"They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace....So they will fall among the fallen...I will take away their harvest..." [Jer 8:11-13].
Whether we want to accept this truth or not, God has always held the shepherds of a nation (both civil and religious) responsible for the condition of the national flock. Leadership always sets the tone, whether it be over a household, a business, a community, a church, a state, or a nation. Anytime God enters into judgment against a nation that has turned away from Him, He confronts the leaders (both civil and religious) of that nation as well. This is because national leadership was instituted by God for purposes of guiding the nation to follow His moral, ethical, just, and spiritual laws.
The prophet Jeremiah was sent by God to confront the religious leaders of his day who were telling the people what they wanted to hear instead of what they needed to hear. The people were living in direct rebellion against God and His Word. Instead of confronting this sin and wickedness in order to bring God’s wayward people back to Him, the false prophets and teachers encouraged it by preaching watered down messages and outright lies. While Jeremiah was preaching national destruction if the people didn’t repent of their sin, the false prophets and teachers of his day were teaching peace, prosperity, and favor with God. In anger, the Lord promised these false religious leaders and teachers that when judgment came upon the nation of Israel, they, too, would fall among the fallen. They would not be exempt. The great harvest of financial prosperity, prominence, and popularity with the people which they enjoyed as a result of their soothing, deceiving messages, would be completely stripped from them.
This same scenario which took place in Jeremiah’s day is now taking place in our day. If you take a look at the most popular religious leaders in the United States today, you will see that they are the wealthiest as well. Bookstores which sell their books can’t keep their shelves stocked. These men and women preachers have gained great popularity among the American people, not because they are teaching the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, but because they are teaching what people want to hear. While America is drowning in a turbulent sea of substance abuse, corrupt political leadership, crime, violence, abortion, spiritual decay, loss of family values, sexual immorality, illegitimacy, homosexuality, cloning, child abuse, and pornography, these men and women continue to preach prosperity, heavenly blessings, and golden days to come. Send them a check for $1,000, and you will find favor with God. Short on cash? Not to fear, for Christ accepts credit cards as well. Their end will be what their actions deserve. Their teaching has become nothing but sweet bread for those who sit in the pews. Afraid of losing their popularity, church members, and financial wealth, they refuse to teach anything negative. Sin, hell, and God’s judgment on unbelievers at the end time are not a part of their vocabularies. Discipline, righteous living, self-denial and the taking up of one’s cross on a daily basis are messages that are never preached. As a result, thousands who profess to be in Christ have been duped by their teachings.
I might be able to understand this duping of the multitudes if Bibles were not sold in every bookstore all across America, but we all know that this is not the case. If thousands who identify themselves as Christians in the United States are being deceived by these false teachers, it is because those same people are not taking the time to study God’s Word on their own.
In his second letter to Timothy, St. Paul warned that a time was coming when men would not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they would gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears wanted to hear. They would turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths and falsehood.
How can we guard ourselves against false teaching? How can we protect ourselves from these wolves in sheep’s clothing? The answer is simple: by studying God’s Word. Anyone who takes the time to study God’s Word will clearly see that there are two sides to God, not one. Yes, God is generous, forgiving, loving, kind, merciful, and gracious. But He is also holy, jealous, and just. He loves, but He also demonstrates a righteous anger when sin continues to go unchecked, and man refuses to repent of it. If I, as a teacher of God’s Word, only teach one aspect of God’s nature, while completely ignoring His other aspects, then I am going to lead people astray. Anyone who is called to preach or teach God’s Word, whether they be a church leader or a layperson, must present the Word of God in its entirety to the people. They must preach on mercy and forgiveness, but on holiness and judgment as well. If a teacher only teaches messages that are warm and fuzzy, how is he or she walking in the footsteps of St. John the Baptist, who was called by God to ‘make ready a people prepared for the Lord?’ This is why St. James wrote that those who are called to teach will be judged more strictly by God. To whom much has been given, much will be required.
Should we be offended if a parish priest speaks out against sin, apathy, hypocrisy, and lack of spiritual commitment? If we have a pastor who isn’t afraid to speak the truth when giving a homily, should we not see in him a gift from Christ? Should we not see in his devotion to the truth Christ’s devotion to us?
False teachers will answer for every word which they have taught. They may be enjoying wealth, prominence, and celebrity status for now, but there comes a time when God intervenes. When He judged the nation of Israel for its refusal to repent and turn back to Him, the first people He stripped were the civil and religious leaders who were unfaithful in their service to Him. He stripped them of the harvest they enjoyed in their personal lives as a result of their duplicity and unfaithfulness to lead as He called them to lead. He caused them to fall among the fallen. Those who followed their teachings also fell with them. The only ones left standing were those who stood for the truth and weren’t afraid to preach it - men like Jeremiah.
The Church of Jesus Christ is called to be the light of the world. If we desire to be that light, we must be committed to preaching and teaching God's Word in its entirety, and not just those parts of it that are soothing and comforting. If I, as a mother, only teach my daughter about the benefits of fire, but not the dangers of it, what shall I say in the day she ends up in the burn unit of a hospital because of my negligence to teach her about fire’s other side? Likewise, if we are afraid to confront sin and rebellion, and choose to speak only of mercy and grace instead, what will we do in the day our listeners stand before Christ to be judged?
If we want to protect ourselves from the many false and watered downed teachings that are sweeping the nation, we must take the time to study God’s Word on our own. Even if we attend Mass on a weekly basis, we cannot expect a priest to teach us everything contained in the Holy Bible during a 15-20 minute homily. That’s impossible. A common complaint among many Catholics is that they are not being fed, as if the blame for their spiritual malnourishment lies with the parish priest. Truth be told, we should be getting ‘fed’ on our own in our daily lives as we spend time studying and meditating on God’s Word. To the extent that we are hungry for the Word of God is to the extent we will feed on that Word on our own. We are as ‘fed’ as we want to be.
May God put a hunger and thirst in our hearts to draw closer to Him through the study of His Word so that we may be protected against the many false teachings and doctrines that are taking the world by storm. May our faithfulness to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth protect us in the day of national judgment so that we may be able to stand...
...and not fall among the fallen.
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