In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit
“You find today many people who can let the Gospel be preached, provided that the preacher doesn’t cry out against wolves and preach against prelates.” Martin Luther wrote those words almost five hundred years ago. They still apply today. Faithful watchmen on the walls of Zion are hated by many mollycoddled Christians because they chastise false prophets.
You hear well-meaning Christians bad mouth pastors who speak publicly against other so-called “Gospel preachers” who do not preach the Gospel, but instead preach self-righteousness, self-justification, or even self-improvement. You perhaps might hear: “Pastor, at least that person talks about God. At least that preacher is exciting. Look at how many people attend his church. He’s doing all the right things. You can’t even get a church full. You’re wrong. He’s right. Admit it.”
There is nothing more damaging to a soul than not to warn against false prophets. This is why pastors worth their salt speak out against false doctrine, even when it is not popular. Pastors do so not to insult the person, but to warn his flock against being hurt by the poison of false, perverted teaching.
It is important the you learn to distinguish true and false prophets. Oftentimes true prophets are decried as false prophets. When [King] Ahab saw [the prophet] Elijah, Ahab said to him, “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” Even the Light of the World, our Lord Jesus Christ, was declared by the high priests as a messenger of the devil. It is a grave sin to declare a messenger of God as a messenger of Satan, or a heretic, or even a traitor.
Jesus gives you a tidy list of what to look for when distinguishing between true and false prophets. False prophets are not sent from God. They come by themselves. False prophets also do not preach the Word of the Lord. They pervert it and falsify the Word, twisting it into something that scratches itching ears. False prophets are wont to say what they preach is from the Lord. They are pious, perhaps to a fault. People might wish to call them “spiritual” people. False prophets also boast they are Spirit-led. Instead of letting their preaching do the talking, they say what they say comes from the Spirit.
Pay attention to their fruit. You will know if what they teach is true or false by their fruit. Don’t be deceived by how they dress, how they wear their hair, what music they like, or even their favorite beverages. False prophets bear thorns and thistles instead of good fruit.
False prophets water down the Law. They soft pedal sin, especially original sin. They talk about sin as if it was a fly buzzing around your face on a hot summer’s day. It’s nothing. Just wave it off and you’ll be alright. False prophets rob Jesus Christ of His glory and say you can choose whether or not you wish to believe in Christ. Sure, they will preach Christ crucified, but only as an option that you can choose to take or to leave. Jesus did so much, now you need to cast your ballot and make it yours.
False prophets confuse Law and Gospel. They do not make faith easy, but difficult. Yes, they preach faith, but not faith alone. It’s faith and something else. Perhaps they preach faith and works. They direct your conscience to what you are doing and how you are living to see whether or not you really, truly believe Jesus is your Savior. After all, living by faith alone is cheap. It’s easy, foolproof, and takes you out of the equation…just the way our Lord wants it.
False prophets waste away your comfort. You can sing “I Lay My Sins on Jesus”, but false prophets will question whether or not you laid all your sins on Him. You can sing “The kingdom ours remaineth”, but false prophets will question whether or not you are in the kingdom. What is more, false prophets downplay the Means of Grace. They blaspheme Holy Absolution and say it’s not necessary. They say Holy Communion only delivers the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, so it’s not necessary to receive the Supper all that often. They won’t preach Baptism because there’s too much superstition around the water, the candles, the sign of the cross, and the white garment.
Now you see why Jesus had probable cause to warn you against false prophets. They are ravenous wolves who tear sheep to pieces. The false doctrine they preach stings consciences like thorns and thistles. They draw forth all sorts of error, false conceit, desolation, and despair. These are the fruits of false doctrine. The cross proclaimed by false prophets is a question mark. You will never really know whether or not you are saved when you heed false prophets. You will never believe you have a gracious God and the forgiveness of sins.
False prophets also scatter the sheep. They separate Christianity, making one sect after another. I think of the many Christian congregations in my home town that began either by false doctrine or by false prophets. Some did the right thing and ran off the false prophet and his followers. Others separated from the false prophet and went on their own with a new congregation. These disturbances give serious offense to the weak. No wonder being a Christian is such a hard sell in today’s world. So many churches give off the stench of smug self-righteousness that either draws people into the pious lie or away from the Christian faith forever.
The Lutheran Church is not smug when it proclaims the true faith drawn from the Holy Scriptures and confessed in her Symbolic Books. We preach Christ crucified. We preach salvation is achieved by Jesus alone. This salvation is yours by God’s grace, by faith alone in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of the world. We do not preach faith and something. We do not treat Jesus’ victory over death and hell as an assumption that everyone knows. We do not preach a higher evolution of sanctity that permits everything and tolerates nothing. We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
The Lord will bring to an end false prophets and false doctrine when He casts them into the burning lake of fire on Judgment Day. Until then, we remain vigilant against a gospel that is not a gospel. We examine the fruits of our preachers to see whether or not they preach Christ crucified with no mixture of man’s folly. We teach the faith using Luther’s Small Catechism. We eat the Body and drink the Blood of Christ. We rejoice in our Baptism. We despise the cancer of false prophets and false doctrine and cling to the Scriptures as our great heritage. In them is life and salvation. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit