Beware of Pastors
August 7, 2022 anno Domini
What is the greatest threat to your faith? If you had to identify one specific enemy, who would it be? Let’s strike the three easy ones off your list – the devil, the world, your sinful self. Who is next in line?
Let me spell it out for you. His name is Bruce A. Timm. He holds the office of pastor. You might know him. In a few years watch out for another guy. His name is Luke H. Otten. Why would your pastor be the greatest threat to your faith? Because Jesus says so. Read vs. 15. Paul warns the church at Ephesus (Read Act 20:29-30).
The greatest danger to your faith and to the church is a false prophet or a false pastor. These enemies do not come from outside the church, but from within her. A false pastor will look like a sheepdog, even wearing a nice white collar, but he is a ravenous wolf. He might wear a chasuble, but behind that beautiful vestment there is an ugly appetite for sheep.
If your pastor showed up wearing horns on his head, and speaking a strange language, and urging you to sacrifice your children to Molech, you would quickly identify him as not a Lutheran, not a preacher of God’s Word and you would usher him out the door. Likely, he wouldn’t even get in the door because he wouldn’t make it through seminary. Although I did hear the story recently of a vicar who practiced a little witchcraft. He’s no longer a vicar and he won’t be a pastor. Oh, and his name is not Luke Otten.
But if your pastor shows up well-credentialed from the Fort Wayne seminary or that other seminary in St. Louis, you’re going to listen to Him. Jesus commanded you. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 8:8) God gave pastors to congregations and therefore you desire them and receive them. You’ll listen to your pastor whether he wears a collar or a tie. You might even listen to him if he wears ripped blue jeans and a polo shirt, because you have a high regard for the Office of the Holy Ministry. You believe pastors are God’s gift to His church. That’s what you believe, but he might not.
Pastors are to deliver the Word of life. They are to preach Christ and Him crucified. They are to damn you for your sins and save you by Christ’s forgiveness. If you’re comfortable and cozy with sin your pastor should afflict you with God’s Law, and discipline you by withholding communion. If your conscience is troubled and anxious about your sin and you are wondering how God could love one like you, your pastor should carry you to the cross and point you to Christ. It is finished. Jesus has done it. Your sin is forgiven. Your pastor should remind you of the water poured on your head in Christ’s name. In your baptism you have been drowned with Christ and raised to a new life in Him. His death is your death for sin. His resurrection is righteousness and life for you. Your pastor should bring Christ’s body and blood to your body and blood, that you might taste and see that the Lord is good – so good He has mercy on you. So good He gave His Son to die for you. So good He wants you to have what He has.
But here is the rub and we see it all over God’s Word and when we look in the mirror. You don’t want to be chastised for your sin and you are bored with Jesus. That’s why false prophets are often rich and famous. That’s why they end up with big congregations in the cities. The prophet Jeremiah ended up thrown into a waterless pit, while the false prophets hobnobbed around the palace with the princes and King of Judah. Martin Luther had a contract on his head while the Pope rode around in a gold suit of armor.
Every pastor, including the one in your pulpit is tempted to tell you what you want to hear. I want you to like me and to continue paying me. I don’t like conflict and I don’t want to see you suffer, but sometimes you need to suffer – for your sins, to have your idols smashed, to ready you for Jesus and prepare you for life everlasting. What would become of the sheep if the shepherd was playing Fortnite on his smartphone while on duty? What would happen to the little lambs if the sheepdogs were playing cards instead of patrolling the flock? What would happen is mutton, meals of mutton for the wolves and thieves.
There is one test for your pastor to determine if he is a ravenous wolf or a sheepdog under the Good Shepherd. (Read vs. 16). Does the Word your pastor preaches bring life? Does it bear fruit? Does it create faith in your heart and extol the name of the Triune God? Does it lead to the death of sin and the abundance of forgiveness? Are you strengthened to fight against sin and resist the devil or does your pastor say it’s okay to dine with the devil if you use a long spoon? Does he preach Christ and Him crucified, or your belly and it satisfied? Does he proclaim God’s Will as revealed in Holy Scripture, or your will revealed in your feelings? The full council of God or bits and pieces of God’s Word trimmed of anything too tough to chew on or too old for modern ears.
On the one hand we will not see the good fruit of the Gospel until the last day. Then we will see who lives and who dies, who is good because he is forgiven, and who is bad because he didn’t want forgiveness. On the other hand, we can see where good fruit will be produced and that is where we see the tree of life, the Word of Christ. You must know the Word to find the Word so you can hear the Word and have the life that bears good fruit. You must know what is good according to God’s Word and what is bad, what will bear life and what will give birth to death. You must be able to discern between the hard Word of God and the easy way of the world. You need to judge with your ears and not your heart or your belly or your eyes.
There is another, though lesser way to judge whether a religion is good or bad, bringing life or death. If a religion is of God, then it should have a positive effect on the world. You won’t hear this on the news and read it in any contemporary history book, but Christianity has had a better effect on the world than any other religion. Why do you think people are fleeing Africa, South and Central America, and the Middle East to head for Europe and the United States? Because here is no slavery and women have full and equal rights and girls can go to school and life is valued and the sick are cared for and the mentally ill are shown compassion and charity is common. You will not witness this good in Muslim countries or Hindu countries or Communist godless countries. You will see them where Christianity has come and had its way. Pope Francis should not be apologizing for the work Roman Catholic missionaries. Were there evil and wicked men among them? Absolutely, but the majority of those missionaries desired one thing – to bring the life of Christ and the goodness of God to people who lived in the darkness of pagan tribalism. Those missionaries sacrificed much to preach Christ, including their lives.
Keep an eye on your pastor, but more importantly keep your ears listening to what he preaches and teaches. Listen for God’s Word not man’s Word, for Christ crucified, not your pastor glorified, for forgiveness from the cross, not permission for progressiveness. Listen for the life that comes through repentance for your sins and faith in the name of Jesus. Amen.