There are several interesting passages spoken by Jesus about his coming in the end times to separate from sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:33) or to separate from the wheat from the tares (Matt. 13:30). Most agree that these are eschatological (end times) images of those who are children of God being separated from those who are not children of God – or, believers being separated from non-believers.
Today, though, it seems that followers of Jesus Christ are often more interested in separating the sheep from other sheep. Of course, this desire to separate the “true” sheep from other sheep, didn’t start recently. If we look back at the early Christian writings, we will see that Christians were separating themselves from other Christians.
But, then again, we can look all the way back to the New Testament, and we see over and over again that believers were practicing sheep separation:
For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:12-13 ESV)
I [Paul] appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12 ESV)
I [John] have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10 ESV)
Each of these negative examples were corrected by Scripture. And, these negative examples are balanced by many positive encouragements to walk in unity, to fellowship with one another, to build one another up instead of attempting to destroy one another.
However, in spite of the many warnings and exhortations from Scripture, we continue to think that it is our duty to separate ourselves from other “sheep” who are not like us in some ways – and, of course, we get to choose which things are important and which things are not important. We pick which “doctrines” are necessary, which “doctrines” are important, and which “doctrines” are not as important, thereby separating ourselves from brothers and sisters in Christ.
Of course, if we were to allow ourselves to hang around with other Christians who are different than us, then it would mean that we would have to deal with them in love, peace, patience, humility, gentleness, kindness, perseverance… these sound familiar. I suppose that living in the unity that Scripture describes would require that we actually walk in the Spirit and not simply walk with those who are like us.
But, I wonder though… what would happen if we actually stopped trying to separate sheep from sheep? What would happen if we actually tried to live with other sheep – even those sheep who are different from us? I wonder what would happen…
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23 ESV)