MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
KJV Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 16 Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 17 Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 19 Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 20 Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. 21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? 23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
FIGS FROM THISTLES?
In this Gospel we have a very clear distinction between sound doctrine and false doctrine. We need to pay attention to the warning about false doctrine, but we also need to take comfort in knowing that God’s Word will bear fruit, as Jesus promises us in this lesson. Although the lesson is primarily a warning, it is also a promise of God bringing about His will through His Word.
I have just ordered seed and distributed it in the congregation, so I am especially aware of the difference between the good seed we all want and the weed seeds we try to destroy. One tends to displace the other, as I learned from various experts. For instance, if beans are planted in a narrow file, most of the garden is open soil, where the sun strikes the weed seeds buried or blown in. If the beans have enough moisture to germinate and grow, the weeds have enough to grow as well. Therefore, the narrow bean rows are often smothered in the rank growth of well watered weeds growing in newly tilled soil. However, if wide rows of beans are planted, they quickly cover up the open areas and smother many (but not all) of the weeds, simply by shading the soil.
Because Lutherans have neglected their own doctrine and confessions, they have left open wide areas for false teachers to spread their weed seed. In contrast, when the Scriptures and Confession are predominant in a congregation, false doctrine will erupt but it will be smothered by the overwhelming force of people clinging to the orthodox faith and comparing it to what is being secretly promoted. (No one ever says: I am going to attack the divinity of Christ, or I will overturn justification by faith. The most dangerous books against the Bible are written by clergy and bear pious names, such as: “The Bible, Book of Faith,” introduced in the ALC to destroy trust in the inerrancy of the Word.)
The Lord Jesus Christ gives us several vivid comparisons, many of which remain in our current speech. How often do we hear the phrase “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”? It is quite fitting, because false teachers always seem to be like sheep, soft and warm, meek and mild. This is their cloak but it does not change their substance. If a wolf in sheep’s clothing is asked about sound doctrine, his eyes flash with anger and he will engage in a hostile personal attack. Or he may be terribly offended that anyone dared to ask him such a question. (That alone should make the sheep run away before they are devoured, but they often stay for dinner.) In one case, far removed from the Lutheran Church, the president of the Southern Baptist denomination, about 10 million strong, asked the Southern Baptist Louisville seminary what they taught about the Virgin Birth of Christ and other doctrinal matters. The faculty told the president, in an obvious rebuke, “It is none of your business what we teach.”
I cannot tell you how many times people have defended a false teacher to me by saying, “He is not a false teacher. He is a nice guy.” A few have said, “He is my classmate.” One said, “I drank a lot of beer with him.” All of these defenses are irrelevant. Many church members fall prey to this illusion because they say, “Oh, but I like him so much.” In contrast, it is also significant to remember that the Word of God is not to be judged by what we feel when we hear it. If the unrepentant hear the Law of God, they become angry. Does that nullify the Law? They will often say, “He offended me.” Some will say, “The pastor is correct, but I don’t like the way he expresses himself.” The wolf knows this and makes sure that his promotion of false doctrine strikes a cord in the heart-strings of his victims (to quote a WELS member about their evangelism commercials which promote Universalism – everyone is saved).
KJV Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
False teachers are belly worshipers (lovers of comfort) and use seductive speech and flattering words to deceive the simple. For instance, the faculty of Fuller Seminary told the Wisconsin Synod and LCMS leaders that the Church Growth Movement was ideal for conservative Protestant churches like theirs. The CGM was “doctrinally neutral” and would not change the synods except to make them grow like kudzu vine. In effect they said, “Give us all your mission outreach money and we will train your leaders and pastors to be effective. Your congregations will grow and your denomination will soar in size and money. You will get the glory.” However, WELS membership graph in the last 10 years looks like the big waterslide north of us. The slope is rapidly downhill and does not account for the easy-come easy-go members recently taken in with a few quick lessons. Almost all the denominations are exactly the same, and they say, “But look at all the money we have.”
The second vivid comparison comes when Jesus asks about the fruits of teachers. “You will know them by their fruits. Do you gather figs from thistles or grapes from thorns?”
This comparison is very compelling for gardeners. I have a yard with two kinds of plants: weeds and flowers. Both produce seed. But I do not know of anyone who values weed seed. In fact, many gardeners go out of their way to rid themselves of weeds bearing seed. Although the weed plants and weed seed together can be seen as organic mulch or fodder for the compost, many people shudder at the thought of multiplying such dreadnaughts as goat’s head, ragweed, London rocket, thistle, witchgrass, or dandelion.
Weeds are famous for one thing: rank growth. Water a yard and the plants will thrive, but the weeds will erupt, spreading across the grass, like creeping Charlie (Jill over ground, a mint) or shooting up to smother tall plants, the way pigweed or ragweed will grow. No one has ever said to me, “How did you get your weeds to grow so well? May I have some seed?” Weeds produce but their yield is worthless even if abundant.
This may seem obvious, but the obvious needs to be transferred to the religious life. A thistle will never produce a fig. A thorn will never grow a grape. All the apologies for false teachers are shattered by this basic reality of how God’s Word yields good fruit but Satan’s word produces worthless and useless seed. Therefore, a sound teacher will always produce the fruit of the Gospel and a false teacher will always produce nothing of value.
We can see this many times over in the history of the Church. Whenever men faithfully proclaim the Word of God, the fruits of the Gospel always come forth. People believe in Christ, receive the forgiveness of sin, and inherit eternal life. Salvation is not without benefit to others, because the fruits of the Spirit produce many blessings, including love, joy, peace, and generosity toward those in need. Most people forget that the basic institutions of charity in America today were begun as Lutheran charities, because conservative Lutherans did not want the Gospel to be lost. They called this the Inner Mission and were very suspicious of those who wanted to do works without teaching the Word of God. (This was originally called Social Service by the Lutherans but we remember it by the later name used – the Social Gospel Movement, political activism in the name of the Church.)
False teachers like to say, “Many denominations preach the Gospel and therefore move people to faith in Christ. Therefore, all confessions are equally good.” False teachers fail to distinguish between what is good in the Gospel proclamation and what is bad. For instance, the impact of the Word is more powerful when it is pure. Every denomination has sincere believers, false teachers, and hypocrites who have no faith but pretend to worship. (Two worship professors at Notre Dame were atheists.) The less we toy with the Word and adulterate it with our own opinions, the more God’s Word is allowed to run unfettered, to convert and strengthen hearts.
In contrast, when something begins to invade a denomination, the false teaching quickly takes over with a vengeance. Time after time the same pattern is repeated. For example, Creation is taught for a long time. Then some object and want to evolution a place. Soon evolution is the only doctrine allowed.
One reader sent me an article by someone from the Church of Sweden. The state imposed women’s ordination on the Church of Sweden some years ago. The bishops objected and were replaced. Then some bishops remained and supported those who objected to women’s ordination. The newly ordained who were a little more conservative were tolerated and protected. But no longer. If a candidate in the Church of Sweden objects to women’s ordination, he will not become a pastor.
That is just one issue, but it reveals how human reason takes over a church body. In time only human reason is taught and God’s Word is never proclaimed. In fact, the most basic doctrines are openly scorned. One LCMS pastor wrote about religion class at his ALC college. The professor denounced all the doctrines of the Bible and said, “There. Lightning didn’t strike me.” Earlier in time the professor would have been hounded out of the denomination just for admitting lack of faith. But the weeds took over.
The Lutheran-Reformed union denominations are a good example of how God’s Word works and yet becomes smothered. The more these groups relied on Luther’s doctrine, the longer they remained Christian. Yet in each case they slowly reverted to pure rationalism, Universalism, and Unitarianism. Unitarianism denies the divinity of Christ and most Unitarian ministers are atheists. (The conservatives who wanted to teach the existence of God lost out in the 1920s or so.) Universalism teaches that everyone is already saved. There is not much difference between Universalism and Universal Justification (WELS Kokomo justification, taught openly in the Easter 2000 commercials).
The Universalists and Unitarians are so weak that they merged some years ago to form the UUA – Unitarian Universalist Association at http://www.uua.org/main.html.
Noteworthy in this lesson is that the corrupt tree is cut down. The false teacher will receive more pay and more glory in this life than all the faithful ministers put together. But he will be cut down in time. He will die eternally and be gathered into the place prepared for him – an eternity of Hell where his body and soul will suffer the torments of living according to man’s plan instead of God’s.
In a few verses Jesus also observes that Judgment Day will have many people saying, “Lord Lord, did we not teach in Your Name and cast out devils, and do many signs and wonders IN YOUR NAME?” Jesus’ response is “Get out of here. I never knew you, you workers of iniquity.”
The Jehovah’s Witnesses told me angrily that they were teaching the Gospel all over the community and what was I doing? I said, “We teach all over the world.” That only made them angrier.
Fuller Seminary had a class called Signs and Wonders, as if they wanted to remind Jesus of what He warned us about so many years ago. And the School of Missions also taught that faith in Christ was not necessary or even good. I wonder if they put that statement in the fund-raising literature?
We can say the words and go through the motions all we want, but God alone can judge our hearts. If we fool all of mankind, we still do not have the wisdom to fool God. He is not mocked. Whatever a man sows, he will reap in abundance.
Although this lesson gives us a perfect picture of the difference between sound and false doctrine, we also need to pay attention to the confidence taught in sound doctrine. Every denomination would agree about false teachers (however they define them). But what about the good tree? Do they trust the good tree completely? They do not understand at all that the Word alone will bring about all that God wills. Sadly, many or most Lutherans do not believe this today.
In gardening, 99% of the work consists of this – getting the right seed, the right stock, the right bulbs. I can buy a squishy, half rotted, small daffodil bulb for a certain amount of money. I have done it. And then I look with astonishment at the pathetic daffodil that emerges from the ground, looking carsick. Or I can buy a daffodil so fat and healthy that three plants are joined together. Ten bulbs are really 30 flowers. They are so packed with nutrition that they beg to be planted in the ground.
So is the pure Word of God. It is so powerful that as soon as it appears, the devils of this world quake and rage. They only have to glimpse it and their lupine fangs come out. But at the same time, this Word of God powerfully comforts the weak and contrite sinner. Experience shows that most believers are the nothings of this world, scorned, disabled in many cases, lacking in political and economic power. Satan would like these weak people to tumble over and fall for his word, but he rages that they cling to the truth.
Even the weak and frail produce amazing miracles through the Word of God and this spectacle further enrages the demons, “who believe but their hide bristles.” But we should not look for the fruit of the Gospel and the power of the Word in bricks and endowments. The Holy Spirit is powerful in working without the trappings of earthly power and uniquely through the Means of Grace.
A man can open a frail old hymnal (The Lutheran Hymnal) or an ancient KJV and find more wisdom from God than everything taught in the seminaries today.
One of my greatest pleasures is having someone phone and start talking about the great wisdom and comfort found in the Book of Concord, itself a miracle of unity and expression. Some will say, “Did you know this?” And read a favorite passage. The Book of Concord is the fruit of the faith of the Confessors. We can see that the six men who gave us the Book of Concord were concerned about the truth of the Gospel and not their own comfort. They all suffered great privation at different times. Not one of them could say, “Hey, do you know who I used to be?”
As we read the Book of Conord we can judge the tree by the fruit we see. And we can say, “These were not wolves in sheep’s clothing, but men who confessed the truth at a difficult time. May we be as faithful as they were. Amen.”
St. Louis edition, XIII, pp. 800ff.
"Now, the Lord in this passage speaks, in particular, of preachers or prophets, whose real and proper fruit is nothing else than this, that they diligently proclaim this will of God to the people and teach them that God is gracious and merciful and has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but wants him to live, moreover, that God has manifested His mercy by having His only-begotten Son become man. Whoever, now, receives Him and believes in Him, that is, whoever takes comfort in the fact that for the sake of His Son, God will be merciful to him, will forgive his sins, and grant him eternal salvation, etc., —whoever is engaged in this preaching of the pure Gospel and thus directs men to Christ, the only Mediator between God and men, he, as a preacher, is doing the will of God. That is the genuine fruit by which no one is deceived or duped. For if it were possible that the devil were to preach this truth, the preaching would not be false or made up of lies and a person believing it would have what it promises.—After this fruit, which is the principal and most reliable one and cannot deceive, there follow in the course of time other fruits, namely, a life in beautiful harmony with this doctrine and in no way contrary to it. But these fruits are to be regarded as genuine fruits only where the first fruit, namely, the doctrine of Christ, already exists."
C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 413. Matthew 7:21. [emphasis in original]