Every so often, a Wolf wanders through the doors of my church. At first, they look a lot like Sheep. They talk like Sheep, they act like Sheep, but they aren’t Sheep.
My first indication that this “sheep” is not what it appears is when they want to talk with me about my sermon – on their first visit. Now, I love talking to guests, and if they want to talk about the sermon, fine. But when a first time guest approaches me to talk about my sermon, my Pastoral Spider Sense goes off. Then, when they want to nit-pick Bible verses and try to convince me that we should still be following the Law, I know I’ve got a live one.
Characteristics of Wolves
Wolves feast on freedom – they want to kill it and devour it wherever its found. For that reason, Wolves love the Law. Wolves can quote all kinds of Scripture, far more than me, but it is largely Old Covenant. For people who claim to follow Jesus, they know very little of what HE said, but they’ll go all day with Moses or the few commands that Paul gives to the Church.
Wolves also tend to have a pet doctrine – keeping the Sabbath on a particular day, eating Kosher, obeying the 10 Commandments, following the Jewish Feast Days, etc. In all honesty, God has probably given them legitimate insight into the importance of those things, but their Old way of thinking steals all the joy out of it. Sabbath is supposed to be a joy. Kosher is a great way to eat healthy and honor life. The 10 Commandments (or, as the Jews understand them, the 5 relational principles) are tremendously important and save us from all kinds of trouble. But to make these things requirements to pleasing God? No. Wolves miss the whole point of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection. We humans can’t keep the Law – for if we break one part of it we are guilty of breaking the whole of it. If you choose to live under the Law, you can’t pick and choose which parts of it you want to follow. It is an all or nothing deal.
Wolves are also very evangelistic about their pet doctrine. I’d have to say, some of the most passionate, energetic and charismatic communicators I know are Wolves. They are absolutely convinced that their particular insight is what is needed to change the Church, please God, or bring about the Lord’s return. If someone isn’t well grounded in the Realities of the New Covenant, it is easy for them to fall prey to these messages, for the Wolves’s passion is quite convincing.
How I deal with Wolves
For this reason, I like to handle Wolves personally. And I will freely confess, I’ve not always done it well – sometimes very poorly! The apologist in me freaks out on heretics who belittle the Cross of Christ. I rarely lose my temper, but when I do it is usually talking to a Wolf.
What I’d like to do is what Paul counsels Timothy to do with the false teachers in Ephesus.
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguements, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone [Jesus help me!], able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26
A few thoughts:
1) I’m dealing with a captive.
Somehow, in some way that I don’t comprehend, the devil has ensnared the mind of my brother. They now see the world, God and the Bible through Satan’s eyes, not Jesus’s, so it isn’t any wonder that they see the Law as a good thing and Grace as something scary or uncertain. Therefore, I have to enter the conversation with the hope of setting them free and the intent to love them, for they really don’t know what they are doing.
2) Don’t engage in stupid or foolish arguements.
Don’t engage their pet doctrine. Instead, be interested in them. Ask about their story. Try to be sincerely interested in them as a person. Most likely, they are there with an agenda and will try to turn every statement or question to their pet doctrine – don’t rise to the bait. Redirect the conversation to where you want it to go (this is super hard for me by the way). If they get frustrated, that is their deal.
We have to realize that we aren’t going to change their mind on this issue by a logical presentation of facts. If they are truly under Satan’s influence, they are incapable of rational thought. We aren’t going to “win” by going toe-to-toe with them in a Scripture verse battle. We are going to win by bringing them into an encounter with the Living God and that is impossible to do unless we focus on loving them well.
3) Gently instruct them
This is an art more than a science. It requires me to be in a place of love – not frustration, anxiety or impatience – and that is challenging in these conversations. It also requires me to sum up the heart of God for them in a nutshell, because they can’t listen to me instruct them line upon line. So Holy Spirit has to help me find a time bomb, a phrase that will bypass their initial defenses and impact them later. I don’t always get one, but I hunger for the kinds of words and phrases Jesus used – questions and comments that struck at the heart of the matter and exposed everyone’s motivations and intentions.
I don’t go out of my way to pastor Wolves, I’m far more interested in talking to unbelievers who don’t have that sort of religious baggage. However, in writing this, I realize that there is a huge need for someone to minister to them. So, if that is you, I bless you! And please let me know how you do it.
In my experience, Wolves don’t tend to stick around long if they sense resistance in the leadership. But I want to do more than just endure them, I want to find some way to win them back, to set them free. If any of you have some ideas I’d love to hear them.
As always, thanks for reading.