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"Beware of False Prophets"
A Response to the ECUSA General Convention

by The Rev. Jason R. Grote
Trinity 8
August 10, 2003

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” It is providential that this is the Gospel lesson this morning in light of what I must preach on.

Normally I would consider it uncouth to preach a sermon about Church politics or to even bash another group repeatedly. The sermon is not a time to push one’s own agenda or beliefs. It is not to be an opportunity to hurl attacks at others. It is a time to instruct the people of God in the ways of God. But there are times when it is necessary to address issues happening around us. Not in a way that vaunts ourselves or our denomination, but in a way that presents a growing problem about which each of us must know and defend against. Such a situation has recently come to light.

Anyone with a Television or radio has heard about the recent election by the Episcopal Church USA to consecrate an openly practicing homosexual to the office of Bishop. This election has the Anglican world, and even the secular world, talking non-stop. Some are thrilled claiming it’s a momentous breakthrough. Others are upset and calling for a division in the Church. As we hear of these things it is important for us to have a proper and godly understanding of what is happening, or should I say… what has been happening over the past few decades. We need to be aware of and know what God would have us think.

We don’t have to guess what God says about such things. We need only turn to Romans 1 which explicitly speaks to what we are witnessing. St. Paul writes,

“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men… who hold the truth in unrighteousness. Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections; for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet… Who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same but have pleasure in them that do them.”

This passage written 2000 years ago confirms the age-old adage, “There is nothing new under the sun.” But it is a great shame when we see this happen within the Church. For this is exactly what has happened in the Episcopal Church. I cannot make a blanket statement because there are very godly individuals and parishes within the Episcopal Church. These individuals and parishes are to be praised for the faithfulness. But, at the same time, there seems to be a growing amount of men, women, and ordained ministers of God who have been given to know the truth of God, yet have not given God the glory that is His. Neither have they strived to preach the pure word of God. Instead they have given themselves up unto vile affections and have praised those who exhibit them. They have elected to a position of Godly example and leadership one who is openly unrepentant and who desires not to change his sinful behavior.

This isn’t the first time the Episcopal Church has followed their own cunningly devised plans and sinful affections. Actually, it’s not the first time that a body of God’s people has done it. The Israelite nation did it in the Old Testament. And if you’re not sure what happened to them I’ll tell you. God repeatedly called them unto repentance and when they would not heed God’s word they were cast out of the land and put into subjection and slavery of pagan nations. They received the judgment that God promised through the prophets. Listen to the judgment of God in Romans chapter 2, “Unto them that are contentious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.”

It’s a scary and sorrowful thought to see what will happen to those who have heard the word of God but have turned away from it. I offer these words of God not to pass judgment upon the Episcopal Church, for that judgment is God’s. But I offer them to you that you might pray for their repentance and that you might recognize the severity of such beliefs and actions in your own life, in the life of your family, or in the life of your Church. It is my prayer that through this sermon we may focus upon sanctifying and strengthening ourselves and not on seeking to tear down others.

Now I’m not going to talk about homosexuality. The scriptures do that for us when they say that no homosexual shall inherit the kingdom of God. Neither am I going to talk about women’s ordination or any other particular hot topic. For these things are just symptoms of a deeper spiritual disease within the Church. Like our Gospel lesson that says, “By their fruits you shall know them”, these fruits are the external indicators that another problem or problems exist. What are these problems? What spiritual problems are at the root? What must we be aware of that we might not fall as well?

I can easily wrap this up by simply stating that sin is the root of the problem. Sin is man’s desire to be God and to do the things that God prohibits. That’s always the root of our spiritual failures. But that answer would be a quick out. It wouldn’t be satisfactory enough and it wouldn’t equip us to do the work as the saints of God.

Because they have allowed sin to reign in their lives, they have committed two grievous and grave errors. The first is that they have abandoned God’s Holy Word. The second is that they have misrepresented God’s relationship with man. All other symptoms and ailments flow from these two sinful errors. And because I am given, as a Priest of God, spiritual charge and care of your souls I want to be assured that we understand and recognize these errors so that we might not fall prey to that which the Episcopal Church and so many others have.

Again, the first error is abandoning God’s Holy Scripture. There are two types of revelation given by God unto man. By both means we may know about God. The first is General Revelation. We can behold the sky, the stars, the trees, the intricacies of a caterpillar becoming a beautiful butterfly. We can also relate to and understand the beauty of our fellow man. All of God’s creation is before our eyes and it all reveals God to us. David wrote in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”

It’s utterly amazing how nature can communicate in a way that nothing or no one else can. The combined words of the most eloquent men in the world cannot touch the soul or draw one close to God in the same way that witnessing His creation can. There is neither speech nor language yet the works of God’s hands can communicate to all. This is what we call General Revelation.

But beyond General Revelation is Special Revelation. Special Revelation is God’s direct communication with man. When He spoke unto Moses, David, Elijah, any of the prophets, to Paul, or to any of the writers of Scripture, God was revealing Himself in a special way. In the pages of Scripture we are given to know the mind and will of God. We are blessed to have revealed to us God’s plan of redemption through His Son Jesus Christ. We are told the who, what, when, where, why and how’s of relationship with God. He tells us how He loves us and sent His Son to die for us. He tells us how He bestows His grace upon us through covenantal sacraments. He tells us of His promises to those who will remain faithful. He gives us the hope of eternal life in His presence. He tells us what is pleasing and non-pleasing in His sight. We are allowed to see how those before us have fallen and succeeded. As St. Paul says, “The things that were written aforetime were written for our learning.” Unless God gives us this information and reveals to us His desires, how are we to know what to do?

Imagine trying to take a box of car parts and assembling an engine without any instructions, guidance, or education. I would say that less than 1 % could possibly do it. The same is true of God and the Christian life. Unless God gives us guidance and instruction, we would not know what to do or where to turn. We would be left charting our own course. Thankfully, God doesn’t desire us to figure it out on our own. He has given us His very word through Holy and Inspired men. As St. Paul said, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Scripture is not what some deem as a restrictive book of laws. It is a gift from God. One book containing 66 books, wrapped up and given to us that we might enjoy a full and fruitful relationship with God. It is a gracious outpouring of God’s heart to us that we might respond in kind.

Many have left such a belief in the scriptures. They take Scripture and say that it is no longer binding upon us. They may omit passages or change others to serve their purposes and desires. But to do so is to alter God’s words. As John says in Revelation, “For I testify unto every man that hears the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life and out of the holy city and from the things which are written in this book.”

To alter God’s word is to tread in treacherous territory. To twist it for your own sinful affections is just as dangerous. We must not omit or add to what God has said. Neither must we interpret Scripture without a proper basis.

It is not difficult to come to God’s word and to make it say what we want it to say. This is what the Episcopal Church and many others have done with regards to women’s ordination, homosexuality, and the claim that Jesus Christ is not the only way for salvation. They might say to you, “That’s the way you interpret it but it’s not the way I interpret it.” Who’s right? How do we know? Why is one interpretation better than another?

Proper interpretation of Scripture relies on several things. The first is consistency. God does not contradict Himself. Thus when we approach a passage we must understand it in light of what God has said and revealed before in Scripture. This is what we call interpreting Scripture with Scripture. We must also turn to those who have established the doctrines of the faith. Christ interprets Scripture for us in the Gospels. The Apostles interpret Scripture for us in the Epistles. The Early Church interprets Scripture for us in their universally accepted doctrines and creeds. We cannot cast of historical interpretation and Apostolic Tradition when approaching the Scriptures. For if we do, we will, like St. Paul says of the Galatians, quickly leave the Gospel of Jesus Christ for another: which if any man preach he is accursed of God.

I’ll be the first to say that it is tempting for us to turn away from the Scriptures... to take those parts we like and to ignore those we don’t. They may cut us to the core and so we cast them from our memories. We may say that what is written is antiquated. We may want to believe that they don’t apply to us anymore in such an enlightened and politically correct society. These very arguments are made by others.

But what we must remember is that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. God does not change nor does His desire for our lives change. He has always desired our redemption and our salvation. He has always proclaimed a yearning for our sanctification. Thus the ethics that He established in the beginning are the same ethics he desires for us in the year 2003. The passages of Scripture concerning how we are to be holy as He is holy transcend time and societies. No temporal or societal change affects our Eternal God and His commands.

The Holy Scripture is the inerrant Word of God, written by those inspired by God, and given to the people of God.

The second error that I mentioned earlier was that they have misunderstood and misrepresented God’s relationship with mankind. There has been a great movement from the idea of covenantal relationship to unconditional acceptance. It’s almost ventured into the realm of Universalism. If you don’t understand that term, don’t worry. Simply put, it is the belief that all of mankind will receive salvation and go to heaven. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Hindu, a Muslim, an atheist, a Christian, a Jew, or anything else. Nor does it matter what you do in this life. Your actions or faithfulness will not come into play. You can see why it is so appealing. It offers hope and reward without any faithful labor or perseverance.

The Episcopal Church and other denominations are not quite at that point yet. But the seeds are there. We have witnessed the fruit of such seeds evidenced by their reading of the Kuran in certain parishes. We have also seen it in their mutual services with other religions, not other Christian denominations but other religions. And of course, we see it in their recent exultation of sinful behavior.

One of the comments made went something like this, “We need to follow the example of our Lord Jesus. We need to be accepting of all men.” It sounds like a politician rather than a Christian minister.

Society has long been on the path of political correctness. Battles have been waged over racial issues, feminist issues, and sexual preference issues. Not all of these battles are wrong. Forced slavery is wrong, discrimination against women in the workplace is wrong, hate crimes are wrong. But universal acceptance of everyone is wrong also, especially within the Kingdom of God. Even our Savior makes this point when He proclaimed in our Gospel lesson, “Not everyone that saith unto me Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

The Church is known as the body of Christ. It is to follow His direction. St. Paul bids the Church to have the mind of Christ. The family to which we belong is to be filled with members who have been baptized and taught the things that Christ commanded.

As Christ was holy so also is His body to be holy. The Church is to be the keeper and teacher of all virtues and godliness. As Scripture tells us, God's holy nation is to be a shining example within the world but not a follower of the world. The Church is to bring her members and those of the world unto the transforming grace and work of God. Her duty is not to accept everyone as they are unconditionally just as God does not accept everyone as they are unconditionally. He accepts them as they repent of their sinful ways and are cleansed in the blood of Christ. God does not accept sinful man as sinful man. He accepts a repentant sinful man as righteous in Christ. Thus the Church is to aid in the ministry of rearing holy and righteous people. People who follow the ways of God. People who, as St. Paul said, mortify the deeds of the flesh and desire the things that are above.

It is high time for the Church to awake out of slumber and to call a sin a sin!! To hold people accountable for their actions and their beliefs. All too often the doctrine of sin and any other topic of possible conflict have been neglected and swept under the carpet. Shepherds allow the sheep to lead. They are hesitant to preach on any topic that would declare an individual to be wrong or to be an outcast. They find it politically incorrect to say that one might be banished from the Church because of their morality or quote unquote ‘sinfulness’. Yet they forget that the very God who offers salvation is the very God who banished Adam and Eve from the Garden because of their disobedience. It is the very God who passed judgment upon the world for their sinfulness through the flood. It is the very God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their debauchery. It is the very God who cast off His own kingdom and temple because of their covenantal unfaithfulness. The severity of sin is why Christ says in our Gospel lesson, “Every good tree brings forth good fruit, but a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. Every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.” Sinful living is severe!!

Now you might here people say that the basis of relationship with God is love. That is not true. God’s love for us is what made Him offer up His only Son on the cross. That was His gift of love to us. He gave us what we did not deserve and did not give us what we did deserve. His gift of salvation is freely given but not to all. It is given to those who accept His covenant in faith and by faithful obedience. As St. Paul said in Ephesians, “For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast. For we are His workmanship. Created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”

When each of us entered into covenant with God through baptism, we promised faithful obedience. The question is asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?” And we responded, “I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavor not to follow, nor be led by them.” We are then asked, “Wilt thou be baptized in this faith?” Inotherwords, 'are you desirous to be in covenant with God?" After answering affirmatively, we are asked, “Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?” There is the connection. The salvific and efficacious work is Christ’s but it is applied to us through covenantal faithfulness and obedience. This is the appointed means of relationship with God, not love.

You might also hear others supporting unconditional acceptance by saying that Christ commanded us to love everyone. That is true. We are to love our brethren and we are to love our enemies. But such love is not simply an open arm acceptance of people as they are. We are to love them in the same way God loved us. Scripture tells us that God loved us while we were yet sinners. Again it tells us that Christ came into the world to save sinners. Sinners are the ones Christ ate with. Sinners are the ones Christ defended. He loved them. But His love also involved a desire for their healing. He heals them, restores them, and bids them to go and sin no more. He promises the Holy Spirit that He might lead us into truth and all righteousness. God loved His creation but sent His Son that His Son might redeem and sanctify it. As St. Paul says in First Thessalonians chapter 4, "For this is the will of God, even your sanctification.... For God hath not called us unto uncleanness; but unto holiness."

That is what we are called to do. We are to love individuals even while they are in sin. If a homosexual enters these doors, it would be wrong for us to kick them out. That would be just as sinful as their homosexual behavior. Rather, we are to love them and to minister unto them. We are to let sinful people know that their behavior is unacceptable to God and that their relationship with God is lacking. In all this, we desire and pray for their repentance and amendment of life.

This is exactly why the Reformed Episcopal Church has put the following point in her statement on sexual ethics. After saying that sexual intercourse should only take place between a man and a wife duly married it says, “…the Church is called upon to show Christ-like compassion to those who have fallen into sexual sin, encouraging them to repent and receive forgiveness, and offering the ministry of healing to all who suffer physically or emotionally as a result of such sin.”

This is the proper perspective to have regarding sinful behavior and sinful man. We desire, not only in ourselves, but in them also... repentance, forgiveness, and healing. That can only come if we teach, preach, and recognize that sin is a reality and is a barrier between man and God. It cannot come from an attitude of universal acceptance.

These two things-- The authority of God’s Holy Word and a proper understanding that faithfulness and holy living are part and parcel in our relationship with God-- are what we must be ready to defend.

The wolves in sheep’s clothing are revealing themselves. They have killed other faithful sheep and they look to devour more. They will attack orthodoxy. They will claim that what orthodox Christians believe is wrong and judgmental. They will preach a gospel that is apart from the Gospel of Christ. Beware of them!!

It’s a disheartening and sorrowful time for the Church of God. In the midst of all this and for the remainder of our days, may our hearts, our minds, and our beliefs follow that of St. Peter, “It is better to obey God than to obey men.” Amen