Does conversion mean the end of all active, creative and original thought processes? Were Christians meant to have everything spoon-fed, spelled out and also to be relieved of making major personal decisions on their own? Does Christianity involve a nonthinking type of existence where the individual accepts everything at face value without substantiation or proof?
Not too long ago, one of our readers had this to say after taking exception to a recent Good News article: "Now I feel I must take each article apart looking for possible errors rather than just believing the whole magazine like I used to. And it was such a relief when The Good News used to come, because here was a magazine that I could just sit down and relax and read without playing the game of true or false with." The reader raises a good point. Shouldn't a converted Christian be able to "sit down and relax" without giving what he or she reads or hears a second thought? Isn't that part of being a good, loyal, sheep-like follower?
The Nature of the Flock
There's no question about the fact that the Bible often refers to God's people as sheep, the flock, or the little flock. But what is this meant to signify? In the tenth chapter of the book of John, Jesus Christ refers to the flock as follows: "A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.... I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father..." (verses 5,14-15, RSV). Fine, but couldn't any self-respecting sheep do this? The differences between the real shepherd and would-be impostors should be more than obvious. The problem, though, is that distinctions between the two are often very subtle and unobtrusive. Considering the fact that even Satan the devil can pawn himself off as an "angel of light" (II Cor. 11:14), this little bit of perceptive ability turns out to be no mean feat. It sounds as if Christ were describing a very discerning group of sheep. Notice another statement Christ made about His sheep in Matthew 10:16: "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves." Christ's words are pretty plain. He doesn't want a flock of dumb sheep representing Him! He wants some pretty sharp individuals. Now maybe you say, "Sure — that's a command for the ministry." If you want to take it that way, fine. It doesn't really change anything, because the people — or the flock — are supposed to emulate the best qualities they find in their ministers (I Cor. 11:1; Heb. 13:7).
A Thinking Flock
God didn't intend that people outside the Church be the only ones who actively use their heads. The New Testament is full of enjoinders to Christians to diligently engage their mental gears, especially regarding spiritual matters. Paul's command to "prove all things" (I Thes. 5:21) was certainly not meant to be suspended upon a person's baptism. The apostle John warned the "sheep" of his day to "try [test, discern] the spirits" (I John 4:1). Again, this can't be done by gullibly swallowing every religious morsel that is thrown your way. The art of making sound decisions was and still is every Christian's responsibility. In I Corinthians 6:1-3 (RSV), the apostle Paul wrote: "When one of you has a grievance against a brother, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, matters pertaining to this life!"
An Educated Flock
Education and learning should be an ongoing, active facet of every Christian's life. Some of the last words the apostle Peter wrote included the exhortation to "grow in grace and knowledge" (II Pet. 3:18). Paul had this to say in writing to the Colossians: "... We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, to lead a life worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God". (Col. 1:9-10, RSV).
"For thirty years, on the air and in the Plain Truth, I have been saying: 'Don't believe me — believe your Bible — believe God!' Always I say — and so does Garner. Ted Armstrong — 'Check up!' Listen without prejudice, with an open mind, then check up — go to your Bible, and believe what you read there." Herbert W. Armstrong, Plain Truth, September 1963 "Again I say, 'Don't believe us; believe what you read in your Bible.' Don't believe us -just because we say so. But believe us if and when you find we speak according to the very Word of God, and then only believe us as we speak according to that Word!" Garner Ted Armstrong, Plain Truth, February 1965 "I think our readers know by now that we always say: 'Don't believe what we say because you believe in us.' We say, 'Listen with an open mind, without prejudice, then check up in your own Bible — prove whether it is true and believe what you find proved!'" Herbert W. Armstrong, Plain Truth, May 1966
This type of spiritual and mental growth is one of the primary factors that separates "the men from the boys," so to speak. As Paul wrote in the book of Hebrews: "For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, "ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For everyone that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Heb. 5:12-14).
A Stable Flock
A Christian cannot hope to achieve this level of spiritual maturity unless he is willing to think about, evaluate and assess the information that he is constantly confronted with. And unless or until he reaches this point, he may discover that he is resting his beliefs on very shaky spiritual ground. For example, he may easily find himself being "tossed to and fro... with every wind of doctrine" (Eph. 4:14). He could end up like the person Christ' described in Matthew 7:26 who built his house on a foundation of sand. Or he may be typified by the seed that was sown on rocky ground. In this case the newly germinated plants that quickly sprouted looked good on the surface, but their staying power was limited (Matt. 13). The reason, as Christ explained, was that this class of converts "had no root in themselves" (verse 21). Or a person could end up like some in the early Corinthian church who were lining up behind their favorite hero. Some were of Paul, others of Apollos. Clearly, most, if not all of them, were failing to stand on their own two spiritual feet. (I Cor. 3:2-4). The blatting, brainless "group-think" approach just can't hack it when the chips are down and trials come. And increased trials, pressures and difficulties are prophesied to come. As the apostle Paul said: "But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived" (II Tim. 3:13). He continues in Acts 20:29: "For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock." Again, would-be shepherds were posing as leaders of the flock. Paul's advice to said flock: "... Continue to hold to the things that you have learned and of which you are convinced, knowing from whom you learned them" (II Tim. 3:14, The Amplified Bible). Don't be a victim of the sheep instinct. Prove your own faith now (II Cor. 13:5), that you may be able to stand with Jesus Christ when He returns to this earth.
RECOMMENDED READING The following volumes listed contain excellent material on how the sheep instinct works. The first three deal with some rather unsavory episodes of the past (basically from a negative standpoint). The last book listed is an example of one way various aspects of the sheep instinct can be overcome. Most or all are available at local bookstores and/or libraries. • Lederer, William J. A Nation of Sheep. W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 1961. • Speer, Albert. Inside the Third Reich. The MacMillan Co., 1970. • Woodham-Smith, Cecil. The Charge of the Light Brigade. New American Library, 1953. • Flesch, Rudolf. The Art of Clear Thinking. Harper, 1951.