Should Christians Judge the Teachings of Their Leaders?

Hanegraaff, Hank-Judge Teachings of Leaders

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil (1 Thess. 5:21-22).1

If you listen to the Bible Answer Man broadcast, you’ll recognize that I get questions about popular teachers all the time. This raises the question: Should Christians judge the teachings of their leaders?

My answer is this: Not only is judging permissible, it is our responsibility. Nobody’s teachings are above sound judgment, especially that of influential and popular teachers. Biblically authority and accountability go hand-in-hand, and the greater the responsibility, the greater the accountability (Jas. 3:2; 1 Tim. 5:22).

The precedent for making right judgments comes from Scripture itself. This isn’t my opinion. If you look at the Old Testament the Israelites were commanded to practice sound judgment to thoroughly test the teachings of their leaders (Deut. 18:15-22).

The same is true in the New Testament when the Apostle Paul commands the Thessalonians to test all things and then to hold fast to that which is good (1 Thess. 5:21-22). In fact, Paul lauds the Bereans for testing his own teachings (Acts 17:10-11). While our Lord cautioned followers not to judge self-righteously, He also counseled them to make judgments that are based on right standards. In fact the context of Jesus’ oft misquoted command, “Do not judge or you too will be judged,” He is actually exhorting us to judge false prophets whose teachings and whose behavior led people astray (Matt. 7:1; cf. 16:4-12; 23:13-33). We are commanded to not judge hypocritically; nevertheless, we are called to judge.

Common sense I think should be sufficient to alert us to the importance of making public as well as private judgments regarding false doctrine. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think this is an apt illustration. Remember the Tylenol scare? Public warnings were issued by the media. Public warnings were issued by the medical community. It was about the physical danger of ingesting Tylenol capsules that someone had laced with cyanide. In similar fashion, when spiritual cyanide is dispensed within the Christian community, we are duty bound to warn the public. That’s why Paul publicly rebuked teachers whose teachings that had been spreading like gangrene.

All of this is prologue to what is going on in the Christian community today. You have teachers today saying that we should not confess our sins, because if we confess our sins, then what we are doing is cheapening the grace of God. In fact, one of the very popular teachers in the Christian church today, Joseph Prince, is contending that 1 John 1:9 was written to Gnostics and therefore as Christians we cannot take its admonition seriously. He states those Gnostics had “infiltrated the early church;” therefore, they were not true believers but “heretics.”2

Now, let me stop there for a moment. If you actually go to the biblical text, you see that the Apostle John is urging his “Dear children” in the faith, those who have been forgiven on account of Christ to continually confess their sins (1 John 2:1-2). Hardly sounds like he’s taking to Gnostics. Nonetheless, Joseph Prince contends that 1 John 1:9 was written to Gnostics who had infiltrated the church and were not true believers. Obviously, dead wrong! But, often times Christians are not judging the teachings of their teachers, which are spreading like gangrene, again to paraphrase the Apostle Paul (1 Tim. 2:16-18).

Joseph Prince goes on to conclude, “You do not need to confess your sins again and again to be forgiven, you are already forgiven” (emphasis in original).3 “Beloved,” he says, “with one sacrifice on the cross, Jesus blotted out all the sins of your entire life! Don’t cheapen his unmerited favor with your own imperfect efforts to confess all your sins.”4

What are we told in Scripture? We are told to confess our sins. If we do, Jesus Christ will be faithful and just. He will forgive us all of our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). It is hard for me to think of anything more pernicious then to tell people not to confess their sins. Confessing your sin ought to be a daily part of your prayer life.

Read Psalm 51:

Have mercy on me, O God,

according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion

blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity

and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned

and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are proved right when you speak

and justified when you judge. (Psalm 51:1-4).

David goes on to say,

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;

wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice. (Psalm 51:7-8)

That is as true today as it was when David prayed the prayer now encapsulated in the Word of God.

Think of James, the brother of Jesus, who explicitly exhorts believers to confess their sins to one another and also to confess their sins to God (James 5:16).

In the case of 1 John 1:9 the grammatical construction is a present active subjunctive. It denotes continual confession. Each time we partake of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table, we examine ourselves we confess our sins so that we will not come under judgment. Isn’t that what were told to do in 1 Corinthians 11? In fact, Paul says those who partake of Communion without examining their lives and confessing their sins are in mortal danger. Paul says that is why some of you are sick, and some of you have died (1 Cor. 11:28-30).

All of this to say we are to judge the teachings of those who are men and women with public platforms—including my own teachings. We are to test all things in light of Scripture and hold fast to the good (1 Thess. 5:21-22).

When we test the teachings of teachers, when I’m asked questions on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, we don’t do this to be controversial. This is not about ratings. Ideas have consequences. The consequences of following the teachings of men like Joseph Prince and Joel Osteen, or women like Marilyn Hickey and Joyce Meyer, along with many others who have public platforms are devastating. So, it is more critical today than ever, because what these teachers are doing is they are taking the skin of the truth and they are stuffing it with a great big lie, a lie that has dramatic implications in the lives of real people, and I would say not only for time but also for eternity.

We did an article in the Christian Research Journal on Joseph Prince. I’m only using him as one example. I wrote a book called The Osteenification of American Christianity. Why? Because we are to test or judge the teachings of those who are disseminating spiritual cyanide by the mega-dose. Again, people bite the poisoned apple, and they feel the effects in many ways in their lives. This is not about theoretical pining; rather, this is about practical implications in the lives of real people each and every day. What we’re doing is dealing with these issues because it is important to learn discernment skills. Discernment is critical. We live in an age of information overload. The amount of information that is being disseminated is quite frankly mind blwing. We need to know how to ask the right questions, and ask those right questions in the right sequence, so that we can come to a true evaluation of things.

For further related study, please see the following:

Should Christians Judge the Teachings of Their Leaders? (Hank Hanegraaff)

The Untouchables: Are ‘God’s Anointed’ Beyond Criticism? (Hank Hanegraaff)

Christians Criticizing Christians: Can It Be Biblical? (Bob and Gretchen Passantino)

Osteenification and What it Portends (Hank Hanegraaff)

Christianity in Crisis 21st Century: Wealth and Want (Hank Hanegraaff)

Christianity Still In Crisis: A Word of Faith Update (Bon Hunter)

What’s wrong with the Faith Movement (Part 1): E. W. Kenyon and the Twelve Apostles of another Gospel (Hank Hanegraaff)

What’s wrong with the Faith Movement (Part 2): The Teachings of Kenneth Copeland (Hank Hanegraaff and Erwin M. de Castro)

Joyce Meyer in the Twenty-first Century (Bob Hunter)

Joseph Prince: Unmerited Favor (Warren Nozaki)

Blog adapted from the June 27, 2016 Bible Answer Man broadcast


Notes:

  1. All Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), unless noted.
  2. Joseph Prince, Unmerited Favor: Your Supernatural Advantage for a Successful Life (Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2010), 189.
  3. Ibid. 191.
  4. Ibid. 195

One Response to Should Christians Judge the Teachings of Their Leaders?

  1. C Wright says:

    I will be the first to not defend every belief or teaching of anyone, including myself. Things I believed or thought I had properly discerned years ago in the Word the Spirit has brought me to a new understanding of now. That is growth. Anyone who claims to have an absolutely infallible interpretation of any scripture is already wrong. There is much more in the NT about not being divisive and being very careful in discerning when we judge than there is commanding us to judge itself. Sometimes things are emphasized more in Scripture simply because they are actually more important. This is just logical. Which brings me to 1 John 1:9. All I ask you in love is to put aside anything that smacks of men’s traditions and re-read 1 John carefully. Answer this question: Could John be writing to both unbelievers AND believers in the church? Doesn’t 1 John 1 seem to be evangelistic in it’s context? Then after 1 John 1 re-emphasizes true salvation then chapter 2 perhaps switches to those who have gone through the transformation talked about in 1 John 1:9? Does the lack of many other NT scriptures that command “Confessing your sin ought to be a daily part of your prayer life” to quote your article mean anything? Both reverting to pre-cross old covenant verses and utilizing the grammatical construction of an English translation seem like weak foundations for a doctrine that you call “pernicious” to go against. While having correct doctrine is important it is very nearly impossible to achieve completely. Isn’t the scripture more clear about getting the first things first? Some things are very clear especially concerning the importance of grace over works.

    I have other issues with Joseph Prince but he may actually have a valid point with this one. Do not confuse the issue with the James confess to one another. That is not the same thing. We are discussing a legal requirement from God to continue ongoing confession of the same sins He has stated many times were covered at the Cross. The confession to one another is a different thing. It does not serve the same role. As with all of God’s commands it is not a condemnation; He just knows how we work because He created us. He knows that confessing to one another is good for us. And even then it is a single verse. Almost every verse concerning confession in the NT deals with salvation not believers. It is a stretch to conceive an appropriate “new covenant” essential doctrine from such sparse ground. Especially when there is so much support the other direction for not rooting our forgiveness in our own works (including confessional prayers) but in the work of Christ.

    It is ironic because some would claim you are a false prophet based in Galatians 1 and 2. Paul admonished them to not stray from the Gospel of grace. I certainly would never claim that you are anything close to a false prophet even though I disagree with your interpretation; even Peter tried to act self-righteous in front of the Jews. Paul lovingly admonished him but never called him a false prophet. That would have been ludicrous. As a wise preacher once admonished me “Sometimes you have to eat the fish and spit out the bones”. The false prophet label should be very carefully used. I cannot judge Joseph Prince’s salvation; I can judge his teaching. Some of it is un-biblical and without question so. Some of it is not. I approach all of it with caution; but in the same way I did this article. Ultimately we all answer to God directly for our beliefs not anyone else. Paul emphasize the Gospel of grace for a reason; if we worried more about making sure that the lost are truly “in Christ” and trusting in God’s grace then we would realize that the Holy Spirit will work in them to correct the rest. This may or may not involve our teaching but it is a mandate of being extremely careful and resisting dogmatism except for the Gospel itself.

    So I agree that we should judge other teaching realizing anything that is interpretive or not the direct Word is fallible. We all approach God’s word with our environment, traditions, etc to influence us. In many ways this works as God intended since His Word informs our individual needs. But we have to be so careful of that influence when interpreting for others. I love God and when I fail I feel terrible and just like any person I love that I fail I want to express my grief at my failure. There is nothing wrong with that but God does not require it. If I miss something in my daily confession (which I am sure you and I both do) then all is not lost. Praise God. This is not heresy; this is the Gospel. Fortunately if we have Christ in us then we can both get this doctrine wrong and still be OK. Isn’t that Good News?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *