Like Shepherd and Sheep to Slaughter

Theodore Roosevelt was running for governor of New York. He had gained renowned as the leader of the Rough Riders.  To energize his flagging campaign, he took along on his stump speeches veterans of that famous charge up San Juan Hill. At one of the stops a Rough Riders gave this as his endorsement of Roosevelt for governor:  “’….he led us up San Juan Hill like sheep to the slaughter and so he will lead you’” (The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, 720).

As an aside, it’s amazing how in the 19th century biblical imagery such as “sheep to the slaughter” could still be in the vocabulary of the common, uneducated man, but my point in quoting this is that as sheep to slaughter is how a shepherd is to lead his flock.  To death everyday must the old Adam be led. Drown him in the font; bury him with Christ; strike, strike, and strike him again with the Law till he dies. Why? Because only the dead can be raised. Only the buried come out of graves. Only from the drowned in Baptism does the new man emerge and arise with Christ.

Here’s the kicker. You’re old Adam doesn’t want to hear the Law. It will hear a doable Law just fine; in fact it thrives on a doable Law, but the law that kills not maims, that buries not kicks sand in the face, that leaves no hope not gets you to try harder, that sort of the law the sinful flesh wants no part of.  And guess what? The old Adam of the shepherd no more wants to lead his sheep there than they want to go there.  We have at work here the most deadly, damning even, conspiracy. One where our weaknesses, our sinfulness compliment each other.

I’ve come to this conclusion after reading several Bible “studies” one published by Lutheran Hour Ministries, one by Lutheran Witness, and one by the Ft. Wayne Seminary published in For the Life of the World.  They all follow the same pattern. The reader is invited to read a section of Scripture and then author of the study then asks an imbecilic question. The questions/answers are in this vein: Read John 3:16. Why did God send His only Son?  Read Genesis 1: 1-4. By what means did God create light?  This is not only the vein of these questions; these questions are vain, vacuous, vapor, breath on a window pane.

I used Lutheran Hour Ministries’ series on Mormons because I wanted to see what the organization that has no official stand on praying with pagans but fired the honorable man who did was doing now. The video is good, but the study material is laughable. I dutifully followed the guide asking my Bible class the questions. They stared at me like sheep. They were baaa-ffled at why I was asking them such obvious, inane, questions.

Sorry for that, but it is laughable if it were so dangerous. These simplified Bible studies that go no deeper than the obvious flow from my old Adam to yours. I don’t have to do any study let alone any thinking, and you don’t either. I’m not even sure this is milk versus meat Christianity that Hebrews warns of.  This is more the laziness that Proverbs warns about.

I am well aware that Luther wrote the House and Church Postils as well as the Catechisms because he was appalled at how little the clergy knew.  It seems we are bent on doing the opposite.  For at least 15 years, and I think longer, we have adapted what amounts to the “see and say” method of Bible “study” to dumb down the clergy in the name of making it more “relevant” to the laity.  What we have succeeded in doing is to make the Bible irrelevant to them.  When the depth, the sophistication, the argumentation of a passage is not mined, it teaches the laity to go to psychology, sociology, and/or the internet to address what ails them.

What I see is a trend not unlike that found in the hymnody of the early Presbyterian churches. They would only set plain Scripture to chant tones usually the Psalms. They wouldn’t add one syllable. This was in contrast to the historic church which added the Gloria Patri to the Psalms to show that the hymns of the Old Testament Church belonged now to the New.

In our dumb downed Bible “study” we’re not getting beyond the bare words.  Yes, the river of Scripture is shallow enough for a baby to play safely in, but it is also deep enough to drown an elephant.  If you only play around in the shallows, you produce shallow pastors and Christians.

Still the sheep will be led to slaughter but to a slaughtering house not of the Lord.

About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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