When Shepherds Allow the Sheep to Be Attacked

The calling of a shepherd, by definition, is to care for the sheep. That includes nurturing, feeding, and protecting. On occasion, if the sheep is straying, it can involve correction and discipline. But attacking or abusing the sheep violates that calling and is offensive to the Good Shepherd.

At a recent meeting of a presbytery (not my own), as was reliably reported to me, a young minister, speaking on the floor of the meeting, used the terms a “ruthless wolf” and “Jezebel” to describe a member of the denomination who was not present, a member in good standing. The presbytery meeting, as is normal in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, was open to the public.

My purpose here is not to comment further on the speaker—I don’t think I need to. He may be facing ecclesiastical charges, and I abhor doing church discipline on social media. In any case, he will be afforded due process which he fails to grant the sister whom he attacks.

What appalled me is that, although two presbyters rose to object to that language being used against a member in good standing, the presbytery allowed the speech to continue. While the speaker is accountable for his choice of words, the body as a whole bears responsibility for what it allows as acceptable ecclesiastical discourse. The terms used refer to enemies of the cross. The presbytery permitted them in an attack on a sister who is a member in good standing.

Any attack by a shepherd against the sheep is abhorrent. But when a body which is a group of shepherds allows that kind of speech, it is giving tacit approval to abuse. Addressing my fellow presbyters, this ought not to be. Not only do we need to guard our own tongues and pens (and fingers on keyboards), but we need to take responsibility for what we allow as acceptable discourse. To my brothers in the presbytery involved, I plead with you: you can do better than this.

A presbytery allowing this kind of language on the floor is not the core of the problem. Behind it lie some deep issues, including whether we value one another, male and female, as fellow images of God, and whether we are using our ecclesiastical authority to serve the flock (for which the Good Shepherd laid down his life) or to protect ourselves. Our heart issues will not be resolved by sustaining points of order. But that might be a small, but significant, first step.

Peter addresses those he calls fellow elders: “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.” (1 Peter 5:2–4, ESV)

23 thoughts on “When Shepherds Allow the Sheep to Be Attacked

  1. Thank you for this. It’s appalling that some would consider those comments against a sister in Christ to be acceptable in any way. I’m so grateful for those who stand with Aimee and others who have been vilified by so-called Shepherds. Shepherds are supposed to guard and protect the sheep, whether those sheep are male or female, young or old.

  2. Thank you for speaking out on this offense against sheep. Your message is clear and I hope it will be well considered and bring about conviction to those who need to repent. It also, challenges me to consider how I might speak toward effecting positive change regarding this problem.

    -OPC Elder.

  3. Thank you for speaking publicly to this matter. I was present at this meeting of presbytery and heard these quotes firsthand. These attacks were 9th Commandment violations (see WLC Qs. 144 and 145) quite similar to those for which these men were formally accused, and they were permitted to be spoken openly on the floor.

    • Lane, come on; this is not good. You know, since, you were there (as I was) that this language, is unacceptable to the presbytery, of a woman who is currently in good in the OPC.

      The man was defending himself and therefore used the language, reported in the report. I don’t have a problem with him defending himself. Doesn’t mean I agree with him. But it is NOT RIGHT that people are getting the impression that this language was used in the presbytery meeting, and it was acceptable by presbytery. Context matters. The report was read, does that mean someone should have stood up an object to the reading of the report because it uses the language it did. The report was reporting.

      • Jeff, thank you for your thoughtful response. I was there as an observer, being a lay member of a congregation in the presbytery. I have a deep respect and appreciation for the church and for the work that must be done at this level. That respect and appreciation extends to each of the men, individually, in our presbytery. I have known many of you for a long time, and even attended seminary with some for a time. I consider those I know to be friends (fathers and brothers, even). I count you in that number, even though I regret that we only had opportunity to speak in passing last weekend.

        You point out, fairly, that the presbytery (if we can, in any way, speak of that body collectively as having one mind) does, indeed, find this language unacceptable. I believe this was made clear in various ways throughout the weekend. The context in which these words were spoken—as accurately and factually presented by Rev. Mahaffy—is important. You are correct to say that the man was defending himself. At the point in which these things were said, he was speaking against a motion (by the ad hoc committee investigating GC) for the presbytery to erect a committee of three presbyters to contemplate bringing charges against him. It was in that context that he reasserted, without reservation, that he still describes that “member of the denomination who was not present, a member in good standing” (quoting Mahaffy), as a “ruthless wolf.” He went on to call her “a very harmful false teacher” who matches the description of “the Jezebel of Revelation.” In his own defense, he stated that he makes these judgments known to others in the church out of love for them. In his mind, he is warning the sheep of a wolf in their presence.

        To this point, I have not spoken about my observations at the presbytery meeting publicly anywhere but here in this blog post’s comments section. My purpose in doing so here was to corroborate, as a witness, the accuracy of what was said, defending against what some may view as acceptance of a false report. To be sure, these are matters of fact. The events leading up to this controversy have, to my personal benefit in sanctification, caused me to reflect much more carefully about my own personal conduct and interactions online. Therefore, the brevity of my initial responses was intentional.

        I do thank you for pointing out the context, as it is germane to the issue, and necessary for a proper understanding of what prompted the speech in which these things were said. There were interruptions from multiple men during that speech, some with serious concerns about the language being used to describe a member in good standing of an OPC congregation. But the moderator, hesitantly, allowed the speech to continue. I cannot speak for the moderator, but I believe he did this due to the context. I.e. the young minister was actively making a defense of his own words. However, I observed that there was a point in the speech at which the young minister turned from self-defense to a diatribe against others whom he perceives as promoting “feminism” from within our Reformed churches. He doubled down, claiming that he was warning of “an enemy that has entered the city,” even though there is disagreement among the men of the presbytery as to “the seriousness of what we are fighting for.” It is for these reasons, that I believe the above blog post is serving a purpose for the good of the Kingdom of God in general, and for our denomination specifically. In my humble opinion, the speech included fresh attacks that should not have been allowed to continue.

        Nevertheless, it was not my intention to paint the presbytery as a whole in a negative light. Your challenging response gives me an opportunity to offer further clarity. Please forgive me for contributing to anyone’s wrong impressions in this regard. As I stated earlier, some men did interrupt and try to put a halt to the aforementioned speech. I disagree with the moderator’s judgment call in this instance, but I also understand why he made it given the context. He was in a difficult position to make a quick decision. To your point, while the quoted language in the this blog post was repeated and reconfirmed during the meeting, it is not original to the young minister’s presbytery speech. He was giving a defense of his previously published (spoken and written) words for which, at this point in the meeting, charges against him might be contemplated by the presbytery.

        • Lane. Thank you brother for your clarifying comments. Many (see Aimee’s post on FB) have taken this out of context. While I may still disagree with the OP being posted, I very much appreciate your comments. Blessings!

          • Thanks, Jeff. I am not on Facebook so I miss out on everything on that platform, for better or for worse (mostly better)! Grace and peace to you, brother.

  4. Thank you for speaking up. We in the OPC do a commendable job in making sure candidates for the gospel ministry have a rigorous academic training and can articulate biblical and theological truths with a high level of doctrinal soundness. On the whole, doctrinal fidelity is one of our great strengths. But, in my view, one of our glaring weaknesses is that we sometimes (perhaps often?) neglect to adequately probe into the personal character and spiritual maturity (or lack thereof) of such candidates with the same degree of intense care and precision as we do their theological knowledge. But, if anything, Scripture would seem to place even more emphasis on the character qualities of aspirants to church office than it does on their doctrinal soundness and the ability to teach, as is clear from Paul’s qualification lists in the Pastoral Epistles. (Though, obviously, the doctrinal orthodoxy and aptitude for teaching of men aspiring to church office is also an important priority in Scripture as well.)

  5. Was the original Jezebel of Revelation 2 NOT a “member in good standing”? She would doubtless be recognizable to the Thyatirans from John’s description – How dare he use language like this about a member in good standing!
    Of ocurse the young minister being discussed here MAY have been wrong, but it doesn’t necessarily follow from the person he was talking about being a member in good standing.

    • Yes, the Jezebel in the church at Thyatira was apparently a member in good standing at least at the point the letter was written. However, she was identified as Jezebel by “the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (verse 18). Lacking those infallible qualifications, how do we identify those members in the church today who may be wolves or Jezebels? At least in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, no individual has the right simply to declare them such. The process involves formal accusation and a trial where the accused is given opportunity to provide a defense. If I believe someone in the church is a heretic, I have the right to call him or her such – after I have brought charges against him, after he has been convicted in a trial, and after any appeal has been denied by the highest court to which the accused carries it. Then I can announce that he is a heretic. Being a member in good standing is not a guarantee of orthodoxy. It does mean that we treat that person as a brother or sister until the church has determined otherwise. None of us can take the place of the one whose eyes are like blazing fire. He not only identified the Jezebel in Thyatira, he also executed the judgment of casting her on a bed of suffering.

  6. Thank you for speaking up on behalf of Aimee… this still seems rare, while giving someone permission to continue to speak the presented type of discrediting & slanderous attack on another is very common for those who feel threatened and is part of the reason why abuse of power becomes systemic…

    the defender’s words said about Aimee are also indicative that whatever view of women, he has, is not healthy… some in the reformed tradition have equated any women in leadership as feminism – that is a deceptive and unfair lens…

    and there is an entire spectrum of where people are on the complementarian scale… there are lots of versions, no consistency… hmmm…. what should that tell us… something is off…

    in the meantime, until we agree on what that might be… here’s a clear command and teaching of scripture over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over – that’s right at least 15 times in scripture: LOVE ONE ANOTHER! Scripture includes 59 “one another” commands in, plus uses that language another 40 plus times to show us how to relate to “one another”… https://www.mmlearn.org/hubfs/docs/OneAnotherPassages.pdf

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