How Do You Know The Truth?


May 2001,

Dear Ministry Friends,

There are lot of strange and fad doctrines going around now days, being promoted from small home-group meetings all the way up to nationwide TV broadcasts. Some are coming from sincere people who are just not interpreting the Word of God correctly. Some are coming from people who are not sincere, and they are promoting their "revelations" for the sake of personal gain. How can you tell what is really of God, and what is not?

First of all, the problem is not new. The Apostle Paul said in Titus 1:10-11, "There are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers... whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households (congregations), teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain." And 1st Timothy 6:3-5, "If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words... to the doctrine which accords with Godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with... a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself."

This "means of gain" can be personal financial gain. "A means of gain" can also refer to gaining fame, attention, a following, control over people, a larger congregation, etc.

Regardless of the area of life being addressed, the incorrect doctrine is usually "a" truth, but not "the" truth. A scripture taken out of context, or to the exclusion of other scriptures on the same topic, leads to error. And error leads to ineffective service for God, disappointment, personal losses, backsliding, and broken lives. For every individual who manages to survive spiritual error to go on with God, my experience is there are many that fell away — often never serving God again. They have trouble separating God from God's representatives. (Your opinion of a company can be formed by your experience with the salesman.) This is especially true if you have had a very bad experience, or discover later that you were tricked or deceived.

So how do you tell what "spiritual error" is. Well, I've been in charismatic, Spirit-filled services for over 40 years. My father was a pastor, plus I have personally served in 14 different full-gospel ministries. I have been in "Spirit-filled" churches all over the world, from Pensacola to Holland to Russia to China. (I haven't been to the end of the earth, but I could see it from where I was at!) And I have been in the 1960's charismatic meetings, the 1970's teaching movement, the 1980's word of faith ministries, and the 1990's revival and renewal churches. (I think the Holy Spirit might have said, "Don't ever take me back there again" after visiting a few places I won't mention!)

But I know of an apostle who founded more good churches than anyone else I know of, and he said the process you use to measure correctness vs. error in doctrine is like running the bases of a baseball field. Home plate is the Word of God. You have to start there. Is it in the Word, and do solid principles of Bible interpretation verify that particular belief? If you can't get past the Word of God with a particular strange or fad teaching, don't go any further! Acts 17:11 says the Bereans "were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."

There are 16 principles of Bible interpretation that God personally showed me. I have since verified all 16 with other sources and found — God was right! (What else should I expect.) Everybody has some informal set of "principles" they follow to decide if they believe some teaching. However, many of those "principles" are not scriptural! I have found that if everyone followed these 16 principles of Bible interpretation, they would not fall into error. Furthermore, we would have a lot fewer denominations — because people would all come to the same conclusions regarding their interpretation of any given passage of scripture!

The next issue in evaluating the correctness or error in a belief, teaching, or interpretation of scripture is experience. This is "first base" in the four-part process. Now, we shouldn't form doctrine just based on our experiences — just like you don't start off in baseball on first base instead of home plate. But neither should we ignore experience, either! For example, if someone starts off with an interpretation of scripture that the gift of speaking in tongues ended with the last of the 12 apostles of Jesus, but then discovers that two hundred million Pentecostals are speaking in tongues world-wide on any given Sunday — shouldn't that bear a little more investigation? (My own mother was overheard praying in tongues from 1st Thessalonians 5:16-23 in perfect Castilian Spanish at a Full Gospel Businessmen's meeting in Dallas by two young men from Spain in the early 1960's.)

The third stop in the process of detecting error (second base in this baseball analogy) is common sense. I had a friend that went to a home group meeting in the 1980's where a couple of guys were laying hands on dimes praying that God would turn them into dollar bills! I think those guys were a few French fries short of a Happy Meal. Common sense would tell you that God doesn't need to create counterfeit U.S. Treasury notes to help a person prosper. (That would put God in the same business as organized crime.) There are a lot of truths in the Word of God, but common sense can expose a lot of deceptions!

Last, the final stop (third base) in the process — and the least important — is church tradition. Just because we have always believed a certain way doesn't mean we have to keep believing that way. But often there are time-honored, church-proven reasons that we believe what we do — and we shouldn't abandon that without good reason to do so. Some people are "flighty" — they like to change just for the excitement of change. These are often the "cruise-matics" that chase after a different charismatic speaker all the time. They aren't committed to anything, not even the Word of God. So they swallow every doctrine that comes along — and some of those doctrines can be fatal! One minister said you could be like a cow or horse and swallow the hay while spitting out the sticks. However, a veterinarian doctor once told me that he got called out somewhat regularly over a period of years to remove sticks that got stuck cross-wise in the throats of livestock! The horse or cow knew it was dying, and would stand perfectly still while the vet would reach his arm down the throat to grasp the stick to remove it! Actually, good ministers of the Word are a lot like that vet — we teach the truth to feed the "healthy sheep", and rescue others from wrong ideas that have gotten stuck cross-wise in their souls.

Advancing the Truth,

Dale Leander

P.S. — My set of teachings on the 16 principles of Bible interpretation have been presented to Bible school classes many times with the same positive response. These teachings fit on just 6 audio cassette tapes and would be a great blessing to anyone wanting to know the truth. I call this series, How to Interpret the Bible the Way God Does. I know that is a bold title, but after you listen to these tapes, I think you will agree. And you will interpret the Bible the way God does! Why not order them today for yourself or someone you know?


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