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 17:10-13 (ESV)
I’ve often seen this short passage of scripture used to admonish Christians to take care with the things they believe, and that’s a good thing. Jesus and the Apostles all warned us that false teachers would try to lead us astray. If you really want to know the truth about the gospel of Christ there’s only one guaranteed source and that’s the word of God. Test everything about doctrine or the gospel against scripture, whether it’s the message from your pastor, the words of your favorite spiritual leader, or especially something you read about spiritual matters on the Internet.
If anyone teaches a message on doctrine, the gospel, Christian living, the end times, God’s promises or any such thing, test what they tell you against scripture. It isn’t your feelings that matter. Don’t simply pray and ask if it’s true, examine the scriptures and compare what you’re being taught with them. Do this while asking God to reveal the truth from his word. No revelation from God will ever contradict his word. Start with the bible and end with the bible.
The Bereans eagerly received the word from Paul and Silas. They wanted to hear the gospel. But it wasn’t signs and wonders that convinced them of the truth. They were able to verify that the scriptures confirmed what they were hearing. This was millennia before Google, Yahoo, or Bing. They couldn’t ask Cortana or Siri to look it up for them. This implies that they knew the scriptures. And that implies that they studied them.
I used to write a political blog here. I read lots of blogs back then, and when I started blogging I tried to do it like them. I participated in link exchanges and other things to promote my blog, and I developed a study readership for a while. Disillusionment set in quickly though. Over time I found that much of what I assumed was true wasn’t necessarily so, and that some of the things I had assumed were false weren’t.
I also learned (several times) that not everyone that appears to agree with you is worth your trust. Before “the web” was even a thing I learned that “on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” Sadly, it’s a lesson that I have to relearn now and then. I honestly believe that it’s a lesson we all need to relearn from time to time.
Being an “Internet Berean” is challenging though. We’re all eager to receive the word from people who tell us what we want to hear. Often we’ll take what they say or post as if it were true (or in the case of those who tell us something other than what we want to hear as if it were false) without even doing a cursory search to verify it. It’s enough that they’ve posted it for us to use it to bolster our opinions and positions. We call this Confirmation Bias.
From time to time, I think we all suffer from it. But then I might just be projecting. When it comes to things I see on Facebook or on political blogs these days, I’m skeptical, and dig in to find the truth. At least, I have some of the time. It helps to have a good memory and a bit of logical training.
On my sidebar you’ll find a feed with the ten most recent posts from some of the blogs I follow. I follow more than ten, but I only list the ten most recent posts, with only one post per blog at a time. For the most part I generally trust these sites and their authors. At times I’m eager to receive what they have to say. Perhaps a bit too eager.
I’ve learned to at least try to test what these people have to say against scripture. I often learn something useful. I occasionally find that reading what they have to say opens even more questions in my mind than it answers. And, on occasion I find that I need to dig in even deeper to find the truth.
Yes, I’m afraid that once again confirmation bias can leave me believing things that aren’t correct. I find this is the case particularly when reading about discernment and false teachers. Remember the Bereans. Even though they eagerly received the word from Paul and Silas, they still checked it out against the scriptures.
Some of the things I read in the sidebar and some of the things I have heard from the members of my church don’t agree. Many others seem to agree completely. This is where things get interesting, at least for me.
We know that in the last days there will be many false teachers, and that if it were possible they would even deceive God’s elect (Matt 24:24). The Lord commands us to test the spirits, to know which are from God (1 John 4:1). Our standard is his word, as it was for the Bereans. So we must test the things that we hear.
On occasion a true man of God will fall into error. When this happens we should correct such men with gentleness and prayer so that God might grant them repentance and lead them back into truth (2 Tim 2:25- 26). False teachers though, the real wolves among the flock, will persist and they will eventually reveal themselves. They’ll persist in error, and they’ll lead many astray. We’re not even supposed to have anything to do with them.
Here’s where we need to beware of confirmation bias again. We need to check carefully any accusation against an elder. The evidentiary standard is the same as the standard for convicting someone of murder in the old testament. We need the word of two or three witnesses (1 Tim 5:19). Simply chasing down a link on one website that leads to another that finally makes some claims of error doesn’t meet that standard. A list of quotations purportedly from a witness could be fraudulent. Even two or three such lists might be. If at all possible we should look for original source material, in context.
That requires research. And that’s not always easy.
If I’ve read the bible correctly we’re not going to get rid of false messiahs, false prophets, and false teachers. Instead they’ll keep springing up and they’ll abound. Our best defense against them isn’t to study their teachings so that we can refute them. Instead, I think that it’s to know Jesus and the gospel so well through his word and the power of the Holy Spirit that what’s false will be plain to see. Knowing the genuine article and focusing on that will make the counterfeit plain to see.
As for what you read on the Internet, don’t trust it. We know that unless a person has been born again that they are of their father, the Devil. We know that they’ll do the works of their father, and that he was a liar from the beginning. So – when you find that the Internet, including Facebook, Twitter, and even “reference” sites are full of lies – don’t be surprised.
Instead, focus on what is true.
You just scraped the tip of a very large icbereg! Can you take it to it’s spiritual and logical conclusion? (or should I say progression) If we agree that God wants a personal relationship and therefore an intimate relationship with each of us, then we must listen to God and He listens to us that’s just part of what it means to be in a relationship. So if each relationship is personal, it must also be unique. Like any other relationship, like children for example, we don’t treat everyone the same I treat my children differently based on their personalities. So therefore we must assume that God’s relationship with each person is different. Otherwise the Bible would never have given us the example of such a relationship. Knowing this and understanding the new framework introduced by Christ our Lord known as the body of Christ or His bride, plainly shows us again how unique each person is and how personal our God is So, my point is this: in order to understand God and have a fuller realtionship with Him, we MUST listen to other Christians, other points of view, other perspectives of the SAME God this is what is missing in the Church today think about it. Is my version of the Truth better or worse (or more accurate) than yours? Is your version of the Truth better or worse than Bill Johnson’s? Or is the culmination and fusion of every point of view the actual Truth? Scripture gives us the divine example of a body how exquisite! think of all the parts and what they do So listening to other Christians simply edifys and strengthens the body of Christ otherwise we are fragmented and weak! If we really want to change the world with a refreshing from and of the Holy Spirit and have revival and push for the finish, then we need to stand united! We all know, a divided house cannot stand . Thank you so much for the post and I apologize for the long-winded comment.
Hi Aminou, thanks for your comments.
First of all, there cannot be multiple versions of the truth. Truth is objective, and our one and only standard of truth, as Christians, is the word of God. This word was given to us as men wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It was preserved as it was handed down to us through thousands of copies and translations, and we can have more confidence in it than in any other ancient documents, whether religious or secular in nature. Thus I cannot accept the notion of different versions of the truth, or different truths for different people. All claims of truth must stand or fall in comparison to what the Bible says.
When we listen to God and what he says, how do we do that? It can only be through his word. You may hear a still small voice, but I caution you to test the spirits and that voice against the Bible. No message from God will ever contradict His written word.
Don’t seek to find a “proof text” that supports your position (this is called eisegesis and it’s an error). Instead, compare your position and your “word from the Lord” with the totality of what the Bible teaches. If there’s a conflict, then your position must change, or your “word from the Lord” isn’t “from the Lord”.
As for relationships, of course every relationship is different, because the people in the relationship are different. For believers though, there is one constant in our relationship with God, and that is God Himself. He is eternal, and He never changes.
Our relationship with other believers is familial. We are all adopted sons of God, and we are commanded to love one another. Love implies respect and humility, so we must listen to one another, and each of us relates to God in a different way, but if we truly hold faith in the Jesus described in the Bible, we all relate to the same God. However it is not the case that all who go to church or who claim the name of Christ believe in the Jesus of the Bible. And so we must always compare what those who claim to be Christians have to say about Him to what the Bible says about him.
When we pray to Him, we know that He hears us if we have faith in Him and come to him with a clean heart. If we hold unconfessed sin in our hearts though He won’t hear us. If we want to hear Him, we must pray that the Holy Spirit will open His word to us, and we must search His word diligently. We must ask Him for wisdom, and we must do so in faith that He will give it to us.
What a shame My heart always hurts for these self-proclaimed hersey hunters. They may be earnest in their fight for their understanding of the truth, but in the end all they’re really doing is building a ministry off of demonizing someone else. This type of ministry is not characterized anywhere in the New Testament. Instead, you see pastors and apostles who are building up believers and protecting those they are responsible for when a false doctrine and wolf in sheep’s clothing would appear. Certainly, we can read the stories of Paul contending with false teachers and religious leaders in the cities he traveled. Paul also contended with Peter to his face. That even didn’t invalidate the apostleship of Peter in Paul’s eyes or vice versa. Paul certainly didn’t focus his ministry to going around the different cities declaring how bad Peter was.Disagree all you want, this is reckless and needlessly divisive.
Hi James, thanks for your comments.
What about the times when Paul mentioned false teachers by name (for example, when he wrote to Timothy and said “By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” 1 Tim 1:19 – 20)) and in some cases even warned his readers not to even associate with them? False teachers do need to be exposed, and the church does need to be aware and beware of them.
Nevertheless, it is impossible to tell the truth from a lie, unless you have learned the truth. The best and strongest defense against falling into error is to, first of all be saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and secondly to know the truth by studying the word of God, and to always compare what people teach to what the word of God says.
There are over seven billion people on this planet, if I recall correctly. There are many millions of Christians and many thousands of teachers. It isn’t humanly possible to know what every one of them teaches, but it is humanly possible to know the truth by the careful study of scripture, and we should never simply take what someone says as truth without checking what they say against the word of God.
No matter how “famous” or “respected” they are. Remember what Paul had to say in Galatians 1…
“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.”