These ideas, catch phrases and concepts have infiltrated the church and have laid a false foundation. They’re a “set-up.” Because many Christians believe these ideas, false teachings are slipping into the church all over the place.
The following comments are what “discernment Christians” hear over and over again. Yes, there might be some truth in some of these ideas, but taken as a whole, they have replaced authentic, Bible-based Christianity and are allowing “another gospel” to takes its place.
1. “You’re just being negative and critical! Don’t you have anything good to say? I can’t believe you’re criticizing (insert famous/popular Christian leader)! At least they’re trying to help-at least they’re doing something! Why can’t you be more positive? I only listen to positive Christians-not haters!”
Christianity is a specific set of beliefs that is based on one holy book: The Bible. “Sola Scriptura” is the Latin phrase meaning “Scripture Alone.” This principle was first established in the first three centuries of the church, and then further established during the Protestant Reformation in contrast to the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed that church authority was equal to scripture.
Because we believe the Bible is God’s Word, we must also believe that some ideas are incompatible with the Bible and must be rejected as false. While it’s true that Christians should not be primarily negative and critical people, we should be willing to say negative and critical things about false teachings, because bad doctrine is very harmful: it leads people away from God. The painful reality is that false teachers are great manipulators and they know exactly what to say in order to keep your trust (and keep their money pouring in), so sometimes it’s necessary to say negative and critical things to confront them and their teachings. The Old Testament prophets, Jesus and all the Apostles did this.
We should not be primarily thinking “positive versus negative,” instead, we should be thinking: “true versus false.” The Bible is not always a “positive” book because it contains the truth that we need to hear. We humans are like disobedient children who need correction from our Heavenly Father, who loves us enough to tell us the truth.
In Matthew 23:27 Jesus says “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Gee whiz, Jesus, that’s not very nice; at least the Pharisees were trying to do something…)
2. “But he’s really famous (he has written popular books, has a huge church, has a TV show, etc.), he must know what he’s talking about!” “That many people can’t be wrong!"
This exposes the common belief that “the group is always right” (my group!); which is like saying “consensus equals truth.” Christians say that they believe the Bible, but too often what they really believe is whatever their “guy” (local pastor, TV preacher, famous author/speaker, etc.) says about the Bible. On top of that, if a local pastor is actually doing a good job of faithfully preaching God’s Word, he’s often being over-ridden by the surrounding culture.
We have millions of Christians watching 10, 20 or even 30 hours of television per week, yet they "don’t have time" to read and study the Bible. But when the latest guru comes along with a new method of “hearing from God” they drop everything to “learn the secret;” yet, they’ve neglected God’s Word-the actual words from God. The situation should be seen as utterly absurd, yet since almost everyone behaves and believes this way, it’s been normalized. As a result, false teachers have free reign and a limitless customer base to promote their weird ideas and enrich themselves.
In Mark 7:7 Jesus says to the Pharisees (quoting Isaiah): “in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” In Matthew 7:13-14 He says: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Jesus is warning us not to follow the teachings of men (even if it’s a NY Times Best-seller!), and not to “go with the group.” Psalm 118:8 “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man."
3. “Judge not, lest you be judged.” (Similar to: “Who are we to judge?”)
Whenever a false teacher/prophet is exposed (because of unbiblical teachings, blatant sin, corruption/greed, prophecies that don’t come true, etc.) they can often maintain the unquestioning support of their followers by the using this verse (Matthew 7:1) taken out of context, of course. This verse is not saying: “don’t ever judge anyone ever!” In reading the whole passage, it’s easy to see that this verse is warning against unjust, hypocritical judgment in our personal dealings with others. It’s not about evaluating the teachings that are being taught by a teacher. Christians have been systematically programmed to ignore all scripture about the accountability of leaders… because their leaders said so. Ironically, the false teacher ends up judging his theological critic who is (supposedly) guilty of being judgmental.
In Paul’s letter to Titus (chapter 1) he rebukes false teachers saying:“For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach-and that for the sake of dishonest gain. Rebuke them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith and will pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the commands of those who reject the truth. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny Him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” (Wow Apostle Paul, judge much??)
A helpful article: "Discerning Judgement"
Another helpful article: "Jesus Said You Shouldn't Judge"
And here's a longer article on this topic: Does the Bible Tell Christians to Judge Not?
4. “Don’t have a religious spirit!” “That guy has a religious spirit; he’s always quoting Bible verses and talking about theology and doctrine-what a Pharisee!”
This is a pretty vague concept that really helps empower “super-spiritual” false teachers. Want to refute someone who is promoting sound, Biblical doctrine? Just accuse them of having a religious spirit. It’s much easier than searching the scriptures and seeking the truth. After all, “God doesn’t care about our doctrine, He cares about our heart.” That sounds really good, but it’s just another catch phrase, too.
Doctrine is important! Doctrine is just another word for “instruction” or “teaching,” and it tells us who God really is, and who we really are. The Pharisees were guilty of unbelief and elevating man-made laws over God’s Word, they were not guilty of being too focused on the Bible. The idea that focusing too much on the Bible will somehow cause us to “miss” God or the Holy Spirit is just crazy. This line of thinking is very similar to…
5. “An experience is better than any doctrine!” “I don’t care about theology-I just love Jesus!” “It’s one thing to know the Bible; it’s another thing to know the author!” "Jesus is my theology!"
While it’s true that some people have very real and emotional experiences with God, this should not be where we establish our belief system-God’s Word does that. God has graciously given us the safe parameters within which we can understand Him: in His Word. But if a person depends on experiences they can easily become dependent on more experiences, which will usually escalate into an emotional train wreck. Just ask anyone who has left a Charismatic/Pentecostal church in a state of confusion, never to return.
Saying “I don’t care about theology-I just love Jesus” is a theological statement. It’s just a very weak one. We don’t see anything in the bible about “just loving Jesus” (as if our emotional feelings about Him were the key), but we do see many exhortations to have good, sound doctrine and teaching. Theology is a word that simply means “the study of God.” All Christians are theologians, whether they admit it or not. A solid theological understanding of God’s amazing grace is much better than any emotional experience anyway-because it never changes (unlike our emotions)!
By the way, theology is much, much more than a Calvinist and an Arminian arguing back and forth while confusing and/or aggravating everyone else. Good theology helps us to gain a correct and deeper understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
After His resurrection, Jesus met two of His followers on the road to Emmaus and didn't reveal himself; He first asked them a series of questions to see what they knew and believed about Him. When they said that they basically didn't know what was going on (even though the empty tomb had been discovered and angels had said He was risen)...
“Jesus said to them,‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter His glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself." Luke 24: 25-26.
Question: If knowing God experientially is more important than knowing the Bible, why would Jesus do this? (Jesus wasted all that time explaining the scriptures to them?? He should have been developing a deep and personal relationship with them! He must’ve had a religious spirit!)
Here's another helpful article: The Gigantic Problem Beneath the Really Big Problem
6. “God offends the mind to reveal the heart.” (Similar to: “it’s all about your heart-not your head” or something like that)
Sometimes, this anti-intellectual sentence is used in a sermon as if it were scripture. It’s not scripture, it’s just another catch phrase. And it can be very manipulative and confusing. If anybody tries to be discerning (which involves using the mind) they can be dismissed with this catch phrase. God did not give us a mind and then expect us to stop using it. Ironically, when a false teacher says things like this, he is using a type of thinking to convince others to think a certain way. Jesus said in Matthew 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and MIND.” There is no false dichotomy between our heart and mind in scripture-if anything, our heart is not to be trusted, but God’s Word is.
7. “Don’t touch God’s anointed!” “You better be careful if you speak against prophet/bishop/pastor so and so!”
When false teachers can’t defend their beliefs in the clear teachings of the Bible, they use this (partial) verse as a rebuke. It’s taken completely out of context from the Old Testament and it refers to physically harming the Israelite king or prophet. This has nothing to do with questioning bad leadership or false teachings. It’s interesting to note that cult leaders often use some type of threat to maintain their authority-this is the lowest form of leadership.
In stark contrast, the Jewish believers from Berea in Acts 17:11, “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.” If it was good and noble for these Bereans to question the Apostle Paul (who wrote much of the New Testament!) and compare his teachings to scripture (which would’ve been the Old Testament), we can do the same thing with any teacher/pastor. Any pastor/teacher who demands special treatment as God’s chosen and untouchable authority is clearly not! (For more detail on this topic, here's a helpful article: Touch Not My Anointed, and here's another article.)
8. “We only teach the Bible!”
Believe it or not, this is probably the easiest way to teach false doctrine. Most Christians will shut off any discernment once they hear a pastor/teacher say something like this. If he’s “just teaching the Bible” who are we to disagree, right? Once a pastor/teacher has gained your trust by saying this, he can easily stick a Bible verse wherever he wants-whether it actually fits or not. He could probably just make up Bible verses half of the time, since no one is checking anyway. If a teacher/pastor actually says, “we should never proof-text!” he might actually be making it easier to keep proof-texting; the key is to keep people comfortable and trusting.
By the way, proof-texting means using a Bible verse (or verses) taken completely out of context to make a point that it was never supposed to make. Basically, when a pastor/teacher wants to make his idea really convincing he can just dig up some Bible verse to validate his point (with all those crazy stories from the Old Testament you can prove any point!). Unfortunately, this happens a lot; and it really confuses people because it looks like the Bible teaches a thousand different and conflicting things from just one passage. This is not God’s fault-it’s the lazy, loose and wrong interpreting being done by the pastor. James 3: 1 says: “Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.”
Here's another helpful article: Frequently Abused and Misused Bible Verses
9. “You’re putting God in a box! As soon as you think you’ve got God all figured out He’ll do something unexpected!”
This is a weird way to spiritualize false teaching, and cover it up under a cloud of supposed “mystery.” The truth is, God has made it very clear in His Word that we are to hold fast to correct doctrine. Period. While it’s true that no one can claim to have God “all figured out,” it’s not like God is always changing His ways to keep us guessing like some strange leprechaun in the sky who enjoys confusing us. God has given us His Son and His Word because He wants to be known! In John 17: 3 Jesus said: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”
10. “Christianity has to adapt and change with the times or else it will die.” “Those discernment people are so old-fashioned and outdated-they’re the problem!”
This idea is just plain false; it’s a pragmatic “let’s fix it ourselves because God needs our help” way of thinking. Think about it; are your religious beliefs so shallow and frail that they can’t stand up against whatever new trend is affecting society? God’s truth is above us, distinct from us and unchanging; otherwise it’s just something we’re making up as we go. Historically, the Christian church was stronger when it went against the cultural of the day. The early church began and flourished under the (sometimes very) hostile Roman Empire. But it was weakened and diluted when it became enmeshed with political and social power.
The constant striving to make church “relevant” is usually counter-productive, and the unbelieving world often views our attempts at “marketing God” as shallow pandering. Here's a snarky article from the Museum of Idolatry on this topic: Visual Proof That Modern Churches Are (Much) Better.
Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Galatians 1:10 “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
11. “We’re getting lot’s of resistance-we must be doing something right! Satan wants to stop us, that’s why people are being so critical!”
This line of thinking is, at best, a 50/50 proposition; maybe it’s true, but it’s just as possible that you’re getting resistance because your teaching is wrong and some people are trying to correct you.
12. “Well, he just heard/read some negative stuff on the Internet; they can say anything on the internet!”
Like the previous point, this is, at best, a 50/50 proposition. It could just as easily be said, “he just read that stuff in a best-selling book; they can say anything in a book!” Do so few people realize that there are no rules for what can be published in a book? The truth is, there’s a lot of information that is only available online; that’s the nature of the world we live in. This idea is very similar to #2, because what people are really saying is: “it might be proven by lots of information online (blogs, podcasts featuring interviews with experts and actual witnesses, doctrinal papers, personal testimony, etc.), but it’s not the consensus view (it isn’t supported by giant book publishers, Christian media companies, mega-churches, etc.) so I refuse to believe it.” We should be testing everything against the Word of God-no matter what anybody says!
It’s important to understand that some giant “Christian” media companies are owned by even larger non-Christian media companies. For example, billionaire Rupert Murdoch owns the global media conglomerate News Corporation (Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, Twentieth Century Fox Films, etc., etc.), which owns HarperCollins, one of the largest book publishers in the world. HarperCollins owns both Zondervan and Thomas Nelson which are the two biggest Christian (or “inspirational”) book publishers in the world. These companies are all about making money. It’s crazy to assume that somebody, somewhere is carefully checking the content of every single book they sell. This doesn’t mean that Zondervan and Thomas Nelson don’t have any good books, by the way; it just means there’s no guarantee.
Whether they’re on the Internet or in a book, all ideas and teachings should be diligently compared to the Word of God.
13. “Don’t listen to that discernment guy-he’s a dream stealer! You’ve got a Dream that God has planted in your heart! God has a special Destiny planned for your life-a Divine Assignment! God wants you to find your purpose, but the devil wants to steal your dream!!”
This is the “Dream Destiny Thingy” theology, and it’s an underlying assumption in a lot of evangelical teaching, but it’s most prevalent within charismatic teaching. The amazing thing is, it’s not in the Bible. Anywhere! Neither Jesus nor the Apostles ever told us to “follow the dreams in our heart.” Yet, in a million sermons you’ll hear pastors claim that “God has planted a dream inside you” or “you’ve gotta have a vision;” but it’s just an assumption that is never proven from God’s Word (and the few Bible verses that might be mentioned are ripped from their context). This is ear tickling at its worst.
If you’re under a pastor who teaches this way, you’re either in the earlier stages of false hope where “something really big is right around the corner” (which takes your attention away from Jesus and His finished work on the cross), or you’re dealing with confusion and/or resentment because you haven’t had your dreams come true-in fact, you’ve probably had major disappointments as you’ve waited for God to “come through with His promises” (and you’re attention is not on Jesus and His finished work on the cross). With this Dream Destiny Thingy as a starting point, all sermons become focused on us, and how we’re supposed to follow the mystical trail of breadcrumbs that God leaves for us, as we ride our unicorns across the rainbows of our imagination…
Here’s one of the very few passages in the whole Bible that could pertain to this issue: Jude 1:8 “In the very same way, these dreamers pollute their own bodies, reject authority and slander celestial beings.” Hmmm… so that’s how the Bible describes a dreamer in the church.
14. “Look at all the fruit on his tree-he must be blessed by God!” “With all those new people going to that church, you just know it’s being blessed by God!”
Fruit on the tree does not mean “people coming to church.” Here’s the only thing that can be said for sure about a church with thousands of people attending: the pastor is being paid a large salary. Seriously, that’s about all we can know for sure. Oh, and they also must have a good worship team (soft rock band). When Jesus told us to look at the fruit of a teacher, He was telling us to compare the teaching and life of the teacher to Jesus-it should “look” the same. Any pastor teaching things that are contrary to Jesus is a false teacher-no matter how many followers he has. This is often related to the next one…
15. “But he does everything in the name of Jesus-he must be okay!”
Think about it: if Satan wanted to operate in the church (and he does!), would he do it in his own name? Would he show up in church in his bright red jumpsuit and give himself away? Does any deception announce itself ahead of time? Deception is about pretending to be something else. The apostle Paul exposed the false “super apostles” in the Corinthian church and said: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” 2 Corinthians 11:13-15
Jesus said in Matthew 7:22 “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy IN YOUR NAME, and IN YOUR NAME cast out demons, and IN YOUR NAME perform many miracles?’ And I will declare to them; I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.”
It should be assumed that a false teacher would always use the name of Jesus!
16. “It can’t be true, because I would have known about it already!” (or “somebody would have said something by now!”)
This is a common knee-jerk reaction when people first hear about false doctrine in their midst. This is really saying “I already know everything that needs to be known; if I get new and different information that doesn’t correspond to my currently held beliefs, then it must be wrong. I refuse to look into anything that might threaten my views.” This is sometimes called "confirmation bias." Here's a more detailed article on this topic: Confirmation Bias: Why You are Protecting Your False Beliefs.
When someone says "somebody would have said something by now..." we should remember that somebody already did say something: In Matthew 7:15 Jesus said, “Watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing.”
Jesus did NOT say: “Don’t watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing, because somebody is already doing that for you; besides, you don’t want to be too critical… just go with the flow.”
17. “That discernment guy is just promoting fear, and fear comes from the devil!” “He’s got a lot of anger-you can tell he’s not of God!”
By saying things like this, a false teacher can appear to invalidate whatever a discerning Christian has to say. Of course it’s true that we aren’t supposed to live in fear and/or anger; buy when a discerning Christian tries to warn the church about a dangerous deception, it’s only normal to express some outrage. The important question is whether or not his concerns are warranted. If a sheep discovers that his shepherd is actually a wolf, a (temporary) sense of fear and/or anger is an appropriate response in order for him to leave and warn others.
In actuality, it is the cult member that goes through life like a zombie, constantly thinking “positive thoughts” and refusing to wake up to the deception that surrounds him. Warning a fellow Christian about false teaching is not promoting fear-but, ironically, a false teacher has no problem scaring his followers into compliance and threatening them if they dare question his authority.
The Apostle Paul said this to the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20:29 “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.” (Hey Apostle Paul, why don’t you lighten up and stop frightening everyone with your angry warnings!!)
18. “We need a fresh move of the Holy Spirit!” “These discernment people are afraid of the new things that God wants to do-they’re hindering the move of the Holy Spirit!”
This sounds so spiritual, but what does it actually mean? How do we know if the “move” is “fresh” enough? What if the “move” is past the expiration date? How does anyone know for sure that a “move” is really even caused by the Holy Spirit and isn’t just emotional hype, or worse? These questions get completely ignored by many Charismatic/Pentecostal churches, because the assumption is: “we must have a revival!” And it depends on us mustering up something; and one hundred different “experts” have one hundred different opinions on how to make it happen.
This kind of teaching is exhausting, confusing and it takes our attention away from the finished work of Jesus. After all, isn’t it enough that Jesus came to earth, died on the cross to forgive all of our sins and then rose from the dead? Do we really need something better than that? Something “fresher??”
Lastly, where in the teachings of the New Testament (the teachings for the church) were Christians ever instructed to ask for, and expect, a “fresh move of the Holy Spirit” or an “End Times Revival?” We weren’t. You can relax now!
The Apostle Paul says this in Titus 3:4-7 “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing and regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
19. “Since God is truth, all truth is God’s truth, so we can seek His truth anywhere and everywhere-not just from the Bible. These discernment Christians are too narrowly focused on the Bible-they’re missing the bigger picture of who God is, and all He’s doing!”
This idea sounds open-minded and “modern” (and nobody wants to appear old-fashioned) but it quickly falls apart in the real world. Why would God specifically reveal Himself in the written Word and in His Son, Jesus Christ, but then “sort of” appear in a million other forms (that can be viewed in a million different ways)? This is just accommodation and surrender to the unbelieving world.
Jesus said in John 14:6 “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Being kind of exclusionary, aren’t you Jesus??)
If we’re talking about computers, recipes, and lawn maintenance… ordinary, regular “stuff,” then of course we can learn from our unbelieving neighbors. But in spiritual matters, the potential for deception should always keep us very close to God’s Word.
20. “I know that some of their teaching is wrong, but they (pastor/teacher/author) have some good things to say; we shouldn’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater!” “Chew on the meat and spit out the bones.”
Can you imagine a pastor/teacher that doesn’t have any good things to say-ever? Of course not! They wouldn’t last five minutes. Having some good things to say does not qualify anyone for ministry. So, this problem is twofold: first, there are unqualified “ministers” who really think they’re doing God’s work (but they’re not), and second, there are millions of people putting themselves under their authority (and they shouldn’t be). We should be very strict and discerning in who we accept (“ordain”) as our pastor/teacher, just as the Bible instructs us to. This is for our own good!
James 3: 1 "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness."
Lastly, this “chew on the meat, spit out the bones” idea is something that's often said about people getting new "words from God," and it's so ridiculous that it almost doesn’t need to be refuted. If you know there are going to be some “bones” in a person’s teaching that you’ll have to “spit out” afterwards, how can that be a "word from God?" And why in the world are you listening to them to begin with?? Here’s some better advice:
Don’t listen to anyone whose teaching requires “spitting out” afterwards.
Don’t listen to anyone that gets “downloads” (new revelations) directly from God.
Don’t listen to anyone who gives lip service to the Bible but rarely actually reads it.
Don’t listen to anyone whose ideas require “The Message Bible” for validation.
Don’t listen to anyone who is constantly selling stuff and getting rich from his or her “ministry.”
Don’t listen to anyone who twists God’s Word or approves of those who do.
Don’t listen to anyone who values the world’s approval more than service to God.
Don’t listen to anyone who talks more about themselves than the Lord Jesus Christ.
Don’t listen to anyone who “casts a vision” that you’re required to follow.
Don’t listen to anyone who claims to have the ability to “speak things into existence.”
Don’t listen to anyone who claims to have discovered a “secret” from God.
Don’t listen to anyone who preaches a whole sermon based on half of a (KJV) verse.
Don’t listen to anyone who preaches a sermon based on his or her new book.
Don’t listen to anyone who questions the Bible while pretending to value it.
Don’t listen to anyone who values adoration from the audience above service to God.
Don’t listen to anyone who refers to their own illegal activities as mere “mistakes.”
Don’t listen to anyone who preaches all Law and no Gospel.
Finally, don’t listen to anyone who thinks you shouldn’t be considering any of these ideas.
Steven Kozar started The Messed Up Church; he is an artist, musician, blogger and stuff.