In Matthew 7.15–23, Jesus says:
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
With these words Jesus gives us a warning against false prophets, a test for recognizing them, and a description of their fate. Today, I want to look closely at the warning: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”
It has been said that all’s fair in love and war. In our day and age, I think most people would add “religion” to that list. We seem to have come to a point where many believe that all religions are true, that all spiritual leaders are wise, and all roads lead to heaven. “It doesn’t matter what you believe,” you sometimes hear, “as long as you believe in sincerely,” or “as long as it works for you,” or “as long as it makes you a better person.”
Scholars refer to this mentality as “pluralism,” the notion that there is a plurality of genuinely saving expressions of religious faith. You might be Baptist and your neighbor Buddhist, but if each of you practices your religion, you’ll end up in the same place.
There are two basic problems with pluralism. First, it simply isn’t true. Baptists (and Christians generally) believe in the resurrection of the dead. Buddhists believe in the dissolution of the individual soul. For Baptists, the goal of religion is to get you, body and soul, into the eternal presence of a personal God. For Buddhists, individuality is the problem to be overcome. Through strenuous effort, one can only hope that one’s individuality is absorbed into the impersonal all. Both religions are interesting, but the eternal ends they are pursuing are mutually exclusive.
Second, Jesus said pluralism is harmful. He taught that some “prophets” are true and therefore good while others are “false” and therefore “ferocious.” Either he is right, in this regard, or he isn’t. Either our eternal destiny is tied up with the truth of what religious leaders teach us or it isn’t.
If it is, shouldn’t we be interested in knowing how to discern truth from falsity in religious matters?