My pastor used to frustrate me! I knew, from my personal interactions with him, that he was well aware of the celebrity evangelical teachers who taught false doctrine. I don’t doubt that he knew that some women in the church practiced evangelical fads that contradicted solid teaching. I used to pray that he would find ways to call out false teachers from the pulpit because I thought it was the only hope of convincing those women of the dangers. Once, and only once, he actually named someone briefly. Otherwise, he just preached faithfully through the Bible, trusting the Holy Spirit to correct our wrong thinking through the power of God’s Word.
As I saw it, teaching the Bible never corrected error in the other churches I’d belonged to. Those pastors also preached through books, and home Bible Study leaders taught through books. So they took verses in isolation much of the time, emphasizing application over interpretation, and their interpretation often ignored context. They still used the Bible, didn’t they? And they encouraged us to read our Bibles daily, looking for things to jump out at us. Like my current pastor, they assured us that familiarity with Scripture would protect us against false teaching. But we still wandered into all sorts of error, including a few errors that our pastors endorsed.
This past Wednesday night, our pastor gave an overview of 2 Peter, a letter written in response to false teachers who had infiltrated First Century churches. Chapter 2 presents a blistering description of false teachers, showing no pity. Winsome, Peter was not!
Although I will rarely identity false teachers by name anymore, I believe in the importance of training my readers to guard against such people. Every New Testament book except for Philemon deals at some level with the subject, and many Old Testament books address the problem. From that we can surmise God’s deep concern that His people not turn aside to deception.
Most of us believe that Christ’s return, and thus the end of this world, is imminent. Since I’m not as well-schooled on eschatology as I ought to be, I’ll refrain from making dogmatic remarks based on the evening news. But Scripture indeed draws a connection between the last days and the increased proliferation of false teaching. Notice, for instance, Paul’s warning to Timothy:
But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer. ~~1 Timothy 4:1-5 (NASB95)
Let me begin by assuring you that I have nothing against discernment ministries and blogs that call out false teachers. Especially when those discernment ministries and blogs balance their critiques with clear Biblical teaching. Elizabeth Prata serves as one of the best examples of Biblical discernment ministry precisely because she emphasizes Scripture and doesn’t write about false teachers unless she has reason. Justin Peters, though famous for exposing false teachers, always maintains his purpose of proclaiming the true Gospel. Other trustworthy discernment leaders include Chris Rosebrough, Steve Kozar, Amy Spreeman and Michelle Lesley.
When people call out false teachers for the purpose of leading others to sound doctrine and therefore pure devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ, it’s a good work they do. So much of the evangelical world falls for deception because they don’t receive solid instruction in the Word of God. Consequently, the need for discernment ministries has mushroomed in recent decades. Young and poorly taught Christians often need to hear the truth about popular teachers on the evangelical landscape.
The Bible commands us to be aware of false teachers to the point of calling them out.
Over 22 years ago, I began investigating The Alpha Course, which became particularly popular in America during the late 1990s. My investigation led me to study other movements within evangelical circles, aided by the newly developed Internet. Suddenly I had access to a whole new way of researching people and trends that flew across the Christian landscape, and I was fascinated.
Yet article after article seemed to go back to a singular refrain: Christians needed to know sound doctrine in order to discern whether a person or trend was okay. I would read critiques on various teachers and teachings, only to find counsel to learn sound doctrine and guard it.
This emphasis on doctrine confused me. Since becoming a Christian in high school, I’d been involved in nondenominational churches with varying degrees of Charismatic influences. Those churches held an unspoken attitude that doctrine should be minimized in favor of personal experiences of Jesus and avoiding conflict with our brothers and sisters in Christ. On occasion, someone would actually say that doctrine divides Christians and therefore we should ignore it as much as possible. (I don’t know how we got away with claiming that we followed the Bible.) Of course, the distancing from doctrine was subtle, so I really don’t believe our pastors knew that the churches discouraged doctrine to the extent that they did.
Reading those articles on discernment left me wondering what sound doctrine was and how I could learn it. Sometimes I fear that The Outspoken TULIP might leave a few of you asking yourselves what sound doctrine is. If so, that’s a failure on my part.
My pastor’s sermon this week worked through 2 Timothy 4:1-4.
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 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, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. (NASB95)
As someone who often writes about discernment, I have a particular investment in this passage. I firmly believe that discernment can come only as we study God’s Word and apply it. Although pulpit ministry isn’t permissible to women, each of us can find legitimate outlets for proclaiming the truth. Most of you, being mothers, have the beautiful privilege of preaching to your children, while others of us can teach women’s Bible Studies, write Christian blogs and/or witness to non-Christians. At some level, each believer has the responsibility to preach.
Sadly, many professing Christians (including pastors who care more about enlarging their congregations than about nurturing their flocks) preach anything but the Word of God. How often have you sat through sermons and women’s Bible Studies about improving your marriage, methods of contemplative prayer or positive thinking? I remember women’s Bible Studies about how to change the oil in a car. Sometimes a pastor’s funny stories stayed in my mind long after I’d forgotten the point of his message. The Word of God has become incidental to evangelicals nowadays.
Worse, it’s now popular to say that you love Jesus more than you love His Word. Apparently, the Bible is considered an idol to some people who simply want to “follow Christ” (whatever that means). In his sermon this week, my pastor countered that position by saying, “You can’t really love Christ and not love His Word.”
The atheist wanted nothing to do with the Christian perspective on depression. She knew what secular psychology teaches and what medical doctors believe. Convinced that professional counselors alone possess the qualifications to address an issue like depression, she publicly ridiculed the possibility that habitual self-pity could be a root cause of depression. When I stated personal experience of overcoming depression by repenting of self-pity, the atheist reacted angrily, interrogating me about my credentials and scolding me for suggesting a link between the two conditions. Her rage surprised no one.
When Christians who have studied both secular psychology and Biblical counseling raise our objections to psychological approaches, all too often we are dismissed as uneducated idiots who have absolutely no right to our beliefs. The atheist will demand that we have clinical training according to secular standards, as if secular standards supersede Biblical truth.
For the atheist, secular standards indeed seem authoritative. I get that. Someone who rejects God quite naturally would reject the authority of God’s Word, and Christians shouldn’t expect otherwise.
Four years ago, Reformed Christians celebrated the 500th anniversary of the event held to be the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther, then an Augustinian monk, simply posted his Ninety Five Theses asking for a scholarly debate on the Roman Catholic practice of selling Indulgences. At the time, he had absolutely no intention of breaking from the Roman Catholic Church; he only wanted to encourage an examination of its teachings in light of Scripture. Sadly, Rome hadn’t the slightest interest in having “adrunken German monk” question Papal authority, and eventually Luther was excommunicated as a heretic.
At around that time, God awakened John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli and John Knox (among others) to the necessity of getting back to God’s Word. Through their faithful unwillingness to compromise with the errors of Roman Catholicism, these men laid the foundation for the Reformation. Their willingness to suffer and risk their lives so that you and I could read the Bible and worship the Lord according to its teachings should be celebrated! Therefore, on October 31, 2017, I commemorated the 500th anniversary of the official start of the Reformation by writing the following blog post.
Few people these days know much history, mostly because they assume it has nothing to do with them. It’s boring and dusty, full of dates to memorize and bloody battlefields where too many young men surrender their lives. And we’ve all suffered through history classes in school with teachers who drone on in monotone voices that make our eyelids heavy. Once we walk across a graduation stage and firmly grip that diploma, we assure ourselves that we’ll never have to think about history again!
Between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017, I blogged every Tuesday about various aspects of the Reformation in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Whittenburg, Germany. Sadly, those articles attracted very few readers, probably because people prefer reading about current controversies. Critiques of Beth Moore always get more clicks than essays about Luther, Calvin or Tyndale, And I admit to understanding that boring history teachers in everyone’s past have taught us that watching paint dry is more interesting than 16th Century religious squabbles. But I believe the blog posts about the Reformation were important four years ago, and I believe blog posts about the Reformation are just as important now.
This October 31, we need to remember the Reformation, even though it’s not the major anniversary that it was four years ago. As evangelicals, we still must be mindful of our spiritual heritage. Furthermore, we owe honor to the men and women of the 16th Century who suffered immense persecution to restore Biblical worship to the church. Neglecting church history sets us up to repeat the errors of past generations.
When someone says that the Lord told her something, it’s good to feel uncomfortable. Occasionally, but all too rarely, she means that she learned more about the Lord during her time in His Word. Usually, however, she means that she received a personal message from Him, quite separate from anything He said in the Bible. If people challenge her claim, she’ll usually counter that God spoke directly to Abraham, Moses and Paul. Since “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8), it stands to reason that He would also speak to Christians now, she explains.
Well, God does speak to Christians now. He speaks every time we read His Word. Although many 21st Century evangelicals dismiss comments like that by adding that we mustn’t “put God in a box,” we should celebrate the wonderful truth that His Holy Spirit breathed His very words out through the pens of Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles so that we could hear what the Lord would say to us.
Many people would concede that the Lord does speak to us through Scripture in a general way, but would then argue that the Bible alone doesn’t address specific circumstances. Therefore, they conclude, He augments His Word with personal revelations, just as He spoke personally to people in the Bible. And we need to challenge that line of thinking.
If you’re a mom sending your child off to college, undoubtedly you’re worried about him or her being pressured to abandon Scriptural values in favor of philosophies that seem more enlightened and scientific. If you’re a college student, you may wonder if you’ll be able to withstand the constant assaults on Christianity. Even many Christian schools offer liberal doctrine that draws people away from sound Biblical teaching.
I well understand those concerns. In fact, I believe they’re valid. Even when I went through college in the 1970s, I struggled to maintain my Biblical views in the face of ideological challenges. The second semester of my sophomore year, in particular, caused me tremendous spiritual turmoil when I took both a philosophy class and a psychology class. Thankfully, Paul’s counsel to the Colossians served as my anchor during the semester. As far as I’m concerned, every college student should make Colossians 2:8 her motto.