Recently, I was in a book store with my father-in-law. I was telling him about a book that I had skimmed through that a celebrity television preacher wrote. This minister described a vision that he had and then used his vision as the defense for unbiblical doctrines. Tim, my father-in-law, made a simple yet profound statement. “People need to read their Bibles.”
People do need to read their Bibles. The inoculation against false doctrine is a healthy dose of Bible. What will save the church from embarrassing scandals? What will save the church from gross error? Lay saints that truly care about scripture and search for truth are essential.
This does not mean that an individual does not need a pastor. Reading the Bible doesn’t justify sitting out of church. In fact, The Book actually tells us not to forsake the assembling or ourselves together and to obey them that have rule over us. We need a church and spiritual leaders in our lives.
A. Need for ministry
Romans 10:14 (NKJV)
14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
From the Old Testament through the New Testament and still today, God partners with men to bring salvation. God calls preachers to declare Him, His Word, and His will. The preacher is responsible to share the gospel and doctrines of Jesus Christ.
Many people care little for preaching. Why do they need another man telling them what to do? Why do they need a man explaining God’s Word to them? It doesn’t make much sense. It is foolish really.
1 Corinthians 1:21 (KJV)
21 … it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
God chose preaching. Thus we know that God chooses preachers. The preacher is not just a man. He is the man of God. The “man of God” is God’s plan. Don’t choose your ideas over God’s plan.
Ephesians 4:11-13 (NKJV)
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
The ministry is a gift from God. Ministers are equipped by God with the knowledge, skills, and anointing necessary to equip the saints. Men of God are commissioned to lead the saints into unity of the faith, impart knowledge, and ultimately perfect the church until the members reach the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. If you aren’t yet perfect, you need God, through the ministry, to continue working on you and in you.
B. False Teachers
Why isn’t there perfect unity? Why is our faith and knowledge fragmented among various denominations? Why is the church more like the world than like Christ?
The blame falls largely at the feet of those that are called ministers. There have always been false prophets and teachers. There is an abundance of them today.
2 Peter 2:1 (NKJV)
2 But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction.
Peter warned that already in the first century church, there were false teachers bringing in false doctrines. He called these doctrines “destructive heresies.” Sadly, false beliefs are never innocent differences of opinions. Whenever a lie is mixed with the truth, something is always lost. We must be sure that our preachers and teachers are teaching pure doctrine.
2 Timothy 4:2-4 (NKJV)
2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.
How can we know that the preaching is pure? Paul told Timothy to preach the Word. Preaching is increasingly becoming a spectator sport. Even Pentecostals get caught up in the delivery of the man when the focus should be on the content of the message. If it is the truth of God’s Word, it is sharper than any two edged sword however it is delivered.
Good preaching doesn’t always sound good. Good preaching convinces. Good preaching rebukes. Good preaching exhorts. Good preaching teaches. (You know, Sunday school and Wed. night bible study that so many saints choose to skip.)
Sadly, our day was prophesied. Men don’t want to hear doctrine. It is boring. It divides. It condemns. Pulpits are full of actors and false teachers. Their deliveries are pleasing to the ears. The church is turning away from the truth.
We choose our minister by how exciting he is or how laid back he is. We choose our minister based on whether he screams or doesn’t scream. We chose our minister based on whether he has a traditional or progressive vision. Some prefer ministers that are calculating and operate at a professional distance. Others only accept a minister if he is personable and gregarious. Saints choose churches and churches vote in pastors based on the saints’ preferences. What of God’s preferences? What about the true faith? What about the handling of the Word? What about the lifestyle that is consistent with the Bible that is preached?
C. Judging the preacher
Jude 1:3-4 (NKJV)
3 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. 4 For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jude was adamant that the saints had received God’s truth and must contend for it. The saints were responsible for noticing ungodly teachers. The saints were responsible to compare what was preached with what was delivered in God’s Word. The saints must love the truth as much as the preacher.
Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV)
15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.
False teachers are identified by their departure from the Word and by the fruits in their lives. Preachers can be egotistical. Preachers can be dishonest. Preachers can be vengeful. Preachers can be fornicators. Bad fruits are often evident, if we will only look, in the lives of bad ministers.
We are to respect the calling of God that the minister receives. We are to respect the office of the minister. We are to obey the minister, as long as he doesn’t violate the Bible. We are not to be contentious. We are not to be rebellious.
On the other hand, we are not to be blind. Jesus said that we are responsible for spotting a false prophet.
Just to be clear, I'm not advocating being critical or harsh. We should be merciful. Please understand that a man of God is still a man; he is not infallible. We shouldn't place unrealistic expectations on him, however, the fruits of the Spirit must be evident in his life. If he isn’t following Christ himself, how can he lead you?
A false prophet is also identified by his false words.
1 Corinthians 14:29 (NKJV)
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.
I believe that some false prophets are sincere. Sadly, they are sincerely wrong. We can not allow our personal allegiances to be stronger than our allegiance to God’s Word. Our judgment must be based on more than loyalty, feelings, or the level of enjoyment of the message. (Many people that complain that the pastor doesn’t feed them just don’t like what is being served.) The minister must be judged by the Word. How can you spot a false message if you don’t study to know the truth?
D. Judging for yourself
Many people get nervous when I talk about judging the preachers’ messages based on the Word. Saints aren’t fond of contending for the faith. It is easier to just love one another. Don’t forget that the same God that told us to love one another warned that we would be lost if we didn’t love the truth.
There are two accounts that will be given. The Bible tells us that the ministry will have to give an account for the saints. God has entrusted them with precious souls. The Bible also tells us that every man will give an account to God for himself. The pastor has a responsibility to look out for our souls, but we are all personally responsible for our own salvation.
1 Timothy 4:16 (NKJV)
16 Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.
2 Corinthians 13:5 (NKJV)
5 Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.
2 Peter 1:10 (NKJV)
10 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;
I love my pastor. I trust my pastor. Yet, I don’t trust any man, my pastor included, completely with my eternity except the man Christ Jesus. I refuse to play the spiritual lottery and just assume that I landed in the right church. I will take heed to myself and the doctrine. I will examine myself. I will test myself. I will be diligent that my calling is sure. It is my responsibility.
E. Advice for seeking truth
As saints of the Lord, we must walk in truth. We are to be lights that shine in a world of dark deception. We must be able to convert sinners. We must be able to stand against false doctrines. We must be able to judge the words of even our preachers.
1. Search the scriptures - To fulfill these responsibilities, we must be hungry for the truth. We must read and meditate on the Word. We must follow Jesus’ instructions to search the scriptures.
There is nothing wrong with examining your beliefs. There is nothing wrong with examining what you learned in Sunday school as a kid. There is nothing wrong with examining what your parents taught you about the Bible. There is nothing wrong as long as you are comparing these lessons with God’s Word that is forever settled. Truth withstands examination. If it is true, your study will confirm it.
Acts 17:11 (NKJV)
11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.
Some have been taught so adamantly to never question their minister that they are scared to read the Scriptures and prove their faith. The Bereans in Acts 17 were called noble and fair because they took what was preached and compared it to the Scriptures.
2. Be open – Don’t assume that your present experience and knowledge is the pinnacle. Don’t be insulted or dismissive if someone challenges your belief system. Sometimes God honors your faithfulness by revealing more light. Maybe that persistent person was sent by God to show you the way of the Lord more perfectly.
Acts 18:24-26 (NKJV)
24 Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. 25 This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
Contrast Apollos’ revelatory experience with Paul’s warning in Colossians 2.
Colossians 2:8-10 (NKJV)
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Hanging on to philosophy and tradition, will cheat you from understanding Christ. He wants to complete you, but you must be open to it.
3. Be honest – We can be so zealous to defend what we believe that sometimes we aren’t honest hearted. Studying scripture should not be a battle of the wills as each person tries to plot the demise of their adversary. It is not a formal debate. The goal is not to construct an elaborate defense, but the only goal should be to find truth. Don’t focus entirely on trying to prove why you are right. First, study to find what is right.
Peter warned that men twist scripture to their own destruction.
2 Peter 3:16 (NKJV)
16 …untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
We, however, are to study and be diligent that we rightly divide the Word.
2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)
15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
4. Build on the apostles’ doctrine – Jesus prayed over His disciples. He prayed not only for them, but He also prayed for all that would believe on their words.
John 17:20 (NKJV)
20 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word;
These men were chosen by Jesus. They were anointed by God. The Lord opened their understanding of the Scriptures. If you want to be certain that you are in truth, compare your message and practices to that of the apostles.
Ephesians 2:20-21 (NKJV)
20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord,
Paul was so sure that the message that He received was the only message, He declared God’s judgment on any man or even angel that changed it.
Galatians 1:8-9 (NKJV)
8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.
How did the apostles pray? How did the apostles preach? How did the apostles lead sinners to conversion? How did the apostles baptize? How did the apostles receive the Spirit? How did the apostles describe Christ? How did the apostles witness? They are the foundation. They had it right. Don’t change their message.
5. Be lead of the Spirit – Jesus said that He was the truth. He further explained that the Holy Ghost was the Spirit of Truth. When we receive the Holy Ghost, the Spirit is to lead us into all truth.
This does not mean that everyone that has received the Spirit is in all truth. In actuality, it proves that many that receive the Holy Ghost are not yet in truth. If they had full truth, how could the Spirit lead them to truth?
A miraculous outpouring of the baptism of the Holy Ghost is not evidence of God’s approval of the doctrines of the church. Many churches with many different doctrines consistently see seekers filled with the Spirit, speaking with tongues, and even see amazing miracles and healings. This is God’s undeserved grace.
The Spirit gives us the capacity to find truth. Pray for direction. Pray for wisdom. Pray for illumination as you study.
Romans 8:7-8 (NKJV)
7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV)
14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
6. Just do it – Faith without works is dead. It is not enough to believe the Word if we don’t act on it. Instead of trying to justify inaction, receive the Word with meekness. You will be blessed when you obey.
James 1:21-25 (NKJV)
21 … receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.
In conclusion, Seek truth. Know truth. Do truth. Teach truth. Love truth. Yes, this is true even if you are "only" a lay saint.