Biblical Discernment in a World of False Teaching – Part Six


“How is your church doing?”  It is a common question asked among Christians.  I have found that what people usually want to know when asking this is, “How are the churches ABC’s (attendance, buildings, and cash flow)?”  Unfortunately, too often man will use these measures to gauge success.  But is attendance, or numbers, the most important criterion for success?  What about the building?  Does a beautiful multi-purpose church building have anything to do with success?  What about cash flow?  Is wealth really a factor?

Our answers to these questions need to be rooted in the Scriptures and I have yet to find in the Bible success defined by these factors.  For example, in the Pastoral Epistles, Paul does not instruct the young pastors to be concerned with numbers.  While numbers, in the proper perspective, can shed some light into the amount of lives that are being transformed, they do not on their own measure success.  And since the church is a “people and not a place” the building is irrelevant when measuring success.   And being rich is not always a sign of God’s blessing and approval as in Revelation 3:17.  (But, I have found that the purity of a church in doctrine and practice is vitally important to the Lord.)

Yet still, it seems as though this is what the world is looking for in a church – a large, vibrant, relevant church that appeals to the flesh.  Instead of asking whether or not the church preaches and teaches the truth or even where God wants me to worship and serve, the question more often is asked, “What will this church do for me?” or “Is this church big enough, beautiful enough and rich enough to meet all my needs?”   One pastor said, “Mega-churches are cooler, hipper, usually more exciting than other area churches, therefore they are natural gathering points for already-converted people who are looking for ‘something more’ – namely more program options, better worship, more services with fewer demands…”

And because this is such a common attitude we can quickly become pragmatic when we use man’s standards to define success instead of God’s Word.

What Is Pragmatism?

Prag`mat`ic – more concerned with practical results than with theories and principles

Pragmatism is the belief that worth is determined by practical consequences.  In other words, if a technique has a desired effect, it is good.  If it doesn’t work then it must be wrong.  In the pragmatic church the only question that matters is, “What will work to grow and prosper our church?”  John MacArthur often speaks out against the pragmatic movement so prevalent today.  In one sermon he said,

Some church leaders evidently think the four priorities of the early church—the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42) make a lame agenda for the church in this day and age. Churches are allowing drama, recreation, entertainment, self-help programs, and similar enterprises to eclipse the importance of traditional Sunday worship and fellowship. In fact, everything seems to be in fashion in the church today except biblical preaching. The new pragmatism sees preaching—particularly expository preaching—as pass‚. Plainly declaring the truth of God’s Word is regarded as offensive and utterly ineffective. We’re now told we can get better results by first amusing people or giving them pop-psychology and thus wooing them into the fold. Once they feel comfortable, they’ll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.

Pastors are turning to books on marketing methods in search of new techniques to help churches grow. Many seminaries have shifted their pastoral training emphasis from Bible curriculum and theology to counseling technique and church-growth theory. All these trends reflect the church’s growing commitment to pragmatism.[i]

So, let’s be committed to God’s Word.  Let’s measure success by His definition.  And let’s cast off pragmatic ideas about church growth and look to the truth found in Scripture.  And truth is certainly not tested by what works and what doesn’t work.

“These things command and teach. Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.”  (1Timothy 4:11-13)

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5)

Biblical Discernment in a World of False Teaching – Part Five

Cultural Relevance

There is a lot of talk about the cultural relevant church, but just what does this mean?  I have heard it said that we must be culturally relevant if we want to reach the world and I have heard others oppose the notion.  I believe our biggest problem is taking terminology that is outside the Scriptures (cultural relevant) to describe mandates derived from the Scriptures. People get confused when this happens and the message becomes unclear.  So, let’s look at the definitions of cultural and relevant.

Cultural – relating to a culture or civilization

Relevant – having social significance, some bearing on or importance for real-world issues, present-day events, or the current state of society

One writer said, “It’s about being relevant and engaging culture. The church must be relevant and understand that we live in an ever-changing and ever evolving culture, if we want to reach people for Christ. The methods must change, but the message ‘the Word’ never changes.”

I can agree with most of this statement.  We most certainly live in an ever-changing culture and certain methods should change.  I do not know of any circuit riding preacher who is still traveling around on horseback preaching the gospel.  I like our current mode of transportation, thank you!  I’m also rather thankful for the internet.  Our church can broadcast the gospel all over the world with a few clicks of a button. To disregard our modern technology simply relates to loss opportunity in reaching out to the lost with the gospel.  So what is the problem and where is all the confusion?

It is interesting to note that those that promote cultural relevance always states that “the Word never changes.”  I have, however, found this to be untrue in some cases.  In an effort to have social significance some will cast off the Word for a more palatable substitute.  Sitting around talking about real life issues is not the same as teaching God’s Word and preaching the gospel of Christ.

Another problem arises when we confuse the function of the church with personal evangelism.  My husband often reminds us that the church is a people, not a place.  The Greek word for church is ekklesia which means a called assembly. The local church is a called out assembly of baptized believers who have coveted together to carry out the great commission.  Therefore, church is for the saved.  Let me say that again because I believe very few truly understand this.  Church is for the saved not the unregenerate world.  When we come together in the assembly, it is to worship God.  The lost cannot or will not do this.   When we come together in the assembly, it is to learn from God’s Word.  The lost do not even understand God’s Word.  “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” 1 Corinthians 2:14.    When we come together in the assembly, it is to love, exhort, and edify one another.  Without God’s love the lost cannot grasp the meaning of loving the brethren and all it encompasses.  And when we come together in the assembly it is to equip us for the work of the ministry. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:12.

This is, however, not to say that the lost are unwelcome within the assembly.  We should make them feel welcome, but the function of the church is not to bring into the assembly as many lost people as we can find in hopes that they might get saved at the church.  If they come in, the purpose should be that they will watch true believers worship the True God, hear the preaching and teaching of the Word, and witness the love for the brethren within the church.  Should God draw them and stir their hearts so they get saved within the assembly, praise God.  But the churches function is not to be seeker sensitive.  We should not adapt the preaching and teaching to their pleasure.  (In fact, Jesus preached and taught counter-culturally and was crucified for it.  Why would we expect any less from the world?)  And while we desire to make them feel comfortable, the truth is that an unsaved man or woman will not be comfortable when the truth of God’s Word is proclaimed.  What we need to be sensitive to is God’s desires and His will for His church.  The church comes together to worship, learn from God’s Word, and love one another.  It is then that we go out into the world to reach and evangelize our neighbors and loved ones.  This is done on a personal level, one by one. Once the lost are saved, we should seek to bring them into the assembly so they too can worship God, learn from His Word, and love the brethren.

If the churches focus is always on being culturally relevant, the true “ministry of reconciliation” that we are given will quickly grow irrelevant.  When the center of attention is on the culture, often the purity of the church and the sanctification of believers are de-emphasized.  The problem with being cultural relevant is that too much attention is being given to making sinners feel comfortable, being seeker sensitive, and fitting in with the world.  Therefore, too little attention is given to repentance from sin, being sensitive to God’s Word, and confronting the culture.

The church is to be different from the world.  We are not to look like, act like, or live like the world.  We are to be holy, set apart, and peculiar.  I find that a focus on cultural relevance often ignores these truths.  Eric Davis states it plainly, “Christ was so relevant, not because he was methodologically trained in missional living, but because he was so holy. The most effective missional living is not crafting the most culturally relevant outreach technique, but in transformed people who are actually salt and light. Spiritual maturity through sanctification best equips God’s people for evangelism over cultural methodology.” [i]

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” Romans 12:2

Biblical Discernment in a World of False Teaching – Part Four

Labels and Doctrines of Men

My husband says that if he could only claim one “label” it would be that of a Biblicist.  He believes that God’s Word is pure, complete, and with the direction of the Holy Spirit able to be understood.   I have really tried to approach God’s Word in this way as well.  With that said, there are a lot of man-made labels.  I’m a Calvinist…I’m Arminian…I’m reformed…I am missional….I am transformational…..I follow MacArthur…I follow Spurgeon…I follow _______ (fill in the blank with the latest church growth guru)…..I am of Paul….I of Apollos….I of Cephas, etc.  Do you get the point?  It is not that I disregard the teaching of men or certain labels. (In fact, the first church continued “stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine.” )  Labels can be an effective identifier.  We proudly identify ourselves as Baptists.  But a label is only effective as long as it does not diminish or detract from the doctrines found in Scripture.

An example of this would be the Calvinist’s label.  I have met some who will claim this label without fully understanding it.  I have even met “Baptist” who proudly wears the sign, never understanding that Luther and Calvin persecuted those that believed in true Baptist doctrine.  So why would they claim this label? There is too much of God’s Word that contradicts the teaching; yet many still cling to this man-made doctrine as if it is the gospel itself.  For example, the doctrine of limited atonement is one of the “5 TULIPS” and is the belief that the death of our Lord Jesus on Calvary’s cross was strictly limited in any and all of its aspects only to the elect and that it had nothing to do with the non-elect people of the world. This is a doctrinal issue that has been debated for years by many theologians.  I will not attempt to argue the point (too much) but I will say that we must be very careful to not hold up man’s theology in higher regards than God’s precious Word.  The problem I see with those that take this view is that they filter all of the Scriptures through this one particular doctrine.   In other words, what would normally be simple to understand verses are perverted and twisted so that they will fit into Calvin’s doctrine.   To do so is not only unnecessary but also leads to error.  Ask yourself this.  What do you do when you come across a passage in Scripture about God like this one, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,” 1 Timothy 2:4.   I have always said that the Bible is the best commentary on the Bible we have.

It seems simple to me.  Where God said that we are the elect, I believe it.  Where God said that He wills all men to be saved, I believe it as well.  When God says that “he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world,” I believe it.  And where God says Christ was sent to be the “propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” I believe it too.  To do otherwise would be to hold up some Scripture over the others.  So you could say I believe in the doctrine of election and in the doctrine of free will.  I believe that Christ died for the entire world, but I also believe that not everyone will be saved.  The Scriptures speak of both and no one verse is more important than the other.  So the best way of refuting the false view of limited atonement (or any of the other false doctrines of men) is by simply reading, studying, and knowing God’s Word.

There are several passages that refute limited atonement.  I believe if these verses were taken without the preconceived notions of man and with the direction of the Holy Spirit that a person could only come to one conclusion.  Isaiah 53:5-6, Matthew 11:28, John 1:29, John 3:14-15, Romans 5:6, 2 Corinthians 5:19, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, Hebrews 2:9, 2 Peter 2:1, 1 John 4:14, 1 John 2:2, Titus 2:11

Obviously certain teachings of Calvinism are not the only teaching I am against.  There are many other man-made doctrines that lead us down a slippery slope of false ideas.  The point is that man is fallible.  Man’s teaching can lead to error.  We are weak and make mistakes.  But God’s Inspired Word is perfect.  He makes no mistakes.  It is without error.   And, it is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness.  It is His Word we should cling to.  Now don’t get me wrong, this is not to say that man’s teaching is futile.  The Bible is clear that we are to teach others.  But this teaching should never be taken lightly.  Those that teach God’s Word will be held to a high standard.  James warns, “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.” James 3:1.  My husband is the pastor of a precious group of believers.  He takes his role of teaching very seriously.

“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word,” Act 6:4.

“Feed the flock of God which is among you,” 1 Peter 5:2a.

“A bishop then must be…apt to teach,” 1Timothy 3:2.

“And he gave some…pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” Ephesians 4:11-12.

Likewise, I teach women and write expository Bible studies for women.  But my husband and I would be the first to tell you that you should not take our word for it; study the Scriptures for yourself to see if what we are teaching is true.  May we always be like the believers in Berea that were nobler than the ones in Thessalonica because they “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so,” Act 17:11.

Biblical Discernment in a World of False Teaching – Part One

“Discernment is not simply a matter of telling the difference between what is right and wrong; rather it is the difference between right and almost right.” Charles Spurgeon

In this world there is certainly a lot of “almost right” out there.  But as I have said before, the most dangerous lie is the one closest to the truth.  Therefore, for the Christian, biblical discernment is imperative.  I’ve been thinking about all of the false teaching out there today.  Certainly, false teaching is nothing new.  Practically every one of the New Testament epistles deals with recognizing and exposing false teachers.

Jesus dealt with it.  “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves,” Matthew 7:15.  The apostles dealt with it.   “As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed,” Galatians 1:9.
The first century church dealt with it.  “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them,” Act 20:29-30.
And if we love the truth, we will deal with it and do our best to expose it. “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars,”  Revelation 2:2.

(See also Matthew 24:4-5, Matthew 24:23-24, Luke 21:8, Romans 16:18, 2 Corinthians 11:13, Ephesians 4:14, Philippians 3:18-19, I Timothy 4:1, 2 Timothy 2:17-18, Titus 1:10-11, 2 Peter 2:1, 2 John 1:7, 10, Jude 1:4)

The Apostle John tells us, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world,” 1 John 4:1.

Not every spirit is of God. The Bible speaks of evil, unclean, dumb, foul, and deaf spirits.  It tells of the spirit of infirmity, spirit of divination, spirit of bondage, spirit of the world, spirit that “worketh in the children of disobedience,” spirit of antichrist, and the spirit of error.  Not every teaching is correct.  A false spirit produces false teachers that fabricate false doctrine. many false prophets are gone out into the world.”   This is why biblical discernment is so important.  I believe there are truly many Christian men and women who want to teach the truth to others.  They are sincere.  Perhaps their motives are pure.  But, they have not filtered all of their teaching through God’s Word.  To try the spirits means to test or prove them.  “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good,” 1 Thessalonians 5:21. 

 There are two ways to test a spirit.  The first is by the Word of God.  The believers in Berea were nobler than the ones in Thessalonica because they “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so,” Act 17:11. If a doctrine does not line up with Scripture it is wrong.  The Spirit of God will never contradict the Word of God.  It will never supersede the written word.  Just as Christ came to do the will of the Father and glorify Him, the Spirit will point people to Christ and glorify Him.  John 1:1 tells us that Jesus is the Word of God.  Revelations 19:13 tells us that “The Word of God” is His very name.  We also know that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God,” 2 Timothy 3:16.  To say that the Spirit would lead us or teach us something contrary to Jesus Christ (The Word) is untrue.

The second way to test the spirits is by their fruits.  Jesus said in Matthew 7:20 “by their fruits ye shall know them.” You cannot separate a man’s personal life from his ministry.  Does his life line up with what he is teaching?  Be careful to accept every teaching as truth.  You need to make sure that what is taught is first biblical and second that those teaching have a life that demonstrates good works.  “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom,” James 3:13.

If the Spirit of God dwells in us, by knowing the Word of God and examining fruits we can test the spirits to see if they are of God. “God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” 1 Corinthians 2:10.

Like I said, I am concerned about all the good sounding, “almost right”, man-centered ideas that are ever constantly being proclaimed about God and His Word.  I am not saying that those who teaching such things are “false prophets” but I do believe many are misguided.  And if we are not careful, we will let their teaching influence our beliefs.  Over the next few days I will be address some of these fallacies that are prevalent today.

  • Gospel Message without Repentance
  • Ecumenical Movement
  • Labels & Doctrines of Men
  • Cultural Relevance
  • Pragmatism