Mailbag

The Mailbag: Potpourri (Bible study for the lost, good preachers, new Christian witnessing, Catholic statues, “The Chosen” update)

Welcome to another “potpourri” edition of The Mailbag, where I give short(er) answers to several questions rather than a long answer to one question. I also like to take the opportunity in these potpourri editions to let new readers know about my comments/e-mail/messages policy. I’m not able to respond individually to most e-mails and messages, so here are some helpful hints for getting your questions answered more quickly. Remember, the search bar (at the very bottom of each page) can be a helpful tool!

In these potpourri editions of The Mailbag, I’d also like to address the three questions I’m most commonly asked:

“Do you know anything about [Christian pastor/teacher/author] or his/her materials? Is he/she doctrinally sound?”

Try these links: 
Popular False Teachers /
 Recommended Bible Teachers / search bar
Is She a False Teacher? 7 Steps to Figuring It Out on Your Own
(Do keep bringing me names, though. If I get enough questions about a particular teacher, I’ll probably write an article on her.)

“Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?”

No. Here’s why:
The Mailbag: Can you recommend a good Bible study for women/teens/kids?
The Mailbag: “We need to stop relying on canned studies,” doesn’t mean, “We need to rely on doctrinally sound canned studies.”.

“You shouldn’t be warning against [popular false teacher] for [X,Y,Z] reason!”

Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections


My daughter who is not yet saved wants to do a Christian book study with a friend. I am just thrilled that she even has that desire. She is thinking about doing one of Lysa TerKeurst’s books who I know not to have solid theology (among other problems with her).  Could you suggest someone who would be a good option?

 

I’m so glad your daughter seems to be gravitating toward wanting to read something biblical. If it were one of my children, I would be excited too. Thank you for protecting her from false doctrine.

But to answer your question, no. I’m afraid I can’t. I don’t recommend what I call “canned” Bible study books, DVDs, etc., on principle, even (maybe especially) for unsaved people. You can read more at the articles linked under “Can you recommend a good women’s Bible study?” above, but here’s the gist of my reasoning:

• Modern evangelicalism and Christian retailing has conditioned most Christians to believe that if they’re going to study the Bible, they have to use a pre-fab, packaged study instead of simply studying straight from the text of Scripture. There are a lot of super, doctrinally sound Christians who have no problem recommending these kinds of (solid) studies, and that’s great, but if I have to be the lone voice crying in the wilderness that we need to stop being dependent on Bible study books, I’m going to be that gal. And if I’m going to put my money where my mouth is, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend study books.

• The overwhelming majority of “canned” Bible studies, especially the ones written for women, contain false doctrine. Trying to find a “good” one is like trying to find three grains of salt in a bowl full of sugar. It’s much more efficient to recommend something we all know is completely trustworthy and inerrant – the Bible itself.

• God’s Word is sufficient for our every need. For thousands of years, people have gotten saved and sanctified simply by reading Scripture, and we need to get back to that.

• Most Christians (including me) who have done both book studies and studying straight from Scripture will tell you that studying straight from Scripture is far more rewarding. It creates a greater intimacy with God, the Holy Spirit illumines and applies Scripture to your life in the way you need it, and you learn so much more. It’s like the difference between watching someone else search for buried treasure, and searching for it, and finding it, yourself.

So here are a few options I’d recommend for your daughter instead of someone else’s book:

Look through some of the studies I’ve written at the Bible Studies tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page to see if any of them would be of interest to her. My studies are designed to teach women how to study the Bible for themselves, so that once they get the hang of it, they won’t have to depend on anyone else’s materials any more, even mine.

At that same tab is a list of Bible reading plans. Your daughter probably isn’t ready for a “read through the Bible in a year” plan, but there are several links to much shorter plans – some as short as 1-3 weeks – that will take her through a topic or a book of the Bible.

Order her a gospel of John from Pocket Testament League, and encourage her to read about a chapter a day (or whatever she’s comfortable with). PTL actually uses the book of John as an evangelism tool. They have all sorts of unique designs and translations (I would recommend ESV), and a small, groovy looking little “booklet” might be less intimidating to her than the whole Bible. You can read more here.


Love your blog! I have read your list on ministries or preachers you write on and don’t recommend. I highly admire this. I would like to find ones that I could watch that you do recommend. Do you have a list of men preachers that would fall under this category with a thumbs up? Also any women’s Bible studies I could follow online as well.

Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m glad you’re finding the blog helpful.

If you’ve read the Popular False Teachers and Unbiblical Trends tab, you were soooooo close to finding what you were looking for! :0) Right next to that tab (in the blue menu bar at the top of this page) is a tab entitled Recommended Bible Teachers. You’ll find lots of great pastors and teachers there.

As I mentioned above, I highly recommend you study straight from the Bible itself. If you need a little help getting started, the (online) studies I’ve written will teach you how to do that. You can find them at the Bible Studies tab (also in the blue menu bar at the top of this page). Our current study is Ezekiel.


I’m recently saved, and I feel compelled to share the Gospel with a co-worker but I hesitate because of my past reputation at work. I worry that I will have no credibility. Yes, they’ve all seen the change in me but they’re waiting for it to ‘wear off’. Should I wait until I’m farther removed from my sin to share the gospel with him? Wait until they’re all satisfied that I’ve changed and am not going back to my old ways? Wait for someone else to step up and share with him? He has weighed heavily on my mind as of late and I want him to have the same living hope that I have experienced and to understand the importance of forgiveness. 

Great question! I’m so thrilled you want to share the gospel with someone!

You’ve explained in your e-mail to me that the nature of your relationship to this co-worker isn’t going to be problematic, but for any readers wondering about sharing the gospel with men, please see #11 here and always exercise wisdom and caution.

Take a moment to read the story of the woman at the well. She was zero minutes removed from her sin – in fact she may not have truly been a Believer yet – when she ran back to town urging her friends and neighbors, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”.

Or the blind man Jesus healed: “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and received my sight…One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

Honey, that’s you. You’re just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to have all the answers, because you’re not the one who’s going to save this guy. Jesus is. He is perfect. He has all the answers. It’s OK to tell your co-worker that you’re new at all this and still learning…but tell Him about Jesus.

Tell him how Jesus washed all your sins away. Tell him how Jesus set you free and gave you peace. Tell him you want him to have the same living hope that you have experienced and to understand the importance of forgiveness. Tell him.


I just read your article about Nativity scenes, and I agree with you. This article makes me wonder, however: I’m curious about your take on the statues and various sacraments that are typical in a Catholic church. Do you think there is a line that has been crossed with such things, or do you think it depends on how an individual approaches and uses these items?

This is a super question – I really like the way you’re thinking this through!

Yes, a line has been crossed in Catholicism, but it’s much more foundational than most Christians realize. There’s no way to gently and, at the same time, clearly say this for those who may not be aware, so I’ll just say it: Catholicism is not Christianity. Even though it utilizes the Bible and Christian terminology, much like Mormonism, It is a different religion at its very core.

There are many reasons for this, and idol (statues) worship, as you’ve touched on, is only one of them. Positioning Mary as co-redemptrix with Christ is blasphemy. Purgatory blatantly contradicts both Christ’s sufficient atonement for sin and outright rejects Scripture’s teaching on God’s judgment after death. Re-crucifying Christ in the Mass along with transubstatiation is an abomination. Praying to (or in or through or with or whatever conjunction they want to use) dead people (the “saints” and Mary) is patently unbiblical. Infused righteousness rejects the biblical teaching of imputed righteousness. The teaching that one must be baptized into the Catholic “church” in order to be saved is anti-gospel.The Pope is not infallible as proved by all of the above and more. And don’t get me started on the Catholic “church’s” scores of brutal murders and imprisonments of Bible believing, Bible preaching, Bible translating, and Bible owning Christians during the Protestant Reformation. I could go on and on.*

But possibly the most egregious heresy Catholicism teaches is that anyone who believes this…

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

…is anathema – excommunicated from Catholicism and therefore damned to an eternity in Hell. This is just one of the many anathemas from the Council of Trent, which convened in 1545 to codify Catholic doctrine and repudiate Protestantism:

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.

According to Catholicism’s own doctrines, anyone who believes what the Bible says about being saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and not by these plus accompanying works, is damned. If that’s not “another gospel,” I don’t know what is.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:6-9

So, to answer your question a little more directly, there is no right or “biblical” way for a Catholic to use statues, relics, sacraments, or any other accoutrements of Catholicism because the entire system is corrupt, anti-biblical, and is not Christianity.

Here are a few more resources that may be helpful if you’d like to read more:

Catholic Questions at Got Questions

Roman Catholicism at CARM

List of excommunicable offences from the Council of Trent at Wikipedia (I know, I know, it’s Wikipedia, but as of the date I’m posting this, it’s a pretty decent article.)

*Invariably, when I (or any other Protestant for that matter) address a well established doctrine or practice of Catholicism and how/why it isn’t biblical, a Catholic will argue: “That’s not what we really believe!”. If you’re a Catholic and you’re about to make a comment along those lines, here’s my response: That’s what your own “church” teaches, so it IS what Catholics are supposed to believe. If you don’t believe your own “church’s” doctrine, why are you still a Catholic?

Thank you so much for your ministry. I am truly blessed by it. In regards to The Chosen, I was listening to Todd Friel on Wretched and he said something very interesting about the producer. I have attached the link.

Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention. For those who might be unfamiliar, The Chosen is a made for streaming “TV show” drama on the life and ministry of Jesus, produced by Dallas Jenkins. It premiered earlier this year, the week before Easter. At that time, I wrote a review of the series, which you can read here if you like. I have added the following update to that article:

Update (7/12/20): Thank you to a kind reader who brought to my attention a recent interview of Dallas on a Mormon YouTube channel. Dallas seems to believe that Mormonism and Catholicism are both Christianity. You can listen to the short version (with Todd Friel’s commentary) here (starting at 45:00) or the entire interview here. You may also wish to compare (fairly, objectively, and discerningly) Dallas’ comments in the interview with his comments (below) at the end of this article. It is one thing to use the products and services of a non-Christian company. It is another matter to personally believe, as a Christian, that false religions are Christianity and that adherents of those religions are brothers and sisters in Christ. If these revelations of Dallas’ beliefs prevent you from watching The Chosen, that is certainly understandable, and I would encourage you not to sin against your conscience by watching it. However, these revelations do not somehow magically change the actual content of the episodes, nor my evaluation of said content. In other words, I biblically evaluated what I saw in the episodes, so the remainder of this review stands.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Discernment

Jennie Allen and IF:Gathering

You are seeing this article as a part of Project Breakdown.


If you are considering commenting or sending me an e-mail objecting to the fact that I warn against certain teachers, please click here and read this article first. Your objection is most likely answered here. I won’t be publishing comments or answering emails that are answered by this article.

 

I get lots of questions about particular authors, pastors, and Bible teachers, and whether or not I recommend them. Some of the best known can be found above at my Popular False Teachers tab. The teacher below is someone I’ve been asked about recently, so I’ve done a quick check (this is brief research, not exhaustive) on her.

Generally speaking, in order for me to recommend a teacher, speaker, or author, he or she has to meet three criteria:

a) A female teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly preach to or teach men in violation of 1 Timothy 2:12. A male teacher or pastor cannot allow women to carry out this violation of Scripture in his ministry. The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be living in any other sin (for example, cohabiting with her boyfriend or living as a homosexual).

b) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be partnering with or frequently appearing with false teachers. This is a violation of Scripture.

c) The pastor or teacher cannot currently and unrepentantly be teaching false doctrine.

I am not very familiar with most of the teachers I’m asked about (there are so many out there!) and have not had the opportunity to examine their writings or hear them speak, so most of the “quick checking” I do involves items a and b (although in order to partner with false teachers (b) it is reasonable to assume their doctrine is acceptable to the false teacher and that they are not teaching anything that would conflict with the false teacher’s doctrine). Partnering with false teachers and women preaching to men are each sufficient biblical reasons not to follow a pastor, teacher, or author, or use his/her materials.

Just to be clear, “not recommended” is a spectrum. On one end of this spectrum are people like Nancy Leigh DeMoss Wolgemuth and Kay Arthur. These are people I would not label as false teachers because their doctrine is generally sound, but because of some red flags I’m seeing with them, you won’t find me proactively endorsing them or suggesting them as a good resource, either. There are better people you could be listening to. On the other end of the spectrum are people like Joyce Meyer and Rachel Held Evans- complete heretics whose teachings, if believed, might lead you to an eternity in Hell. Most of the teachers I review fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum (leaning toward the latter).

If you’d like to check out some pastors and teachers I heartily recommend, click the Recommended Bible Teachers tab at the top of this page.


Jennie Allen / IF:Gathering
Not Recommended

Jennie Allen is “a Bible teacher, author, and the founder and visionary of IF:Gathering,” an annual conference for women. She also blogs, hosts the Made for This podcast, and speaks at IF:Gathering and other events.

The IF:Gathering conference organization (now including IF:Pray, IF:Lead, IF:Equip, IF:Table, IF:Local, IF:TV, and Discipleship Collective), around which most of Jennie’s ministry centers, was “inspired by the question, ‘If God is real…then what?‘.” If God is real– is a troubling premise for an ostensibly Christian ministry. The Christian existence does not center around the pablum possibility that God is real, but on the rock-solid, stake your life and your eternity on it certainty that He is not only real but the Creator of, and Sovereign over, the universe, and the only hope of salvation for sinners. If God is real…then what? as the foundation of a Christian ministry is somewhat akin to If 1+1=2, then what? as the foundational concept of a Mensa-esque organization for the top mathematical minds in the world.

As to the “…then what?” part of the equation, Jennie’s and IF’s solution is woefully unbiblical. Jennie has an established history of embracing and partnering in ministry with false teachers, female “pastors,” and women who preach to men. Just a few of the many available examples:

Some of the guests on Jennie’s podcast have included Priscilla Shirer and Chrystal Evans Hurst (ep. 08), Beth Moore (ep. 04), Christine Caine (ep. 09), and “diversity expert” and Black Lives Matter supporter, LaTasha Morrison (multiple episodes).

Since the launch of IF:Gathering in 2014, Jennie has habitually featured false and biblically problematic teachers and female preachers/pastors as speakers and as part of IF’s leadership team:

Speakers featured at IF:Gathering over the years (many of them appearing multiple times) have included: Jen Hatmaker (here, in 2015), female “pastor” and homosexuality advocate Melissa Greene,  Ann Voskamp, Bianca Olthoff, Rebekah Lyons, Lysa TerKeurst, Jill Briscoe, Shauna Niequist, Angie Smith, Kay Warren (Rick Warren’s wife), female “pastor” Jenni Catron, Christine Caine, female “preacher” and author of Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey

female “co-pastor” Keisha Polonio, female “pastor” Jeanne Stevens…

Lauren Chandler, female “pastor” Layla de la Garza, Beth Moore, and others. (2020)

My guess is that all of the women who have spoken at IF have no qualms about preaching to men, and there may also be more female “pastors” in the bunch, but I was unable to research each of them, so I will just say, a large number of the women who have spoken at IF disobey God’s Word by preaching to men and/or “pastoring”.

In addition to Beth Moore speaking at IF:Gathering 2020 (and scheduled to speak at IF:Lead 2020), Jennie’s partnerships and displays of affinity with her are far too numerous to list (just Google Jennie Allen Beth Moore, and you’ll see what I mean) and have been going on for years. A couple of recent examples:

A webinar with Beth Moore:

An IF:Gathering video with Beth Moore:

 

Mutual admiration on Twitter: 

 

And here’s Jennie at a meeting “with twenty women leaders [including Bianca Olthoff] under the wisdom of Christine Caine and Joyce Meyer.”

 

Jennie has worked with and has been a featured speaker several times (including 2012, 2014, 2017, 2018, 2020) at the Catalyst conference, which is not only co-ed (so Jennie is teaching/preaching to men) but is also plagued by doctrinal problems and has featured a plethora of false teachers including founder Andy Stanley, Brian Houston, female “pastor” Charlotte Gambill, Brandon and Jen Hatmaker, and Rebekah Lyons among many others.

I can’t seem to locate a statement of faith for Jennie or what church she currently attends, so you’ll have to infer what she believes by reading her books and blog, but I have learned a few specifics about her theology. Jennie is a proponent of the unbiblical Enneagram. Jennie believes in extra-biblical revelation, and started IF:Gathering because “a voice from the sky” told her to. Jennie often focuses on “dreaming” (in the sense of future goals or creative aspirations), a concept foreign to Scripture. I downloaded her “Dream Guide” for 2019 and found some of her statements troubling:

 It really is as simple as this. Do the best you can in this world and as you’re going, love God and give Him away to people.

“Do the best you can in this world”? Where does the Bible say that? “And as you’re going, love God”? Like it’s an afterthought or an accessory to your life of “doing the best you can”? No. It really is as simple as this: Repent and believe the gospel, and walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

When we create and thrive for the good of others, you’re participating in God’s redemptive work of making the world better. 

Again, the Bible doesn’t teach this anywhere. “God’s redemptive work” is not “making the world better.” The Bible clearly says that “the Lord will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants,” and, “the world is passing away along with its desires.” Furthermore, “God’s redemptive work” is to save people. That’s the entire point of the whole Bible. His redemptive work was completed in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ to save sinners. And if you want to “participate in God’s redemptive work,” you don’t “create and thrive” (whatever that means) “for the good of others,” you share the gospel with them and disciple them as we’re commanded to in the Great Commission.

..this is our goal, to create beauty out of chaos and thrive.

Also not in the Bible anywhere. Also not our goal. As Christians, our goal is to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, pursue holiness, and carry out the Great Commission. All of which are in the Bible.

Dreaming is an incredible privilege. It is a stewardship of the opportunities God has put in front of us.

Not to sound like a broken record, but, again, none of this is in the Bible, and the second sentence doesn’t even make logical sense. To “steward” something is to use it wisely and for a godly purpose. To do something with it to the glory of God. Sitting around “dreaming” isn’t doing anything. In fact, since “dreaming” isn’t something we’re instructed to do in Scripture, it’s actually squandering the “opportunities God has put in front of us” – opportunities like sharing the gospel, serving others, studying our Bibles, prayer, worship, etc. – which are things Scripture instructs us to do, in favor of sitting around relying on our dreams.

At the end of the “Dream Guide” are several “conversation card” questions about how you can improve yourself in the coming year. One of them is pretty good: “How could you better plug into and serve the local church?”. The rest are fairly narcissistic, and there’s nothing about studying Scripture, growing in holiness, prayer, or repenting of sin. Additionally Jennie quotes only one passage of Scripture in the entire booklet, and she quotes it from The Message, one of the worst versions (it’s a paraphrase, not a translation) of the Bible out there.

And regarding “being a strong woman in the church,” while Jennie mostly stays vague and neutral, she does touch on a few biblical concepts:

18:35- “What my husband heard from me was: My wife has strong gifts and a strong passion for God, and she wants to serve Him, and she’s not because of me.” As if she couldn’t passionately serve God with her gifts by being a godly wife and serving and submitting to her husband.

22:31- “I know that the obvious question that everybody wants to know the answer of is ‘What about roles and positions in the church?’…But I think we oftentimes get so distracted by that…that we are missing all the work that God has for us. And, you know, my view on that is every local church is going to have a different opinion about that…So wherever you go, Scripture just says, ‘Don’t be divisive,’…but the bigger issue to me is the way we view each other, the way we value each other…” Notice Jennie uses no Scripture to answer the “obvious question” everybody wants to know the answer to, she only gives her personal opinion that we are getting “distracted” by this legitimate, biblical question, and that the bigger issue – to her – is not what the Bible says about the role of women in the church, but “the way we value each other”. It’s a problem that “every local church is going to have a different opinion” about the role of women in the church because there is only one position on that issue that’s biblical. The local church doesn’t get to have an opinion on that issue, the issue is decided by Scripture and the church is to submit to and uphold Scripture’s teaching on it. Furthermore, Scripture does not just say, “Don’t be divisive.” Scripture is abundantly clear what the role of women in the church is to be, and both individual women and church leaders are to obey it.

The fact that Jennie consistently and unrepentantly platforms female “pastors” and women who preach to men at IF speaks much more clearly about her personal (and unbiblical) opinion on the role of women in the church than her finessing answer here.

27:21- The interviewer asks Jennie, “What does submission mean?” Her response is much too long to quote, so I’ll summarize. The first words out of Jennie’s mouth are, “That word? To me?” She then proceeds to give a not altogether unbiblical answer about how she loves submission, but it is mainly her opinion and personal experience with her own husband, not Scripture, and primarily centers around the fact that if she brings something to her husband for a decision and he decides unbiblically, he will have to answer to God for it, not her, and that she will have no accountability to God for any sin she might commit in the process. “It’s gonna be awesome!” she chortles, as the audience laughs along, as though there’s something funny about her husband standing before God and giving an account for his decision, and her blaming him for it. Jennie then pivots to describing how “that word [submit] has been used like a pistol to [many women’s] heads” and says “so the fact that that word has a bad rap makes sense to me…Here’s the problem, guys, we’re divided, but there’s reasons on it for both sides.” She seems to be saying that submitting or not submitting is not based on Scripture’s commands, but on personal experiences and situations, and that both submitting and refusing to submit are equally valid choices depending on our own experiences, feelings, and opinions. (And, no, I am not saying women should “submit” to being abused. That’s not the biblical definition of submission.)

 

Jennie seems like a lovely, genuinely caring person, and earnest when she speaks and writes, but none of those things qualify someone to teach Scripture. And in this case, Jennie is disqualified by her errant theology and unbiblical practices. I regret that I’m forced to recommend that you not receive teaching from Jennie Allen, her materials and conferences, or anyone connected to the IF organization.


Additional Resources:

IF:Gathering:

Important questions for church leaders at Berean Research

Almost: Our Encouragement and Concern with the IF:Gathering and
Almost: an addendum since releasing this episode at Sheologians

She Reads Truth, IF:Gathering, and women bible teachers. Part 3, the IF:Gathering at The End Time

If:Gathering: more information, including video claiming direct revelation at The End Time

IF:Gathering – updated review four years later at The End Time

If:Gathering: more information at The End Time

Book Reviews:

Restless: Because You Were Made for More at Wise in His Eyes

A Review of Jennie Allen’s “Anything: The Prayer that Unlocked My God and My Soul”

Other:

Review of Jennie Allen/Beth Moore webinar, and the ‘big announcement’ revealed at The End Time

Church, Mailbag

The Mailbag: How can I tell if a church is doctrinally sound?

Originally published March 11, 2019

 

How do I know if a church is doctrinally sound? Do I base it off their statement of faith?

This is such a great question in a day when you can’t really trust that a building with the word “church” on the sign out front actually teaches and practices sound doctrine.

Because it would be impossible to cover every single aspect of doctrine that churches need to handle biblically, and because many of my readers are new to some of the deeper points of theology, what I want to do is give you some “signposts” to look for as you’re checking out a new church that will help indicate whether or not that particular church is likely to be one that handles those harder to understand points of theology in a doctrinally sound way.

First, check out these resources (and others) under my Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. These should be helpful if you’re unfamiliar with the biblical issues that a church should be handling correctly:

Looking for a Church Home? by Tim Challies

Church shopping? 35 Key Questions to Ask the Church at Berean Research

4 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Church by Brian Croft

How Can I Find a Good Church? 

Finding a New Church: Starting from Scratch

Six Questions for a Potential Church

If you are a brand new Christian and you aren’t sure what the answers to the questions in these articles should be, ask the person who led you to Christ, a pastor you know to be biblically trustworthy, or a friend who’s a mature Christian to help. You can also use the search bar at the top of this page to see if I’ve addressed your question. And, make liberal use of Got Questions? It’s a wonderful website that gives simple, biblical answers to all kinds of questions about the Bible, church, theology and other issues.

A church’s stance on many of these theological issues can be found in their statement of faith, which most churches post on their websites (often under the heading “What We Believe,” “Doctrinal Distinctives,” or something similar). While you’re on the church website, here are some other things to look for that can give you a fuller picture of whether or not the church is likely to be doctrinally sound.

⛪ Be wary of a church with no statement of faith on their website at all, and be cautious if they have a very simplistic statement of faith with few or no Bible verses cited to support it. Generally speaking, in my experience, the longer and more detailed a statement of faith is, and the more Scripture references it has, the more likely it is to be a doctrinally sound church. (Here and here are some typical, good statements of faith, and this one is particularly detailed.)

⛪ A few things to look for in the statement of faith:

•The Trinity: You’re looking for language along the lines of, “We believe in one God in three persons.” If you see three “modes” or three “manifestations,” that’s the language of modalism, and it is not a doctrinally sound church.

•Some churches have a section of their statement of faith on spiritual gifts or the Holy Spirit and include wording indicating whether they are a continuationist (ex: “we believe all the spiritual gifts are in operation in the church today”) or cessationist (ex: “we believe supernatural gifts such as healing and tongues have ceased”) church. Generally speaking, a church is more likely to be doctrinally sound if it holds the cessationist view. (No, I am not saying every continuationist church is heretical. I’m strictly talking probabilities here.) If there is anything in the statement of faith that indicates that a Believer will or must speak in tongues in order to be saved or as a result of salvation, or that the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” occurs separately from salvation, it is not a doctrinally sound church.

•Some churches intentionally indicate that they are complementarian in the “Marriage and Family” or “Church Leadership” section of their statement of faith by stating that the husband leads the family and the wife submits to her husband, or by explaining that the roles of pastor and elder are limited to men. It’s usually a good sign when a church makes a point of saying these things.

⛪ If you find the pastor’s name listed here, it’s not a doctrinally sound church.

⛪ If a church subscribes to a creed/confession/catechism you know to be biblical (ex: 1689 London Baptist, Westminster, Heidelberg, etc.) there’s a better chance they’re a doctrinally sound church. 

⛪ Some churches have a page on their website where they recommend books, blogs, and other resources. If they’re recommending doctrinally sound materials by trustworthy authors and teachers (click here for a few), that can be a good sign.

If they have a women’s ministry page, check out who’s speaking at the next conference they’re going to and who is the author of the Bible study materials they use.

⛪ Check the staff page and make sure they don’t have women serving as pastors/elders. (Be aware that some churches are now using titles like “Coach,” “Director,” “Facilitator,” etc. to disguise the fact that women are serving in unbiblical positions of leadership. Regardless of the way the position title is worded, women are not to serve in pastoral or elder offices or in any position in which they will be teaching or exercising authority over men.)

⛪ Check the sermon archives for a couple of things: 1) to see if they invite women or false teachers as guest preachers, and 2) does the pastor preach mainly expositorily or topically?

Keep in mind, however, that there are lots of churches out there who look perfectly doctrinally sound “on paper” but are not practicing what their website preaches. Take a look at these statements of faith for example: Lakewood (Joel Osteen), North Point (Andy Stanley), and Bethel (New Apostolic Reformation). (You can find out more about these churches/pastors here.) On the surface, and especially to those newly saved or not very familiar with the Bible, these statements of faith look fairly decent (although…notice that no Scriptures* are listed, and they are short and/or somewhat vague), but the practices of these churches may be surprising in comparison. *(Update: Since I originally wrote this article about a year ago, Lakewood has actually beefed up their statement of faith with a few Scripture references.)

Because churches’ practices and teachings often differ – sometimes significantly – from what you see in their statement of faith, you’ll have to dig deeper in order to get a better feel for the church’s doctrine. If the website posts the audio or video of their worship services, listen to several sermons. Make an appointment to go in and talk to the pastor about what the church teaches and ask any questions you might have. And visit the church for a while before joining to see how things actually go. The most a church website can do is help you weed out the churches that are definitely bad. The website cannot tell you that a church is definitely good.

If you’re looking for a new church but you aren’t sure where to start, check the church search engines and churches recommended by my readers at the Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

Discernment, False Doctrine, False Teachers

Exposing Deception

 

Are you looking forward to the Discerning Women Learn to Discern webinar Amy Spreeman and I are hosting on Thursday? (If you haven’t registered yet, there’s still time. Click here.) It’s being hosted by our very gracious friend, Bart McCurdy.

Recently, Bart hosted another online conference, Exposing Deception, featuring the teaching of Chris Rosebrough, Todd Friel, Phil Johnson, and Justin PetersIf you can’t wait until Thursday to start learning discernment, let these gents whet your appetite. (Don’t be alarmed- it seems as though the beginning portion of Chris’s session was cut off in the video, but there’s still plenty of great material here to learn from.)

Basic Training, Discernment

Basic Training: Being Berean- 8 Steps for Comparing Teaching to Scripture

Note from Michelle: I am dealing with some family health issues right now, and would really appreciate your prayers. I also have a lot on my plate in some other areas of life and ministry, so for the immediate future, you may be seeing more “re-runs” on the blog than usual. Thanks for your understanding. Love y’all!


Originally published September 14, 2018

For more in the Basic Training series, click here.

How do you know if what your pastor, your Sunday School teacher, your favorite podcast preacher, or your favorite Christian author is teaching you matches up with what the Bible actually says?

Did you know that you’re supposed to examine what you hear and read by the measuring stick of Scripture and reject anything that conflicts with it? Or do you just take for granted that if someone is a pastor, teacher, or Christian celebrity, he must know what he’s talking about, and what you’re hearing or reading must be biblical Christianity?

If you didn’t know you need to examine what you’re being taught, or you’ve always just assumed that if someone calls herself a Christian teacher what she’s saying must be biblical, sadly, you are not alone. In fact, you are in the overwhelming majority of the visible church. I’ve been a faithful church member all my life and, to this day, in the churches I’ve attended, I’ve never heard a pastor or teacher proactively preach or teach this biblical concept. I was nearly forty when I “stumbled across” the concept of being a good Berean – through a para-church ministry.

What does it mean to be a Berean, or discerning, or to “test the spirits”?

The term “Berean” comes from a little story in Acts:

The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews 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. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.
Acts 17:10-12

“Testing the spirits” comes from 1 John 4:1:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

Some Christians have an extra measure of discernment – “distinguishing between spirits” – as a spiritual gift:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit;…to another [is given] the ability to distinguish between spirits,
1 Corinthians 12:4,10b

But all of these passages have the same foundational concept. All Christians are to believe what rightly handled, in context Scripture teaches, and reject whatever contradicts it. Although it is the responsibility of our pastors and church leaders to teach and lead us to distinguish between true and false doctrine, we are not to depend solely on others to “do discernment” for us. We need to learn how to be good Bereans ourselves.

How do we go about that?

1.
Accept the fact that
false doctrine/false teachers exist.

I know that sounds uber basic, even for “Basic Training,”, but there are many professing Christians who reject the idea that a pastor, teacher, or Christian celebrity – especially their personal favorite – could be a false teacher. If someone has gotten a job as a pastor, has a seminary degree, has thousands of followers on social media, or has a major Christian retailer promoting her conferences and selling her materials, what that person is saying must be biblical. Accepting the fact that false doctrine (teachings that conflict with Scripture) and false teachers (people who teach false doctrine) exist is the first hurdle a Christian has to get over in order to ultimately be a good, obedient to Scripture, Berean.

False teachers and false doctrine have been around since the birth of the church. Don’t believe me? Take a stroll through the New Testament. You’ll find that every single book (except Philemon) deals with false teachers or false doctrine in some way. It’s a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments. To deny that false teachers and false doctrine exist is to call God – the author of Scripture – a liar.

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.
2 Peter 2:1-3a

2.
Understand why discernment is important.

As with many things in Christianity, there is a spectrum of false doctrine. Some doctrines are so integral to salvation that if you believe falsely about them, you are not a Christian (regardless of what you think, feel, or call yourself) and you will spend eternity in Hell.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Galatians 1:6-9

Some false doctrines aren’t integral to salvation, but will warp and hinder your relationship with Christ and stunt your Christian growth. As an example of this, I’ve often cited the false teaching that prayer is a “two-way conversation” (you talk to God and then He talks back to you). I was once a victim of this false teaching, and because I wasn’t hearing God speak to me I suffered all kinds of anxiety: wondering if I was truly saved, feverishly trying to dig out the hidden sin that must be there preventing me from hearing from God, lamenting my lack of faith that kept me separated from Him, and so forth.

But more important than the way false doctrine affects you or me personally is that God commands that we reject what conflicts with His written Word. Because God’s Word is objective truth, anything that stands in opposition to it is a lie. And Satan is the father of lies, even if the person telling those lies claims to be a Christian. To knowingly believe false doctrine is to reject God in favor of Satan. It is disobedience. It is calling God a liar. It robs God of the glory and honor due His name.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
Romans 12:9

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Romans 12:16-17

And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15

3.
Submit to Christ and His Word
as your authority in life.

If you have been genuinely regenerated, you are a new creature in Christ. You are no longer a slave to sin, but a slave to Christ. That means Christ is your Master. He gets to run your life and tell you what to do (including the command to reject false doctrine/teachers), not you, and you are under obligation to obey Him to the best of your Holy Spirit empowered ability. How do you find out what He wants you to do, believe, think, and say? He wrote it all down for you in the Bible. The Bible is Our Authority.

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
Romans 6:16-19

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
1 John 5:3

4.
Be a student of the Word.

As obedient servants of Christ, we’re to be students of the Word by default. This is how we get to know Christ better and learn how to obey and emulate Him. But an awesome side effect of being good students of the Bible is that it makes being a good Berean who “examines the Scriptures daily to see if these things are so” much easier. If you’re studying God’s Word, memorizing God’s Word, meditating on God’s Word, praying God’s Word, and applying God’s Word to your life, it’s going to be there in your heart, at the ready, so that when you hear teaching you can do a quick mental comparison to the Scripture and know whether to accept or reject that teaching.

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Psalm 119:11

5.
Where does the Bible say that?
Does the Bible really say that?

These simple questions are two of the most important tools in your Berean toolbox. If you hear a pastor say, “God wants you to be wealthy!” or your favorite women’s Bible study author writes, “God told me ________.”, the question you should be asking is, “Where does the Bible – rightly handled, and in proper context – say that?”

Sometimes a pastor or teacher will read or quote a passage, verse, or part of a verse, (sometimes from a faulty translation or paraphrase of the Bible) and give an explanation of what it means. Again, your question should be similar: “Does the Bible – rightly handled and in context – really say that?”

If you don’t already have the appropriate passages “stored up in your heart”, grab your trustworthy translation of the Bible and a good concordance and start studying. Make sure to study the context of the verses you look up. Who was the original audience of this verse? Is this verse addressing Christians or Old Testament Israel or someone else? Is it a command, or a promise, or a simple description of something that happened in history? In other words, find out what the Bible properly says about the teaching you’ve just heard. If the teaching matches up with what the Bible teaches, do what those Bereans did – “receive it with all eagerness.” If it doesn’t, chuck it.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:15

6.
Learn to discern.

Sometimes, when you’re learning a new skill, one of the best ways to get a feel for it is to watch an expert do it. I highly recommend listening to Chris Rosebrough’s podcast, Fighting for the Faith, if you’re new to this whole idea of comparing teaching to Scripture. At least until you feel confident in doing it yourself. A major portion of Chris’s program is playing the audio of various teachings and sermons and breaking in with thought-provoking biblical questions, comments, and Scriptures. You’ll learn how and when to ask, “Where does the Bible say that?” and “Does the Bible really say that?”, how to examine Scripture in context, and what some of the common false teachings of the day are.

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Ephesians 4:11-14

7.
Sometimes false doctrine is an honest mistake.

It could be a mistake on your part (especially if you’re just starting to learn your Bible and about discernment). Maybe you weren’t careful to look at the context of the Scripture you’re examining. Maybe you misunderstood its meaning. Maybe you misunderstood what the pastor, teacher, or author said or meant.

It could also be a mistake on your pastor’s, Sunday School teacher’s, or other Christian leader’s part. People are human and make mistakes even when they don’t mean to. Maybe your pastor just flubbed his words in the sermon and didn’t say what he actually meant to say. Maybe your Sunday School teacher thinks she has a biblical understanding of baptism, or peace, or evangelism because that’s what she was taught in church growing up, and just doesn’t realize what she’s saying conflicts with Scripture.

Does the person you think has taught false doctrine generally have a track record of acting biblically and teaching sound doctrine? Go to him kindly, humbly, and politely, and ask for clarification with the appropriate Scriptures at the ready. Does he readily admit he messed up and align himself with Scripture? Teachability, humility, and eagerness to submit to Scripture are some of the hallmarks of a doctrinally sound teacher who made an isolated honest mistake. Someone who digs her heels in and clings to false doctrine despite correction – that’s a false teacher, not an innocent mistake (see #7 here).

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Galatians 6:1

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.
Acts 18:24-28

8.
Put your feelings aside and be objective.

You’ve weighed your favorite Bible study author’s teaching in the balance of Scripture and she’s been found wanting.

But you love her. You’ve been following her for years. You’ve gobbled up all her books and attended her conferences. You feel like you know her personally. Sadly, it’s at this point that many professing Christian women reject what Scripture says about their favorite teacher in favor of their emotional “bond” with her. Tragically, their bond with that teacher is stronger than their bond with Christ.

If your highest loyalty is to Christ, you won’t do that. You will cut off your right hand or gouge out your right eye to be true to Him and His teaching. The call to follow Christ is a call to die. Death to self, death to worldliness, death to relationships, even death to physical life sometimes.

Rejecting that false teacher might seem hard, but you must put your feelings for her aside and do what is right in the eyes of the Lord, not what is right in your own eyes. Anyone who loves someone else more than Christ is not worthy of Him.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17:9

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
Matthew 10:37-38

Women and False Teachers: Why Men Don’t Get It, and Why It’s Imperative That They Do

Clinging to the Golden Calf: 7 Godly Responses When Someone Says You’re Following a False Teacher

 

Being a good Berean is a skill many Christians aren’t aware of and don’t know they desperately need, but being a good student of God’s Word, and yielding your highest loyalty to Christ in what you believe, will grow you to greater Christlikeness and bring you joy, peace, and spiritual maturity.