Testing the doctrines and teachings of Christian groups and individuals
This is part one of a two part series. Please see the bottom of the article for the link to part two.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
There are many in the world who claim to teach the truth about God. Some are Christian. Some are not. While it is easy to see differences between Christianity and religions like Islam, differences between other groups and individuals are not as obvious.
I am referring to those who are called Christian yet have doctrines or teachings that contradict the Bible. Within this category there are variations of departure from biblical accuracy. Again, some are more obvious than others. It is important that we recognize these departures. There are things we can do to help us recognize them. Below is an introduction to a method that I have developed to help me in this work. I affectionately refer to this method as a background check. At the bottom of this page is a link leading to the details of this method, but I felt it was important to give an introduction first.
Why it Matters
We must test those who claim to teach the truth about God and His word. Like the Bereans that Luke wrote about, we must examine the Scriptures to see if what we are being told is true.
“The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, along with a number of prominent Greek women and men.” Acts 17:10-12
It turned out well for the Bereans because they heard the truth from Paul and Silas. Their teachings did not contradict the Scriptures, and many of the Bereans came to faith. The Bereans were wise nevertheless to examine the Scriptures and test what they were hearing. If we don’t do as they did and fail to carefully test the claims of truth that we hear, we could end up in bad situations. Following teachings that are not biblical can cause varying degrees of harm. The worst of which would happen if we were trusting in teachings about salvation that were not biblical. This is one of the greatest reason why it matters that we investigate these claims and why we must seek to know and believe the truth about God and His word. Our very salvation depends on it. We cannot afford to not test them!
There are many other reasons to make sure we are not following erroneous teachings. False teachings obscure truths about God. We are called to worship in truth. (John 4:24) Following unbiblical teachings interferes with that. We may not give Him honor and glory that He is due if we believe things about Him that are not true. We may not correctly see His attributes or His nature. We may miss some of the aspects of His heart or His will that He has chosen to reveal. Following unbiblical teachings may also hinder our relationship with God if they cause us to miss some of the joy and peace of knowing Him or cause us to put our trust somewhere else. Our Lord Jesus is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature. (Hebrews 1:3). What great loss we would experience if we followed “another Jesus” ((2 Corinthians 11:4) because of unbiblical teachings.
Background checks allow us to make sure that our teachers/churches are being true to God and His word. Through this work, hopefully, we can avoid or escape the situations mentioned above.
Honor the Truth
None of this matters if we do not highly value the truth. If we prefer to have our ears tickled then we have no need to do this work.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
I beseech you to highly value the truth about God and His word and investigate those who claim to teach it. There is too much at stake. Along with the things already mentioned, we can also potentially help others. How good it would be to help free or prevent the ensnarement of others by gently shedding light on teachings that depart from the Bible and in the process share the truth of God’s word. It is a work worth doing!
Know the Word
The most important thing that we need for background checks is a good foundation in the word of God. We need to know what the Bible actually says. If we do, we will be able to test what we are reading or hearing from others. While good preaching can inform us of truth and error, I believe it is important that we do our own work as well. Reading and studying God’s word for ourselves improves our ability to discern whether or not teachings are biblically sound.
A long time ago I heard a story about a jeweler who was well known for his uncanny ability to always correctly determine whether a gem was real or a fake. One day someone asked him how he always got it right. He replied, “When you spend a lot of time with the real thing, it’s easy to spot the fake.” This story had a big impact on me. I determined to apply this principle to the Bible. I imagined that if I spent a lot of time reading and studying, it would be a lot easier for me to spot departures from biblical accuracy. Turns out, that was true! Spending time in the word equips us to detect problems. I believe this happens because of our own reasoning abilities and because of the work of the Holy Spirit. When the word of God is rooted in us, the Holy Spirit guides discernment and helps us judge things that we hear or read as being true or contrary to the Bible.
I encourage you to constantly expand the foundation of God’s word in your heart. Your discernment will grow with more exposure.
Pray for Discernment
Prayer is a vital part of our Christian life and is no less important in matters of discernment. Whenever you are in the process of checking out a teaching, pray for discernment. Ask the Lord to help you test what you read and hear and to recognize any problems if they exist. Pray for discernment in your daily life as well. There are so many things that can come up day to day that could lead us off the path of solid biblical teachings. A well-meaning friend may introduce you to a new author or speaker. You may begin watching a new teacher on TV. A book or program may come out that is popular amongst Christians. Popularity is not a biblical test for orthodoxy. Read the Bible and pray for discernment. Honor the truth by holding all you read and hear up to God’s word. If anything cannot be supported by the Scriptures, let it go.
Whom should you investigate?
The link below will take you to information about the details of a background check. But before I close this article, I would like to be more specific about who should be investigated. The quick answer is everyone. Everyone is a lot; I know. But we really need to be thorough and make sure that the sources that we turn to for biblical instruction are biblically sound. And even after we determine that a source is trustworthy, we should always remain discerning when we listen. Teachers have been known to move into less biblical positions over time and even trustworthy teachers miss the mark sometimes.
If you have never checked out the teachers you have now, you might benefit by doing so. Unfortunately, some Christians are following teachers who have unbiblical teachings. They of course don’t realize it; or they would stop, hopefully. If there is any possibility this could apply to you, I recommend that you test your teachers even if that means your own pastor and church. Hopefully, you will find that they are faithful to the Scriptures. Moving out from here I would recommend qualifying any other source you may be relying on for the truth about God and His word including authors, those who give messages on YouTube and via podcasts, Christian sects or movements, and TV preachers. Wearing a Christian label does not mean the teachings are solidly biblical. Don’t forget to include me on that list. I do share doctrinal beliefs and Christian standards and practices on my site. Test them all by the Scriptures.
To read more please see part two: Background Checks – The Details