toddler will eat anything. It does not matter if it is nutritious or
poison, it has no ability to discern between food and poison.
As Christians mature in the faith they should learn to discern between spiritual poison and spiritual food.
“But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those
who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good
and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). The problem is that the vast majority
of modern-day “Christians” are either not born again or have been kept
in a perpetual state of babyhood, and are thus unable to discern the
difference between truth and error. Because of this, and because we have
a new generation of church-goers who do not know the Bible, false
teachers have multiplied, and millions believe anything these preachers
between truth and error is really not that difficult as long as we
abide by a few basic principles. The first of these is that truth is
absolute. I use the term “absolute” as the opposite of “relative.” For
most people – Christian and non-Christian – truth is relative. We hear:
“Truth is relative to one’s own experience, background, culture and environment.”
“What is true for one person may not be true for someone else.”
“What was true in Jesus’ day or a hundred years ago, is not necessarily true today.”
“What is true in the jungles of Africa is not true in the concrete jungles of America.”
truth is absolute. It is unchanging and it is equally true in every
time, culture, or environment. God’s truth does not change or have a
different meaning in a different environment.
What is truth? Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6). The Truth is first a person – Jesus Christ. His Word is Truth. Jesus said: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17). Truth, the Person, never changes: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Truth, the Word, never changes. “For
assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or
one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and
teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but
whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom
of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19).
The second principle is that the Bible is complete.
Many people think that God continues to give new revelation through
prophets, preachers and visions. But that is a lie from Hell to move
people away from the foundation of the Word. Hebrews
1:1-2 says, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in
time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken
to us by His Son….” Note that God has spoken. The Greek is very
specific, this is past and complete. God does not continue to speak.
Yes, we refer to “God speaking to us,” but what we actually mean is that
God is reminding us of what He had already said in His Word. Jude 3
says: “I found it necessary to
write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was
once for all delivered to the saints.” This translation is
accurate in that the faith was delivered once and for all (eternity). It
is not continually being delivered.
Theologians speak of “progressive revelation.”
Unfortunately some preachers do not understand what the term means and
assume that it means that God is continually revealing more and more of
Himself. No. He gave us the whole revelation in Jesus Christ which has
been written down in the form of the New Testament, and that’s it. The
next time we will get any more information is when we see Him face to
face. We can be absolutely sure
that there is no further revelation between the Revelation given to John
and the revelation of Jesus at His return.
who claims to have additional information that is not contained in the
66 books is a charlatan and a heretic. In fact, the Bible several times
pronounces a curse on any who add to, or subtract from God’s Word.
(Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, Proverbs 30:6, Matthew 15:6-13, Revelation
22:18). If a preacher is willing to
subtract or change the smallest part of the Bible (a jot or tittle),
then you need to be careful. If he will subtract in one area, he is
capable of subtracting or adding in other areas. Once you undermine the
smallest part of the Bible, then you may as well throw the whole thing
The third principle is that God does not change His mind. What God has said is forever established and will never be altered in any way. “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). (Settled means established, firm and unchanging.)
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass
away” (Matthew 24:35). “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son
of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has
He spoken, and will He not make it good” (Numbers 23:19). So, to
suggest that God has a different plan for people today to what He
described in His Word, or that He changed His mind, or that He is making
up His plans as He goes along makes God a liar and a man. He is
neither. His plans were established from before the foundation of the
earth. He knew all the twists and turns that man and history would take
from the beginning. He does not adjust or tweak his purpose as time
we can accept that God has no other plan, purpose or will for us than
which is revealed in the Bible, and that any deviation from it in deed,
word or principle is heresy, we will easily be able to recognize most of
the error that goes around.
Don’t be fooled when men tell you that only the educated can understand the Bible. We can all understand it.
It does not matter how clever the argument is presented. If its
conclusion is contrary to the plain teaching of the Bible, it is error.
BUT there are a few simple rules that we must apply when we interpret
the Scriptures. It is often these rules that are broken in order to
arrive at a teaching which is erroneous. I know that not everybody knows
these rules or how to apply them. But every believer who faithfully
reads his Bible will know enough to smell a rat and to be on guard.
believe that no one can get into error by simply believing and
practicing the Bible. God gives us enough information for each stage of
our growth to protect us. Eve did not know the whole counsel of God, but
she knew that God had forbidden eating of the tree. But,
she got into trouble when she listened to the Devil’s version of what
God had said. If only she had stuck to the simple truth God had given
her, she would have been safe.
believer can ask this easy question: “Show me where it says so in the
Bible.” If the teacher cannot do so, or has to contort your mind or the
Scriptures to get a square verse to fit into a round hole, then run for
your life – he is dangerous.
God’s word is “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
It enlightens and leads us. It does not bring us into darkness, confuse
or mislead us. Trust His Word and if man contradicts His word “let God
be true but every man a liar” (Romans 3:4).
How to Discern – Part 2
How to Understand the Bible
people will agree that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God. The
problem however is often how it is interpreted. How can we be sure that
our understanding is the right one?
discerning truth from error, we must begin by understanding Truth for
ourselves. Many people try to discover the Truth by analyzing and
dissecting error. You simply cannot do that. It is like someone trying
to drive a car by looking only in the rearview mirror while trying to
move forward. You cannot see where you are going by looking where others
have gone wrong. So before we try to judge error or someone else’s
doctrine, we need to be sure about what we believe. I agree, that many
are prompted by the rise of some error to study truth. But, if you want
to learn the truth on some matter, you will only learn it by studying
the Bible, not by studying the mistakes of others. So what must I do to
First I must ask God for wisdom.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all
liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James
1:5).The same Spirit Who inspired the men to write the Bible (2Timothy 3:16, 1Peter 1:21), is available to help us understand what is written.
The Bible is not an academic book which can be studied in an
intellectual way only. Yes, the Bible is logically sound and
intellectually deep, but it is primarily a spiritual book in which God
speaks to His people. And His Spirit will lead, guide and counsel us so
we may come “into all truth” (John 16:13).Studying the Bible is both an academic and spiritual exercise. Read it in a “spiritual” way without applying sound reasoning and you will not discover the Truth. But study it as academic literature without the Spirit’s help and you will most certainly end in error. Pray David’s prayer: “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18).
Second, the reader must be in a right relationship with the Lord. When we are disobedient, in habitual sin or rebellion, we will always read into the Bible what we want it to say. This is the most dangerous way of handling the Word of God.Countless errors have been “discovered” when the reader looked into the Bible for justification for his disobedience or sin.
If the Lord has been convicting you about something, you must be
obedient to Him first else your reading will always be distorted and you
will not see clearly. David was able to say “I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:100). Obedience leads to understanding, disobedience leads to error.
Third,we must be open and willing to change our views if they are proven to be wrong. When our prejudice or preconceived ideas overwhelm sound thinking, we will inevitably end with a distorted view of Scripture.
We grossly underestimate the power of tradition and preconceived ideas
to keep us from discovering the truth. Our traditions invariably are a
filter through which we read and which colors the teaching of the Bible.
Just think about the word “church.” Every person who reads has an
established view of what that word means, even before they begin to read
and so when one reads, he sees the Roman Church, or one of a thousand
denominations. Others see a building of a particular shape while others
see two or three believers agreed and in the name of Jesus. The same
word – many different meanings – but only one can be right!
Paul says: “But
we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the
Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory,
just as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2Corinthians 3:18). By “unveiled face”
he was referring to the veil which Israel put over Moses’ face to
filter the glory of God’s revelation and to deliver it in a form with
which they were comfortable. But we must come to the Word without a veil
or filter. We need to be willing to be open-faced in order to absorb
the full impact of God’s revelation. The same revelation transformed
Moses and blinded Israel. Come to the Word with an open face and it will transform you.Try to veil, limit or modify it and it will blind you(2Corinthinas 3:14).
we actually need to suspend what we believe on a particular subject
while we do an in-depth study of God’s Word on it. If we don’t do so, we
may continue to build on bad foundations. I have found it invaluable,
at different times in my life, to actively put all my experience,
training and tradition on hold while I seek to understand some aspect
afresh. Only the fool keeps going down the wrong road without checking
from time-to-time if he is indeed on the right way. Even Paul felt the
need to check (Galatians 2:2).
Fourth, we must turn to the Bible first.
Many people will turn to their pastor, guru, commentary or Internet
before going to the Bible. (Some will only go to these sources and never
get to the Bible). If we go to any source outside the Bible first, it
will invariably color and bias or thinking, more than it already is. In
order to understand a particular subject, you need to enlist the aid of a
concordance (preferably computerized) and search for every part of the
Bible that speaks to that subject. Then you need to read those sections –
not just the verses, but the entire passages. Note down the ones that
make a specific point. Only once you have read the whole Bible (Old and
New Testaments) on a particular subject, and have collated all the
information, can you begin to come to some conclusions. Only after having searched the Scriptures, and have come to some conclusion, should you to turn to other sources. (More about that next week.)
“As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (1Peter 2:2). It
is the pure milk that causes us to grow. If it is diluted with the
words, thoughts and traditions of men, it is no longer pure. If it is
sugar coated by the eloquence and stories of the preacher, it is also no
longer pure. What I am writing here is not the pure milk of the Word –
they are my ideas based on the Word. And while my thoughts may help some
to understand a few things, it can never have the same effect as when
you read, study and understand the Bible yourself.
Finally, we must study the Scriptures with a specific goal in mind.
This goal is not to increase our knowledge, or to prove that someone
else is wrong, or to justify your own actions. The only valid attitude
is to allow God to speak to us through His Word. The reading and study
of the Bible is first, foremost and primarily a personal issue. The Lord
does not use the Bible to speak to others through us, unless, we have
heard Him speak to ourselves first. We can only approach it with
trembling hands and with the prayer of Samuel: “Speak, for Your servant hears” (1Samuel 3:10). Only if we truly want to hear and obey, will its truths begin to unfold.
and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it
will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks
finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8)
How to Discern – Part 3
Roman church has for a long time believed that only the “clergy” may
interpret the Bible. In fact, until recently, they did not even allow
translations of the Bible into the common language of the people because
they did not believe that ordinary people were equipped to read the
Bible, let alone interpret it.
the Reformation, the Bible has been made available to ordinary people
and now anyone in the free world is able to read, study and own Bibles. But
the pendulum has swung to the other extreme so that today every Tom,
Dick and Harry feels he has the right to interpret the Bible as he feels
fit. This is an equal but opposite error to that of the Roman clerical
is therefore important that we understand that while each of us has the
privilege of reading the Bible for ourselves, no individual has the
right to interpret the Scriptures as he wishes. We can all understand
the Bible, and the Spirit will lead us into all Truth, but it is not up
to us to formulate our own “new” doctrine. There is a body of truth that
is not open for reinterpretation. We refer to this as “orthodox” teaching. “Orthodox” means “conforming to established and traditional doctrine”. (Not to be confused with Eastern Orthodox churches.)
the last 2,000 years of Christianity the church has endured countless
errors, counter-errors, over-corrections, church councils, remarkably
gifted teachers and heretics. Through all these processes the basic
tenets of our faith have been established, tested and proven. We have
the advantage of learning from 2,000 years of experience. Yet, many
fools have risen in these days who feel they are wiser than all the
great men who came before and have the right to attack or add to
orthodox and established doctrine. Anyone who feels they have a
“revelation” that goes against orthodox teaching needs to be very sure
of his facts.
there Biblical proof for the statement that no individual has the right
to interpret the Bible without reference to orthodox doctrine? Yes
Paul quoted a principle established in the Law that “By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (2Corinthians 13:1).
This principle applied to every area of Jewish life and is carried
forward into the life of the church. Even Jesus applied this principle
to Himself. Jesus Himself said: “If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true” (John 5:31).
He then named four witnesses who testify to His claims. These are John
the Baptist, Jesus’ works, His Father, and the Scriptures (John 5:33-39).
Thus Jesus honored the principle that no individual can make a claim
that is not able to be substantiated by multiple witnesses.
There are two essential qualifications for witnesses. They must agree and they must be credible (Exodus 20:16).
The Jewish council found two witnesses to testify against Jesus, but
they were false witnesses. So whose testimony should we believe
concerning Jesus? Should we believe the testimony of John, Jesus’ works,
His Father and the Scriptures or that of two rogues from the back
streets of Jerusalem? Most false teachers may be able to quote others
who believe like they do, but who are those witnesses? Are they people
who have a reputation for correct theology or are they just as confused
as the one who finds support in their false teaching?
great Apostle Paul received his revelation and doctrine directly from
Jesus Christ Himself (Galatians 1:12). In spite of the magnitude of this
revelation, Paul felt the need to check his doctrine with Peter
(Galatians 1:18). Then fourteen years later he again went to Jerusalem to check that he was indeed preaching the truth: “And
I went up… and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among
the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any
means I might run, or had run, in vain” (Galatians 2:2). Notice that he
checked with “those who were of reputation”.
building a wall it is no use checking the wall with a spirit level that
is not correct. The level may indicate that the wall is plumb when it
is not. Too many Christians check
their doctrine with the wrong people and the wrong standards. Any
doctrine has to be confirmed by those who have a reputation for Truth
and correct doctrine. Far too many preachers are like King Ahab. Ahab gathered a team of 400 prophets who would tell him what he wanted to hear but he rejected the one man who he knew spoke truth (1Kings 22).
Thus every heretic has a list of names of those who believe like he
does, but will not listen to those who hold to orthodox doctrine.
pilots bring ships into the harbor at Durban in South Africa, the
channel through which they must pass is very narrow and disaster waits a
few feet on either side. So to navigate safely they watch three lights
on the distant shore. When these three lights line up, the ship is on
the right course. The problem is that the shore is littered with
thousands of lights. Only a fool will choose any three that line up. If
it is imperative that a ship’s pilot has to make sure that he gets the
right three lights to line up, then it is even more incumbent on us to
make sure our teaching lines up with the right reference points.
Paul told Timothy “And
the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit
these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2Timothy
2:2). Notice how Paul reminds Timothy that there are witnesses to
his teachings. Also, he does not instruct Timothy to formulate his own
doctrine but to simply carry forward those truths that had already been
established by Paul.
says: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning
our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you
to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to
the saints” (Jude 3). Jude does not instruct us to establish or
formulate doctrine but rather to contend for what was once for all
delivered. Jude’s reference to “the faith” refers to a body of
established truth and doctrine.
said: “inquire, please, of the former age, and consider the things
discovered by their fathers; For we were born yesterday, and know
nothing, Because our days on earth are a shadow. Will they not teach you
and tell you, and utter words from their heart?” (Job 12:8-9).
this generation, our doctrine should be the purest, the most accurate
and the most orthodox because we have the benefit of 2,000 years of
church history. But instead of learning from the mistakes and
discoveries of those who have gone before, this generation seems
hell-bent to disregard the benefits of accumulated wisdom and rather to
invent their own peculiar brands of heresy. These are indeed the people
Jeremiah prophesied about when he cried: “Thus says the Lord: “Stand
in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is,
and walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls. But they said,
`We will not walk in it.” (Jeremiah 6:16).
How to Discern – Part 4
Check, Check and Check Again
is a principle that holds true in most areas in life. Carpenters speak
about measuring twice and cutting once. We teach our children that when
they cross the street they must look left, look right and look left
again. And when it comes to our faith we must be even more careful and
check everything we hear.
1Thessalonians 5:21 says: “Test all things; hold fast what is good.” In other words, not everything is good and can be trusted, so everything must be tested first. The noble-minded Bereans even subjected Paul’s teaching to scrutiny and they were commended for doing so (Acts 17:11).
live in dangerous times and the world is filled with deceivers, false
prophets, wolves in sheep’s clothing and heretics. Those who preach the
Truth are a small minority while the false apostles wield massive
budgets with which they dominate every form of media. No matter whether
you listen to “Christian” radio, watch “Christian” television look at
“Christian” websites or enter a “Christian” bookstore, the odds are
stacked against the possibility that you will be exposed to truth. Yet every day thousands are deceived into believing anything that is sold under the banner of “Christian.”
It is thus imperative that we carefully check every word we hear or read. But how do we do that? Here are a few brief pointers:
First, listen to the voice of the Spirit:“…when
He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth”
(John 16:13). “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is
the way, walk in it’” (Isaiah 30:21). Let me make this very
clear: You cannot judge a message or a man just based on that inner
voice. But if you listen to the promptings of God’s Spirit, you will
often feel uneasy about something which simply means that you need to
stop and check. In the same way, a good feeling about someone or a
teaching does not mean it is right – you must still check. Almost every
week I get emails from people who question things because they “did not
feel it was right.” In most cases they were correct. Error
is presented so cleverly and so slickly that there are times that the
problem will not be obvious. Yet an uncomfortable feeling about the
message should lead to a check.
is easy to overreact to the extremes of the mystical and touchy-feely
religions and to reject anything that is not written in black and white.
But Jesus promised that “the
Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will
teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I
said to you” (John 14:26). Paul writes “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). Listen to Him. He will often warn you of danger and alert you to the need to check further.
The second check is to ask the question: “Does this line up with Scripture.”
Notice, the question is not whether the speaker / author quoted a
verse. The question is “does it line up with the general teaching of the
Bible.” It is easy to support error with isolated verses which are
taken out of context.
Next ask the question: “Exactly what does the Bible teach on this matter”.
You will be surprised how much you can learn by simply using a
concordance. The fist time I heard that people were barking like dogs in
churches, and that this was a “blessing from God,” I immediately looked
at every verse that spoke about dogs and barking. That little study
showed that every time dogs were referred to in the Bible they were
symbolic of evil, demons and that which is defiled! So if the devil is
presented as a dog in the Bible (Psalm 22:16,20), can the barking of a
dog be a manifestation of the Holy Spirit?
The fourth question is whether the teaching is new or is representative of what the church has always believed?So
when the televangelist says that God consists of nine parts, we should
immediately recognize that as contradictory to the commonly held
doctrine on the tri-unity of God. Some times new teachings aren’t quite as obvious as this, but the point is – they’re new.
course, this presupposes that you know the basic doctrines of the
faith. That is just the problem. Most Christians do not know the
fundamentals of the faith and “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).If you are not able to list and describe the fundamentals of the Christian faith, then you are in danger.
am not asking you to be a theologian, just like you do not need to be a
chemist to know that protein is food and arsenic is poison. You must
know the basics else you will swallow the biggest lies and be deceived.When
someone presents a teaching that contradicts the basic tenets of the
faith you need to be very careful. Check again. Did you misunderstand
him? Did he misspeak or does he really believe what you heard him say?
We do not all agree on every detail of the faith but there are certain
non-negotiable doctrines that are simply not up for discussion and you
need to know what those are.
The fifth question is whether the message contains flaws in logic.Our
faith is logical and rational and when preachers make irrational and
unproven claims they must be challenged. There are many ways in which
preachers and writers break simple rules of logic. Here is one example
of a “technique” that is often used: If “A” equals “B” then “C” equals
“D.” NO! The first part of the statement has nothing to do with the
second. Don’t be fooled by a long list of things that are mentioned but
that has nothing to do with the conclusion. Here is a real example. God
made Abraham rich with material things; God made Isaac rich
(materially); God made Jacob rich (materially); therefore God will make
you rich with material things. Wrong. There is no direct link between
the Patriarchs, material blessings and you – even though many like to
The sixth question is whether there is evidence of dishonesty.
Does the author deal with the material and evidence in an honest way or
does he disregard all the verses that disproves his point and only
quote those that support his idea? Does he blatantly change words or
their meaning? Does he pick and choose translations to find one that
will support his view? Or does he make obvious errors in fact. Remember,
if he can lie to you in small things then he can lie to you in the
major things – don’t trust him (Galatians 2:24). I just caught you. There is no Galatians 2:24!
Yet you will be surprised how often writers and preachers will quote
verses that have absolutely nothing to do with the topic. They do this
since they know their audience is gullible and will not open the Bible
to actually check.
week I will deal with questions you need to ask about the author /
speaker. You must check both the message and the messenger. Sometimes
good preachers can bring a flawed message. In that case you must reject
the message but not the preacher. But sometimes a bad preacher can bring
a good message. In this case both the message and the messenger must be
rejected. The only way you will know the difference is to check, check and check again.
How to Discern – Part 5
is important that we check every word we hear or read against the
plumbline of the Bible. In addition, we need to check the source of the
information as well. We must check two things: The message and the man.
Many times we will hear messages that sound spot-on, and may even be doctrinally correct, but the speaker is a deceiver.Remember,
the Devil will present truth in order to get you on his hook. No Mormon
or Jehovah’s Witness will knock on your door and begin the conversation
by saying that they have come to present another Gospel and another
Jesus. They all begin by affirming that they believe exactly what you
believe. The problem is that by the time they get around to the lie it
is often too late. Our only defense is not to listen to a single word
from someone we have not checked out thoroughly first. Mormons and JWs
are easy to recognize by their outward appearance. But how do we recognize someone who appears to be an evangelical, Bible believing preacher? Here are a few hints:
First,who is he and where does he come from?
In other words who does he relate to and who has influenced his
thinking? This can easily be established from his bio, personal history
or curriculum vitae. Where did he train? Where does he fellowship? Who
is he in relationship with? Who does he quote? Who quotes him? If he has
a website, look at the other sites he provides links to. These
questions will often reveal a lot about the messenger. Obviously, he may
have had bad connections in the past and may have repented. If he has
repented from former evil associations, has he publicly repudiated those
links and doctrines and broken fellowship with them? If he has, his
past should not be held against him; but, at the same time, some of
those influences may continue to taint his thinking and one should be on
the alert for signs thereof. “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1Corinthians 15:33) and a man can be known by the friends he keeps.
Second,and closely related to the first: What qualifies him to be a teacher?
By this I don’t mean whether he is ordained or has papers, but what
gives him the right to teach you anything? You need to ask questions
about how long he has been a believer, how old he is, does he have a
proven track record of serving the churches, or is he just a maverick
who has set himself as a “prophet”? Is he in submission to others?
Since the advent of the Internet and self-publishing any misfit who
cannot work with others, and who has no desire to be a servant to the
churches, can set himself up as a “ministry”. Does he exhibit skill and integrity in the way he handles the Word, or is he a workman who needs to be ashamed? (2Timothy 2:15). Does he faithfully teach and preach the Word, or is his message based on stories, testimonies and jokes? Finally, does he challenge as well as encourage, or does he only speak those things that will not offend the hearers? (2Timothy 4:2).
Probably the most important qualification is his life! How many times has he been married? Does he have a testimony of integrity, uprightness and holiness?
How does he relate to money and material things? These are but a few of
dozens of questions that need to be asked about the fruit of his life.
Jesus said: “You will know them by their fruits.Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16). By their “fruit” Jesus did not mean the fruit of his ministry (how many converts, books etc) but the fruits of his life. What does his life produce? Do you really think that if he produces thistles at home he will produce grapes in your life? (2Timothy 3 and Titus 1 contain additional questions you may need to ask.)
Fourth,what does he believe?
This gets a bit harder since he will very likely hide the real truth
under language that appears to be sound. Sometimes error can be
discerned by carefully scrutinizing his statement of faith. But mostly
you will have to read and listen carefully. The internet may contain
hints at what may be wrong, but don’t accept anything you find on the
internet without thoroughly investigating that information and its
source. Anyone can publish anything on the internet and many work very
hard to discredit legitimate ministries through this means. But read
carefully what is said about the individual and use that information as a
cue what to look out for in his teaching. But allow me to emphasize:
information from unknown sources on the internet can only serve as red
flags; it cannot be trusted to approve or disqualify anyone. “Whoever…
does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who
abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If
anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him
into your house nor greet him (2John 1:9).
Fifth,we must ask the question; what do the witnesses say?In
the third article in this series (Orthodoxy) we established that we
need to look at the credibility of the witness as well as the testimony
of the witness. Who approves of this man?
If known false teachers give him a good testimonial, or he appears on
the same platform as they, then you know he has to be a false teacher
himself. Likewise, if those who are proven to be ministers of light
condemn him, you better take note
is why it is important that we surround ourselves with those whom we
can trust to advise and counsel. Many “discernment type” ministries have
an axe to grind, but there are a few that can be trusted to give a
balanced assessment of a particular ministry. These people who have been
gifted to be watchmen to the church can save us a lot of time and
research. (Next week we will examine the qualifications of a good
discernment type ministry.) Check their websites and blogs for warnings
about specific ministries, speakers and authors. The Lord says about
watchmen that: “whoever hears the
sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, if the sword comes and
takes him away, his blood shall be on his own head” (Ezekiel 33:4).
Sixth, what is his agenda? Sometimes a speaker or author can pass all the tests and still have the wrong agenda.
It is therefore important to ask what it is that drives him. Is it
money, ego or power? Does he bear a grudge or bitterness? Is he trying
to prove that he is right and everyone else is wrong? Watch and listen
carefully and his motive will shine through. If
he is not driven by a love for the Lord, a love for God’s Word and a
love for God’s people – then he probably has nothing to say. When Jesus commissioned Peter, there was one question that mattered:
“do you love me?” (John 21:15-17). If the speaker does not exhibit a
love for Jesus then he is disqualified no matter how much he knows
you are able to verify the bona fides of a speaker or writer, you
should never receive from them. Very few would knowingly invite the
devil to preach in their church, yet many are willing to have his
messengers speak in his place.
do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of
God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1John
How to Discern – Part 6
What of the Watchman?
Each believer has responsibility for himself to be on the lookout for error and deception (Revelation 3:11). The Lord has also set the elders in the local church with the duty to watch for wolves who would seek to attack the flock (Acts 20:28-30).
these last days error is multiplying and spreading faster than the
average believer or shepherd can track. Every day brings some new
heresy, and modern electronic media and world travel has resulted in new
heresies spreading across the globe within hours of being hatched. Often
these teachings are so cleverly disguised that it literally takes a
specialist to recognize them and to formulate a defense against them.
a result the Lord has raised up a special group of people who have been
uniquely gifted and prepared to act as watchmen to the churches. When
Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, the attacks were so incessant
that in addition to every man carrying his sword whilst building
(Nehemiah 4:17-18), a select group was tasked with looking out for the
enemy (Nehemiah 4:9, 16). As a shepherd in a local church, it
would be impossible for me to fulfill my duties and keep track of the
many new errors that arise almost daily. I am therefore very grateful
for those who have dedicated themselves to the work of monitoring,
researching, warning and formulating answers to the many winds of false
doctrine of our time.
But, as in every area of the Lord’s work, there is the good, the bad and the ugly.
Just the fact that someone points out error does not necessarily make
them devoid of error themselves. Some err in doctrine, and others in
their attitude or lifestyle. It is therefore important that we establish
what the difference is between the good and the bad amongst discernment
ministries. (I use “discernment ministries” [lower case] as a generic
term distinct from “Discernment Ministries” which refers to a specific
In one sense, this is the easiest ministry that anyone can get into these days. This is true simply because it is much easier to point out mistakes in others than to correct those mistakes.
Some who could not write or preach a single word to edify the church
get involved in throwing stones. Pulling down is easier than building up
and finding fault is easier than teaching truth. Many are involved in
these ministries because they want revenge for past hurt, or because
they want to be involved in ministry but do not have the gifts to do so,
or even because they have a problem with pride.
Here are some important questions to ask about discernment ministries:
What attitude do they display?Is
it one of arrogance and pride and do they feel that they are better
than those poor heretics over there? Or do they genuinely mourn and weep
over the state of the church? Do they speak with humility and grace,
recognizing that it is only the grace of God that has kept them? Do they
feel that they are superior to everyone else and God’s only remnant?
(The series “Contentiously Contending” deal with this in more detail.)
Who are the faces behind that particular ministry?What
are their personal lives like? Do they have a history of serving the
churches and standing for truth? Are they in fellowship with other
believers and ministries and do they serve a local church or are they
What is their motive?Is
it revenge, profit, fame and importance? Or is it love for the Lord,
His Word and His People? (The previous article “Who’s Who?” applies as
much to discernment ministries as to preachers.)
Are their accusations based on thoroughly documented research supported by credible witnesses and empirical proof?
Or is it based on second-hand rumor and guilt by association? Many of
these ministries could discredit someone just because that person
happened to pass through the same airport as a known heretic, even
though there is no connection between them.
Do they rely on innuendo, rumor and quotes taken out of context to make their case? Or do they rely on facts, track-records, history and documents?
Are they credible?
In other words how do you know you can trust them? Do they exaggerate
or embellish to make a point? Have you ever noticed them lying or are
they people of integrity? Is their assessment balanced, or are they
biased? Do they ever have something good to say about anyone or can they
only speak about what is evil and wrong?
Are they conspiracy theorists?One
such man teaches that the Jews are to blame for every form of evil that
plagues our world, that NASA found dinosaur bones on the moon but
conspired to conceal the matter, but at another time claimed that man
never went to the moon and that it was all a conspiracy! Yes, this man
is one of the most prominent speakers, broadcasters and writers against
Do they teach the truth or only against error?Do they provide an antidote to the heresy, or can they only point out what is wrong?The
Lord and the Word never reveal a problem without providing a solution
to that problem. Yes, the Bible speaks against sin, but it also provides
the antidote – the precious blood of Jesus. It reveals the wickedness
of man’s heart but offers the righteousness of God to those who believe (Romans 3:22-23).
the fact that they are a discernment or apologetic ministry does not
exempt them from all the checks and balances we have spoken about in
this series. They need to be checked. The bad need to be
rejected and the good need to be valued. I would urge you to know which
of these ministries can be trusted and to read their material regularly.
If you are a pastor or preacher, you need to attend a good discernment
conference every year in order that you may be warned of the new devices
of the evil one.
If you do use their services you need to support them by your prayers, encouragement and gifts.The
good ones will never speak of their needs, yet it costs a lot of
stamina and finances to keep those ministries going – help them so they
can better serve you. Above all, pray for them. It takes a lot of
courage and they pay a very high personal price for their stand as they
are constantly being attacked. They need your prayers and encouragement.
The fact that Nehemiah set a watch and dedicated some to bear arms, did not absolve the rest of the people from being on guard:
who built on the wall, and those who carried burdens, loaded themselves
so that with one hand they worked at construction, and with the other
held a weapon. Every one of the builders had his sword girded at his
side as he built. And the one who sounded the trumpet was beside me.
Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The
work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another
on the wall. Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us
there. Our God will fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:17-20).