The implication that one has "arrived" in the church’s long-held teaching on salvation is a dangerous one, I believe. It creates the divide between the saved and the unsaved. It is the "us versus them" mentality that is so pervasive in the world. And while Jesus paints such dichotomy in some of His parables, as in the sheep and the goats, I notice that He alone is the one who will divide them.
A friend of mine likes to say, "Jesus is the measure." In other words, He’s the measuring stick or shepherd’s staff, if you will, that will separate sheep from goat. I mean, for now, we are all lost sheep trying to hear and follow the Shepherd. It is not the job of sheep to know who the real goats are. The Shepherd will do the measuring and dividing. To some in His flock, He will say, "Depart from me. I never knew you."
The church’s problem, as I see it, is that it teaches mere sheep to believe we have transformed into little shepherds. This metamorphosis they believe occurs at an altar or wherever one says "the prayer." Because the sheep have arrived, we feel it is necessary to identify all the goats of the world and to convert them.
Those goats however don’t see themselves as such. They too are wandering sheep. They just haven’t tuned into the voice of their Shepherd. Many of them don’t believe He exists, so they continue to wander aimlessly. As sheep who believe we have found our way, we tend to hold prejudice toward the wanderers, those we think are goats.
Prejudice is never a good thing. In the hands of religious zealots, prejudice has sentenced many to death. Isn’t that what we do in the church? We condemn those who are unlike us. We judge fellow sheep for their inability to hear the Shepherd’s voice or to acknowledge that He exists. We take out the measuring stick of religion and tell them, "You don’t measure up." We label them goats and tell them of their sealed fate.
I think the church is rampant with this kind of prejudice. Rooted in fear, it keeps sheep locked up in pew-shaped pens, unable to relate to those on the outside. Prejudice pits us against them—sheep versus goat—in language, in thought and in deed. It stunts our growth. It limits our understanding. It chokes out compassion. It killed our Shepherd.
The next time you feel compelled to label someone "sinner," to judge them or to cast them aside, consider your Shepherd. He calls out to all sheep, "Follow me. I am the way." Let Him worry about who the goats are and simply love.