Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. -- Acts 20: 30 (NLT)
It is interesting to note that the point at which good vision transcends into mild vision loss is at the 20-30 measurement. It is at the 20-30 point that our vision while still good overall can start to falter. One of the reasons for this possible vision loss is the development of Optic Atrophy, where there is loss of the optic fibers in the optic nerve. But hallelujah, the term atrophy means that while there is loss, there is also the capacity for re-growth!
I find this interesting and encouraging because Acts 20: 30 describes a condition we find ourselves in today within the modern church. It is a loss of vision that is more subtle than we may realize. I think so often we hear the warnings about false teachers and prophets and we wrongly assume that they will come into our churches with big neon signs around their necks so we can tell them apart from everyone else. It rarely happens this way beloved. Quite frankly, a lot of false teachers probably do not even realize their own heresy:
On judgment day many will say to me, "Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.' But I will reply, "I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God's laws.' -- Matthew 7: 22-23 (NLT)
Now we have looked at these verses before but it is so important to realize that based on the way Jesus outlines this; the people in question are genuinely surprised on Judgment Day that Christ does not know them. They seem to have led a life thinking they were serving God when in fact they were serving only themselves. Sure we have some that are more obvious than others but remember how greatly America fell for the holy laughter debacle in the 1990's. There have been heretical movements within this country that should have been obvious apostasy to all yet so many were taken captive by the hollow and deceptive philosophies.
I present this week as exhibit A -- Joel Osteen. Once again, for those who like Mr. Osteen, I only speak about him because he runs the most popular church in the country and continues to walk on national television and compromise the Gospel of Jesus Christ -- period. This past week he appeared on Wolf Blitzer (CNN) and was asked about the Christianity of Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Joel's response was that since Mr. Romney has said that Jesus was his Lord - that was "good enough for him." The exact phrase Pastor Osteen used was that he considers himself more "broad" when it comes to accepting differences. To which I point him back to the words of Jesus:
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. -- Matthew 7: 13-14 (NIV)
Broad is the road that leads to destruction and narrow is the road that leads to life. Listen, this is not a political exercise. This is not spoken out of any sense of superiority. We believe what we believe or we may as well cast it all aside. I understand that Mitt Romney believes in his religion. I believe he is wrong. He believes I am. I can live with that. What we should not live with a blurring of the doctrinal lines for the sake of inclusion, or political correctness, or because it fits better with our political ideology. The fact is that Mormonism was founded by Joseph Smith in the 1800's. He claims to have been visited by an angel who led him to golden plates buried near his home. He further claims to have transcribed these plates into what would become the Book of Mormon -- which he then added to the Holy Scriptures. His doctrine included the notion that man could attain a co-equal status with God, the baptism of the dead, and the notion that even the wicked and disbelieving would receive some level of glory in the afterlife. He attempted to rewrite portions of the Bible, tripling the length of the first five chapters of Genesis. He taught that one achieves godlike states through polygamy. He had marriages to over 30 women, 10 of which were already married to other men. The youngest reported wife was 14 years old. There is a notion within the modern church that we can eat the meat and spit out the bones but I disagree. If the bone is rotten, who wants to trust whatever meat might be left on it? Jesus warned us explicitly:
"Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can't produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can't produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. -- Matthew 7: 15-20 (NLT)
Maybe it is the regression to 20-30 vision but we are not that good at spotting good fruit anymore. The definitions have changed over the years. We think if someone has a large following that must be fruitful. We think if a church has sharp music for worship and a popular preacher then that must mean it is fruitful. Or even worse, we just start listening to what is said instead of watching for the actions. We use worldly standards to measure eternal success. THAT is how people will come to the Day of Judgment and Jesus will not know them despite a lifetime of what they thought was service to Him.
Our key verse today is taken from the Apostle Paul's farewell to the leaders of the Church at Ephesus. Within this one verse are three things to take note of. The first is that sometimes the wolves will arise from within. I read a tweet this week that espoused the notion that we should never be critical of a pastor or a church because we are "all on the same team." While I do not believe that developing a critical spirit is good, I refute the notion that we are all on the same team. I am not on the same team as someone who compromises the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I am not on the same team as someone who thinks that the unbelievably apostate Mormon religion is comparable to the Christianity Jesus intended. Again, this is not a matter of hate, or exclusion. I perfectly understand if Mormons would look upon my beliefs as being antithetical to theirs. That is because they are. We believe different things. On matters of key and fundamental doctrine, we are polar opposites. These things are simply not negotiable beloved. I didn't say they were non-negotiable, God did!
Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. -- Ephesians 5: 10-11 (NLT)
Don't team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God's temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: "I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore, come out from among unbelievers, and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord . Don't touch their filthy things, and I will welcome you.f]"> And I will be your Father, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." -- 2Corinthians 6: 14-18 (NLT)
But in an effort to not offend, we ignore the part that says expose them! Forget Joel Osteen -- your best life is not now! Forget Joseph Smith -- God said accursed is anyone who adds or takes away from the Word of God! Come out from them! Come out from them! It does not matter of they came from within. It does not matter of they have a great smile and a smooth delivery. They only thing that matters is what path they are leading you down! Is it the broad path where we all sing kumbya until we stand before Jesus and find out He does not know us? Or is it the narrow path that few find? The path that leads to hearing those words from Christ -- "well done my good and faithful servant." The first warning here is pretty obvious. We can get so enamored with looking to the outside for threats that we neglect to make sure our own house is in order. We do not serve man, but God. Saying the name of Jesus is not enough.
The second thing to note from the key verses is that there will always be some distortion of the truth. It may not be glaring all the time beloved. It may be like a 20-30 distortion that requires us to really examine what is being said and done and match it up with what the Scripture says. The devil is real good with subtlety. He is real good at making things seem to be ok. Paul dealt with this in the Church at Galatia:
I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to himself through the loving mercy of Christ.c]"> You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ. Let God's curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed. Obviously, I'm not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ's servant. -- Galatians 1: 6-10 (NLT)