St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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Prayer: Lord Christ, make me to be a Christian who discerns between what is true and good and what is false and evil. In Your name, Amen.

Scripture: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” – Matthew 7:15

The Scripture warns us in just about every book to be wary and alert when it comes to false teachers and the false teaching they assert. Christ, in this passage, commands and gives all Christians the authority to be judges of all doctrine, and to judge between what is right and what is not. It is not merely a pope or an academic who rules over right interpretation of this, or any passage, but it is the entire church to which the Lord says, “Watch out” and “Be on guard” and “Test the spirits.”

How do we go about the business of using this authority in a godly way?

First, we must pray that God keep us from falling for false teaching. And false teaching abounds like soot from a volcano! It is everywhere and it dirties up everything. Second, we must take a step forward and actually discern. A Christian who refuses to judge between true and false prophets and their teaching is like a bud that refuses to bloom or a bird that is too frightened to fly or a car that refuses to start. It may very well be comfortable and safe and unintrusive to be indifferent toward doctrine or unconcerned about theology, but central to the Christian faith is theology — teaching. For as St. Paul writes, “Faith comes by hearing the Word.” Faith is given us by hearing theology, and then we are called to confess theology. And of all the good works, confessing the faith is at the center. In fact, we could not be Christian, we could not be saved, without theology — teaching — entering our ears and igniting faith and illuminating our hearts to the truth.

To discern and judge between sound and false doctrine means we must study the Scripture. It is not enough to simply say, “My pastor said,” or “That cool preacher on TV said,” but we must read it and study it and test what is taught.

Third, we do not base our judgments on how we personally feel about the teaching. This flies in the face of postmodernism and how our society judge’s truth, but it matters not. God has given us His Word objectively, and calls each of us to judge prophets and preachers by the same objective, universal measure: What does the Scripture plainly say, and does the preacher say the same thing?

And it is important we take to heart the word “plainly.” The best reading of the Scripture is the plainest and most natural reading. So, if the Scripture says something that is difficult to understand, this difficulty does not change the Scripture. For example, if Jesus says, “Take and eat, this is my body given for you,” the most natural reading of this text is that the bread He held in His hand before His disciples, He calls His body. We do not change the natural meaning of the word “is” simply because we find it difficult to understand or believe. And those who would teach otherwise, who would bullishly change “is” to a different word or meaning, we avoid them and mark them as teaching a false teaching.

This is the authority we have been given by God, to judge all things by His Word as true or false. We must learn to use this authority, especially in our theologically pluralistic church, and we must learn to use it properly so that we do not ourselves become advocates of false teaching.