Should Lutheran Preaching Condemn False Teachers? — Guest post by Pr. Johannes Nieminen

good shepherd vs wolves  A spirit of universalism and toleration which is indifferent to doctrine suggests that the Lutheran church, while confessing the truth, need not condemn other church bodies or their various errant teachings. Such condemnations are deemed to be insensitive and unloving. After all, such errors are simply the result of human sinfulness and weakness.

However, there is great danger in such a position. There are so many false teachers in the world combined with a high view of individual ideas and beliefs, that it is more important than ever to explicitly condemn false teachers and their teachings in order to warn Christians to avoid such teachers.

Christ Himself warned, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Mt. 7:15). Christ was certainly not hesitant to be explicit concerning whom He was speaking. He explicitly calls out the scribes and the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20, 12:34, 15:1-9, 16:6, 21:31, 43, cf. esp. the pronouncing the woes against the scribes and Pharisees in Mt. 23:1-36) as John the Baptist had done (Mt. 3:7). He denounces the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum by name for their impenitence, saying that Judgment Day will be more bearable for the land of Sodom than for them (Mt. 11:21-24). He pronounces judgment of Jerusalem for rejecting Him (Mt. 23:37-38).

The Apostle Paul follows Jesus with condemnations of false teachers and their teachings. He writes that we are to avoid and have nothing to do with those who do not obey sound doctrine (Rom. 16:17; 2 Thess. 3:14; cf. also 1 Tim. 6:3-5). He regularly and extensively warns churches of false teachers (Acts 20:29, 2 Cor. 2:17, Col. 2:4, 8). And Paul also is not hesitant to point out exactly who he is talking about. He condemns the so-called “super-apostles” that were teaching false doctrine in Corinth (2 Cor. 11:5). He writes, “Such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). Paul calls out the Judaizers who were leading the Galatians astray and says that they should emasculate themselves (Gal. 5:12). He leaves no room for anyone to teach false doctrine, writing, “Even if… an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).

The Athanasian Creed is explicit in condemning those who do not hold the catholic faith (vv. 2, 40). So also the Augsburg Confession condemns false teachings and those who hold to them. Although sometimes specific names are not mentioned and only the false teachings are condemned, oftentimes it was deemed necessary to explicitly mention by name those groups who teach contrary to God’s Word for the sake of understanding and clarity.

Thus Article I of the Augsburg Confession condemns the Manicheans, Valentinians, Arians, Eunomians, Mohammedans, and Samosatenes by name. Articles II and XVIII condemn the Pelagians by name; Article V, IX, XVI and XVII the Anabaptists; Article VIII the Donatists; Article XII the Anabaptists and Novatians. The Preface to the Epitome (para. 4) also indicates the purpose of the Augsburg Confession was to be “the unanimous consensus and explanation of our Christian faith and confession, especially against the papacy and its false worship, idolatry, and superstition” in addition to the other sects named within it.

From these witnesses of Scripture and our Confessions, it is clear that to confess something as the Truth, it is a necessary consequence that everything opposed to that Truth must be condemned as false. For the sake of Truth, we should be just as explicit and clear who teaches falsely and what their false teachings are. The very Truth of the Gospel is at stake.

We cling to the Truth of the Word of God because it sanctifies us; it makes us holy; it sets us apart for God (Jn. 17:17). False teachings cause divisions and obstacles and deceive (Rom. 16:17-18). The Truth sets us free (Jn. 8:32), while false teachings delude (Col. 2:4), deceive (Col. 2:8), and lead astray (Mt. 24:24).

Jesus says, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:31-32). Abiding in God’s Word is abiding in the Truth, and the Truth will set us free.

The Truth of God’s Word sets us free from the lies of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature. The Truth of God’s Word sets us free from the punishment we deserve for our sins because in His Word He tells us that Jesus took our punishment in our place, suffering and dying on the cross for us.

God’s Word is Truth. It is God’s Word of Truth that keeps us in the Father’s name. It is God’s Word of Truth that brings us to faith and keeps us in the faith. Therefore, let us faithfully proclaim the Truth, and faithfully condemn those who teach contrary to it, by name when necessary.

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