GOD'S CHURCH - WHAT IS TAUGHT MATTERS
Dear friends in Christ,
There has been an erosion of respect for the ministry over the years I have been a pastor. I am not saying just for myself, but for all ministers – some of it deserved. I am not saying that pastors deserve this, but there was a time when there was something called a clergy discount. I experienced discounts for car repair, for dry cleaning. I even got free or discounted golf. I repeat, we don’t deserve any of that but it was a courtesy that people extended. Perhaps it was a business decision. Pastors come in contact with a lot of people. You know – word of mouth. Now the only place we get a discount is at the liquor store. We get communion wine at 20% off.
Do you know when the respect seemed to stop? Not all of you are old enough to remember, but I believe it ended with the scandals of Jimmy Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Between 1984 and 1987 Bakker had a TV program that was entitled PTL (Praise the Lord). Instead of preaching Christ, Bakker and his wife Tammy Fae sold lifetime memberships to a time share and theme park in Charlotte Called Heritage USA. He was convicted of fraud. Swaggart had a ministry in Baton Rouge, Louisiana that was the third largest employer in the state of Louisiana next to state government and the LouisianaStateUniversity. He was twice caught with prostitutes. There have been other scandals including the many, many pedophile priests in the Catholic Church. Satan laughs. I can understand why people might not trust clergy.
Today we continue our study of the God’s Church with the subject “God’s Church – What is Taught Matters.” John teaches us 1) Learn to Recognize; 2) Learn to Test.
John begins, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” John seems to have a play on words when he uses the Greek word for ‘spirit.’ The Bible uses the word ‘spirit’ in different ways. When I hear the word ‘spirit,’ I think of the Holy Spirit - the third person of the Trinity. But when John says, “Do not believe every spirit,” obviously that cannot mean the Holy Spirit. We believe everything the Holy Spirit says in the Word. When we say that a person has a different spirit, the person means he has a different attitude. When we say a person has “a lot of spirit,” someone is exhibiting a lot of enthusiasm. Spirit can also be a synonym for the word ‘soul.’ Here that word is used somewhat that way. ‘Spirit’ can mean a person. There were five souls or spirits in the boat that capsized. No wonder the English language is so difficult to learn. Those subtleties can also be found in the Bible.
What John is saying has irony. “Do not believe every spirit,” because not every spirit has the Spirit, the Holy Spirit. The spirit he is talking about is a person. The person is a false prophet.
Recognize the fact they do exist. Just because someone has ‘Reverend” in front of name and an alphabet soup of letters behind their name with all the degrees they might have doesn’t mean they have they teach what the Lord approves.
Jesus warned “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” When you read the Old Testament God warned that misguidance and misdirection would come from two directions – from the civil leaders and from spiritual leaders. He compared them to a fierce animal. The prophet writes, “But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty. So the Lord will cut off from Israel both head and tail, both palm branch and reed in a single day; the elders and dignitaries are the head, the prophets who teach lies are the tail.” There are 600,000 preachers in the United States. It is an honor to be chosen by God, but it is also a calling that one does with fear and trembling and repentance. No preacher says what is right 100% of the time! God’s kind of preacher will admit it and repent of his error. There are false teachers
Recognize false teachers teach false teachings that don’t come from God. The Lord is concerned about the details. Jesus told his disciples to “teach everything I have commanded you.” Everything he gives us to teach is there for a reason. “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Most of the time people are commended when they become creative and teach new ways or even new things. While God’s spokesmen have no right to be boring and dull, teaching new things is sin; it’s a lie. And listening to and wanting to hear new things is just as much a sin on behalf of the hearer. Recognize that false teaching is not only damnable but imperils the soul. Judy and I were talking the other night how we have experienced a lot in our lives. How true! There have been plenty of blessings but there have also been trials in our married life living in our nation. Our nation is troubled now but I think back to the Watergate scandal of Richard Nixon. Two Washington Post reporters by the name of Woodward and Bernstein peeled away the layers of shenanigans that brought Nixon’s administration down. They had a contact who identified himself as Deep Throat who turned out the be William Mark Felt, the Assistant Director of the FBI who gave Woodward and Bernstein this advice, "The key was the secret campaign cash, and it should all be traced." When the movie came out dramatizing this, they simply used the phrase “follow the money.” See where it is coming from and you will find the rats.
You can say that about the lies. Where do they really begin? “Yes,” declares the Lord, “Iamagainst the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The Lord declares.’” He says in another place in Jeremiah, “Indeed, Iamagainst those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the Lord. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the Lord.” How about follow the lie? Where did they begin? They started with “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” That lie was followed by another, “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Lies come from the chief resident of hell. The Bible doesn’t call Satan your friend but your enemy. He is the accuser. He is the Deceiver. He is the father of lies. Proverbs says, “The Lord detests lying lips,” starting with the first and continuing with those who imitate like false prophets. The Psalmist says, “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.” Yet there are many who do lie in God’s temples but will never see God’s Heavenly temple without repentance. Every preacher’s prayer, every members of God’s church needs to pray,
“Lord, keep us steadfast in your word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword,
Would seek to overthrow your Son
And to destroy what he has done.”
Learn to recognize the danger that you can put yourself in when you don’t recognize false teachings and false teachers who lie.
That leads us to what John tells us so strongly to do: Learn to test. But testing is judging, isn’t it? Doesn’t Jesus say we should not judge? Someone in our church gave me an article to read this week about millennials or generation Yer’s. They are young people born after 1984. Our synod has a committee that is studying the Millennials because they are a tough group with different ideas. The article that our member gave me to read was thought-provoking. “If you speak to the average 20-something or Millennial about the concept of sin, you may be treated to a kind of quasi-Unitarian dismissal of the concept, a sort of uncomfortable rejection of the notion of ecclesiastical proscription in any sense: “I’m very spiritual,” you’ll hear a lot, “but not religious.” What this looks like in practice is generally a dismissal of accountability towards any higher power, or at least towards any rules He might impose upon His people: It is, after all, 2014. Yet the Millennials, having sloughed off the religious notions of their parents and grandparents—at least one-third of Generation Yers are more or less without religion.
In general they have no problem with homosexuality. In fact, they would highly criticize anyone who does. They are into the religion of environmentalism. They want an activist government. And THEY DON’T WANT TO JUDGE OR BE JUDGED.
When Jesus says “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” he is forbidding trying to look inside a person and judging. You can’t judge motives; you can’t look into the heart. But what Jesus is saying when he says test the spirit, judge what comes out from them. What any preacher says can and must be judged. We should have our eye on if what they teach is God-directed or human-directed, whether the teaching meets with God’s approval or is designed to please men. Jesus said, “What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Any preacher or teacher needs to meet the Berean test. Remember the citizens of Berea who compared all that the apostle Paul said to the Word of God. The Bereans were not a spiritually lazy people. They were eager to know more and study more and compare what was said to the Bible. They were not content just to let the apostle Paul teaches them. They knew everything needed to be compared to the Word of God.
That is important people! From God’s point of view the issue of spiritual teachers is so enormously important. Think about what the Father did. We are living on a doomed and dying planet. That’s the way it has been almost since the beginning. The Father promised an incredible rescue. He repeated it to the human race for century after century. God keeps promises. He kept that promise and his Son rescued the lost inhabitants. The way we connect with Jesus is through his Word and Sacrament. Through his Word and Sacrament the Spirit of God works mightily in human hearts and brings the peace that Jesus won. The Word and Sacrament has been entrusted to the Church. God has commissioned us to be his administering agents. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them…teaching them to observe all things I commanded you.” The Holy Scriptures “are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” are the promises.
Further, that word and sacrament needs to be brought to people because no one is born with them. Someone wrote, “Since all Christians begin their spiritual lives as babies, they need spiritual leadership and sound teaching that helps them grow. So Jesus raises up a team of spiritual leaders training them carefully and then sends them out to recruit and train other leaders who will also teach.” This goes on for generation after generation. It will go on until times cease.
But now the monkey wrench – not from God’s but from Satan! Satan sees the word of God for what it is – it is powerful to win hearts for the Lord and deals a death blow to his kingdom. So he recruits a counterforce of spiritual liars who practice guerilla warfare. They infiltrate the church to unravel God’s truth and God’s Church. He even convinces this force that they are working for the Lord. While toleration is politically correct, God commands us to be intolerant. We must never tolerate lies. Remember where they ultimately come from. There is no other way to heaven than the way that he has given us – through the perfect, holy, cleansing blood of Jesus – God’s Son our Savior. Satan wants us and everyone to go in a different direction. How treacherous! How evil! You see what I mean when we talk about God’s church? What is taught really does matter!