or Defending Yourself against False Doctrines
By J. Steven Smith
It is obvious from Scripture that every Christian is expected to be able to fight back and defeat false teachings, no matter whether they are being proclaimed by an obvious cult, or by a brother who has fallen into error. Practically speaking, though, the average Christian often feels out matched in verse-to-verse combat and looks for help from people he considers to be authorities.
There is a great deal of very good, helpful material available, but it usually has a problem or two that makes it difficult to use, especially if it is a situation that the believer has never been in before. This material will often give the reader tremendous insight, but ordinarily, requires him to research, memorize, study and practice it before he can use it effectively
It will also give him information about only ONE group or teaching, without giving him a general tool that can be used in all situations. The average Christian doesn't have the time or interest to pursue this avenue, or to become well informed about ALL the errant doctrines being put out. As a result, he becomes discouraged, and gives up on EVER successfully refuting false doctrine.
This writer is convinced that each and every Christian, no matter how long he has been a Christian or how knowledgeable he is about spiritual things has the means at hand to defeat any and all false teaching All it requires is a knowledge of your weapon, how to use it, and what pitfalls to avoid.
YOUR PRINCIPAL WEAPON
Nearly every person who is teaching false doctrine seeks to undermine the trustworthiness of the Bible. (A good sign the person IS teaching false doctrine!) After running into a wall of disbelief, you may be tempted to dispense with the Bible in favor of other material, in the hopes that you may convince him of the error of his way. DON'T, unless you are VERY familiar with the other material, and can use it WELL! Even then, your primary weapon should STILL be the Bible.
This may seem obvious, but it is exactly at this point that many Christian "defenders of the Faith" get lost and confused. Much of the material available puts this Book, the Holy Bible, which is our real basis for power and authority, into an almost secondary position, and will rely upon other sources for most of their arguments.
If your friend - the one who is seeking to give you "another gospel" - distrusts the accuracy of the Bible, it makes NO difference in its being YOUR principal weapon. A sword remains a sword, even if the opponent doesn't think it is a reliable weapon. The Word of God remains the Word of God, ". . living and active; sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing the soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12), even if your friend disbelieves it.
This is true even if your friend is a self-avowed atheist, or part of a non-Christian religion -although some of what follows won't apply - STICK TO THE BIBLE!!! No other material has a divine guarantee of total effectiveness that the Bible has! The other materials can be used, if you desire, to further establish the fallacy of your friends claims, but your most reliable weapon in fighting error is the Holy Bible. Even if he INSISTS upon disregarding the Bible, and going elsewhere to find truth, DON'T DO IT! If he gets upset, ask him what he is afraid of finding in the Bible.
EFFECTIVE DOCTRINAL DUELING
Like the sword it compares itself to, the Bible can be used to either attack or defend. To carry the parallel even further, it takes a fair amount of practice and experience to use a sword - or the Bible - effectively on the offense. As you grow and mature in your Walk with the Lord Jesus, your ability to use His Word will grow with you. But many of those who are approached by these "false apostles" (and sometimes led astray by them) haven't had the time to become familiar, much less skilled, in using the Bible.
When a soldier is being trained to fight, he is usually taught how to defend himself LONG before he is taught how to attack. There is every reason to expect this to be appropriate for our spiritual battles, as well. When talking with a person from any organization (or teaching) that is false, but wants to present itself or himself as "Christian," sooner or later, there will be an attempt to use a passage from the Bible to support or defend a doctrine that may be in conflict with the Truth of Scripture.
When ANYONE - even someone who is honestly seeking to teach the True Word of God - uses the Bible to teach or illustrate a concept unfamiliar to you (particularly when it is in conflict with what you have been taught before!), STOP THE CONVERSATION RIGHT THERE!!!
Get out a Bible, turn to he passage just used, and read it - out loud, if possible, and include the entire paragraph in which it is found. A teacher of Truth probably won't mind, and a false teacher may or may not - their response at this point won't tell you much. If they object, just inform them that you want to find out if their use of the passage agrees with the author's intention, and continue examining the section! Under NO circumstances should your discussion continue until you have checked the passage to see if your friend and the author agree. Do this in EACH INSTANCE!
The friend may be A-OK in some cases just to get you to believe that he knows what he is talking about, but then divert into the "real" false teachings after having obtained your confidence.
BASIC INTERPRETIVE THRUST
The easiest way to determine the AUTHOR'S intent in a passage is to ask a series of simple questions - WHO?, WHEN?, WHERE?, HOW?, WHAT?, WHY?, and even SO WHAT? (These are sometimes referred to as the "journalism" questions). In order to answer the questions, you will need to examine MORE than just the passage quoted, but will find the answers in the context of the entire Book. After doing that, see if either your interpretation or his interpretation, should they be different, is closest to agreement with the Bible. God NEVER contradicts himself! A good help would be to follow the cross-references that are often in the margins of the Bible.
A false teaching will ALWAYS differ from the original purpose of the author; so you can spot -and refute - false teachings quite easily and effectively by using this simple method. It may sound like more work than you'd like to go through, and may even seem to be rude, at times, but it is a workable means to keep from being fooled by false teachings and deceiving spirits. It may be much easier to simply believe what someone tells you, particularly if they sound authoritative and have a positive, glowing personality, but Satan and his demonic forces prey upon those who blindly follow - see II Corinthians 11:3,4,13-15.
The Bible commands each of us to TEST ALL THINGS and to TEST EVERYONE to make CERTAIN that their teaching is truthful, and with your eternal destiny at stake, you cannot afford to be lazy - CAN YOU?
"BUT THAT'S JUST YOUR INTERPRETATION." Should the interpretation you receive differ from the teacher - as they will if your friend is a false teacher - then the teacher may attempt to disregard your interpretation and dismiss it because it is a variation, based upon your "presuppositions." This allows him to retain his interpretation as an acceptable interpretation, even more correct option, which ignores the fact that HIS interpretation is based upon HIS presuppositions!
Essentially he is correct in his assertion that this is merely a matter of interpretation, and you can (and perhaps SHOULD) agree with him about this point - But point out the interpretative method that you used (the "journalism" questions) is designed to help you understand what the Author really meant by what he said.
Then ask him what HIS interpretative method (the method HE used to determine the meaning of the passage) is or was, and what he is trying to determine by using that method.
Sometimes, he will insist that it is the same one you use - then ask to see the steps that he took to reach his conclusions.
But, usually, the significance of the real difference in means and purpose of interpreting Scriptures won't sink in until it has been repeated several times, which means you should, at this point, invite him to continue in his efforts to show the Biblical basis of his teaching. Each and every time - even when it gets a bit tough to do - he uses the Bible, go through the exact same procedure, asking the questions and explaining your purpose.
Sooner or later (if his teaching is false) he will begin to realize that HIS method is to see in the passage what he WANTS to see (often because someone else told HIM that it was there!), and his sole purpose is to support the teaching. He has taken his belief to the text to be supported, rather than going to the text to learn what IT HAS to teach. Once that realization is made, it is usually a simple matter to go on and teach the Gospel message that the Bible really teaches.
There are a few "traps" you need to watch out for:
1. THE RETRANSLATION TRAP
A false teaching or system that claims to be "Christian" often uses the EXACT same words you would hear being used in a true, Biblically sound Christian gathering. There is a subtle danger here.
In nearly every case, these special words and phrases mean something different to the false teacher or follower than they do to you. They have been re-interpreted, usually without your friend even being aware of it. They now mean something very different and foreign to the meaning that you attach to them.
There are a couple of things you need to remember and do anytime you are dealing with someone that you suspect is teaching heresy. First is to avoid using those special meaning words of Christianity that are so familiar to you, such as "saved", "Born-Again", "Savior", "Son of God", "Gospel" and many others. Try to use phrases that DEFINE these terms, or other words that means the same thing that are not used in the cliche' manner that these are.
Secondly, be certain that you both understand what each of you mean when these terms ARE used when you are speaking about spiritual matters of any kind. Make certain that you define what YOU mean when YOU say "Christ dies for my sins" or anything else in a spiritual sense.
Ask HIM what "Jesus is THE Christ" REALLY means to him - get him to clearly and totally define it - or any other term you both may be using. This may take a bit of doing, but keep at it until you are positive that you both understand each other. If there is any complaint, just tell your friend that with eternity "hanging" on the very meaning of these terms, you are required to be absolutely certain that you both understand what the other means by what he says.
2. THE "SKIPPING ROCKS" TRAP
One thing that often happens in a discussion on religion is that one or all parties involved will jump from one subject to another, never staying on any one point long enough to be thorough in investigating the Truth it may contain. One or all will keep jumping from the original Scripture under discussion to others, scattered throughout the Bible, intending to support or clarify what is thought to be taught in the first passage considered. Both are to be avoided.
Be polite, but refuse to budge from the original text until it has been COMPLETELY examined, using the questions we have noted before. Only AFTER that is done should you allow the discussion to proceed to other passages for confirmation or refutation, but keep referring back to the original text that is "being justified".
All the data you need to refute a misuse of Scripture can be found right in the immediate context - you don't need to go elsewhere to do that, and the impact of refuting a false interpretation from the passage, itself, is much greater than it is going to some other text. All you need is the immediate context, nothing more, except to VERIFY an interpretation!
3. THE BIBLE BASH TRAP
This is very similar to the "skipping rocks" trap above, except it is a trap that YOU are much more likely to fall into than your "errant" friend might be. As soon as you hear a teaching that is obviously contrary to the Truth of Scripture, you may be tempted to begin immediately to quote other Bible passages to disprove it. At this point, your friend starts quoting passages just as enthusiastically, proving HIS point of view (and seemingly disproving yours).
Neither of you is really listening to the other - you're just "spouting" Scriptures with no REAL reference to one another.
Nothing is accomplished, except that, perhaps, some heat is generated, but little LIGHT. Stick to the original passage - it will get and keep your friend's attention, as you are giving evidence that you are seriously listening to him. If you want to confirm the true interpretation, THEN and ONLY THEN, go on to other passages. But as before, all the material you really need has been provided by God to be at your fingertips, in the full context of the verses quoted - there is little need to go elsewhere.
A PRACTICE RUN
One of the most common errors is to teach that something besides Faith, alone, is needed for salvation in many of its facets. Usually this takes the form of a faith PLUS some personal effort. (A "work" to be added to what God has TOTALLY provided in Christ Jesus)
The favorite passage to support this "works" theory is James 2:14-26 - "..faith without works is dead.." - and therefore, some sort of personal "work", which is usually "gladly spelled out in detail" by your friend, is needed to REALLY get into God's favor. Although you could probably quote a good dozen verses to discredit that concept, for the time being, lets stick with the letter of James - particularly to the immediate context of James 2:14-26 - and ask an "expanded" form of the "journalism" questions we have mentioned already.
Get out your Bible, some paper and pen, and then answer the questions, looking at ALL of James, but ONLY JAMES! Ready? - Then start "rightly dividing the Word of Truth"!
o Who is the AUTHOR?
o What can you tell about him from this Epistle?
o Who are the original readers? What can you tell about them from this Epistle?
o HOW does he use and define his KEY WORDS in the passage? (Words like Faith, Works and Dead)
o HOW do his examples illustrate and clarify his meaning?
o WHAT is he talking about?
o What is his primary subject, concept, teaching or whatever?
o WHAT is he saying about what he is talking about?
o What is the point of the passage?
o What does he want YOU to know about his subject. concept or teaching?
o WHY is he saying this? Is there an error that he seeks to correct? Maybe a new knowledge to be revealed?
o WHAT is his purpose?
o WHY is he saying it to these particular people? What are they thinking or doing or believing or hearing or preaching that may have prompted this letter to be written.
o SO WHAT? What response should you have? What response did the Author expect from his readers?
o Is there ANY SUPPORT from the rest of the Bible for your conclusions?
Looking carefully for the following will help to answer the questions and keep you honest to the text and context:
Watch noun and pronoun shifts - sometimes the author will include himself with the group that he is writing to or about, other times he may remain silent or separate. The difference is often very important. In addition, our example above didn't include a couple of questions - the WHEN and WHERE - as they would not have added much to the interpretation. However; in some cases, they are most important, and for this reason are outlined below:
o WHEN was it written? What events took place just before, just after, or at the same time as this epistle?
o WHEN does the action described take place? Past, present or future? Eternal or temporal?
o WHERE was the Author when these words were first written? Why was he there?
o WHERE were the original readers? Why were they there?
GET READY FOR BATTLE
These basic questions, based on simple "journalism" questions of WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, HOW, WHY AND SO WHAT, with little variation, are all that is needed to determine the original intent of any Biblical author through an examination of the text, in context. They will enable you to detect and refute false teaching EVERY TIME!
Your main responsibility, now, is to practice to make these questions automatic, so that you will always be ready to defend yourself when under attack by those who would lead you astray. Your own daily Bible study and reading would be a good place to start, or you could check out your pastor's text after you get home from church (Believe it, or not, he would probably appreciate it)! Enjoy your training, as you learn to be an expert "soldier" in Service of the King (Ephesians 6:10-18). KEEP PRACTICING!
J. Steven Smith
Computers for Christ