Churches At Ease And False Prophets: Two Peas In A Pod

Text: Matthew 7:15-23 

In the name of Jesus.  Amen. 

Listen up! You who sit in the pew this day; give attention, take heed, wake up, and open your eyes! Be on alert for false prophets, for this is what Jesus says in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew.  

But do we really need to be ‘that’ alert; after all, we are good and wise Christians. Do we really need to be ‘that’ attentive; after all, we are in one of the most conservative Lutheran Church Denominations in America – the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. 

Do we really need to be on guard for false doctrine when we already have smart theologians in St. Louis to do that for us? 

Do we really need to put in the effort and time to be aware of false prophets and bad theology when we already have something called ‘doctrinal review’? You know, we have a process in the Missouri Synod that reviews all our publications, hymns, liturgy, and teaching. Doctrinal review is supposed to strain out bad theology and give us only good theology. 

Again, do we really need to be ‘that’ alert as Christians? Surely, as long as we have a Synodical President, good District Conventions, and well-trained pastors, we don’t need to be too intense.  We are a part of the Missouri Synod – all is well with us. Indeed, nothing bad will ever happen to us.  

Even if the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod were to fail, though, we still have the North Dakota District to keep watch - right? And if the North Dakota District fails, well... Pastor Richard and Pastor Roth are here to be alert. And so it appears that we really do not have to sweat the small stuff. Here in St. Paul’s, within the North Dakota District, and within the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, no disaster will come upon us. All shall be well with us - no need to sound the alarm and get people too worked up and too intense.  

Now, dear friends, we must understand that it is this kind of mindset (that we have been describing) that leads to the destruction of the church. You see, a lazy, apathetic, and naive mindset, as we just described, is not only what has led to the destruction of many churches over the ages, but it is also what leads to the destruction of many modern-day churches. You see, Jesus does not say in our reading from the Gospel of Matthew, 

“All of you Christians, beware of false prophets, that is unless you are a part of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod.  If you are a part of the LC-MS you don’t have to take my words too serious.”  

Friends, today’s calling from Jesus to be aware of false teachers has no exception clause. It is a call for all Christians of all generations of all various churches to beware of false teachers. It is a call for every single person in this sanctuary - regardless of age, status, or sex – to be alert to false preachers peddling poisonous theology.  And the reason why? These false prophets come into churches without an invitation or respect for a church’s doctrine. They come - uninvited. They just show up. And they spare no one.  That is how false doctrine works.  It works like yeast – it is small and tiny but through time it leavens the whole lump.  It spreads and takes over churches, often without being noticed.   

At the risk of offending, you need to hear this: false prophets don’t care about doctrinal review (as good as it may be). They don’t care about the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (as solid as it may be). They don’t care about this conservative confession of this church (as steadfast as it may be). They simply don’t care. In fact, false prophets can come right out of the pews and pulpits of existing churches. That is right; false prophets can come right out of our seminaries, pulpits, and pews - from within the walls of the church. And so, this is why Jesus tells you and me to beware of false prophets.  

But again (truth be told), the words of Jesus ruin things for you and me. Bluntly stated, we often want the church to be at ease. In other words, there is a natural desire for you and me to see the church as a friendly place of safety, security, and ease.  Now, safety, security, and friendships are certainly not bad and they do occur in the church.  However, please hear this loud and clear; the church is not primarily a social group, resort, or club – it is not the church at ease. Instead, the church always has been and always will be the church militant. The church is always at war. The church is always under threat and always will be.   

And so, just as there is safety inside the walls of a castle, with the King; there is safety and security within the church because the church is the bride of King Jesus.  But again, because there is safety and security within the church, this does not mean that we are at ease. Never forget that the devil always seeks to kill, steal, and destroy your faith. The ideologies of the world are always opposed to the church. And to boot, false prophets come, without invitation, to deliberately and cleverly twist the truth of God’s Word.  Wretched doctrine always seeps into the church to replace the Word of Truth.  And so this is why Jesus tells you in the pew and me in the pulpit to be alert, attentive, and mindful of false prophets. 

St. Paul’s mark my words this morning. Churches at ease will ‘not’ exist 50 years from now.  They won’t make it. A church at ease is like a house built upon sand - unaware that it is founded upon shifting sands.  Typically a church at ease is more consumed with the petty squabbling, gossip, and complaints within the church and community than it is with being alert for false teaching.  And so, like a house built on the sand, a church at ease will not stand but fall when the waves and winds of false doctrine slam against it.  

But you, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, you are not to be a church at ease for Christ has not called you unto apathy, laziness, and foolishness. But instead, you are His militant church.   He has called you to be aware of false prophets and wretched theology that may invade the church and lead you away from the simple message of Christ-crucified.  

You see, the problem is not that we need to go out and obtain the treasure of the Gospel.  We are not on some spiritual journey or pursuit of a spiritual prize at the end of an expedition.  False prophets are not hurdles that we must jump over or go around in a spiritual obstacle course.  No, you are the baptized!  You have been given the prize of the Gospel.  You have been given the treasure of forgiveness. You have been given God’s Holy Word.  You have been given the Holy Super.  You have been given the historic liturgy – liturgy passed down from our Lutheran Fathers.  You have been given thousands of years of rich hymnody to sing the faith with boldness.  As the Apostle Paul said to the church in Ephesus – you have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ.  Baptized Saints, you lack nothing because you have Jesus; and with Jesus, you have full forgiveness of sins.  You already have one foot in the resurrection because of Christ. 

And so, beware of false prophets that will attempt to take away from you what you have already been given. Baptized Saints, wake up, stand firm, and remain steadfast, for there are indeed monsters in the shadows – there are false prophets and wretched theology that wait in the shadows to pounce on this church and twist the wonderful gifts that we have already been given.  Wake up, stand firm, and remain steadfast, for you are not a church at ease but Christ’s militant church.

But what shall we look for?  What should we be on alert for?  Well, it is quite simple.  Even though false prophets and wretched theology are often dripping with sincerity and offering easygoing formulas for a successful life, they consistently leave out one key feature – Christ. 

And so, ask these three simple questions, when you encounter any teaching.  Test for bad fruit: 

1) Is Christ even mentioned? 

2) Is Christ alive and active taking the main role; is He in the driver seat, or is He in the backseat or on the sidelines - is He an afterthought? 

3) What is Christ doing – is he cheering, helping, sympathizing, or is He bleeding, dying, and rising for you?  

Baptized Saints, mark this, if there is no Christ, then beware; it is not a Christian sermon. It is bad fruit. If Christ is not the main focus, then beware; it is not a Christian message.  It is bad fruit.  If Christ is not bleeding, dying, and rising for you, then beware; you are encountering a false Christ and not the real Jesus. It is bad fruit.

Baptized Saints, may God protect you and me from falsehood and false prophets.  May He defend us from all who would pervert Truth.  May He keep you and me alert and aware of those that would ensnare us, while preserving us through Jesus Christ, our Lord.    

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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