Regarding Responsible Reformation
by Al Maxey -------
Issue #57 ------- July 25, 2003
The dissenter is every human being at those
moments of his life when he resigns momen-
tarily from the herd and thinks for himself.

--- Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982)

One Flock, Many Folds
Reflections on John 10:16

"Accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God" (Romans 15:7). Historically, this has proved to be easier said than done by the people of God. There is too frequently a tragic tendency to view ourselves as superior to others, more favored by God, and, as a result, we isolate ourselves from those we deem unworthy of our association and fellowship. Thus, we preach family, but promote factions; we declare spirituality, but display sectarianism. This was particularly seen in the first century as Jewish disciples struggled with the notion of incorporating Gentile disciples into the flock of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, the Good Shepherd spent some time seeking to convey this concept of universal acceptance to a band of disciples content with the restrictive confines of their own little fold or pen.

On one occasion, James and John, the "sons of thunder" (Mark 3:17), desired to call down fire from heaven to incinerate an entire village of Samaritans. Jesus rebuked them for failing to perceive the kind of spirit they were to possess and display toward others (Luke 9:54-55). On another occasion, John came to Jesus and reported that there was someone doing good in His name. "And we tried to hinder him, because he was not one of us" (Mark 9:38; cf. Luke 9:49). Just because this particular person was not in John's own little group of disciples, he viewed him as the opposition; someone whose activities needed to be hindered or halted. Again, Jesus had to rebuke John's spirit of rejection and renouncement. He had rebuffed one of the Lord's own sheep who was guilty of nothing other than being in a different fold. It is possible for two sheep to be part of the one flock without being in the same fold. This is a perception as much needed by us today as it was by John almost 2000 years ago!

Although the Lord Jesus has sheep all over this planet, situated in many different folds or pens, there is nevertheless only one flock (the church universal), just as there is only one Shepherd (Jesus Christ). This is a truth Jesus sought to convey to His disciples in the following statement:

"I have other sheep that are not of this fold;
I must bring them also. They too will listen
to My voice, and they shall be one flock
with one shepherd."
--- John 10:16

If a group of sheep truly has Jesus as their Good Shepherd, then they are within the one flock whether other sheep acknowledge that fact or not. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26, 28). Human "sheep" sometimes want to build separate holding pens (folds) based on such "weighty matters" as color of skin, number of cups in a tray, Sunday Schools, music, versions of the Bible, use of funds, and an ever-increasing list of thousands of other such matters. They will then build high fences around their little fold, declaring their fold to be, exclusively on the planet, the one flock, and will condemn all other sheep in all other pens as being wolves. It is this godless spirit that our Lord has sought to eradicate from His flock throughout history.

It is hard for mankind to accept the concept of one flock with many folds. This would not be a problem, however, if each little fold didn't perceive itself, and proclaim itself, as THE one true flock in its entirety upon the face of the earth. It is this that constitutes the problem. When we finally come to realize that Jesus has "other sheep that are not of this fold" (our own little group), and that we are nevertheless all one flock under one Shepherd, we will have taken a giant leap toward the realization of the unity of the Spirit and the oneness of the Body for which He prayed and for which He died. Although Jesus initially intended His teaching in John 10:16 to address the Jewish-Gentile rift, nevertheless the principle is applicable to all times and situations that challenge our ultimate unity.

The Expositor's Bible Commentary states, "The sheepfold or pen is the artificial means by which unity is established; the flock is determined by the nature of the animals" (vol. 9, p. 110). Those who think the particular parameters of a fold are the central distinguishing characteristics of the flock are sadly mistaken. The one flock is simply made up of sheep, as opposed to various other animals; sheep who belong to the one Shepherd. "I know My sheep and My sheep know Me" (John 10:14). If you and I know the Shepherd, and are known by the Shepherd, we are part of the one flock .... regardless of what fold we may find ourselves housed within. UNITY is not in the sheepfold --- it is in the Shepherd!

"The unity of all Christians is pictured by the image of one flock composed of many folds (John 10:16)" (Holman Bible Dictionary, p. 500). "He has unity in view for His sheep, but not such as is to be secured by the erection round His flock of such outwardly-enclosing, or constraining, 'walls of partition.' The union whereof He speaks is to be the union of a flock, which is kept together by its common subjection to its 'one Shepherd'" (Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 602). "All believers in Christ have ever been 'one flock' under 'one shepherd' .... all being brethren by faith under one Master, one spiritual body. This is the essential unity of the church. All who have faith, all who are justified and pardoned, are in this unity" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel, p. 741). "Men endeavour to base oneness of action upon community of association or of interest, etc. But in the Christian scheme the basis of the new fellowship and brotherhood is Divine. The one Shepherd alone can account for the one flock. His Divine nature, His priceless redemption, His spiritual authority, these lie at the foundation of the Church's unity, and for such an edifice no narrower foundation could suffice" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17).

"The unity Christ desires is not a unity of form, but of spirit; not a matter of mechanism, but of vitality. This has been more misunderstood than almost any part of Christianity" (ibid). Part of the problem here, and one reason there has been some confusion for some time, can be laid at the feet of a few inexcusable renderings of John 10:16 in several key translations. The King James Version, for example, has: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this FOLD: them also I must bring, and they shall be one FOLD, and one shepherd." This translation ignores the fact that there are two completely different Greek words being used here in this verse.

  1. Aule --- This is the first word under consideration used in John 10:16. It signifies a fold or pen for sheep, which "was usually surrounded by a stone wall, preferably near a well, and often protected by a tower" (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words). It literally had reference to an "enclosed area" like a courtyard (Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 178).

  2. Poimne --- This is the second word under consideration used in John 10:16. It denotes an entire "flock" of sheep. A shepherd with a large flock, for example, may have portions of that flock kept in various folds throughout a large geographical area, yet these various "folds" of sheep still collectively constituted just one "flock."

The teaching of this passage has been gravely confused by such renderings as that found in the KJV where both words are rendered "fold." Indeed, some misguided persons have even appealed to this passage (using the KJV rendering) to try and formulate various false doctrines about the validity and efficacy of non-Christian religions. Many scholars over the years have pointed out the error of the KJV on this verse. For example, W.E. Vine, in his classic Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, referred to this rendering as "erroneous." The Pulpit Commentary states, "The translators of the Authorized Version went out of their way to render it 'one fold,' for which there is no justification" (vol. 17). Bemoaning this egregious error, Dr. James Hastings declared, "There is in the original a marked distinction. Two words, absolutely unconnected with each other, are employed" (Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 1, p. 602). "The second word 'fold' here should really be 'flock.' You see, Judaism was a fold, a circumference without a center, but Christianity is a flock, where we have a center without a circumference. We have no wall about us, but we are gathered about Him, our Good Shepherd" (Dr. H.A. Ironside, Addresses On The Gospel Of John, p. 424).

When our focus is upon Christ Jesus, the walls of isolation and exclusion are broken down. Thus, by looking to Him we can become one in Him. When our focus shifts to one another, however, and to our many differing perceptions, practices and preferences, the inevitable result will be separation of sheep into feuding folds. Thus, the beauty of "one flock" is replaced by the shame of countless "folds" castigating one another with harsh pejoratives (such as: "wolf in sheep's clothing"), each fold claiming to be, exclusively, the "one true flock" on the face of the earth. This is an abomination, and it is past time for such wickedness to cease!

This teaching will immediately cause some to cry out, "Al Maxey is just trying to justify the practice of denominationalism; he wants to welcome anybody and everybody into the one flock no matter what they believe or teach." No, that is not what I am trying to do. I oppose the denominational mindset with all of my being, just as I do the sectarian and factional mindsets. I oppose anything that separates the sheep in the one flock into warring folds. I also have no desire, and no right, to proclaim "anybody and everybody is welcome" into the one flock of Jesus Christ regardless of their beliefs or actions. The Lord has made it very clear in His Word who will be welcomed into the flock and who will not. HE is "the door of the sheep" (John 10:7), not Al Maxey. Jesus has declared, "If anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved ... and find pasture" (John 10:9). If one's life and teaching is in opposition to revealed Truth, if one is outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ, then one is not within the one flock. On the other hand, if one's life and teaching is in harmony with revealed Truth, and they are genuinely in Christ, then they are a part of the one universal flock .... regardless of racial, geographical, cultural, or traditional folds.

I work and worship within a particular "fold," but I am a member of the one "flock." I recognize all other SHEEP as my brethren. No, I don't recognize wolves as my brethren. I don't recognize goats. I don't recognize swine. I don't recognize serpents. But, if you are a SHEEP, and if you know the Good Shepherd and He knows you, then we are in the very same FLOCK .... even though we may be in different FOLDS. Denominationalism is FOLDism, and I don't preach a fold .... I preach a flock. Even more specifically, I preach One Shepherd of One Flock!! When we focus on leading people to JESUS, the "Door" into the flock, we can't go wrong. Yes, our Shepherd has His sheep in many folds .... but there is only ONE flock. If you are in Him, you are in it.

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Texas:

I consider Evolution and Theistic Evolution to be highly RACIST. The science so-called today implies this. Man is just a naked ape, they say. Shave that ape and make him a little more upright and you have the black man. Then, with the discovery of Lucy and others in Africa, you see the implication. The days of Genesis 1 are literal days because they say they are and because God is NO respecter of persons. I do not appreciate any brother, nor do I have respect for any brother, who would bow down to the racist evolutionist. They are wrong and so are the brethren who follow them rather than God's holy word. Do you get where I am coming from? If you believe in an old earth, then you are a Theistic Evolutionist and a racist. They may not know it, but they are. Guilt by association, racist by implication. Do you believe in an old earth and in any of this racist teaching that degrades man and God to a thing of our imaginations? I hope and pray that you will reconsider your racist implications which are implied in an old earth evolutionary teaching. There is so much evidence for a young earth that anyone who believes different is stupid or an atheist or a racist. When I point this out to the young black people in Africa, they drop any belief the evolutionist teachers in the public schools have taught them. I have no respect for any such person who would think such of my dear black brethren. I have been responsible for starting sound churches in Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia and Angola. I have done a lot of work in Africa. Please reconsider your position. Guilt by association and racist by implication. Who wants that on their gravestone?

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