep could be babes in Christ whoíve not the spiritual maturity to stay where they belong, or they could be child molesters as far as the sheep stealing pastor knows or cares. He just takes everyone in. He thinks the song "Whosoever Will May Come" has to do with Church membership, not an invitation to come to Christ.
20. And what about the Church members who are allowed to bounce around from Church to Church by these unethical and irresponsible pastors, who have no Scriptural concept of shepherding? Well, letís call them Church tramps. A Church tramp is a pitiful excuse for a Christian, because he is submissive to no pastor for very long, and he never stays long enough in a Church to prove his Christianity.
21. We used to have a deacon in our Church who was a quiet man. He never raised his voice or spoke out dogmatically about anything, except for Church tramps. He hated Church tramps. Spoke against them all the time. Then one day a grievous wolf actually came into our auditorium. He came only once. But once was enough to spot that deacon. And he lured him out of here to the so-called Church he was starting near here. Guess what? That old deacon has now been a member of four Churches over a sixteen year period of time. He now is what he always hated before. You see, now heís a Church tramp.
22. Now we turn to our text for this morning, First John 2.18-20. When you find that passage, please stand for the reading of Godís Word:
"18 Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.
19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.
20But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.
23. Three verses, and three main thoughts I want to develop before this morningís sermon:
1A. First, WE SEE JOHNíS DESCRIPTION OF THE APOSTASY
1B. He Begins, "Little children." This Is The Apostle Johnís Affectionate Term For The Christians He Was Writing To. Compared To His Experience, Maturity And Stature All Christians Would Be Properly Addressed "Little children."
2B. "It is the last time" Folks, We Are In The Last Days. What Began In Johnís Day As The Last Dispensation Before The End Has Intensified And Worsened To Our Present Apostasy.
1C. First Timothy 4.1: "Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils."
2C. Second Timothy 3.1-7: "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
3C. Those are two good descriptions of our present day, are they not? My friends, never before has a people engaged in the systematic annihilation of their own children. Yet itís happening in the United States, in Europe and in China. We are in the apostasy.
3B. But There Is Even Stronger Proof That We Are In The Apostasy: "And as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time."
1C. I need to quickly clarify something for you before we go on. Please understand the distinction between the term antichrist and the term false christ.
2C. An antichrist is someone who is against Christ, while a false christ is someone who pretends to be the real Christ. The beast who rises up during the Great Tribulation will be both antichrist and false christ, though we usually refer to him as the Antichrist.
3C. What the apostle John is stating in this verse is that many will rise up who are against Christ, who are openly opposed to Christ. These are the "many antichrists" he refers to, "whereby we know that it is the last time."
4C. And never before in human history have there been more who openly and actively opposed the Lord Jesus Christ than who oppose Him now. Truly, we are in the last days. This is the apostasy we are living in right now.
2A. Next, WE SEE JOHNíS DESCRIPTION OF THE ANTICHRISTS
1B. You Might Expect Antichrists To Have Some Profound Distinguishing Characteristics, Some Wild And Unreal Doctrines. But John Describes Them More By What They Do In Every Day Life Than By Any Voiced Heresies They Are Guilty Of.
2B. How Do Antichrists, How Do Those Who Are Opposed To The Real Christ, Behave? They Leave. Read Verse 19 Carefully: "They went out from us [they being the antichrists mentioned in verse 18], but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
3B. Read A Study Bible And You Will Almost Certainly See Some Explanation That Interprets The Phrase "They went out from us" As Some Profound Doctrinal Deviation. But The Context Doesnít Support That Understanding At All.
4B. In Johnís Day Antichrists Left The Congregation. Since There Was Typically Only One Congregation In Each Town, They Frequently Did Not Go To Another Congregation, Since There Wasnít One To Try And Go To. But Today One Who Is Antichrist Simply Leaves One Gospel Preaching Church And Transfers His Membership To Another One.
5B. And Since Most Pastors Are Unethical, Even In Those Few Churches That Are Real Churches, These Antichrists, Who Show What They Are By Their Leaving, Are Welcomed Into The Next Church They Join With Open Arms, So Long As They Attend Regularly And Give Offerings.
6B. "But Pastor, I Think That So And So Who Left Is A Real Christian." Then You Explain This Statement By John: "If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us." And While You Are At It, Explain What John Means By The Last Phrase: "But they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
7B. I Think He Is Saying That Their Departure Proves They Were Not Converted. Now, Iím Not Perfect, And I May Be Wrong On This. But I Donít Think I Am. And This Is Why I Will Assume That Someone Who Starts Attending Our Church Is Almost Certainly Unconverted. Why? Converted People Stay In Their Churches, If They Are Allowed To, And Faithfully Serve God.
3A. Finally, WE SEE JOHNíS DESCRIPTION OF THE ANOINTED
"But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things."
1B. This Word "Unction" Translates The Greek Word For "Anointed," Which Is The Word For "Christ." So, John Is Saying That There Are Those Who Are Against Christ, Antichrists, And There Are Those Who Are Anointed, Meaning There Are Those Who Side With Christ, Being Little Christs Themselves. These, Obviously, Are The Real Christians.
2B. These Also Are Said To "know all things." Now, This Doesnít Mean Christians Know Everything About Everything. But It Does Mean That Real Christians, Who Have This Anointing Which Is The Holy Spirit Of God, Know What The Antichrists Do Not Know, But Pretend To Know, But Think They Know.
3B. You See, One Aspect Of The Fruit Of The Spirit Is Faithfulness. The Holy Spirit Produces Faithfulness In The Christianís Life. But How Can One Be Faithful Who Is Not Faithful To His Church, The Church Jesus Died For, The Church Christ Placed That Believer In When He Was Baptized? Real Christians Know Christ, And Know Enough To Stay In The Gospel Preaching Church They Are A Part Of. Thatís What We Know.
1. So, if you Church members donít mind, I will continue to assume that someone who starts attending Calvary Road is unconverted, just like almost every one of you were unconverted when you started attending.
2. I will do this because, if they come from a good Church they have no good reason to leave that Church. So, Iíll just send them back to where they came from, in the hopes they get spiritual again, if perchance they are converted, or in the hopes that they get converted, since First John 2.19 speaks to the issue as it does.
3. Now, if visitors come from a bad Church itís not likely they got converted there. Amen? And since itís a bad Church thereís no use sending them back, since they certainly wonít hear the Gospel there. So, if I permit visitors to continue attending, it will be because there is nothing to send them back to; not really.
4. I take this approach two reasons, since I am a pastor and not a sheep stealer: First, I want to greatly inhibit the ability of any grievous wolf to come in and win the affections of the sheep the Chief Shepherd has assigned to me to care for. And second, I want to do my best to keep someone from being a Church tramp. And this is done by loving on folks, getting them to stay put long enough to settle in, and working, over time, to bring them to Christ. Then theyíll faithfully serve God here and stay here till they die.
5. Folks, next to Jesus, thereís nothing better than a good Church home, filled with brothers and sisters in Christ youíll spend eternity with, who care for you when youíre hurting, and who love you, warts and all. Amen?
6. Now, brother Isenberger comes to lead us. Please stand and sing before this morningís sermon.
1. I am not a particularly courageous or brave fellow, but I do feel compelled by my calling and by my ministry to be open, to be honest, to be direct, and to be plain in my speech.
2. I once presided over the expulsion of a man and a woman that I had baptized when I discovered they were living together, though unmarried. A year later, when they decided to marry they asked me to marry them because, they said, "You were the only one who spoke the truth to us."
3. This morning I again seek to speak the truth to you, letting the chips fall where they may. The message that I bring, though very brief, contains the substance of a sermon that I once preached to a room full of pastors, so I am not playing favorites.
4. Listen carefully before we are dismissed.
1A. The First Point That I Would Like To Make Is That SHEEP STEALERS ARE NOT PASTORS
1B. When A Preacher Becomes The Presiding Minister Of A Church He Steps Into An Office That Enables Him To Wield Authority And Influence For The Cause Of Christ. In Ephesians 4.11 He Is Described As A Pastor, Meaning He Function As A Shepherd Over Christís Flock.
2B. In Acts 20.28 Paul Charged The Ephesians Elders With Feeding The Flock, Literally, With Shepherding Them, As Does Peter In First Peter 5.2. So, The Man Of God Is Supposed To Shepherd The Flock The Holy Spirit Has Given Him To Oversee.
3B. But What Would A Man Be Called Who Seeks To Shepherd Not Only Those Given To Him By The Holy Ghost, But Also Every Other Pastorís Sheep, As Well? Would Such A Man Be Called A Pastor, A Shepherd? I Think Not. Those Men Who Do Not Return Straying Sheep To Their Proper Pasture (And Sheep Do Stray From Time To Time), Those Men Who Snatch Up Unsuspecting Sheep To Herd Into Their Own Flocks, Are Rightly Termed Sheep Stealers.
4B. Now, I Donít Know For Sure Why Men Steal Sheep Like They Never Have Before, But I Suspect The Reason. I Suspect That Men Are Quick To Steal The Sheep Of Others Because They Are Seeing Very Few Conversions In Their Ministries, And They Are Forced By A Sense Of Desperation To Add To Their Congregations. Yes, I Think Sheep Stealers Get Many Professions Of Faith From Sinners, While Getting Very Few Real Converts. So, They Steal Sheep.
5B. A Man Who Steals Sheep Is A Man Who Is Not Acting Like A Pastor. Pastors, Shepherds, Do Not Steal Sheep. They Feed Their Flocks. They Do Not Steal Sheep From Other Flocks. Such Men As Those Who Take In Other Good Churchís Members Are Men Who Are Not Behaving Like Pastors, But Are Behaving Like Sheep Stealers.
6B. Now, I Am Not Mad At Such Men. I Used To Be Such A Man. But I Am Disappointed At Such Behavior Because I Know It To Be Harmful. Harmful To Pastors Who Isolate Themselves From Men They Fear Will Steal Their Sheep, And Harmful To The Health And Stability Of Churches. Though Not Angry With Sheep Stealers, I Call On Pastors Everywhere To Stop Stealing Sheep And To Start Seeking To Grow Your Church By Getting Sinners Converted.
2A. The Second Point That I Would Like To Make Is That CHURCH TRAMPS ARE NOT CHRISTIANS
1B. As I Stated, I Am Not Angry With Sheep Stealers. Neither Am I Angry With Church Tramps. I Know The Phrase Church Tramp Is A Harsh And Offensive Term To Apply To People, But Moving About From Church To Church Is A Harsh And Offensive Practice That Has Become So Routine That It Is Thought By Most To Be Acceptable Behavior.
2B. But Uprooting A Family From A Church And Moving Them To Another Church For No Good Reason Is Not Acceptable Behavior. Itís Not Christian Behavior. Many People Move Because They Are Offered A Transfer At Their Work. But What Would People Think Of A Pastor Who Moved Merely To Increase His Income? Wouldnít That Be The Love Of Money?
3B. Others Move Just Because They Have Relocated To A Different Neighborhood. Excuse Me, But Isnít That Abandoning A Place Of Ministry? Isnít That Removing Your Gospel Light? Iím Not Opposed To Buying A Nicer House If You Can Afford It, But Youíve Got No Business Changing Churches When You Do. Still Others Change Churches For Silly Personality Problems.
4B. What Kind Of Person Does That Sort Of Thing? What Kind Of A Person Chooses To Leave A Church? The Apostle John Tells Us Quite Plainly In First John 2.19. "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us."
5B. Church Tramps Are Actually Antichrist. They Are Lost People Who Are Against Christ And His Churches. Thatís Why They Show No Loyalty, No Faithfulness To A Church, No Submission To A Pastor Over The Long Haul. And The Only Way Such A Person Is Likely To Get Saved Is To Confront Him Head On With The Wickedness Of His Behavior In The Hopes That He Will See It, Settle Into The Church Once And For All Time, And Hopefully Get Converted.
3A. Finally, ITíS TIME YOU CAME TO GRIPS WITH YOUR SIN AND GOT CONVERTED
1B. God Is Holy And You Are Sinful, Wicked, Rebellious, Desiring To Do Your Own Thing, Wanting To Make Your Own Way. And Youíve Exhibited This Sinful Nature Of Yours In A Way That Goes Unnoticed By Most People, But Not Unnoticed By God. What Way Is That? You Left Your Church. You Abandoned The Place God Providentially Placed You In, And For What Reason? A Job? A Promotion? To Live In A Warmer Climate? To Live In A Better Neighborhood?
2B. Now, I Know There Are Some Christians Who Leave Their Churches. I Was Sent To Bible College By My Pastor. And There Are Christian Wives Who Think They Are Doing Right By Allowing Their Unsaved Husbands To Pull Them Out Of The Church, Thereby Getting Them Out Of Christianity Altogether. And I Suppose That From Time To Time Some Christian Will Be Greatly Mislead By Unscriptural Notions Heís Been Taught About Being Led By The Holy Spirit.
3B. But Our Text Cannot Be Dismissed And Simply Set Aside As Not Applying To You. Short Of Some Pretty Convincing Extenuating Circumstances, One Can Only Assume That If You Left The Church You Used To Be In, Assuming It Was A Christ-Honoring And Gospel Preaching Church, The Real Reason You Left, The Underlying Reason You Left, Was Your Unconverted Condition. You Left Because You Are Lost.
4B. Look, Iím Not Angry With You, And I Hope You Are Not Angry With Me. I Am Simply A Man Called By God To Be A Pastor, Called By God To Be A Shepherd. And I Want To Actually Shepherd People, Not Steal Sheep. So If You Are Not Converted, I Want To Do My Best To See You Come To Christ, Not Bounce From Church To Church And Remain Bound For Hell.
5B. Do Something Strange And Unusual, Wonít You? Read First John 2.19 And Admit That It Applies To You, And That It Identifies You. Read The Verse And Donít Try To Explain Why It Canít Refer To You, Even Though You Know It Does Refer To You. Decide Right Now To Be One Of Those Rare Individuals Who Takes Godís Word To Heart And Actually Gets Converted.
1. This is what I propose you and I do. If you were a member of a Church before you came to Calvary Road Baptist Church, and if I have not carefully and cautiously listened to your personal testimony of how you think you got converted, I would like to invite you to sit down with me sometime to do just that.
2. I want to listen to you talk. I want to hear what you have to say. I am profoundly interested in why you think you are converted, or how it has come to be that you know you are not converted.
3. Itís important that you and I do this because nothing is more important than the salvation of your soul. And I want to discharge my responsibilities as a pastor as carefully and as cautiously as I know how, because you are worth my time and effort.
4. Before we dismiss, please take the card in the envelope holder in front of your and print your name and telephone number. Iíd like for everyone to do this. Then write either "Yes" or "No." If you print "Yes" I will contact you for an appointment. If you print "No" I will not. Do that now, before we stand and pass the baskets around before we are dismissed.
5. And if you would like to see me immediately after the service, please step into the conference room after I dismiss the service in prayer and I will be with you shortly.