When I became a Christian I was extremely excited to realize that the almost two decades I had spent searching for spiritual wisdom had finally reached their climax. I realized I didn’t need to keep reading hundreds of books to find what I need to win at life, in fact I really only need one book, the Bible. I was so happy that I didn’t have to keep searching and wondering if the next teacher or spiritual guru would provide me with the missing piece to my life puzzle. I thought I just need to read the Bible, and limit my books to “Christian” authors and I would be okay. I thought anyone who labeled themselves a Christian, quoted Bible verses and talked in Christian terminology was good and would be beneficial. Oh how naive I was.
I had yet to realize all the warnings in Scripture about false teachers and wolves in sheep’s clothing. I hadn’t faced the brutal reality that many people have wrongfully turned God’s word into an extremely profitable business. Yes, I’m afraid we live in a world with celebrity pastors and seeker friendly churches that don’t appear to be set apart as different from the world, but in fact look just like it. It has gone from bad to worse, from countless people selling their own name branded study Bibles to people even re-translating the Bible in such a way that is so far the original text it shouldn’t even be permitted to have the word Holy on it.
Over a year ago, after much prayer for wisdom and discernment, I came to the rude awakening that many of the teachers and ministries I had been following my first eight months as a Christian had theology that needed much reformation. They were teaching many not only unorthodox practices but also many flat-out blasphemous, new age spiritual concepts that had no business attaching the name of Jesus Christ to them. I was very troubled over the matter and reached out to the pastor of the new church I had been attending for a few months, and he was very kind and gracious to make time to meet me for coffee to discuss.
I shared my troubles and brought up many of the people and teachings that God had brought to my attention that seemed questionable. The most valuable thing that came out of this conversation was the Scripture my pastor shared with me that I was previously unaware of! “Well Jason, the Bible does say you don’t actually NEED someone to teach you, you just need your Bible and the Holy Spirit!” I actually hadn’t yet read the entire Bible at the time, but I was certainly shocked to hear that. Think about it, my Bible teacher told me I didn’t actually need a Bible teacher!
“Therefore let that abide in you which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, you also will abide in the Son and in the Father. And this is the promise that He has promised us—eternal life. These things I have written to you concerning those who try to deceive you. But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” – 1 John 2:24-27
My pastor and I spoke about the good, bad and the ugly that happens in Christian ministry: The passionate and zealous preachers that lose their way and water down their doctrine to gain a big following. The total scam-artists should be on a stage in Las Vegas at least authentically advertising the illusion and deception they are selling instead of blaspheming God’s name with their heresies. Also the ones who might mean well and sometimes have sound teachings, but other times are way out in left field, perhaps because they spend a little too much time trying to interpret their dreams and “listen to the Holy Spirit” versus actually studying their Bible to show themselves approved. (2 Timothy 2:15)
R.C. Sproul said: “when I was in seminary I kept a card on my desk that said, ‘You are responsible to believe and to teach what the Bible teaches, not what you would like for it to teach.’ I realize that when there’s something in the Word of God that I don’t like, the problem is not with the Word of God, it’s with me.“
While this may be true for the Word of God, when we read or hear something coming from a minister or Christian author that we don’t like, the problem very well may be with their doctrine not with our understanding! So it’s our responsibility to study the Bible and pray for wisdom and discernment to understand and grasp what it says. We must be able to discern whether we are being taught sound Biblical doctrine or having our ears tickled with doctrines of demons. (1 Timothy4:1, 2 Timothy4:3) “But my pastor told me so!” won’t be an acceptable excuse on judgement day.
This doesn’t mean it’s wrong or not beneficial to ever listen to Bible teachers, but just remember what God’s word says “the same anoiting teaches you concerning all things.” God’s word and His Spirit will always be our best teacher and produce the most fruit; it may not be as easy as listening to messages from highly popular pastors, but it will absolutely be worth it. When in doubt I recommend leaning towards the conservative teachers that aren’t seeking celebrity status. Having a book on the NY Times best seller list isn’t always a sign their message is true to God’s word.
“May God expand our interest in the things of His Word and produce in us that which is pleasing to His sight.” – Alistair Begg
Do you find yourself reading books by Christian authors more than you read the Bible directly? Have you ever gotten caught up in watered down doctrine or the self-help gospel? Have you had teachings that have produced unsettling feelings that you need to pray for more discernment on to see if maybe you need to let them go?