Listen up Sheep: The Fold vs The Flock

by Neil Cole: I found this brilliant passage in an article by the late F.F. Bruce recalling a powerful teaching from E.H. Broadbent. The article by Bruce was addressing the things that went wrong with the Jerusalem church, one of which was legalism. So many of us look to the Jerusalem Church as the model we wish to emulate, but many things went wrong with that church. There are far more healthy examples in the NT than the mother of all churches.

I wanted to pass on to you this important lesson about sheep in a flock vs sheep in a fold:

Many years ago I (F.F.Bruce) heard E.H.Broadbent speak on the fold and the flock in John 10. He pointed out that the sheep in the fold are kept together by the surrounding walls while the sheep of a flock are kept together by the shepherd. Moreover, the number of sheep that any fold can contain is limited, while there was nothing to hinder the sheep which the good Shepherd led out of the fold having their number increased by the adherence of those ‘other sheep’ that had never belonged to the original fold. But, he went on, developing the parable, some of the sheep argued that in spite of the care and devotion of their Shepherd, they would feel safer if they had walls around them, and so they started to build some. But, said Mr. Broadbent, ‘sheep are not good builders.’ Some of the walls they built were effective enough in a way, but so restricted that they shut most of the flock out; there were other walls, on the contrary, which were comprehensive enough, but so badly constructed that they let several wolves in too, with predictable consequences. The moral is that the people of Christ need no walls to keep them together. We may learn valuable lessons from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, but Nehemiah’s wall is not a model for churches to follow.

We simply must let the Great Shepherd lead us and stop building walls. Bruce went on to apply this to the Jerusalem church as it grew more “zealous for the law”:

“The Jerusalem church, however, as time went on became increasingly concerned with ways and means of keeping the wrong type out. It was not so in the beginning, then the presence of God’s holiness among the believers was so manifest that ‘none of the rest dared join them’ Acts 5:13. There is a certain plausibility about the affirmation that ‘separation from evil is God’s principle of unity’, but it is not really so; God’s principle of unity is positive, not negative; it is the principle of unity in Christ; and separation from evil is a corollary of the principle, not the principle itself.”

Bruce concluded with this poem from William Barclay to summarize how ugly the fold can get…

“We are God’s chosen few,
All others will be damned,
There is no room in heaven for you:
We can’t have heaven crammed.”

May we not be found in such a way. Follow Jesus outside of the camp (Heb 13:13).

From: Prof. F.F. Bruce, “The Church of Jerusalem,” Christian Brethren Research Fellowship Journal 4 (April 1964): pp. 5-14

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