Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 7:15c “. . .which come to you in sheep’s clothing,. . .”
False prophets “come;” they are not sent. God has not commissioned them. Refusing to straightforwardly answer questions about Bible doctrine, they creep into the fold undetected, being outwardly pious and impressive. They must disguise themselves with a mask of sanctity and innocence, because when they are not subtle and plausible, but appear in their true colors, they are easily detectable. “Vice always puts on the robes of virtue, and error speaks the language of truth” (Thomas).
The false ever seeks to mimic the true. “When God speaks, the devil gives a mocking echo” (Pink). And the nearer the counterfeit comes to the original, the greater the danger. The most harmful false prophets are not those like Jim Jones, who stomped on Bibles and, while standing on them, made pronouncements as if he were God. The ones most to be feared pray eloquently, speak the language of Zion, comfort their hearers, and take “Christian” as their label. A teacher can hold the Bible, preach and teach from it, quote it, and yet not believe it is the Word of God.
False prophets can certainly be impressive–friendly, persuasive, brilliant, cultured. Balaam had remarkable insight (NB 31:16). Simon the magician could do miracles (AC 8:9ff). Elymas the sorcerer was a great debater (AC 13:6ff). “And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 C 11:14 NAS).
Matt. 7:15d “. . .but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”
Wolves are the worst enemy a sheep has, for in their wake they leave victims bleeding, dying, and dead. Fear foes faking as friends, for when an enemy poses as an ally, we tend to let our guard down. Due to this gullibility, we suffer more damage to our cause from within than from without. “More harm has been done to the Church by termites on the inside than by woodpeckers on the outside” (Vance Havner). All the hostile forces arrayed against Christianity from outside can not harm us as badly as false prophets who don the fleece of the flock they claim to love.
In America, false brands of Christianity are the gravest threat to true Christianity. Liberalism is manufacturing carnage, ravaged sheep. Our problem is made worse by the fact most of our false prophets are deluded into thinking they are right. Many are “unconscious hypocrites” (Maclaren), truly believing in what they teach.
Even if false prophets’ motives are genuine, their words still wreak disastrous havoc among the sheep. Some err intentionally, many unintentionally, but both groups leave victims in their wake. Thus, since false prophets can delude even themselves, we have to try them by an objective test apart from their own claims.
Our job is not to go on witch-hunts or shoot the wolves. We are to de-fleece them, to reveal them for what they are in order that the sheep not be fooled. We do not seek to inhibit freedom of speech, but to expose their speech for what it truly is.
Everyone has a right to express their opinion, but not every opinion is right. Anything anti-Biblical is anti-Christian. Any teaching which undermines the authority of Holy Writ is non-Christian. This position leaves much room for diversity among believers. Part of the genius of Baptist life is our refusal to adopt a creed. Rather than driving a stake in the ground and tying a horse to it, we build a fence and let the horse roam. Nevertheless, there still has to be at some point a fence.
In Christianity, privatization of truth is disallowed. False prophets spread their version of truth. True prophets accept the Bible as an authority outside themselves. False prophets speak for themselves. A true prophet is a voice speaking for God, transmitting and applying a body of truth separate from his own conclusions.
The issue here is not denominationalism. I am now enjoying fellowship with more non-Baptists than ever before. The crux is not interpretation of particular texts, but interpretation of what the Bible is as a whole. When we agree the Bible is the Word of God, we can stand side by side as brothers and sisters in Christ and lock arms in the work. We can disagree on particulars and yet unite because we agree our faith is to be “bottomed upon Scripture, and ballasted therewith” (Trapp).
As people forsake the life-anchor provided by the Bible, they wander farther and farther away from the truth. No matter how often or how loud the secularist calls out for decency and morality, apart from people being grounded in the Bible, they go from bad to worse to worst. George Washington, the dear Father of our country, said morality is impossible to maintain apart from religion.
Secularists, wanting us to believe otherwise, claim society can remain decent without the trappings of religion. They want atheism to wear Christian clothes. It cannot happen. Without the unwavering, unerring, unfailing, and unchanging standard found in the Bible, all goes amok. Society becomes adrift, floating downhill.
Paul warned, “Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 TM 3:13). When left to make choices on their own, people deceive and become deceived. A spiritual and moral insanity takes over, leaving individuals susceptible to every new, wild-haired scheme coming down the river, or I should say, down the sewage pipe.
There is an inherent irony and idiocy in trying to teach children right from wrong, and then telling them they must decide for themselves what to believe, as if they will not tend to do the latter without our encouragement. To say certain things are right, and some things are wrong, but only the individual can decide what is right or wrong, is to say absolutes are relative. That’s an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. We might as well say black is white, up is down, in is out. To teach in this way is a prescription for national disaster, as shown in what recently happened at Columbine High School in Colorado. Two teenage gunmen decided on their own what was right and what was wrong. As a result, many students died.
The period of the Judges ranks as one of the darkest chapters in Israel’s history. Pillaging, rape, kidnapping, thievery, and assassinations proliferated. Chaos ruled the day. What went wrong? The Bible gives the simple yet obvious answer, “Every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (JG 21:25).
A society must agree, certain things are right, other things are wrong. These values must be beyond debate or discussion. They have to be non-negotiable. For Western Civilization, this standard has been the Bible. Our country is happiest when her citizens’ lives are most Biblical. Therefore, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”