Hello Kitchen Table Theology Family! We’re your hosts, Jen Denton, and Pastor Jeff Cranston. Today is our first episode of a new series on the Church. The Doctrine of the Church is also known as the doctrine of Ecclesiology. And over the course of this series, we will delve into seven snapshots of what the New Testament teaches us about the church. The NT says that the Church is a flock, a fellowship, a body, a bride, a family, as God’s House, and a priesthood.
[04:11] The Meaning of Ecclesiology
[07:40] The Church Is a Flock
[21:43] Closing Up
“The sheep can provide nothing for itself and can only prosper as it follows the direction of the shepherd. Its only obligation is to submit to His leading and authority. Thus, the church is directed as the flock of God to submit to his authority and that of the chief Shepherd.” - Dr. Robert Saucy
“And those of us, like me, we readily acknowledge that we serve under the one Great and Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Pastor Jeff Cranston
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The Church is a Flock
The Church is a Flock
Jen: Hello again y’all and welcome to Kitchen Table Theology. I’m your host Jen Denton, and along with Pastor Jeff Cranston, we’re discovering what the Scripture teaches regarding theological topics. Our goal is to always put the theological cookies on the bottom shelf where we can all reach them. And we try to do this in ways that are very applicable to the lives we live. Because the real power of theology is not only knowing it, but applying it.
We do this because we agree with what the German theologian Karl Barth once said: “In the Church of Jesus Christ there can and should be no non-theologians.” We want to help you become a good theologian who knows, understands, and can discuss the doctrines of the Bible. We want to help you to be strong in your faith, knowledgeable in and of the Word, and growing in your love for Jesus.
Today is our first episode in a new series on the Church. The Doctrine of the Church is also known as the doctrine of Ecclesiology. And over the course of this series, we will delve into seven snapshots of what the New Testament teaches us about the church. The NT says that the Church is a flock, a fellowship, a body, a bride, a family, as God’s House, and a priesthood.
So, Pastor Jeff, let’s get started … but before we dive in, we just threw a word out there that many of our KTT community might not be aware of: ecclesiology. Perhaps it would be a good idea to define that term and tell us what it has to do with the Church.
Jeff: Absolutely …and hello again, KTT family. Thanks for joining with Jen and I again as we begin to study a topic that I have given my life to … more than a topic, to be sure. But it’s the Church of Jesus Christ. I love His Church with all my heart and I’m excited to take the next seven podcasts and talk about His Bride.
Ecclesiology is a theological term used primarily by theologians (duh!) to refer to the church. The English word church is translated from the Greek word ekklesia, which is derived from ek, meaning “out of” and kaleo, which leads “to call,” hence, the church is “a called out group.” Ekklesia appears 114 times in the NT, three times on the gospels, and 111 in the epistles. While it has some variance of meaning, the word is used almost always to designate the NT Church, a group of called out believers in Jesus Christ. So, our theological term, “ecclesiology” comes from the Greek word for “called out ones”, ekklesia. (Probably more than you wanted to know, right?)
Jen: No, that’s interesting and I’m glad we now know that. But knowing you, is there anything else you’re dying to tell us?
Jeff: You know me too well! Yes, there is, I suppose. Something that maybe only I will find interesting, but I’ll make it short and sweet. The English word church is related to the Scottish word kirk and the German designation kirche. All three of these terms derive from the Greek word kuriakon, which is a form of the word kurios, the word for “Lord.” Therefore, it’s also true that the word church also means “belonging to the Lord.”
Jen: So, I hear in those two aspects of ecclesiology that, as the church, we are “called out” and “called to.”
Jeff: Well said. Yes, the church is called out from the world and their previous ungodly lifestyle, and they are called to – or called together – for a purpose. And that purpose is to carry out the Great Commission.
Jen: Comments … summarize …Well, let’s jump into something that might not be quite as deep but equally as important. Let’s begin looking at the metaphors the NT uses when referencing the church. I mentioned the seven we’ll be examining just moments ago, and today’s podcast will focus on the first one: the church is a flock.
Jeff: This was Jesus' favorite description of the church. In Luke’s gospel, He called it, "My little flock.” You know, I have been blessed to have visited the nation of New Zealand four different times. On one of those trips, I spent a month there while writing my Masters thesis and serving as interim pastor of a small congregation.
You can’t go anywhere in New Zealand and not see sheep. When I was there, the nation had a population of about 3.3 million people. There were over 30 million sheep! And I had the opportunity to visit a working sheep ranch. It was an amazing experience. Watching the Border Collie’s work a flock of sheep, under the whistle commands of the shepherd, is something I’ll never forget. If the sheep are all crowded into one corner of the paddock, and the shepherd wanted them going in the other direction, the dog would literally bound across the backs of the sheep until he got where he needed to be, and then he began to turn the flock. These are common sights in NZ.
Jen: Any comments here … if not, I’ll move along.
Jeff: And sheep were an incredibly common sight in first century Palestine. It’s still not an uncommon site in Israel today. And so, it’s not hard to understand why the metaphor of a flock of sheep was applied to the church.
The flock of God is one of the most practical illustrations of Christ and the church. Paul told the Ephesian church elders in Acts 20:28,
Jen: Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
Jeff: Peter used the picture of a flock when he instructed the elders to “…shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not with greed but with eagerness…” (1 Peter 5:2-3).
Jesus used the flock and the shepherd to illustrate the relationship between Himself and His followers. He said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice; and they will become one flock, with one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
Jen: Far be it from me to go against any of this, but there’s a little bit of an element where I don’t know that I love being compared to sheep! I mean, KT Theologians, we did a little KTT research on the characteristics of sheep – and I’ve got to tell you: it’s not too flattering! Just listen. Sheep have these tendencies and characteristics:
1. Timid, fearful, easily panicked
2. Dumb, stupid, gullible
3. Stampede easily, vulnerable to mob psychology
4. Little or no means of self-defense; can only run
5. Easily killed by enemies
6. Jealous, competitive for dominance
7. Easily “cast” that is, flipped over on their back,s sometimes from too much wool. Sheep are unable to right themselves and will die of starvation if not turned over by shepherd.
8. Need the most care of all livestock
So, although they appear cuddly and warm and soft (sparkles reference here? Haha) I also know they’re not exactly bringing the potato salad to the Mensa Club picnic!
Jeff: The illustration of people are sheep may not be flattering, but it’s true. The word of God consistently refers to the church as a flock of sheep who need food, protection, and direction. We need help! As we can see, sheep are very needy creatures. One theologian I read noted that, “a long list of specific items could doubtless be [offered] at this point, but it seems that they could all be summarized under provision, particularly the provision of spiritual food.”
COMMENT ON PROVISION – Comment on the key word for all seven metaphors we’ll discuss.
Flock -- Provision
Fellowship -- Community
Body -- Unity
Bride -- Intimacy
Family -- Identity
Building/House -- Indwelling
Priesthood -- Service
The shepherd PROVIDES for His sheep. Another theologian I read, Dr. Robert Saucy, summarized all of this really well. He said,
“The sheep can provide nothing for itself and can only prosper as it follows the direction of the shepherd. Its only obligation is to submit to his leading and authority. Thus, the church is directed as the flock of God to submit to his authority and that of the chief Shepherd. Because this direction is communicated through the Word and the ministry of the under-shepherds which God has placed in the church, the members are exhorted to “obey them that have the rule over [literally, lead] you, and submit yourselves” (Hebrews 13:17). As even the leaders of the church are sheep, they also are obligated to submit ultimately to the chief Shepherd.
Jen: Okay, so it’s well-established the we are sheep and the church is a flock. And in that last quote, you just mentioned something that I don’t think we should overlook. You gave the term “under-shepherds,” which are pastors, right? Because every flock has to be led and cared for by a shepherd(s).
Jeff: Yes, to talk about the church being a flock without referencing under-shepherds or the Chief Shepherd would not be doing this justice. Since the church is a flock it's cared for and led by shepherds. Now, there are three different terms that are used in the New Testament to refer to the same church leader.
1. "Poimen" in Greek means pastor or shepherd. That means the feeders are the leaders -- the feeding aspect of ministry. Where Jesus says to Peter, "Take care of My sheep" that's the word poimen, it's the word pastor. Pastor means to take care of a flock.
2. "Presbuteros" means "elder" in Greek. "Presbyterian" comes from this. Presbyterians call their leaders elders. It's a good, legitimate term. It's a Biblical term. It refers to spiritual maturity. An elder doesn't mean physically old. It means spiritual maturity. Timothy was the elder and chief pastor of the church at Ephesus. Paul said, "You are the elder and you're the pastor at Ephesus. You are to appoint other elders."
Yet later in the same book it says, "Don't let anybody look down on you because you're a young kid." How could he be an elder and yet a young kid at the same time? Because he'd been a Christian since he was a child and although he might have been 30 years old or so, he'd been a Christian for 20-some years. Whereas these guys who were older than him had only been Christians for a year. It's referring to spiritual maturity, not physical maturity.
3. "Episcopos" is the word for "overseer" or "bishop". "Episcopalian" comes from this. They call their leaders bishops There's nothing wrong with that; that's a good Biblical word. "Epi" in Greek means "over". "Scopos" means "to see" (telescope, microscope, stethoscope). Episcopos means "to oversee". Today, we might call them a manager. Bishop means a spiritual manager, supervisor, overseer. It refers to the managing aspects of church leadership.
Jen: Three words in the NT for one of our English words. That happens a lot! So, what's the difference between a pastor and an elder? An elder and a bishop? A bishop and a shepherd? A shepherd and an overseer?
Jeff: Nothing. Really – nothing. The words are used interchangeably in the New Testament. Today, we seem to be much more hung up on titles than they were in the New Testament. This is taught all through the New Testament.
Jen: How about some examples then?
Jeff: 1 Peter 5:1-2: "To the elders [presbuteros] I say, be shepherds [poimen] of God's flock," So he says an elder is a shepherd is a pastor. Then he says, "...serving as overseers [episcopos]". A bishop is an elder is a pastor.
Acts 20: "Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders [presbuteros] of the church. When they arrived he said to them, `Guard yourselves and all the flock of God which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [episcopos]. Be pastors [poimen] of the church of God." They are used interchangeably.
And those of us – like me – who fit one of these bills, we readily acknowledge that we serve under the one Great and Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jen: Summary wrap-up … any other questions or rabbit trails you want to go down.
Alright y’all, if you enjoyed this episode, please recommend this podcast to your friends and family. And do share it on social media. Also, please subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and leave a rating or a comment. They really help us get the word about KTT out there.
Please check out today’s episode notes for further information --- and don’t forget to head over to jeffcranston.com where you may freely access our podcast archives, and other resources to help your faith journey like Pastor Jeff’s sermons, his books, and his blog.
We have another Q&A coming up soon so drop us a question via email to [email protected] or watch Pastor Jeff’s IG at pastorjeffcranston where we’ll be asking for your questions.
Our next podcast on the topic of Ecclesiology is, “The Church as a Fellowship.” Thanks for joining us today and remember: the real power of theology is not just in knowing it, but applying it!