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:
- God’s word is the ultimate authority for the Christian life, not the pastor’s word (Isa. 8:20; John 12:48).
- 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.
- God expects His people to evaluate all things and hold fast only to what is good (1 Thess. 5:21).
- Jesus and his apostles told believers to beware of false prophets and false teachers (Matt. 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1-19).
- 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).
- Training your people to think biblically protects them against false teaching from all sources (Eph. 4:11-15).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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:
- Use powerpoint, overhead, handouts, and anything else that will increase your audience’s engagement with Scripture as you preach.
- Welcome questions. If you resent questions, even from listeners with questionable motives, you harm both yourself and them.
- After you've been asked a question, do follow-up research and supply Scriptural answers. Your credibility is at stake.
- If you are/were mistaken, admit it quickly, graciously, and thankfully.
- Teach people to base all they believe on Scripture and its necessary implications.
- 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:
- You may have misheard. Ask for clarification.
- Assume the best – he isn’t intentionally teaching error.
- Think and talk about him the way you would want to be thought and talked about
- Remember your own fallibility – how many times have you said or thought something that turned out to be incorrect?
- Determine the significance of the error by its consequences if believed.
- When approaching a preacher, avoid a “gotcha” demeanor.
- 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?