Though contemporary society can shy away from such a question as “too judgemental,” to do so is actually spiritually injurious; Jesus and the Apostles commanded us to be alert (Mt 7:15).
Often we can tell a false teacher by measuring their truth/teaching by the standard of the Gospel or the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Gal 1:8; Jude 3).
Another way is to watch out for polluted behaviour because bad beliefs produce bad behaviour (or faith produces the fruit of faith and visa versa).
Scripture lays down some other methods to be sure, however, in reading John 7:18 I was struck by another, which taken with the others, provides a helpful test:
The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood.
This is in the context of Jesus telling the truth and seeking His Father’s glory in contrast with the religious leaders, but it sheds light on the false teachers we may face too. False teachers are: 1) proud (even if mildly concealed), 2) which works out in a promotion of their own thoughts (vs. God’s truth) and 3) for their own glory, or so that others would think well of them (think cult) rather than praise God. This can be true of preachers or people; but regardless of the context are three things we all need to be on the lookout for.
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Acts 17:11
The Bible means “The Book.” It is a book unlike any other for in it we have the very words of God. When it speaks, God speaks; authoritatively and truthfully on all matters upon which it positively touches. For those convinced of this from the Bible itself, the testimony of the Spirit, reason and logic, experience, etc, there is no other place to look for truth for in Scripture alone are found the words of life.
A friend of mine has a common saying, “if you’re not reading the Bible, you shouldn’t be reading anything else, for you’ll have no standard by which to evaluate its truthfulness.” This is not mindlessness or uncritical detachment; for the one who has placed their faith in revelation over reason it is recognition that God’s word is truth, spoken by the author of truth, to inform how we ought to understand reality as He’s created it. He’s given us minds, so we should use them, but the greatest wisdom is in trusting the mind of God revealed in Scripture.
There is the old adage, you are what you eat. Ps 115 says the same thing, “Those who make them [idols] become like them; so do all who trust in them.” If we indiscriminately take on board whatever we hear, read, listen to or watch, we are like waves tossed to and fro, we’re undiscerning fools that will be led away into great sorrow. We’ll become just like what we absorb. We must be anchored to the truth of God’s word and try every thought, word, deed, idea or attitude by it.
Here God’s Word is like a filter. It helps us sort between what is helpful and unhelpful, true and false. Many years ago it was said that the RCMP didn’t teach constables about every single counterfeit bill but rather taught them to know an authentic bill and so be able to try every bill by that standard. If we’re not spending time in the truth (and with the Truth) how are we to discern truth or goodness:
There are many things I, as a pastor, would rather write about, but it often behoves me, for the sake of my sheep and those who would be gathered in, to defend the faith, to protect and guard from error, so that the saints may be edified and sinners saved. This is where Jude found himself:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
Liberalism (and I daren’t even give it the satisfaction of enjoining it to that blessed title, Christianity), is a new religion that was birthed in the nineteenth century (1800s). Like Satan posing as an angel of light or a wolf dressing in sheep’s clothing, Liberalism (lateral deists as a friend of mine calls them), guises itself as Christian, though in peering into the [initially] subtle differences, one finds an entirely different religion. We’d do well to know what Liberalism is, so in spotting it, we might turn from error fix our eyes upon the truth of Jesus.
A newspaper from the 1920s, an era where Liberalism and orthodox Christianity were in conflict, contrasted the chasm like differences between the two.
One author who wrote on the subject was J.G. Machen in Liberalism and Christianity (1923). In his classic work he argued that Liberalism was indeed a new religion.
To further illustrate the differences, consider the Fellowship’s Statement of Faith (1953) (and still today) contrasted with the much more orthodox United Church Statement of Faith (1925) and their most recent statement, Songs of Faith (2006), on the subjects of the Bible, Jesus and Mankind (these three are chosen because of their centrality in the faith):
Doctrinal error and moral misguidedness—accommodating to the world, syncretism—has meant that the once largest Canadian Christian denomination is now one of the fastest dying religions in Canada (the old statistic was that one church building closed each week; now the figure is that, with the Anglican Church and some others, 10,000 buildings will close in 2020 alone). While a dead orthodoxy can certainly lead to closed churches, a vibrant orthodoxy normally to lead to spiritual flourishing and healthy churches (as seen in the independent and non-religious study from Ontario in 2015).
Like Jude, may we cling to the “faith once for all delivered to the saints,” which along is true, which alone can save; and having come near the end of our Old Testament journey in Cover to Cover, may we take heed of the danger that will come to God’s people when we compromise with the world in belief and practice (i.e. Judges).