Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
You young people are going to find many different philosophies and religions at school, high school or university. Many people say they believe in God, but they have different ideas about God. Many say they believe in Jesus Christ, but have different ideas of who Jesus Christ is. There are many schools of philosophy, many churches and they all say we have the truth. How can we distinguish truth from falsehood?
In a sense, this situation is a blessing. Many countries today recognize freedom of conscience or religious freedom as a human right. This is good, because by our understanding of the Scriptures, deciding matters of faith is not the office of civil government. God has given the government the authority to maintain order in this world, to protect borders, and keep streets safe. But, it is not the government's charge to save souls. This is the office of the church, but only with the proclamation of the Word of God, not by the sword. Salvation belongs to the kingdom of heaven, which is not an earthly kingdom. To establish the kingdom of heaven on earth is the source of many wars and persecution to this day.
But when there is freedom of conscience and expression, the consequence is many religious opinions. However, they are not all equal. There is only one saving faith, one truth that sets us free, and the other paths will lead us to perdition. Against these errors, our sword is the sword of the Spirit, the Scriptures inspired by the Holy Spirit.
In our readings for today, we find three times the warning against false prophets or false teachers. Says the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 23: 16-29, not all prophets are sent by God and not everyone who says "I dreamed, I dreamed" received their dreams from the Lord. Those who have revelations not found in the Bible and who teach doctrines against the creed are clearly not messengers from God. But, in our gospel for today (Matthew 7: 15-23), our Lord speaks of "ravenous wolves" in the clothing of the sheep. Which means, it is not always easy to distinguish false teachers. They can have the appearance of learned and pious men, with many followers. They can have an appearance of success and prosperity. For some people, the prosperity of a preacher may be suspicious, but for others it is a sign of God's favor.
However, our Lord says that "by their fruits you will know them. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Thus every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit." And the fruit of preaching must be the Word of God. No matter godliness or prosperity, preaching should not be mixed with false doctrines.
There are some preachers who say I believe in the Holy Scriptures, I believe in the creed, but they do not believe, for example, that we are saved only by grace. There are some works that we must do before receiving the promise of eternal life. Or they reject the means of grace. Against the Scriptures, they say that there is no spiritual regeneration, baptism, or the true body and true blood of Christ are not present at the sacrament. We do not want to confuse people. When we say Scripture teaches something, and others say something different, but we share the pulpit with them, we sow confusion and undermine the authority of the Bible.
Those who preach from our pulpits must preach the Word in its purity. So, to Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession, our confession says that no one can preach in our churches or administer the sacraments without a legitimate appeal. That is, they must be prepared and examined by the church for their character and their understanding of the Word of God.
Sometimes, God can use a false teacher to lead a person to search the Scriptures to discover the pure teaching. The sheep recognize the voice of the Shepherd, which is written in the Scriptures. In the Scriptures we have sufficient revelation for salvation, also the Scriptures are written in plain language. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit acts to enlighten our minds and hearts to understand the Word of God. It is the pastor's job to teach the congregation and correct his mistakes, but also for the congregation to have a good knowledge of the Scriptures to correct the pastor if he is preaching his own opinions. Everything in the spirit of love and edification.
The true unity is not the unity of organization, but the unity of doctrine and faith. The pastor's authority is not his own person, but in the Scriptures. In our text of the book of Acts, to conclude his third missionary trip, Saint Paul said goodbye to the elders of Miletus with these words:
“Therefore, look to yourselves, and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops, to feed the church of God, which He bought with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure ravenous wolves will come among you, who will not spare the flock. And from yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to lead disciples after them. Therefore, keep watch, remembering that for three years, night and day, I have not stopped admonishing each one with tears. Now, brothers, I entrust you to God and to the word of his grace, which is powerful to build you up, and to give you an inheritance with all the sanctified. ”
Holy Scripture is our inheritance. In them we have the assurance of God's promises. All the Scriptures teach us of Jesus Christ in whom we have new life. And in the Scriptures, above all the sources of knowledge and wisdom, we have a fixed point, a reliable voice, in the babel of this world, with its controversies, conflicts and many opinions. In this we have the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
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