Defending Yourself against False Doctrines
It is obvious from Scripture that every Christian is expected to be
able to fight back and defeat false teachings, no matter whether they
are being proclaimed by an obvious cult, or by a brother who has
fallen into error. Practically speaking, though, the average Christian
often feels outmatched in verse-to-verse combat and looks for help
from people he considers to be authorities.
There is a great deal of very good, helpful material available, but
it usually has a problem or two that makes it difficult to use,
especially if it is a situation that the believer has never been in
before. This material will often give the reader tremendous insight,
but ordinarily, requires him to research, memorize, study and practice
it before he can use it effectively. It will also give him information
about only ONE group or teaching, without giving him a general tool
that can be used in all situations. The average Christian doesn’t have
the time or interest to pursue this avenue, or to become well informed
about ALL the errant doctrines being put out. As a result, he becomes
discouraged, and gives up on EVER successfully refuting false
This writer is convinced that each and every Christian, no matter
how long he has been a Christian or how knowledgeable he is about
spiritual things has the means at hand to defeat any and all false
teaching. All it requires is a knowledge of your weapon, how to use
it and what pitfalls to avoid.
YOUR PRINCIPAL WEAPON
Nearly every person who is teaching false doctrine seeks to
undermine the trustworthiness of the Bible. (A good sign the person IS
teaching false doctrine!) After running into a wall of disbelief, you
may be tempted to dispense with the Bible in favor of other material,
in the hopes that you may convince him of the error of his way. DON’T,
unless you are VERY familiar with the other material, and can use it
WELL! Even then, your primary weapon should STILL be the Bible.
This may seem obvious, but it is e exactly at THIS point that many
Christian “defenders of the Faith” get lost and confused. Much of the
material available puts this Book, the Holy Bible, which is our real
basis for power and authority, into an almost secondary position, and
will rely upon other sources for most of their arguments.
If your friend – the one who is seeking to give you “another
gospel” – distrusts the accuracy of the Bible, it makes NO difference
in its being YOUR principal weapon. A sword remains a sword, even if
the opponent doesn’t think it is a reliable weapon. The Word of God
remains the Word of God, “…living and active; sharper than any
double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing the soul and
spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the
heart” (Hebrews 4:12), even if your friend disbelieves it.
This is true even if your friend is a self-avowed atheist, or part
of a non-Christian religion – although some of what follows won’t
apply – STICK TO THE BIBLE!!! No other material has a divine guarantee
of total effectiveness that the Bible has! The other materials can be
used, if you desire, to further establish the fallacy of your friends
claims, but your most reliable weapon in fighting error is the Holy
Bible. Even if he INSISTS upon disregarding the Bible, and going
elsewhere to find truth, DON’T DO IT! If he gets upset, ask him what
he is afraid of finding in the Bible.
EFFECTIVE DOCTRINAL DUELING
Like the sword it compares itself to, the Bible can be used to
either attack or defend. To carry the parallel even further, it takes
a fair amount of practice and experience to use a sword – or the Bible
– effectively on the offense. As you grow and mature in your Walk with
the Lord Jesus, your ability to use His Word will grow with you. But
many of those who are approached by these “false apostles” (and
sometimes led astray by them) haven’t had the time to become familiar,
much less skilled, in using the Bible.
When a soldier is being trained to fight, he is usually taught how
to defend himself LONG before he is taught how to attack. There is
every reason to expect this to be appropriate for our spiritual
battles, as well. When talking with a person from any organization (or
teaching) that is false, but wants to present itself or himself as
“Christian,” sooner or later, there will be an attempt to use a
passage from the Bible to support or defend a doctrine that may be in
conflict with the Truth of Scripture.
When ANYONE – even someone who is honestly seeking to teach the
True Word of God – uses the Bible to teach or illustrate a concept
unfamiliar to you (particularly when it is in conflict with what you
have been taught before!), STOP THE CONVERSATION RIGHT THERE!!! Get
out a Bible, turn to he passage just used, and read it – out loud, if
possible, and include the entire paragraph in which it is found. A
teacher of Truth probably won’t mind, and a false teacher may or may
not – their response at this point won’t tell you much. If they
object, just inform them that you want to find out if their use of the
passage agrees with the author’s intention, and continue examining the
section! Under NO circumstances should your discussion continue until
you have checked the passage to see if your friend and the author
agree. Do this in EACH INSTANCE! The friend may be A-OK in some cases
just to get you to believe that he knows what he is talking about, but
then divert into the “real” false teachings after having obtained your
BASIC INTERPRETIVE THRUST
The easiest way to determine the AUTHOR’S intent in a passage is to
ask a series of simple questions – WHO?, WHEN?, WHERE?, HOW?, WHAT?,
WHY?, and even SO WHAT? (These are sometimes referred to as the
“journalism” questions). In order to answer the questions, you will
need to examine MORE than just the passage quoted, but will find the
answers in the context of the entire Book. After doing that, see if
either your interpretation or his interpretation, should they be
different, is closest to agreement with the Bible. God NEVER
contradicts himself! A good help would be to follow the
cross-references that are often in the margins of the Bible.
A false teaching will ALWAYS differ from the original purpose of
the author; so you can spot – and refute – false teachings quite
easily and effectively by using this simple method. It may sound like
more work than you’d like to go through, and may even seem to be rude,
at times, but it is a workable means to keep from being fooled by
false teachings and deceiving spirits. It may be much easier to simply
believe what someone tells you, particularly if they sound
authoritative and have a positive, glowing personality, but Satan and
his demonic forces prey upon those who blindly follow – see II
The Bible commands each of us to TEST ALL THINGS and to TEST
EVERYONE to make CERTAIN that their teaching is truthful, and with
your eternal destiny at stake, you cannot afford to be lazy – CAN YOU?
“BUT THAT’S JUST YOUR INTERPRETATION.” Should the interpretation
you receive differ from the teacher – as they will if your friend is a
false teacher – then the teacher may attempt to disregard your
interpretation and dismiss it because it is a variation, based upon
your “pre-suppositions.” This allows him to retain his interpretation
as an acceptable interpretation, even more correct option, which
ignores the fact that HIS interpretation is based upon HIS
Essentially he is correct in his assertion that this is merely a
matter of interpretation, and you can (and perhaps SHOULD) agree with
him about this point – But point out the interpretative method that
you used (the “journalism” questions) is designed to help you
understand what the Author really meant by what he said. Then ask him
what HIS interpretative method (the method HE used to determine the
meaning of the passage) is or was, and what he is trying to determine
by using that method.
Sometimes, he will insist that it is the same one you use – then
ask to see the steps that he took to reach his conclusions. But,
usually, the significance of the real difference in means and purpose
of interpreting Scriptures won’t sink in until it has been repeated
several times, which means you should, at this point, invite him to
continue in his efforts to show the Biblical basis of his teaching.
Each and every time – even when it gets a bit tough to do – he uses
the Bible, go through the exact same procedure, asking the questions
and explaining your purpose.
Sooner or later (if his teaching is false) he will begin to realize
that HIS method is to see in the passage what he WANTS to see (often
because someone else told HIM that it was there!), and his sole
purpose is to support the teaching. He has taken his belief to the
text to be supported, rather than going to the text to learn what IT
HAS to teach. Once that realization is made, it is usually a simple
matter to go on and teach the Gospel message that the Bible really
There are a few “traps” you need to watch out for:
1. THE RETRANSLATION TRAP
A false teaching or system that claims to be “Christian” often uses
the EXACT same words you would hear being used in a true, Biblically
sound Christian gathering. There is a subtle danger here. In nearly
every case, these special words and phrases mean something different
to the false teacher or follower than they do to you. They have been
re-interpreted, usually without your friend even being aware of it.
They now mean something very different and foreign to the meaning that
you attach to them.
There are a couple of things you need to remember and do anytime
you are dealing with someone that you suspect is teaching heresy.
First is to avoid using those special meaning words of Christianity
that are so familiar to you, such as “saved”, “Born-Again”, “Savior”,
“Son of God”, “Gospel” and many others. Try to use phrases that DEFINE
these terms, or other words that means the same thing that are not
used in the cliche’ manner that these are.
Secondly, be certain that you both understand what each of you mean
when these terms ARE used when you are speaking about spiritual
matters of any kind. Make certain that you define what YOU mean when
YOU say “Christ dies for my sins” or anything else in a spiritual
sense. Ask HIM what “Jesus is THE Christ” REALLY means to him – get
him to clearly and totally define it – or any other term you both may
be using. This may take a bit of doing, but keep at it until you are
positive that you both understand each other. If there is any
complaint, just tell your friend that with eternity “hanging” on the
very meaning of these terms, you are required to be absolutely certain
that you both understand what the other means by what he says.
2. THE “SKIPPING ROCKS” TRAP
One thing that often happens in a discussion on religion is that
one or all parties involved will jump from one subject to another,
never staying on any one point long enough to be thorough in
investigating the Truth it may contain. One or all will keep jumping
from the original Scripture under discussion to others, scattered
throughout the Bible, intending to support or clarify what is thought
to be taught in the first passage considered. Both are to be avoided.
Be polite, but refuse to budge from the original text until it has
been COMPLETELY examined, using the questions we have noted before.
Only AFTER that is done should you allow the discussion to proceed to
other passages for confirmation or refutation, but keep referring back
to the original text that is “being justified”.
All the data you need to refute a misuse of Scripture can be found
right in the immediate context – you don’t need to go elsewhere to do
that, and the impact of refuting a false interpretation from the
passage, itself, is much greater than it is going to some other text.
All you need is the immediate context, nothing more, except to VERIFY
3. THE BIBLE BASH TRAP
This is very similar to the “skipping rocks” trap above, except it
is a trap that YOU are much more likely to fall into than your
“errant” friend might be. As soon as you hear a teaching that is
obviously contrary to the Truth of Scripture, you may be tempted to
begin immediately to quote other Bible passages to disprove it. At
this point, your friend starts quoting passages just as
enthusiastically, proving HIS point of view (and seemingly disproving
Neither of you is really listening to the other – you’re just
“spouting” Scriptures with no REAL reference to one another. Nothing
is accomplished, except that, perhaps, some heat is generated, but
little LIGHT. Stick to the original passage – it will get and keep
your friend’s attention, as you are giving evidence that you are
seriously listening to him. If you want to confirm the true
interpretation, THEN and ONLY THEN, go on to other passages. But as
before, all the material you really need has been provided by God to
be at your fingertips, in the full context of the verses quoted –
there is little need to go elsewhere.
A PRACTICE RUN
One of the most common errors is to teach that something besides
Faith, alone, is needed for salvation in many of its facets. Usually
this takes the form of a faith PLUS some personal effort. (A “work” to
be added to what God has TOTALLY provided in Christ Jesus)
The favorite passage to support this “works” theory is James
2:14-26 – “..faith without works is dead..” – and therefore, some sort
of personal “work”, which is usually “gladly spelled out in detail” by
your friend, is needed to REALLY get into God’s favor. Although you
could probably quote a good dozen verses to discredit that concept,
for the time being, lets stick with the letter of James – particularly
to the immediate context of James 2:14-26 – and ask an “expanded” form
of the “journalism” questions we have mentioned already.
Get out your Bible, some paper and pen, and then answer the
questions, looking at ALL of James, but ONLY JAMES! Ready? – Then
start “rightly dividing the Word of Truth”!
o Who is the AUTHOR? What can you tell about him from this
o Who are the original readers? What can you tell about them from
o HOW does he use and define his KEY WORDS in the passage? (Words
like Faith, Works and Dead)
o HOW do his examples illustrate and clarify his meaning?
o WHAT is he talking about? What is his primary subject, concept,
teaching or whatever?
o WHAT is he saying about what he is talking about? What is the point
of the passage? What does he want YOU to know about his subject,
concept or teaching?
o WHY is he saying this? Is there an error that he seeks to correct?
Maybe a new knowledge to be revealed? WHAT is his purpose?
o WHY is he saying it to these particular people? What are they
thinking or doing or believing or hearing or preaching that may
have prompted this letter to be written.
o SO WHAT? What response should you have? What response did the
Author expect from his readers?
o Is there ANY SUPPORT from the rest of the Bible for your
Looking carefully for the following will help to answer the
questions and keep you honest to he text and context:
o Watch noun and pronoun shifts – sometimes the author will include
himself with the group that he is writing to or about, other times
he may remain silent or separate. The difference is often very
important. In addition, our example above didn’t include a couple
of questions – the WHEN and WHERE – as they would not have added
much to the interpretation. However; in some cases, they are most
important, and for this reason are outlined below:
o WHEN was it written? What events took place just before, just
after, or at the same time as this epistle?
o WHEN does the action described take place? Past, present or
future? Eternal or temporal?
o WHERE was the Author when these words were first written? Why
was he there?
o WHERE were the original readers? Why were they there?
GET READY FOR BATTLE
These basic questions, based on simple “journalism” questions of
WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, HOW, WHY AND SO WHAT, with little variation,
are all that is needed to determine the original intent of any
Biblical author through an examination of the text, in context. They
will enable you to detect and refute false teaching EVERY TIME!
Your main responsibility, now, is to practice to make these
questions automatic, so that you will always be ready to defend
yourself when under attack by those who would lead you astray. Your
own daily Bible study and reading would be a good place to start, or
you could check out your pastor’s text after you get home from church
(Believe it, or not, he would probably appreciate it)! Enjoy your
training, as you learn to be an expert “soldier” in Service of the
King (Ephesians 6:10-18). KEEP PRACTICING!
J. Steven Smith