Shepherding with the Judgment in View
2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
1 Peter 5:1-4: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
The New Testament repeats the theme often. A day is coming when believers will give an account to God. It will be an examination of the believer’s service. It will be an examination for the purpose of reward. In addition to that general theme another note is sounded. Those who have been called to shepherd the church will give an account to God for that specific responsibility. We shepherd the church with the judgment before us.
I increasingly feel myself to be a bit out of the mainstream. Do you ever feel that way? I’m not talking about being out of step with this world. That is the gracious reality that was brought into being by our almighty saving God (John 15:19). I mean that I often find myself out of step with common narratives coming out of mainstream evangelicalism. To put it bluntly, I believe I’m watching many of our brothers being pushed into the world’s mold in the way that they are thinking through issues where biblical perspectives are clashing with the spirit of the age. In an attempt to prove that believers are loving, compassionate, thoughtful people, biblical truth is sometimes distorted to resemble (if not conform to) the same basic narrative given by a lost and dying world about current issues. Again, to speak plainly, I’m very concerned about a social justice mindset infecting the church. In addition, some of what is put forth in the name of compassion are words and responses that I believe most faithful saints throughout the ages would not have embraced.
Without naming names, I will simply say that I’ve been surprised by some who have joined that chorus. I’ve been especially disappointed by the way that many in my own denomination (the Southern Baptist Convention) are responding to these issues. Whether the issue is race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, some of the language that has been used is not only foreign to Scripture, it conflicts with Scripture (for example, “gay Christians”). When addressing the racial tensions of the day, in the name of embracing a biblical view of humanity (which all believers should do), a distorted view of humanity—one that amounts to ethnic tribalism and dangerous generalizations—is put forth instead.
While this is the matter on my mind today, it certainly won’t be the final matter we are grappling with in the future. The winds of cultural chaos change with time, and with each change in the direction of the wind the church is challenged. No, the matters I’ve mentioned simply provide a context for what I wish to convey.
What I want to encourage you about (even as I exhort myself) is the courage necessary to shepherd the church considering the great day. When that day arrives, we won’t be giving an account for our friends. We won’t be giving an account for what was assigned to some other worker in the Lord’s field. When that day arrives, we will give an account for our own stewardship. What I’m exhorting you to pursue is the courage to stand the ground of your convictions, so long as those convictions are firmly anchored in Scripture. One day you and I won’t be excused for biblical compromise because the views we eventually espoused were in the majority among evangelicals. One day we will give an account for what we should have known, should have said, should have opted out of, because we had the Word of God.
What is at stake is the spiritual health of the church. Our people are listening to those very famous voices that are constantly commenting on the day’s issues. Our people hear those voices and then they look to us. What will we say? When we choose self-preservation over the faithful presentation of God’s Word on combustive issues, we may not suffer, but our people most certainly will. I’m not encouraging us to grab a dog by the ears when there is no need. I’m not suggesting that we want to be a people who involve ourselves in every conversation the culture wishes to have respecting the latest drama. The best thing we will ever do is systematically, faithfully, preach the Bible. But what I am suggesting is that we can’t remain silent when our people are asking for guidance just because speaking the truth might set us at odds with some whom we greatly love and admire.
I pray this will be received in the spirit in which I offer it. I trust that my brothers are as conscientious (probably more) as I am. I can’t speak to what is going on in their own hearts as they decide to take the positions on the issues of the day that they choose to take. What I’m saying is that I can’t use their views to excuse the violation of my own conscience, much less outright unfaithfulness to Scripture.
These are days in which a strong pressure is exerted upon the church to think and speak a certain way or to be branded with labels that no one desires. May the Lord grant us the faith to care about one verdict and one verdict only. May we be found faithful standing before the Chief Shepherd on the day of judgment.
Richard Caldwell is one of our nine TES campus pastors, having served as the senior pastor of Founders Baptist Church in Spring, TX since 1998.