Perhaps you’ve heard these statements: “Deeds, not creeds.” “No creed but Christ, no book but the Bible.” Listen to these words from an early 20th century Christian pastor: “There is no difference between a good Jew and a good Christian, a good [Roman] Catholic and a good Protestant. The only heresy is an ungodly life…. Men cannot fight over the Golden Rule.”
People take sides in politics. People get hot over political debate. Keeping cool in a political debate is a sign of indifference. If people cannot stand political indifference, then why do people think it is acceptable to be indifferent concerning their religious beliefs? If this is so, then why not merge all churches in every community into one large union congregation?
Indifference in what your church believes, teaches, and confesses is repugnant to God’s Word. The Scriptures are clear concerning how we deal with false teachers and false teaching. I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. The first thing necessary in watching for divisions and obstacles is to know what Scripture teaches. If you’re lost concerning what Scripture teaches, you’ll soon be taken captive by every wind of doctrine.
You will be taken captive, for Jesus says false prophets come to you in sheep’s clothing. They come to you showing just how pious, how strict, how zealous, and even how generous they are. Jesus gives some clues in discovering false prophets in Mark chapter twelve: Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces, and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation. This doesn’t mean that a pastor who prays for a long time or wears fancy vestments is automatically a false prophet. Watch their life and teaching carefully. Is he in it for the glory and money? Or is he in it to preach Christ and Him crucified without regard to earthly gain?
Twice Jesus says you will recognize them. When a prophet, one who speaks before others, opens his mouth, he must teach. A prophet cannot help but proclaim the Word that is given Him to proclaim. Included in proclamation is teaching. Jesus here has Pharisees and Sadducees in mind when He speaks these words in the Sermon on the Mount. Pharisees and Sadducees do not have the will of the heavenly Father in mind when they speak.
Jesus is constantly showing them, and others, that they are all wet. He tells them in John chapter five: You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.… For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?
The key to watching for false prophets and recognizing their fruits is to remain in God’s Word. Laying down your Bible and letting your itching ears be scratched by smooth talk is tantamount to surrender. “But, Pastor”, you may say to yourself, “At least he said ‘God’ and ‘Lord’ in his sermon. He can’t be all that bad.” Christ says, Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.
What is His will? His will is for you to be saved from the burning lake of fire that is never quenched. You are saved from everlasting death in believing Jesus Christ has done everything necessary for your salvation. When a preacher says you need to give Jesus something in exchange for salvation, then you know you’re hearing a false prophet. When a preacher points too much to what you need to do and not enough to what Jesus has done for you, then you know you’re hearing a false prophet. It doesn’t matter how large the congregation, how popular the television or radio show, or how many best-selling books the preacher has written. If he isn’t preaching Jesus Christ crucified for your sins and raised for your justification, then you’re hearing a false prophet dressed in sheep’s clothing.
How do you test what you hear in this house to see whether it jibes with Holy Scripture? Test it with the touchstone of the Small Catechism. Luther’s Small Catechism has been called “the layman’s Bible”, and rightly so. It is a compendium, a brief explanation of the basic teachings of Holy Scripture. The Small Catechism is not a second source of revelation, but a summary of what Scripture teaches concerning Jesus Christ and His work of salvation on your behalf. Hold up every word preached from this pulpit to the Catechism, especially to Holy Scripture, and see if my words agree with those words.
The little plaque on this pulpit says, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” That’s all you need for eternal life: Jesus’ blood and righteousness that bespeaks you righteous, holy, innocent, and uncondemned. The Jesus you desire comes straight up, no chaser, with no ice water. The Jesus you desire isn’t mixed with poison in order that you get a bit of the credit. The Jesus you desire, the Jesus you hear in this house, is a full-bodied, full-blooded, pure and holy Jesus Who loves sinners all the way through His tomb and out again as free people for whom He died. Anything less than that Jesus deserves these words: I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.
In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.