The Five Tests of False Doctrine

How can we distinguish teachers of truth from teachers of error?

Sound doctrine originates with God, is recorded in the Word of God, is consistent with the whole revelation of God, and leads to both spiritual health and godly living. False doctrine originates with men or demons, is foreign to the Word of God, is inconsistent with the whole revelation of God, and leads to spiritual weakness and ungodly living. It must pass all of the tests in order to be sound. If it fails one, it fails all of them.

 

T.D. Jakes says that God eternally exists in three manifestations, not three persons. Greg Boyd says God knows some aspects of the future, but that other future events are outside of his knowledge. Creflo Dollar says because we are created in the image of God, we are little gods. Mormonism says God revealed new scripture to Joseph Smith that supersedes the Bible. Roman Catholicism says we are justified by faith, but not by faith alone. This world is a murky madness of true and false. For every doctrine we know to be true, there seems to be a hundred pretenders.

No wonder, then, that John tells us to “test the spirits” and Paul says, “test everything” (1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:21). It is our sacred responsibility to examine every doctrine to determine if it is true or false. But how can we distinguish sound doctrine from false? How can we distinguish teachers of truth from teachers of error? In our opening article, I said that putting a doctrine to the test is the best way to determine if it is true or false. As we test the doctrine, we learn our responsibility toward it: We either hold to it or we reject it. I am returning to those tests today to explain them in greater detail. They provide a grid that is useful for testing any doctrine.

Test 1: The Test of Origin

The first test is the test of origin. Sound doctrine originates with God; false doctrine originates with someone or something created by God. The Apostle Paul went to great lengths to convince the church in Galatia that the gospel he taught was not his own, but God’s. “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11-12). Even Jesus was clear that he taught only what God had instructed him to teach: “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me” (John 7:16). True doctrine originates with the God who is true (Titus 1:2).

Just as true doctrine is marked by its divine origin, false doctrine is marked by its worldly origin. Paul warned the Colossian church to avoid doctrine that is “according to human precepts and teachings” and told Timothy that some would “depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (Colossians 2:22, 1 Timothy 4:1). It is this simple: Sound teaching originates with God and false teaching originates with men or demons. When it comes to doctrine, if man made it, then we should not hold it. God is the Father of truth and Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).

The test: Does this doctrine originate with God or has it been fabricated by someone or something else?

This leaves us with an obvious question: How can we know the origin of a doctrine? Sometimes its origin is obvious, but more often it is not. When we are uncertain, we can turn to our second test.

Test 2: The Test of Authority

The second test is the test of authority. Sound doctrine grounds its authority within the Bible; false doctrine grounds its authority outside the Bible. The Bible is God’s inerrant, infallible, sufficient, complete, and authoritative revelation of himself to humanity. Doctrines that originate in the mind of God are recorded in the Word of God. There is a clear and necessary correlation between origin and authority, between God and his Word.

We can think here of those noble Bereans who “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). They knew that all doctrines must be compared to God’s Word, his source of truth. Likewise, Paul praised the Thessalonians for their careful assessment and acceptance of his teaching because they understood its divine authority. “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thessalonians 2:13). Sound doctrine originates in the mind of God and is recorded in his authoritative self-revelation, the Bible.

The test: Does this doctrine appeal to the Bible for its authority? Or does it appeal to another scripture or another mind?

But a concern remains, because two teachers may both claim the authority of the Bible while teaching very different things. How can we know whose interpretation is correct? This is where we turn to the third test.

Test 3: The Test of Consistency

The third test is the test of consistency. Sound doctrine is consistent with the whole of Scripture; false doctrine is inconsistent with some parts of Scripture.

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