The World Wants To Be Fooled

By the early 1530s Dr. Martin Luther had taught concerning the nature of the ministry and the call of pastors in various writings.  Additionally, Lutherans explicitly stated their position on the Office of the Holy Ministry in the Augsburg Confession and its Apology. Simply put, Dr. Luther and the first Lutherans asserted that no one should be preaching publicly without a proper call. [Luther on Office of the Ministry] From the beginning of the Reformation, the Lutherans also had to deal with those who believed they had a direct call from God or some special revelation.  Dr. Luther referred to those individuals as the Enthusiasts. [On the Enthusiasts]

However, Luther also pointed out the false teachers would often arise from among rightly-called pastors.    In the early 1530s, when teaching on Matthew 7:15, Dr. Luther wrote a pastor’s legitimate call does not “guarantee that people have to believe him, as though he could not be a scoundrel in the ministry.  It is not unusual in the world for villains and rascals to occupy every office and station in society and to abuse it.”  Although these preachers hold the proper office, they may become wolves through false teaching.  Therefore, Christians must hold them accountable to the teaching of Holy Scripture. [Luther, Sermon on the Mount, Luther’s Works, vol. 21, p. 251].

In his lectures on Galatians 5:25-26 (published in 1535), Dr. Luther warned preachers against the sin of vainglory.  While legitimate preachers may fall into this vice, Luther stated that the devil sends false preachers to stir up trouble in the church.  However, these false teachers deceive others masterfully as Luther argued:

“the art and skill of the servants of Satan is such that among their followers they not only know how to simulate love, concord, humility, and other fruits of the Spirit; but they also praise one another, give preference to others to themselves, and say that others are better than they…Nevertheless, they are actually extremely eager for vainglory, doing everything to gain more respect and praise among men than others have.  In short, they ‘imagine that godliness is a means of gain’ (I Tim. 6:5) and that the ministry of the Word was committed to them to make them famous” [LW 27:99] {Emphasis added}.

Notice in Dr. Luther’s description that false teachers pretend to be godly with the intention to deceive.  Their goals are fame, riches, and power.  They mimic the words and actions of true preachers, but their words and actions are a ruse.  These false preachers boast of the Spirit and divine teaching, but they enter the congregation without a call in order to manipulate others to follow them [LW 27:100].

In 1539, Luther discussed how false teachers had deceived Christians in the past.  In this case, he described how various monastic sects had arisen in the Middle Ages.  Luther compared these false preachers to screech owls used to trap other birds:

“The world wants to be fooled. If you wish to catch many robins and other birds, you must place an owl or a screech owl on the trap or lime-rod, and you will succeed. Similarly, when the devil wants to trap Christians, he must put on a cowl, or (as Christ calls it) a sour, hypocritical expression [Matt. 6:16]. Thus we stand in greater awe of such owls and screech owls than of the true suffering, blood, wounds, death, and resurrection, which we see and hear of in Christ, our Lord, endured because of our sin. So we fall, in throngs and with all our might, away from our Christian faith and into the new holiness, that is, into the devil’s trap and lime-rod” [Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church, LW 41:127] {Emphasis added}.

When I read this text, it reminded me of a mockingbird.  These birds adeptly mimic the sounds of other birds and other animals. Borrowing from Luther’s analogy, we might understand false teachers as spiritual mockingbirds who mimic the true teaching of the Gospel, but only attract other birds to be trapped in false doctrine.


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