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


  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

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