So, You Want To Downplay Doctrine? Are You Ready For Wolf Attacks?

Text: Acts 20:27-38

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

In the interest of putting people into Church pews, Churches in America have spent a great deal of time and energy trying to diminish doctrine.  That is right; doctrine has gotten a bad rap as something that divides.  And so, it is believed that if doctrine is removed or reduced that Churches can be more ‘neutral’ or ‘non-denominational.’  And if Churches are supposedly more neutral, they will appeal to a greater segment of people in society.  And so, more people in the pews means more money in the plate, and more money in the plate means greater so-called success!  Tragically, we even see this temptation in our Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, where our Lutheran distinctions of Baptism, Absolution, and Communion are downplayed as inconvenient doctrine.  And then, the word “Lutheran” is put into small letters or removed from signs, bulletins, and brochures altogether. 

Now, while eliminating or deemphasizing doctrine may seem like a clever plan, this plan always comes back to bite Churches when the wolves come to attack.  Bluntly stated, when doctrine is stripped out of a Church, it leaves the Church powerless and defenseless in the face of savage wolves.

In the reading from the book of Acts, the Apostle Paul warns about 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?  Wolves like the twentieth-century Communist Party who persecuted Christians while encouraging atheism? Wolves like the arsonists who started a fire in St. John’s Church in Washington D.C. during a recent protest?  Are these the wolves Paul is talking about?

Maybe, though, these wolves are not violent men and regimes, but more like the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industry who fined Christian bakers for not baking same-sex wedding cakes.  Maybe these wolves are like the ACLU Group, who helped sue a florist for not arranging a same-sex wedding.  Are these the wolves that Paul is talking about?      

Well, the answer may surprise you – No! 

Dear friends, we have to keep in mind that the people and situations that I just mentioned are not that dangerous to the Church.  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, one is able to recognize him for what he is – an enemy and persecutor of Christianity.  However, people like Nero 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, pious, and faithful, but are destroying souls.  And what makes these wolves so dangerous is not that they destroy bodies or drain wallets, but they destroy souls and plunge people into the abyss of hell.
Dear friends, make no mistake about it!  Blatant false teaching and obvious false teachers are easy to pick out, but wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing - subtly twisting the doctrines of Christianity - well… they are 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. 

To the point; this is why Churches who have diminished or removed doctrine for the sake of not offending anyone are so susceptible and vulnerable. When Christians and Churches have no doctrine, they have set themselves up for failure.  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.  A na├»ve Church without Christian doctrine can easily mistake a wolf for a dog or, worse yet, a harmless sheep.  One has to know doctrine to recognize false doctrine. 

Tragically, though, 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.  Sure they may still have services and sheep in the pews, but mark this, the Church is no longer green grass and calm waters for sheep, but a slaughterhouse for wolves.  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? 

You, who have ears, please listen!  The Apostle Paul clearly 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.  As Christ’s Church, we are called and exhorted to ‘wake up!’  Sleeping and dreamy sheep do not stand a chance against the wolves!  Keep in mind that this life is not a peaceful walk on the beach and being a Christian is not rose peddles 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.

Now, while being alert may help you and me to spot 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 commends them to God and His Word of Grace.  Yes, Paul commends them to the one who is able to build them up. 

What this means is that you and I spot and challenge wolves not by our intellect or collective experiences.  But as we are commended to God’s Word, we are built up in knowledge, wisdom, and discernment.  We are to be captivated by God’s Word, which is nothing else than good-clear-Biblical-doctrine. Doctrine is simply the teachings of the Bible.

And now, we are beginning to see the importance of God’s Word – God’s doctrine. 

Dear friends, this is why we do what we do here at St. Paul’s.  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. 

Mark this!  The reason why we have Sunday School, Sunday Adult Bible Studies, LWML, Tuesday Women’s Bible Studies, Thursday Men’s Bible Studies, Confirmation, Higher Things Retreats, Sunday and Wednesday Liturgical Services, blog posts, articles, newsletters, podcasts, Youtube videos, catechisms, hymnals, and so forth, are for you to hear, receive, and know our Christian doctrine, for if you and I do not know what we stand for, we will fall for anything. 

Indeed, all of these things mentioned at St. Paul’s 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 teeth, the heresies 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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