Over the course of history, throughout the vast ages and pages of literature, the wolf has ravaged its way through the landscape of human events. Wreaking havoc all the way, through various iterations this apex predator has appeared in many fables and faerie-tales, including Little Red Riding Hood, the Three Little Pigs, Peter and the Wolf, and the Wolf and the Lamb, to name just a few.
Quite a fitting metaphor of evil and destruction, these efficient denizens of despair have adapted quite well. Wolves are incredibly designed; they are stealthy, corporately conniving, and deathly efficient. Moving in silence, forty-two razor-like teeth perfectly placed in those powerful jaws can make pretty quick work of most prey. Singularly, or as a pack, their goal is the same: to seek, bring down, execute, and devour any target, and at that, they are incredibly skilled. When the prey they seek is soft pink flesh with minimal defense mechanisms, they are seemingly invincible.
Sadly, to the Church’s great lament these denizens have not been relegated to the pages of fiction: fables and faerie tales. Rather, they have made their way well beyond the city gates and into the very real environs of the Church. It is no wonder that scripture consistently alludes to this metaphor throughout its pages. Christ himself warns of their presence within the Church…and Paul affirms their agenda more than once. Yet, we seem sorely unwilling to acknowledge their presence.
Oddly, it is Disney who poses the question, “Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf?” The response should likely be, “anybody who desires to go on living.” Now, in the context of the church, we should not be living in fear, but we as sheep should be well aware of our adversaries. Fear comes when we are unaware, unknowing, or unprepared for our enemy.
In Matthew 10:16 Christ tells His disciples, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.” It is certainly an unusual combination, the docility of sheep, peaceful and non-violent. They are to be sent into the fields of wolves who seek to devour them. Yet, these sheep are to be both wise and innocent in order to have an optimized witness. Not only are we sent into their midst, but wolves have infiltrated our strongholds as well.
Matthew 7 communicates that wolves are indeed quite prolific; we are surrounded by them. So, what does it mean to be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves? First of all, knowing that they are there. And then identifying who they are. And how they operate. We need to be smart. All the while in gentle witness of our cause, our mission in Christ.
As sheep in the flock, we do well to be aware of their presence, and tactics if we are to survive and succeed. As shepherds of the flock, we must protect our flocks, if we are going to continue to have flocks to shepherd.
In any case, this is our lot – we are surrounded by wolves. Though we may have difficulty admitting it, they are teaching in schools, universities, and seminaries. Willingly they sign statements of faith that by any measure do not represent their held beliefs. They are writing books. They are blogging. They are speaking at conferences. They are on television throughout the week. They are serving on church boards, they are leading entire denominations, and sadly they are even filling pulpits on Sunday morning. Now, I am not saying they are everywhere, but I will suggest that there are more around us than we are willing to admit.
We need to be shrewd, innocent and discerning, or they will eat us alive.