Throughout the Bible, the biblical writers warn the people
of God to be on the look out for an infiltration by false prophets and
teachers. Peter writes, for instance,
that these religious fakers secretly bring in destructive heresies (2
Peter 2:1). The idea is that they are
stealth-like with the promotion of their theological errors; they bring their
false teachings in the backdoor of the church, as it were, when no one is
looking. The Apostle Jude even affirms this truth with similar words when he
writes, For uncertain men have crept in unnoticed (Jude 4). They are like thieves sneaking into a house
at night, but their theft is to steal away doctrinal soundness from the
Christian believers. In addition to
these two warnings, Paul’s final words to the Ephesian elders were even more
vivid when he exhorts them to take heed to themselves and the churches they shepherd
because, as Paul puts it, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing
the flock (Acts 20:28, 29).
These biblical warnings, and others like them, are even more
necessary to heed by Christians in the 21st century, as they were
when the prophets and apostles first wrote them. The proliferation of Christian radio, television networks, and
the advent of the internet have given hundreds of secret inroads for false
teachers to smuggle doctrinal error in to the congregations of local Churches
and the personal lives of Bible believing Christians. There are hundreds of Christian radio and television parachurch
ministries that pepper the landscape of evangelicalism in America, each one
supposedly offering “solid” teaching for the supporting audience. These parachurch ministries are beneficial
for believers for the most part, however, there are some of these ministries,
acting under the guise of a biblical authority, that serve up some of the worse
spiritual poison imaginable. On top of
these broadcast ministries, the internet has given rise to literally thousands
of theological websites. There are those “Christian” websites that are
blatantly bad, where as others are less conspicuous, introducing their error in
Now, more than ever, is the time for Christians to be on the
alert to the possible presence of these “spiritual serial-killers” stalking the
people of God, either in the form of broadcast radio, cable television,
published books, or the internet. False
teaching is deadly serious; because on one hand, it can damn the souls of those
blinded by its error never allowing them to understand the truth, while on the
other, it can entangle Christians with wrong thinking that will rob them of the
joy and delight of walking with Christ.
Furthermore, it will cause divisions within congregations and before a
church realizes it, false teaching will disrupt the godly fellowship believers
have with one another.
The reality of spiritual invasion by false teachers should
cause believers to cultivate discernment.
This is especially true when they encounter the variety of so-called
ministries with in any of the mediums mentioned above. Because of this danger, I wanted to offer a
series of questions I usually pose when I come across any new “ministry” or
popular Bible teacher. This is not a
comprehensive list by any means, but these questions do help a wary Christian
to protect himself, along with other believers who may be uncertain about a
specific teaching ministry or Bible teacher.
I have eleven of them to offer.
(1) Does the ministry teach orthodox Christian doctrine?
This is the most important question that must be considered
when evaluating a Christian ministry or the teachings of a popular, Bible
teacher and author. Generally, most
pseudo-Christian cults and other unorthodox groups depart from biblical
Christianity in four key areas:
will put aside the final authority of scripture for the man-made teachings
of the main group, or leaders of the group. Usually, this is seen with how the literature of the
ministry will highlight certain biblical passages that supposedly support
their “doctrines.” They will then provide their interpretative spin on the
passages, and claim it is what the Bible teaches. The leadership will never allow any
challenge to the validity of those interpretations that may point out
other biblical passages contradicting them. Moreover, any objections to
their core beliefs are explained away in a clever way or perhaps ignored
In some instances, the group may
even re-translate the Bible to fit their pet teachings, such as the Jehovah’s
Witnesses and their New World Translation; or the group will add more
“scriptures” to the canon of the Bible, claiming that it is newer revelation
meant to supplement the previous Old and New Testaments. The Mormons do this with their Book of
Mormon, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenant.
reject what the Bible reveals about the triune nature of God. In other words, they will despise and
reject the biblical teaching on the Trinity. The literature of such groups is filled with cutting remarks
against the doctrine of the Trinity, and in some cases, revise the history
surrounding the affirmation of the Trinity by the historical Christian
church in order to make it appear fraudulent or influenced by pagan
will alter what the Bible teaches regarding the person and work of Jesus
Christ. These groups tend to
reject the divinity of Jesus Christ in their teaching by making him a
created being, or perhaps some lesser god. Moreover, they will deny his satisfying atonement for
sinners on the cross. Christ’s
death will be viewed as any thing other than the substitutionary death
that saves sinners. And also,
these groups may deny Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave and even
his second coming.
will change the nature of salvation from justification by faith through
God’s grace alone, to one of man-centered works. These groups have devised many
elaborate methods for people to either earn their salvation from God, or
to complete it in one way or another.
Whatever the case, legalistic works are added to salvation to be
carried out by the convert. In
their view of salvation, faith upon Christ alone is not enough.
If the ministry being considered departs in orthodoxy from
biblical Christianity in any of these key doctrines, it should be looked upon
with suspicion. This question
presupposes that believers are familiar with their Christian faith. That is why it is imperative for Christians
to know the Bible, to be grounded in basic Christian theology, and have a
handle upon what the gospel actually entails.
Knowing proper doctrine provides a wall of defense against the
encroachment of false teaching.
(2) Does the ministry or it leader(s) claim to have
special revelation apart from the Bible, teach unique doctrines, or claim any
special, spiritual authority?
This question is semi-related to the first point above in
that pseudo-Christian religious groups usually claim to have some special
revelation or special teaching that provides them a superior spiritual
authority over their members, as well as all other religious groups. However, there are some churches and
ministries that would be considered orthodox in their beliefs, but would
advocate the teaching of special revelation by their leader or key
leaders. Many Pentecostal and
charismatic ministries fall into this category. A Christian should be suspicious of a ministry that claims to be
led directly by God, or a Bible teacher that asserts he or she has a channel
from God that reveals to him or her what to teach. Anyone testifying that he has a special “in” with God by personal
revelation, or claims to be led by the Holy Spirit apart from the Bible being
rightly interpreted in context, is spreading theological error. This would also hold true for any
individuals or groups teaching that God’s will can be known apart from the
application of biblical principles.
(3) Does the ministry or group base their doctrines upon
the sole teachings of one particular individual, or small group of individuals?
This question flows out of the previous one. Historically, the false teaching of
pseudo-Christian groups centers on the teachings of a person who is believed to
be uniquely illuminated by God. The
major cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, World Wide Church of God,
and Seventh-Day Adventists for example, all have their beginnings from the
unusual teachings of one man or woman.
The person is typically charismatic in his or her personality, has a
giftedness of sorts to teach and influence others, and believes he or she has a
special anointing from God that constitutes the authority by which he or she
teaches. The followers enshrine the
leader’s writings and sermons to inspirational status on par with scripture. If any ministry or church group has a heavy
emphasis upon the teachings of one specific person, there should be an alarm of
caution sounding in the Christian’s mind.
I would offer one word of exhortation, however. There are exceptions of this rule. By that I mean there are many solid, God
honoring and Bible believing ministries centered on the teachings of a gifted
person. Christian radio, for example, broadcasts the ministries of men and
women that promote their exclusive Bible teaching. The primary distinction a Christian should note is the emphasis
placed upon that teaching. If the
church group or ministry elevates the teaching of the person to a status of
near inspiration, that is reason to beware.
Godly people who have been used and blessed by God to teach many people
over the years, however, do not place an inspirational premium upon their own
(4) Does the ministry provide an articulate doctrinal
If a person is unsure what a ministry may believe, he should
ask them to provide a doctrinal statement.
A ministry that is biblically sound will readily comply with the
request. Any ministry that is hesitant
with supplying a doctrinal statement may be trying to hide their error. Even worse, the ministry may be orthodox,
but ignorant of fundamental Christian doctrine. That is why it is important to notice how specific the doctrinal
statement is. Does it articulate clear,
Biblical teaching? Or, is it vague?
Even if a ministry may be orthodox with their beliefs, if the leadership
is unable to articulate what they believe, that may be a warning flag to
(5) Does the leader(s) of the religious group, or
ministry, conduct himself with personal integrity?
The apostle Paul was rather straightforward when laying down
scriptural principles of leadership. In
both 1 Timothy 3:1-23, and Titus 1:5-10, Paul provides a listing of what are
clear and concise character qualities that should be present in the life of a
spiritual leader and those individuals in spiritual leadership. The leader is to be sober-minded, not a
person prone to arguing and picking fights, level headed, have the ability to
teach, blameless of any public scandal or sin; a person who is to raise his
family according to godliness, and most importantly, a lover of his wife.
The shores of church history are littered with the remnants
of ministries whose leadership did not meet these qualifications in their
personal lives. A life of integrity
may be one of the first warning signs a ministry is corrupt and not on the
spiritual “up-and-up,” so to speak. If
the key leader or leaders of the group have a reputation of being flirtatious
with women, or are known to be pugnacious, always arguing or causing dissention
among the members of the congregation, there is a reason to be concerned. Moreover, if the key leader or senior pastor
has no accountability with other people in the ministry or the church he leads,
that is also a concern. I have
personally heard of a handful of nationally syndicated radio ministries, as
well as some large, nationally known churches, where the main leaders, or
pastors, do not have any contact with their staff and do not hold themselves
accountable to those individual with whom they serve.
In addition to those things, a leader must have a good
marriage/family life. If the person has
a troubled family life that he or she will not acknowledge and refuses to put
aside the public ministry to take care of those family problems, that person is
not living a life with integrity, regardless of how tremendous a teacher he or
she may be.
(6) Does the leader, and the ministry he leads, have
Following on the heels of the previous question, a more
specific area of integrity to consider is the financial integrity of the
ministry and the leaders who serve it.
Does the ministry handle all the money they take in for support in an
upright, honorable manner? In other
words, do they spend the money as they promise they would? One telltale sign of good financial stewardship
is a readily available financial report made public to those who would ask.
Does the report demonstrate that they properly spend the funds in the manner
they are designated?
Furthermore, look at the leaders of the ministry. Do they dress in a modest fashion and drive
reasonably priced cars? Modest dress is
not defined as second-hand, worn out suits and a reasonable car is not defined
as a 15-year-old clunker. The idea is
that the person is not wallowing in excessive materialism. He is not consistently sporting 1,000-dollar
suits and has two 100,000-dollar automobiles.
Other questions to ask are, does the ministry constantly
fund raise? Are they always asking for more money in their literature and on
the radio/TV broadcast? Does the person use manipulative fund raising
techniques, such as promising spiritual blessing if you give a certain amount?
Or, perhaps put a guilt trip upon the supporters to give more than what they
may have been giving on previous occasions?
I once heard a good example of a “guilt trip” being placed upon
listeners on my local Christian radio station.
The host of one daily program proclaimed that if there was anyone
listening to him who was not regularly supporting him financially, those people
were stealing from him and from God.
The host discredited what was otherwise a respectable program with this
comment and others like it. He revealed
that he had a wrong-headed view of finances.
(7) Does the main Bible teacher, or the ministry, promise
quick and certain spiritual growth and blessing with the reading of his or her
books, the attendance of seminars or the supporting of the ministry?
Once, when I was in college, I had a gentleman encourage me
to attend the seminar of a well-known Bible teacher. According to this fellow, if I were to attend these series of
seminars hosted by this teacher, I would learn more in a weekend than I would
learn four years in seminary.
Thankfully, in God’s grace, I didn’t attend, and it spared me from what
I later discovered was a teacher who had a deplorable method of abusing
biblical principles that took verses out of context and misapplied them to
spiritual situations. The famous
teacher and his seminars promised quick and certain spiritual growth in a short
amount of personal time on the part of the attendee, but in actuality, the
misapplication of biblical principles only led people into legalistic
The Bible teaches, on the other hand, that spiritual growth
is a steady, upward movement in the life of a Christian (Philippians 3:12-14),
that it entails a putting off of sinful habits and the putting on of godly
character (Colossians 3:8-17), and the renewing of the mind to think God’s
thoughts after him (Romans 12:1,2).
Though Christian seminars, or good books, can be helpful in a believer’s
life, it is both naïve, as well as unbiblical, to suggest spiritual maturity
can be accomplished in a relatively short time. A Christian would be served better to avoid any ministry or
teacher promising such quick spirituality.
(8) Does the leadership, and/or members of the ministry,
ridicule and condemn other Christians who may disagree with their theological
opinions or the ministry’s doctrinal statement?
Sometime ago, I encountered a group of religious protesters
handing out their literature to the people passing by them. It wasn’t apparent what this group actually
believed, but the one thing that stood out to me with these protesters was the
tee shirts many of them wore. They were
covered with condemnatory statements of several figures from Church
history. They named such individuals
like Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon, the Puritan John Owen, and the
Reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther, as false teachers and heretics. That was a rather bold assessment, seeing
that all of those men were successful ministers and contributed greatly to the
Christian Church. I asked the fellow
who seemed to be leading the protesters why they condemned these godly men as
heretics, and he proceeded to rattle off for me a list of objections to the doctrines
these men held. It became clear that
his condemnation of them was not based upon any substantive, biblical
convictions, but upon silly things such as, John Owen believed in infant
baptism and Charles Spurgeon didn’t preach hard enough against Roman
Catholicism. His whole defense of
judging these people boiled down to the idea that any Christian who departs
from what he and his church believed the Bible taught, has left the
This was not an unique occasion, I have seen this attitude
displayed in churches were the pastor and members will condemn any other church
that doesn’t preach against abortion every Sunday, or regularly protest in
front of abortion clinics. In a similar
fashion, other churches may condemn Christians who use any other Bible
translation other than the King James, or who refuse to enforce legalistic
standards upon their own lives and the lives of their families. So, if a Christian uses the New American
Standard translation for his Bible study, or owns a television and periodically
visit the theater to catch a movie, he is viewed as worldly and an apostate
from the faith. This is an important
rule to note: any church or religious group that condemns other believers
because they may disagree with them about their convictions is a group that
needs to be avoided. Their attitude
essentially poisons any true and meaningful biblical discernment.
(9) Does the Church or ministry have a disdain for a Bible
college or seminary education?
It is important for Christians to grow in their faith and
one of the primary means of growth and discipleship for a Christian is
secondary theological education. A fine
secondary theological education can be found at a sound Bible college, or seminary,
or by attending a local Bible institute hosted by a Church. However, there are groups of Christians, as
well as whole denominations, that have a dislike for any such secondary
education. These individuals will
consistently run down Bible colleges and seminaries, claiming that those institutions
are only in it for the money and teach liberal theology. Bible colleges and seminaries, they argue,
have become unbiblical and will only confuse young people and steal their
faith. In addition, they will
discourage young men from any theological training if they so desire to pastor
and preach. It is believed that the
Bible alone and the leading of the Holy Spirit are sufficient to train men for
This mentality grows from the idea of an unbalanced view of
the autonomy of the local church. It is believed that any institution, other
than a local church, is unbiblical and not ordained by God. Though these
convictions seem to be noble on the surface, they can lead to a spiritually
weak church that has members with no ability to discern truth from error, and
whose pastors are unable to properly teach the Word of God.
(10) Does the ministry emphasize politics and Christian
social activism over solid Biblical teaching?
This question applies to those ministries or churches whose
leadership encourages Christians to be actively involved in conservative
politics and even to a degree, social activism, in order to “Christianize” the
secular world. Though the Bible lays
down principles exhorting Christians to be good citizens, pay their taxes and
honor the government authorities (the king, Caesar, or a president), the Bible
does not sanction the Church to involve itself in political activism in order
to affect moral and social reform. It
is the consistent, clear preaching of the gospel and the teaching of the whole
Word of God that affects true moral and social reform as Paul argues in 1
Corinthians chapters 1 and 2. The
ministries that promote moral change through politics tend to de-emphasize
sound, doctrinal teaching and biblical evangelism. Any pastor who promotes politics over the gospel will preach
sermons that may begin with the Bible, but quickly spiral toward a lament upon
the current state of governmental affairs.
Secular leaders are ridiculed and their policies criticized; and though
these criticisms may be correct, God’s means of true change is by-passed and
man-made political processes are elevated to “savior” status.
This is not to say that Christians should avoid political
involvement. In order to be a good
citizen as the Bible exhorts, Christians (especially those who live in the
United States) should participate in voting for those individuals that best
represent biblical values. The
distinction, however, is that the Christians must keep any political
involvement in perspective of the scriptural mandate to preach the gospel and
proclaim faith in Christ as the true means of moral and cultural change. A ministry or Church that values
political/social activism to the point that the Gospel of Christ is subservient
to, or just an amendment to that activism, woefully skews that important
distinction between the gospel and politics.
More than likely, those ministries or Churches will not provide a
healthy environment for a Christian to grow spiritually.
11. Does the ministry advocate and promote speculative
This is an unusual question to ask, but it is an important
one, because it is sad to say there are many Christians and Christian
ministries that would promote bizarre conspiracy theories. These theories could involve many different
scenarios such as the infiltration of the Christian congregations by Jesuit
priests who pretend to be protestant in order to undermine Bible believing
Churches, or end time prophecy events that supposedly show how the nations of
the world are moving to a one world government and how the antichrist will take
control of the people. The purveyors of
the end time prophecy conspiracies will address current, world events that
supposedly support their views of the end times and their conspiracies. The problem with conspiratorial theories of
any type is that they are based upon fraudulent information. The so-called facts are either fictitious to
begin with, or they have been revised and distorted, and based upon exaggerated
information. The duty of the
Bible-believing Christian is to promote truth, and that involves being accurate
with the facts and checking the reliability of particular sources that promote
these kinds of conspiracy theories. One
final note of interest to mention along the lines of conspiracy theories is
that though these theories may be found in what would be considered mainstream
Christian ministries, they tend to be found in abundance among extreme,
ultra-fundamentalist, separatist Christian groups. Where religious fundamental separatism is promoted in strong
measure, the adherence to conspiratorial theories often follows close behind.
These are just a handful of important questions Christians
should ask when evaluating any Church, parachurch ministry, or the teachings of
a popular Bible teacher that seems to have smitten the Christian church as a
whole. I am sure there could be more
questions added to my list, and perhaps as time goes by, my list will grow as I
consider further questions to ask of these ministries. Paul’s words to the Thessalonians are worth
noting: test all things: hold fast to that which is good (1
Thessalonians 5:21). My hope is that
this list will serve as a helpful starter for the Christians of our day to
exercise true discernment and test all things.