Christ our Lord taught about preachers and their proclamation saying, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20).
Preachers will come and proclaim false Christs and lead the faithful astray. This isn’t a pessimistic way of looking at society and the Church, but a reality of living in the End Times that Jesus warns both His disciples and us today about. There are false preachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing, that lead many into false belief, despair, and inevitably into eternal death. Jesus doesn’t say that this is something to fear, but an issue that must be faced and recognized. Jesus says that you and I will recognize the false preacher by his fruit, or by the words he preaches and the ministry he fulfills. We will recognize them by either their faithfulness or their rejection of Scripture.
It would be great it the false preacher was a blatant heretic. It would be great if he said that Jesus isn’t God, that the Holy Spirit is a lesser god, that the Lord’s Supper is just mere bread and wine, or that Baptism does nothing but make a baby’s head a little wet. In short, it would be alot easier on the Church if the false preacher looked like a wolf instead of a sheep. It would be fantastic if his voice was clear and obvious instead of subtle.
This is the issue with the false preacher. He won’t reveal himself as a false preacher, a teacher of darkness, but instead will show himself to be a preacher of truth and light. This has always been the problem for the Church since the serpent deceived the woman. The serpent preached a false Gospel disguised as the truth. The woman listened to the serpent and not to the words of her husband, Adam. Adam in turn did not preach the truth, but instead caste his faith in the words of the serpent instead of in the Word God proclaimed to him. They both did not believe the Word of the Lord and instead believed the serpent’s lie. They doubted and then disobeyed and took the fruit from the tree and fell into sin and death. Just as the serpent twisted God’s Word and caste doubt into the minds of Adam and the woman, so do false preachers twist the Word, add to the Word, and leave some of the Word out in order to lead the elect into doubt and unbelief.
So, what is the solution to these false preachers who follow in line with their father, the devil? We follow the example of Christ in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the 4th chapter when he says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Christ overcame where Adam and the woman failed. He heard the lie of the devil, and instead of believing his lie, He proclaimed the truth of Holy Scripture. Only the Word overcomes the devil and his wolf descendants. Only the Word of Christ recognizes the wolves in sheep’s clothing and devours them. Therefore, we must be in the Word, reading it, learning it, marking it, hearing it, and inwardly digesting it in order that the false preacher may be revealed and cast out into the eternal fire.
The Formula of Concord speaks of Holy Scripture saying, “First, we confess our adherence to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments, as to the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which alone is the one true guiding rule, according to which all teachers and teaching are to be judged and evaluated.” (FCSD Rule and Norm.3). Holy Scripture is the judge of every man who proclaims the Word. The Word of the Lord judges all teachers and teaching. What does this mean for us. We must know the Word. We should be in every bible study offered at our church and be in the Divine Service whenever it is conducted in order to live in the 3rd commandment and to receive the promise of the forgiveness of our sin. IN doing this, in hearing the Word and sharing the Word, we are strengthen and renewed and we can therefore recognize when a wolf is among the faithful sheep.
As Lutherans we are also guided by the Book of Concord. The Lutheran Confessions are not equal to Holy Scripture, but rather are guided by Holy Scripture as noted in the above quote from the Formula. Not only pastors, but all baptized children who confess the Lutheran difference should study daily the Book of Concord. We should study the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, the Augsburg Confession, the Apology to the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles, the Treatise on the power and primacy of the pope, the Formula of Concord. We should memorize the three ecumenical creeds. Why should we do this? So we can recognize the false preacher and silence their destructive speech.
The Church has always been in dark times and our time is not any different. We face the same problems, just with different names. Come to the Divine Service then and be fed in this world that starves you. Come to the altar and be strengthened by the Lord’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of your sin. Come to Bible study and grow in the knowledge of the faith. Pray for your pastor that he be kept faithful to his ordination vow to preach nothing but the doctrine and life contained in the Scriptures and the Confessions. Pray for yourself that you be kept in your baptismal grace in the forgiveness of your sin. Pray for the Bride of Christ that Christ would continue to prefect her and purify her and keep her safe amidst the wolves the would devour her.