Appearances deceive. Beware the camouflaged predator.

"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing,
            but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.
You will know them by their fruits."
                                                                        Matthew 7:15-16 NKJV

                      False? Evil? Or Just Different?

When we hear the term "false prophet" it doesn't sound too threatening.
After all, who knows any prophets! But some translations of this verse
substitute the words, religious teachers or preachers. The meaning
would not be altered if we included all people in leadership positions in
our houses of worship. At that point we can picture people in our minds,
and depending on your life experiences, you may be energized by this
verse or you might rather skip over it and get on with something else.

I personally don't care for the "false prophet" message because to me,
it implies making judgments which don't allow for variety in religious
experience. Looking for falsehood creates suspicion of all preachers,
churches, faith-based organizations, do-gooders, etc. Which to me
is not a healthy climate to live and work in. I'm in the "skip over it"
crowd; but the spirit said, "No, deal with it."

I grew up in a county where the independent, non-denominational
pastors routinely attacked the various church denominations within
the community. The issue seemed to be false teachings. The attitude
sounded like, "If you don't agree with me and use the same words
I do to tell the Gospel story, then you're leading people astray." From
there it was a small step to believing that mainline churches were
misrepresenting the Bible and promoting their own agendas.

Anyone who doesn't believe like I do and anyone whose doctrine does
not agree with mine, must be wrong--how often we think that way!
As though there is only one way to understand the great mysteries
of faith!

The Bible, taken piecemeal, is open to many interpretations. It is even
possible to support bizarre ideas by quoting a single passage of
scripture. And who is to say that a particular doctrine should be
emphasized above all else! The test I use with any passage is, how
does this one piece fit into the total message? And how does it support 
the major themes of the entire Bible?

Jesus said, "Beware." Matthew 7:15-18, in the Message Bible, reads
like this: "Be wary of false preachers who smile a lot, dripping with
practiced sincerity. Chances are they are out to rip you off some way
or other. Don't be impressed with charisma; look for character.
Who preachers are is the main thing, not what they say. A genuine
leader will never exploit your emotions or your pocketbook."

There are many religious programs on cable television. We may watch
and begin to think we know those people on the tube. But in reality
everything about the show is choreographed for the camera. What we
see on the stage is only the image they want to project to the viewer.
We do not see "their fruits."

In our local churches, we have a clearer view. Free from the glitz and
the glare of studio lights, you will probably get a truer-to-life experience
in a congregation within your neighborhood. Certainly a much better
vantage point from which to observe how the words from the lips
become translated into how lives are lived.

I do not wish to speak ill of the media's religious shows. If you have
found a TV or radio personality who brings you into God's presence in
a meaningful way, I praise God with you for that blessing. Jesus simply
adds one note of caution. There are ravenous wolves in sheep's clothing
and we must be careful. Be sure to put your trust and confidence in
God, not in God's messenger. So that, if tragically your pastor does fall
from grace or betray your trust, your faith in God will hold amid the
shattering storm. This is just as true for local pastors as it is for those
coming to you through the public media.

I believe Jesus would have us forego judgments that devour and
attitudes of superiority. Instead, ask God for wisdom to discern truth
from falsehood, substance from foolishness, candor from pompous
authority, genuineness from pretense. There are a lot of people who are
skeptical when it comes to religion. And we may be the only Bible they
ever read! So when others look to us to see if religious faith works
and is a desirable option, we need to be sure to show them some
"good fruits." Because it's not only false prophets who are known by
their fruits, we are too.


Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.


Icebreaker: Mention one thing you have heard said somewhere which you
                   believe to be false.


Select a current political topic.
            Discuss how you decide which side of the argument to be on?
            Do you use the same reasoning process for deciding which
                        principles of faith you believe?
            If not, how do you decide on matters of faith?


Think about the responses to the Icebreaker exercise.
            Did anyone term something false which you believe to be true?
            How comfortable are you when people hold a different opinion?
                      Do you think they must be wrong?


List things which fall into the category of false religious teaching or practice.
            Where do you hear or see these falsehoods?
            What makes something false?  Words?  Deeds?  Motives?  . . .?
            What are the "bad fruits" of the falsehoods on your list?
            Is false the same thing as being evil?
            Which items on your list do you consider evil?


Why might Jesus have called the false prophet not just a wolf,
                        but a ravenous wolf!
            React to Matthew 7:15-18 from The Message Bible.
            Is it fair to say those things about the clergy?
                        Why or why not?


St. Paul said the just shall live by faith. The epistle James questions,
"Shall faith save a man? Faith without works is dead." Martin Luther
used Paul's words as a banner for the reformation which separated
Protestants from the Roman Catholic Church. This is a classic example
of how various religious groups select one teaching from the Bible and
hold it above other teachings.
            What doctrines are elevated above others by your congregation?


There are dangers in over emphasizing any particular doctrine at the
expense of other major themes of the Bible.
            What happens to Paul's justification by faith teaching or James'
            doctrine of good works, if one of them is given extreme importance
            without being balanced by each other?


Jesus did not say what we are to do about the "ravenous wolf," other than
to be careful so we are not deceived.
            Is there any more we should do about false prophets?

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