Beware!
Johann Walter, Kantor
24 April 2018
It is one thing to claim to be a prophet and another to be a true and faithful prophet. Many people claim to speak for God. Some of these people even have legitimate calls into the office of preaching in the church. A prophet is, first of all, a person who received the divine revelation and who, second, proclaims it to the community. The Old Testament prophets were preachers of whatever God told them. Often the divine revelation was specifically prefaced by the command to proclaim the Word of God (Jer 7:2). Speaking forth the Word of God is fundamental to the divine office of preaching.
 
However, that command to preach always demands that the preaching should be true and faithful to the revelation. In the New Testament, the apostles commanded that those who received their letters should faithfully believe, teach, and confess what was transmitted to them in those epistles (1Ti 4:11). The preachers were to preserve the divine truth as the Lord had given it to them in the divine Word (Jude 1:3). Nor was this interest in preservation of pure proclamation of no importance, but it was about salvation. True teaching truly saves. The apostle Paul encouraged young Timothy, his protégé, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers" (1Ti 4:16). So this is not about doctrinal obscurantism, but about the saving truth.
 
Often people pooh-pooh the need for doctrinal purity as merely the power talk of the post-Jesus Christians who were not in tune with the religion of Jesus at all, which was mostly ethical instruction. This view actually arose in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when Western thinkers determined that truth about doctrine would be impossible to determine because it was a matter of personal opinion. Instead, thinkers like Immanuel Kant concluded that we humans could only be sure about ethics. They thought that we could be profoundly uncertain about the claims that Jesus was divine, but that we could be quite certain about the value of the commands to love one another or the absolute prohibitions of the law. The modern church is still laboring under this reduction of biblical truth to a matter of ethics. At best, we are willing to accept that Jesus was a moral teacher, as though He were saying, "Here is the good life. Now live it." The modern era reduced Jesus to a moral philosopher and do-gooder.
 
The problem with this is that the Bible's authority to teach doctrine and ethics are related. A tape measure that is the wrong length on the roof of the building will still be the wrong length on the floor of the building. An uncertain measure will be uncertain about everything. That problem has raised its head in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries since there no longer remains any remnant of the ethical certainty presumed by people like Kant. Ethical ambivalence remains the watchword of the progressive churches, which are rapidly progressing into a religion that is no longer identifiably Christian. Doctrine goes first; then life and morals. While once self-confessed Christians denied another supernatural dogma every month, now they are busy denying every commandment under the sun. Progress is not all it's cracked up to be.
 
Nor is the idea of pure teaching just a Pauline mania. Jesus too believes that there is such a thing as a false teacher and that we ought to be on the lookout for them (Mt 7:15). It is self-evident that there are false teachers and false teachings and that we had better know the difference, if we are to take seriously the religion of Jesus, as taught by Jesus, rather than the religion of Jesus, as taught by Kant and his successors. Without the teaching that Christ is God of God and that His blood pays for the sin of the world, Christianity is just a religious philosophy, and perhaps not even a very satisfying one. We should beware of false teachers who want only to preach about our good life, rather than Christ's perfect life and death for us.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Jesus says that false teachers come in sheep's clothing, that they are impeccable and outwardly indistinguishable from genuine preachers. These are the two things that do the damage: They have the valid office, and in addition they give such a beautiful impression and appearance that no one can say anything except that they are true, pious preachers, interested in everyone's salvation. Such is their own precious claim, to which they can even swear, that they use nothing but the name and the Word of God. This makes such a powerful impression that the people are swept away like a flood, and no one can stop it. Who is there among the common people that can oppose these men or dare to denounce them? Who even knows how to protect himself from them, since they claim to come with the name and Word of God?
 
"Here Christ is warning us about both characteristics of these false prophets. We should not be swayed by the fact that they occupy the office of the ministry, though this is necessary and proper for a preacher. But this does not give anyone a guarantee that people have to believe him, as though he could not be a scoundrel in the ministry. It is not unusual in the world for villains and rascals to occupy every office and station in society and to abuse it. 'I concede that they may be called prophets,' Christ says, 'but beware and be sure that they are not false prophets.' Similarly, do not look only at sheep's clothing and the precious name and appearance under which they come, for here you are told that hidden underneath there might be a ravenous wolf. So beware that the sheep's clothing does not deceive you, for if they are to deceive the people, they all have to put on this lovely camouflage and appearance. Precisely that is the difference between these secret enemies and those other overt enemies, who invade us openly and whom everyone recognizes. But these enemies walk around in our midst with the same office that we have, and they make an impression by using the same Scriptures and words. Nevertheless they are coming, Christ says, 'on their own;' that is, though they do have the office, still they bring a kind of word and teaching that God has not committed to them and that He did not send them to preach, their own dreams and 'doctrines of demons' (1Ti 4:1), adorned with the name of God. Take this special warning, therefore, against the sheep's clothing. Trust no man, however fine an impression he may make, but look only at the Word. See whether he is properly using it or whether he is using it as a pretext to peddle his own stuff." 

 Martin Luther, Sermons on The Sermon on the Mount, 7.15

Matthew 7:15-29

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
 
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
 
"Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it."
 
And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. 
(ESV)
Prayer
Almighty and everlasting God, You would have all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. By Your almighty power and unsearchable wisdom break and hinder all the counsels of those who hate Your Word and who, by corrupt teaching, would destroy it. Enlighten them with the knowledge of Your glory that they may know the riches of Your heavenly grace and, in peace and righteousness, serve You, the only true God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
 
For Robert Bennett, the Executive Director of the Luther Academy, that the Lord would watch over him and guard him as he serves the mission of Christ
 
For placement services at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis and Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, that the God the Holy Spirit would be with and support students who are being placed and their families so that they might have the peace that surpasses human understanding
 
For the Lutheran Church of Nicaragua, that God the Lord of the Church would bless the mission work being done in Nicaragua
 
For Michael Koutsodontis, that His Lord Jesus would keep him in the true faith in the midst of medical challenges
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias,  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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