Tuesday, November 16, 2010

False shepherd alert

TODAY'S SPECIAL: Jeremiah 23:1-20

TO CHEW ON: "'Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!' says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: 'You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,' says the Lord." Jeremiah 23:1-2

I have, in the last while, run into evidence that the problem Jeremiah had with false shepherds in his day continues in ours. Otherwise, how do you explain a Lutheran pastor who describes himself as a "vedic buddhist pagan," or a local church leader who, in his role as TV host-interviewer seems more interested in pointing out how Buddhism contains truth than explaining how it contradicts the Gospel.

In our time, when blending belief systems with a view to getting along with everyone is the trend, I guess it's not surprising. But the pervasiveness of such tainted teaching makes it all the more important to be able to tell who the false shepherds/teachers are. Jeremiah in this chapter names several lifestyle and teaching indicators:

1. They are profane (vs. 11). I can't help but think of the trend in parts of the church these days to use spiced up language even from the pulpit, supposedly to attract the unbeliever: "See, we can relate to you because we talk just like you do."

2. They prophesy by Baal (vs. 13). Sounds like modern syncretism to me.

3. They commit adultery and live like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah (vs. 14). All too familiar, isn't it?

Throughout the Bible false teachers / shepherds are mentioned often. Looking at those references gives us some more ways to spot them.

  • Unfamiliar teaching. Jeremiah describers them as teaching something "new" and says they "speak a vision of their own heart" (Jeremiah 23:16). Paul warns Timothy about their "doctrines of demons," and their "profane and idle babbling" (1 Timothy 6:20).
  • Human-centered. This may mean making up rules for people to follow, as the Scribes and Pharisees did (Mark 7:7). It could also include teaching human wisdom instead of Christ: "philosophy and empty deceit ...tradition of man according to the basic principles of the world and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).
  • New take on Jesus. False teachers often tinker with Jesus' identity. Paul warns the Corinthians about preachers who proclaim an unfamiliar Jesus, a different spirit, and a different gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4). Peter warns about teachers who deny the efficacy of Jesus' work on the cross (2 Peter 2:1). Some may even use Scripture itself to challenge Jesus' identity, like Satan did during Jesus' temptation (Matthew 4:6).
  • No bad news. The false shepherds of Ezekiel's day avoided the bad and unpleasant, saying only things the people wanted to hear (Ezekiel 13:10).
  • Divisive. Paul warned Titus about teachers who were divisive (Titus 3:10). Related to causing division is the desire to build one's own following (Acts 20:30).
  • Hypocritical and immoral lifestyle. Jesus warned about teachers who lived lives of hypocrisy (Luke 12:1). Paul lumped heretical teachers in with those who practiced idolatry, sorcery and a lot of other things (Galatians 5:20).

The key thing in identifying false shepherds still always comes down to being familiar with God's word. When we know what it says, we'll be alert to someone who is trying to tell us something it doesn't say: "...holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:7-9).

PRAYER: Dear God, I want to live by truth. Help me to know and understand Your word so that I will be able to detect error. Amen.

MORE: Doctrinal defection

"What we see today in the moral collapse of the ministry is not the worst priestly failure. Far more devastating for the church long term is the doctrinal defection of thousands of pastors away from the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and away from biblical truth.
"The Curse of Priestly Failure" By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

Do your 8-12-year-olds have daily devotions? Point them to Bible Drive-Thru.

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