Tuesday, October 16, 2007

False Prophets/Teachers

With all the discussion in the Blog-o-sphere about Joel Osteen and the message he proclaims, I decided to post the following comment I made at another blog:

Jeremy, you certainly have provided much thought for discussion. However, when you mention Matthew 7:15-20 several things concern me. The text taken from the ESV, simply because that was handy, reads, “”Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Notice first of all the context, Jesus is giving a warning against false prophets or teachers. The first part of his warning points out that they will not be easily recognizable. They will look sincere and authentic. I cannot think of one major heretic in the history of the church that did not think they were correct. Many of them were even very likable, appealing people all of who claimed they were Christians. Yet, what they taught was not correct, it was a destructive heresy, and in teaching it they denied the very one who they claim bought them.

Joel Osteen does come across as a very nice, personable. However, that does not say anything about how true what he preaches is.

The next thing Jesus points out is that although these false prophets may look like sheep, they will be known by their fruits. In doing this he uses several illustrations to carry home his point that they way to discern true prophets or teachers from false is their fruit.

The question this raises is, what are the fruits in mind here. Too often that question is not asked. Instead we simply assume that what Jesus is talking about is how they live. That their lifestyle will show whether they are true or false teachers. If that is what Jesus is primarily looking to, we have to realize something, it may take years or even decades to be able to say one way or another with many people who are false teachers. Outside they look very good. May prominent false teacher throughout the history of the church have lived outwardly exemplary lives. Yes, in some cases today and in the past false teachers have shown the lie of their professed faith in Christ through lifestyles that are clearly opposed to Christ, but more often than not this took quite a bit of time to show itself. During that time, many people were led astray.

However, I think if one considers for a while about what the fruit of a teacher is, it starts to become clear that the primary fruit of a teacher is their teaching. Thus, a false teacher will be known by their teaching. That means all teaching must be tested by the Scriptures as to its faithfulness to that revealed word of God. Based on that, I would say that Joel Osteen’s gospel is not the gospel at all. It neglects what Paul said was of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1-10) and in its place tells people that they are accepted by God by doing their best. That is a false gospel and the Bible is clear on the result of that for those who preach another gospel and do not repent of it (Gal 1:8-9).

I do not write this with any pleasure or superiority. It is a terrible thing to consider the end for those who preach another gospel. The glorious part of all this is that Joel can still repent. He can still turn to the one who died for our sins, the one who stood as a propitiation so that God could be both just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus Christ. That is what changed everything for me, and I pray it will change everything for Joel Osteen as well.

Yes, I agree there are many Christians who claim to be believers but deny it in how they live, but we are not speaking about Christians in general, we are speaking about a person who claims to be a Christian teacher. He, I and all who are teachers will be called to account for what we have taught. If it is not the one and only gospel revealed in the Scriptures, then all that awaits is the anathema of God. (I write this with tears in my eyes.)

May God grant grace that we more and more will know and proclaim the gospel in word and deed.


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