Without Doctrine, The Church Is Powerless Against Savage Wolves

Text: Acts 20:27-38

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

You may have heard it said before, “Doctrine divides, but ministry unites!”  Or you may have heard it spoken, “We should avoid doctrine because it can easily cause divisions among Christians and God desires Christians to be united!”  Or there is this saying, “Of course doctrine is important, but God cares far more for our deeds than our creeds.” 

Now, what is common among all of these sayings is this: the church should avoid doctrine or at least hush it at all costs.  And if doctrine is diminished, then and only then can the church be ready to let the good times roll.

Dear friends, while eliminating doctrine or deemphasizing it may seem like a good plan, this plan becomes unraveled when the wolves come to attack the church.  Yes, it may sound like a good idea for a church to get rid of doctrine for the sake of helping everyone get along; however, the truth of the matter is this, stripping doctrine out of the church leaves the church powerless and defenseless in the face of savage wolves.

But who are these wolves exactly; who do they represent?  Are these wolves dangerous people who physically attack Christianity – wolves like the first-century emperor named, Nero, who seized Christians and burned them alive for the sake of cruelty? 

Or maybe these wolves are the old twentieth-century Communist Party in the Soviet Union who suppressed and persecuted Christians, while encouraging atheism?

And then there is Kim Jong-Un of North Korea who sends Christians to prison camps and the death penalty.  Is he a wolf?

On the other hand, maybe these wolves are not violent men, but possibly these wolves are more like the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry who has recently fined Christian bakers hundreds of thousands of dollars for not baking same-sex wedding cakes.  Maybe these wolves are like the ACLU Group who is helping sue a florist for not making an arrangement for a same-sex wedding.    

Now, considering all of these people and examples, are these the wolves that threaten Christianity?  The surprising answer is no. 

Dear friends, these people, and groups are not the wolves that are being talked about in today’s Gospel reading and the reading from the book of Acts.  You see, in the grand scheme of things, the people and situations that I just mentioned are not that dangerous.  Now, do not get me wrong when I say that they are not dangerous.  I do not mean to diminish the terrible persecution that has existed and continues towards Christians. That is to say; there are indeed regimes, entities, and persons that can kill you and take your money, but as we know, they cannot take your souls.

You see the point is this, people who physically attack and persecute the church are bad enough; however, they are easily recognizable by even the simplest of Christians. Just a simple examination of Emperor Nero or Kim Jong-Un, one will be able to recognize them for what they are – enemies and persecutors of Christianity.  However, these are not the wolves that are mentioned in our reading from today, for the wolves that are mentioned are those who twist, distort, and pervert Christian doctrine.  In other words, the wolves that we are concerned with are false teachers – false pastors who look friendly, look pious, and look faithful, but are destroying souls.  And what makes these wolves so dangerous is not that they destroy bodies or drain wallets, but that they destroy souls and plunge people into the abyss of hell. 

“But how can these wolves be so dangerous?” you may ask.  There are two reasons.    

First, they come in sheep’s clothing.  They come disguised as messengers of light with pious talk, veiled with religious gestures, and covered with reverent looking clothing.

Second, they come into the church with a message that sounds Christian, but make no mistake; it is a message that has been twisted, perverted, and distorted, ever so slightly. 

Indeed, wolves dressed as sheep will enter and pop up within the church, proclaiming a message that sounds very Christian and looks pious, but in reality, it is twisted and perverted.  You see, that is the way it typically goes with heresy and false teaching.  Blatant false teaching and obvious false teachers are easy to pick out, but those dressed in sheep’s clothing and those who have taken the genuine message of Christianity and twisted it into falsehood are more difficult to spot. 

And make no mistake about it, a small twist of doctrine is not something that we should quickly dismiss, for only one piercing fang of false doctrine may cause faith to bleed to death. 

This is why churches who have exchanged doctrine for entertainment or removed doctrine entirely for the sake of not offending anyone are so susceptible and vulnerable. In other words, Christians and churches who have no doctrine, have set themselves up for failure and deception.  By throwing out Christian doctrine they have thrown out the discernment of God’s Word that would otherwise protect them from wolves seeking to devour them.  Tragically, these churches will not endure to the end but will be gobbled up.  Indeed, they will not endure against wolves and false doctrine, but their souls will be destroyed as they are drawn into falsehood, lies, and deception.  Wolves love to feast upon flighty, unaware, daydreaming, and playful little sheep.   

Now, in the face of this danger, you may find yourself a bit uneasy.  You may find yourself worried about the possibility of being caught off guard by a wolf, for there are indeed hundreds of wolves within the North American Church at large.  If you are uneasy now, that is good!  It is good because God’s Word has gotten your attention.  And now that the Word of God has gotten your attention, you may be wondering what you are to do about all of this?  The Apostle Paul clearly answers in our reading from Acts.  The only logical thing to do is to keep wide awake!  Yes, the Apostle commends the pastors of the church to pay attention, to be alert.  And that exhortation to be alert can equally apply to all of us as well. 

Indeed, pastors and their churches are called and exhorted to ‘wake up!’  Sleeping and dreamy sheep do not stand a chance against the wolves!  This life is not a peaceful walk on the beach and being a Christian is not rose petals and pumpkin pie.  No, being a Christian means that you are a sheep of Jesus and being a sheep of Jesus puts a target on your back for wolves – wolves doing the work of Satan.

But is that it?  Are we to simply be alert and awake?  While being alert may help us to spot the wolves, it seems that there needs to be something else to defend us from the wolves. 

In our reading from Acts, the Apostle Paul not only calls for alertness, but also commends them to God and His Word of Grace; Paul commends them to the one who is able to build them up.  What this means is this: to stand up to the wolves and to discern and spot a wolf, one must have God’s Word.  Indeed, Paul commends them to God’s Word so that they would be built up.  This building up is not an increase in pious and pleasant religious talk.  It is not building up bible trivia points but an increase, an unfolding of the whole Christian life.  It is an increase in knowledge and wisdom and discernment by being captivated to God’s Word – God’s teaching in the Bible, His doctrine.

And now we are beginning to see the importance of God’s Word – God’s doctrine.  In other words, the only way a person can pick out a wolf and the only way a person can fend off the wolves is by being in God’s care where the Word is present, building up the flock. 

Dear friends, this is why we do what we do here at Zion.  Sure we come to this church for fellowship and friendship; however, fellowship and friendship can easily happen at other places.  One does not need a church for social and entertainment reasons, but rather, we come to this church because we have been commended to God in our Baptisms so that we might continually receive His Word.  And we receive His Word – His doctrine – so that we will not be blown around by every wind of false doctrine.  In other words, the reason why we have Sunday School, Sunday Adult Bible Studies, Wednesday Bible Studies, LWML, Confirmation, email devotionals, blog posts, etc. are for you to know our Christian doctrine, for if we do not know what we stand for, we will fall for anything. 

Indeed, all of these ministries here at Zion are intended to deliver to you God’s Word of Grace – God’s good doctrine, so that you will not be a reed blowing in the wind of every false teaching in this world.  God’s Word – His good doctrine – is here in this church for you so that you do not have to be bouncing up and down on the waves of culture’s fads.  God’s Word – His good doctrine – is here in this church for you so that you can be built up spiritually in this life against the false teachers and false ideas being promoted by wolves.

Please do not neglect God’s Word.  Please do not become lethargic with the Word or apathetic to it, for it is only God’s Word that can break falsehood into a thousand pieces.  That is right; God’s Word is like a hammer that shatters the lies of the wolves – for you.  God’s Word burns up falsehood – for you.  God’s Word unravels twisted lies – for you. God’s Word reveals the perversion and distortion of false teaching – for you.  

Baptized Saints, wake up!  Be alert!  Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  Be alert that deception has its strength in disguising itself as truth.  Do not listen to the empty words of false prophets filling people with empty hope.   Do not forsake the Word.  Do not despise God’s good doctrine.  But remain in the Lord’s rest and care where you will be built up and taught in God’s Word of grace for this present day and for the inheritance of the life to come. 

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

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