In fact, Jesus' statement can directly be applied to many ecclesiastical Christian institutions and their teachers that claim to follow Jesus.
Anyone who reads the news will know of the bad fruit of these institutions. We have seen many instances of those in authority among these institutions taking advantage of, and even harming their followers as well as non-followers. We have heard of innocent children being sexually assaulted. We have heard of monies being misused and misappropriated. And in previous centuries, we have heard of entire cultures being slaughtered by those who considered peaceful people to be "heathens."
What more in the way of "bad fruit" do we need to see to recognize these institutions for what they are?
Leaders and teachers within these so-called religious institutions have abused their influence, and they have offended Jesus by using his life and teachings to perpetuate their offensive activities.
In short, these are the acts of "ferocious wolves" in "sheep's clothing." They are today's "false prophets." Just consider, for example, a few of the "false prophets" who predicted the end of the world.
As Jesus indicates here, these fruits are symptoms of a larger, deeper problem. While we are in no position to judge, we must heed Jesus' instructions as we consider who to follow, and what teachings we should be following. Should we be following the interpretations of these ecclesiastical institutions who exhibit these bad fruits?
And certainly we should always be ready to forgive someone who has harmed us personally. That is an act we are obligated to do, because the Supreme Being forgives each of us for our offensive behavior.
However, it is not our right to forgive someone for an indecent or immoral act upon someone else. In this case, our responsibility is to protect that person from future harm.
In a criminal matter, this means prosecution under the law. Why is this institution protecting their priests from criminal prosecution? Are they saying their priests are somehow above the law? No one but the Supreme Being is above the law.
At the very least, we need to protect our children and other innocent people from such an institution and its teachers. This should mean not only discontinuing attendance or donations within that institution and helping protect our friends and family from abuse: It also means protecting our own - and our family's - spiritual lives from the poisonous teachings that has enabled and sustained this type of behavior.
To this we add that it is better to worship privately in ones home (with scripture reading, and songs and prayers to God) than to attend institutions that enable this type of behavior. Does God not hear us when we worship Him in private? Do we need to go to into an institution built by thieves and liars in order for Him to hear us?
To this end we can consider this statement by Jesus:
"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matt. 6:6-7)
While there is nothing wrong with congregating to share praising the Supreme Being and hearing from a teacher, one must use intelligence when selecting such a teacher.
To accept a preacher or priest who is chosen by election - by a council or even appointed by a single person - we are accepting that election or appointer as representing God. Are we sure about that?
These councils or groups - and even single appointers - are politically motivated. Their interest is in their institution. They want to be sure the leader will sustain the institution. This has nothing to do with the Supreme Being.
Only the Supreme Being selects His representative. This is an absolute in spiritual life. To consider otherwise is to not accept the Supreme Being's ultimate authority.
This is also illustrated throughout the scriptures. In the Old Testament we see repeatedly that each prophet - after having accepted a teacher - established a personal relationship with the Supreme Being, and was personally selected by the Supreme Being to represent Him.
A teacher may pass on the Truth to the student and the student may accept his spiritual teacher as God's representative. But in the end it is the Supreme Being who ultimately chooses who represents Him.
Yes, only God chooses who He wants to represent Him. And this will not be a person chosen by a council. Why? Because the Supreme Being doesn't empower those who have accepted the empowerment of others.
If a person accepts the empowerment of others they have - as stated by Jesus above - already received their reward. Their focus is the authority - not in the pleasure of the Supreme Being.
Thus a true representative of God will always avoid the groupthink of appointed teachers and their institutions.
This is because the Supreme Being wants our personal love and service. He doesn’t want a groupthink situation, because this is not sincere relationship. We each need to develop our own personal relationship with the Supreme Being - not with a group.
For this reason, our relationship with our spiritual guide will also be very personal. We can see this in Jesus' life - as he spoke directly and personally to the people around him. At one point he chastised Peter when he was curious about another disciple:
"...what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:22)
We should carefully examine our prospective teacher before we follow that person. We must truly understand they represent God before we commit to their philosophy.
One sign of a bonafide teacher is that they were a student of a bonafide teacher, who themselves was a student of a bonafide teacher, and so on. A person who makes up their own philosophy should not be trusted. Rather, only a person whose teachings are steeped in, and consistent with, the teachings of not only other bonafide teachers, but the scriptures, is acceptable.
Sometimes a teacher will form an institution or organization to help further their teachings. This does not mean the organization in itself - and those who work within it - replace ones personal relationship with their teacher nor their personal relationship with the Supreme Being.
The handing down of knowledge from teacher to student through a personal relationship is a time-honored and sacred practice supported by scripture. The symbolic process of baptism or initiation is founded upon this practice. In fact, the ceremony itself, without being accompanied by a personal surrendering of the student to the teacher and God - and the acceptance of those teachings as coming from God - is merely an empty shell. It would be considered the covering without the contents. To humbly receive knowledge and surrender personally to the bonafide teacher of the Supreme Being is the essence and requisite to becoming a bonafide teacher.
It is for this reason that Jesus commanded his students to pass on the teachings he had passed on to them. They were instructed to personally receive his teachings, practice them, and then pass them on.
"As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.'" (Matt. 10:5)
This is the same thing Jesus was teaching:
From that time on Jesus began to preach, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matt. 4:17)
And this is also what John the Baptist taught:
In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matt. 3:1-2)
This is the succession of knowledge that composes a good tree with good fruit. And what is that good fruit? The good fruit is not necessarily how much money a person gives away or how many sick people a person helps. The ultimate good fruit is our re-establishing our personal loving relationship with the Supreme Being, and acting within that relationship to please Him.
This good fruit is the accomplishment of Jesus' first and foremost commandment:
" 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'" (Matt. 22:37)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of Matthew without institutional sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)