Why You Should Evaluate All Preaching/Teaching by Scripture

I had a group of three men in my home on Sunday. All were from different parts of the country. They each told the same story. They’ve heard pastors and/or preachers preach things that were unscriptural, but nobody questioned it. It has undermined their confidence in Christianity, the church, and pastors.

Here's some of what I said to them, since some of them are training to be pastors.

You should teach your people to evaluate what you preach by Scripture. Here's why:
  1. God’s word is the ultimate authority for the Christian life, not the pastor’s word (Isa. 8:20; John 12:48).
  2. God pronounces dire judgment upon those who claim to speak what He has not spoken (Deut. 18:20; Jer. 14:15). It provides you a safeguard.
  3. God expects His people to evaluate all things and hold fast only to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21).
  4. Jesus and his apostles told believers to beware of false prophets and false teachers (Matt. 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1-19).
  5. Paul commends as “noble-minded” believers who did not accept his teaching because he said it,  but they searched the Scriptures diligently to verify his teaching (Acts 17:11).
  6. Training your people to think biblically protects them against false teaching from all sources (Eph. 4:11-15).
  7. The NT pattern is that mature Christian men evaluate all teaching in the church by God’s word for accuracy (1 Cor. 14:29-35).
  8. Pastors are fallible (Jam. 3:1); some are careless or ignorant (1 Tim. 1:6-7); some are overworked and preach underprepared; some are false teachers (Acts 20:29-30). Any pastor who insists people believe him regardless of Scriptural support should be voted out and defrocked.
  9. Trusting a pastor who turns out to be wrong undermines the credibility of pastors everywhere. Discovering a pastor who humbly and gladly corrects a mistake increases parishioners’ trust.

Suggestions to pastors:
  1. Use powerpoint, overhead, handouts, and anything else that will increase your audience’s engagement with Scripture as you preach.
  2. Welcome questions. If you resent questions, even from listeners with questionable motives, you harm both yourself and them.
  3. After you've been asked a question, do follow-up research and supply Scriptural answers.  Your credibility is at stake.
  4. If you are/were mistaken, admit it quickly, graciously, and thankfully.
  5. Teach people to base all they believe on Scripture and its necessary implications.
  6. Say things like, “To the best of my ability to understand God’s word, subject to revision at any time upon further light, I believe God’s word teaches ….”  “I want you to know that I welcome questions about what I preach.” “It’s not true just because I say it.”
 Suggestions to parishioners:

When preachers say something that appears to be contrary to Scripture, here's how to think about and interact with them: 
  1. You may have misheard. Ask for clarification.
  2. Assume the best – he isn’t intentionally teaching error.
  3. Think and talk about him the way you would want to be thought and talked about
  4. Remember your own fallibility – how many times have you said or thought something that turned out to be incorrect?
  5. Determine the significance of the error by its consequences if believed.
  6. When approaching a preacher, avoid a “gotcha” demeanor.
  7. Ask the following questions:
a.       Could you help me understand something?
b.      I thought I heard you say X … did I mishear you?
c.       Could you help me understand what you meant by X?
d.      How does X relate to what the Scriptures say in places Y and Z?
e.       It seems to me—I could be wrong, please correct me if I am—that Scripture teaches Y not X. Help me understand how these things relate.

Teaching believers to evaluate teaching by Scripture also means teaching them that disagreement over proper interpretation is part of the church’s history from its earliest days (Acts 15; 1 Cor. 11:19). It means that expecting everyone to agree on all interpretation is itself unscriptural (Rom. 14:1).  For more on this see my discussion of levels of importance in truth in “The Importance of Truth, Categories of Interpretive Consensus, and Soul Liberty.”

What do you think?


Daniel Wilson said…
Very good! I was especially pleased to see some concrete suggestions for how to challenge ambiguous or unbiblical preaching.

I've been blessed to be in churches that did very well in this regard for the past 15 years. In that time, I think I've challenged something being taught maybe half a dozen times. Sometimes when shaking the pastor's hand on the way out, once in testimony times, occasionally when comments were solicited.
Rev. Tim Cole said…
Thank you, Phil for the thoughts. Perhaps the greatest difficulty for us is your last comments on "interpretation". One must make allowances for these variances without crying, "Heresy!" Question: Is there a difference in a false teacher and preacher who teaches false doctrine? Another area where problems abound is in the area of "application". Contemporary culture has little tolerance for any preacher making an application that makes them uncomfortable. I have been the first to disagree with many statements declared by good men; but I shall be eternally grateful for those who through their error or ignorance caused me to search my heart and the scriptures.
Philip Brown said…
Thanks for taking time to comment, Tim. I think the difference between a false teacher and a preacher to teaches unorthodox doctrine can be discerned when when they are confronted with the truth. A false teacher is unteachable and intractable in his error. Someone teaching unorthodox doctrine (I'm thinking, e.g., of John MacArthur who denied the eternal sonship of Christ at one point in his ministry) who listens, evaluates, and then accepts correct was not a false teacher.

You've been wise to turn poor/wrong preaching into an opportunity for self-examination. Unfortunately, many haven't even recognized it as false and have been lead astray, or greatly confused and hindered in the walk with Christ.
Paul Eckert said…
Dr. Phil,

Thank you for the valuable insights.

Paul Eckert

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