What Gives You the Right to Declare a Teaching False?

by on September 27th, 2007

On a fairly regular basis we are asked who or what gives us the right to declare a teaching false or to question the teachings of others. After all if Rick Warren writes, “Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days,” what right does MCOI have to point out that none of the examples he gives in The Purpose Driven Life support his claim as we did our article “The Purpose Driven Claim” in the Summer 2004 MCOI Journal?

Or what right do we have to question Bill Gothard and his claims in his Definition of Grace that, “In the Old Testament, those who found grace possessed qualities that merited God’s favor.” In fact, many have asked what gave us the right to have written A Matter of Basic Principles: Bill Gothard and the Christian Life? Millions have gone through Gothard’s various seminars and have accepted his claims that authority extends from the top down. In his “umbrella’ structure the higher up the “chain of authority” the less accountable they are to those under them. He even attaches out of context Bible passages to support his teachings.

This question again resurfaced as I read How Could This Happen in the PCA? on Battered Sheep.com. In the story of an individual attempting to correct a pastor (Teaching Elder) and elders (Board of Session) who were breaking federal laws for financial gain and in part 2 one of the paragraphs jumped out at me:

We were handed a paper from the session that was entitled “On the Eyre-S*** situation” The main thrust of the paper was a sidestepping of the criminal issue of the shill-bidding and instead blaming me for my supposed failure to follow Matthew 18. We were told that if the elders decided that shill-bidding was not a sin, we had to agree with them. Elder M.P. spoke at one point and talked about the fact that the combined experience of the four elders was around 100 years. He asked us, “Don’t you think the Holy Spirit is working through us?”

There appears to be a general idea that if someone is in a position of authority in the church they have by virtue of their position a stronger more infallible leading of the Holy Spirit. For example, Rick Warren is, after all, a world renowned pastor and bestselling, multi-millionaire author. What better evidence of God’s blessing on the correctness of his teaching? Doesn’t IBLP’s large amount of real estate holdings and annual revenues validate Bill Gothard’s “biblical principles” as being the most correct understanding of Scripture? Because the pastor and elders have a “combined experience” of “around 100 years” doesn’t that mean that they can be guided by the Holy Spirit to declare that fraud through the illegal practice of shill-bidding is not a sin and those under them must simply hear and agree?

This makes Pastor Brian Abshire’s question “… what gives YOU the right to determine “true” from “false” teaching?” which he posed in his July 27,2007 letter and again in his September 13, 2007 letter important to respond to. Who has the authority and what is the basis used for determining true from false teaching? We have written on an aspect of this in the article “Trapped in the Shadow of God’s Anointed: Breaking Free From an Unbiblical Concept” in the Fall 2002 issue of the MCOI Journal (beginning on page 12). But revisiting this question from time to time can be helpful.

Do credentialing, notoriety and/or degrees place those who possess them above being questioned by those who do not? Biblically the answer would be no. In actuality leaders and public figures are to be held to a higher standard and should be more closely scrutinized in their teachings and behavior. They live in glass houses and everyone around them has Windex. James writes:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. (James 3:1, NASB)

Jesus told the crowd in Matthew 7:15 to “Beware of false prophets…” This would require that followers and potential followers evaluate the claims and teachings of those who claim to speak authoritatively, in this case prophets, to determine if they are true or false. The Apostle Paul wrote to the young pastor Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:3

As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus, in order that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrine.

Paul goes on to describe these teachers in verse 7:

…wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.

The Apostle also instructs Timothy not to let others try to pull rank on him on the basis of age in 1 Timothy 4:12. We also see that some who are teaching falsely may be believers but their teaching is so destructive that they are publicly named and “delivered over to Satan.” (1 Timothy 1:19-20). Of this passage Dr. Charles Ryrie writes:

I have delivered over to Satan. A remedial discipline (as in 1 Cor. 5:5), which excluded such persons from the help and fellowship of the church – a kind of last – resort punishment.

It appears that Dr. Abshire recognizes in his July 27,2007 letter that someone could be a true believer but believe false things when on page 6 he responds to the questions with “A believer, but with error…” and “A true church, but with error…” “Error” is a synonym for “false.” So saying that an individual or church is teaching something that is false or asking questions about their teaching or teachings is not the same thing as saying they are not a Christian. But how do we resolve the question of who’s interpretation is the correct one? For that I think the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1646 Chapter One Of the Holy Scripture gives us some insight:

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

VIII. The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical; so as in all controversies of religion the Church is finally to appeal unto them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God who have right unto, and interest in, the Scriptures, and are commanded, in the fear of God, to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the language of every people unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, may have hope.

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.

X. The Supreme Judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture.

A Reader’s Digest version of the above is, the main things are the plain things and the plain things are the main things. Therefore anything that is “one theme in the Bible’s grand sweep of revelation” and that “faithfulness to Christ requires that it be believed, taught, and lived,” would be so clear that anyone, “…not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” Scripture interprets Scripture; therefore context is not just a novel idea, but context is king. All councils, opinions, and teachings, even of the Reformers, are to be tested by the Scripture and each individual believer is expected to do the testing using the Scripture in its normal, historical and grammatical context.

This means that by biblical teaching and the historical confessions each believer is qualified to declare teachings false by following these criteria. So, for example, we can see how patriarchy was practiced in Scripture and MCOI gave an example of that in Who Will be First in the Kingdom? If someone is teaching something that they claim is fundamental and essential to the Christian faith and it is different than what we plainly find being practiced in Scripture, the burden is on them to demonstrate another form of patriarchy that is main and plain in Scripture. If someone claims that Israel was a constitutional republic rather than a theocracy and that Saul was elected, the burden is on them to demonstrate their assertion to be true from the context of the passages not simply verses removed from their context. In both of these questions MCOI followed the flow of the historical, grammatical context to come to a conclusion. It isn’t really a matter of whether our interpretation should be accepted but rather were we faithful to the main, plain understanding of the passage and should what it teaches be accepted?

5 responses to “What Gives You the Right to Declare a Teaching False? ”

  1. thatmom says:

    Don, thank you so much for this article. What never ceases to amaze me is the arrogance I often see among those who refuse to answer simple questions. What a contrast to the Apostle Paul who welcomed, indeed commended, the Berean believers for holding all he taught up to the Word of God. And I am certain that he willingly and honestly answered every single question placed before him!

    Also, thanks for the link to the article about Pastor B.A. and the insight into church polity and practice in regards to hierarchy, patriarchy, etc. It really answers more questions for me.

  2. Lynn says:

    Don, I agree. The SOURCE of our authority is the Word of God. And there is MUCH that is PLAIN and not suceptible to controversy and varying interpretations.

    “God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.”

    How I love that line more and more as the years go by!

  3. Corrie says:

    This is from the article that was referenced above (Battered Sheep):

    “At one memorable point, my wife began a sentence with the word “we” referring to herself and me regarding an opinion we had. The pastor interrupted her, pointed his finger at her, and in a threatening tone said, “You said we! You are speaking as the covenantal head of your family!” He went on to say that she was in rebellion and that if she didn’t repent, she would destroy her marriage and her family and that she was the cause of all the trouble we were experiencing. After a pause, my wife asked me if I thought she was in rebellion and to my shame, I was speechless as were the other three elders.”

    LOL! When a woman says “we” as in her and her husband she is speaking as the covenental head and that she needs to repent or else her marriage would be destroyed? I think this is an excellent tactic called a “red herring”. When the heat is on YOU, just start accusing others of being the problem.

    “When I tried to reason with the pastor in two e-mails, the responses were ominous. I was personally threatened with charges being brought against me if I didn’t follow what he said. These e-mails were to a certain degree traumatizing to me and made me very fearful of the pastor.”

    I am not surprised.

    “A misuse of the procedure in Matthew 18 became the trump card of the Pastor and L.S. Any accusation of wrongdoing could expect to be challenged with the query, “Did you follow Matthew 18 with him?” To give you an idea of how quickly and strongly this had become ingrained in some of the members, I give you this incident as an example.””

    Another great tactic of a spiritual abuser.

  4. Lynn says:

    “We were told that if the elders decided that shill-bidding was not a sin, we had to agree with them.”

    Even if there is no general Scriptural command that believers MUST shill-bid and the law of the land says otherwise, huh?

    I assume these people have been made to face the music to the appropriate authorities by now, and pay whatever fines were required. Don, is there any news article about this that is out there?

    People who were found to be guilty here could not have claimed “my pastor told me it was OK.” That reminds me of the woman who was cited in our state for (as I recollect) nursing her baby in a moving vehicle, and claiming she did no wrong because she was under her husband’s authority.

    Thank you for fighting against this “pagan top-down authoritarian” teaching and practice, Don, and that example of shill-bidding was fitting. It is wrong to claim too much authority for one’s self, and it is also wrong for people to hide behind their husbands and pastors when they are breaking the good laws of our land.

  5. Corrie says:

    I am impressed with the fact that the man who wrote that article repaid his debts and then some to those that he had personally ripped off. I am sure that this act spoke more about God to these people than all the sermons in the world coming from this man’s pastor.

    I have often wondered if that is what is going on when I bid on some items at Ebay. I didn’t know that it was an actual thing.

    I would like to know who this “LS” is and if he is a well-known teacher in the patriarchal crowd. If he has not repented for leading others astray, he needs to be marked and the flock needs to be warned.

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