How does a Christian tell whether a belief or concept is true or false to the faith?

7 Feb 2014 by Tony Dibble –


Statements of belief help us relate to GOD correctly and enjoy the relationship with Him better. They also help us understand our faith in a balanced, reasonable and simple framework. This enables us to evangelise in clear terms. We then avoid making the commandments of men the doctrines of Christ (Matt 15:8 & 9; Mark 7:7). False concepts eventually destroy our relationship with GOD.


1. The Gospel




1 Cor 15:1-8 is one of the summaries of the Gospel’s essentials. Christ died for our sins. This was foretold in scripture. He rose again on the third day after burial and was seen by many persons. Christ had overcome death and sin for man in this respect. Any belief which does not support these facts is a false doctrine.


2. Two Natures in One Person




One major false set of teachings attacks the person and work of Christ. These false teachings do not appear to deny the existence of Christ. They instead downplay His full nature and His complete work. Once this is done, Christ then has a reduced impact. The most glaring misconception states that Christ is only a man and not GOD. This is incorrect because Christ was, and is both GOD and man at the same time, in one person. If we deny that Christ was (and is) GOD and man, then we in effect deny that Perfect and Sinless man paid the price of sin and death for all of us by His death (1 Cor 15:22).


3. The Death of Christ




Another fake doctrine maintains that Christ did not die on the cross. Once we take away the death of Christ on the cross from the gospel, no death means, correspondingly, no resurrection. If the resurrection is absent, then the victory over death and sin does not arise. Man then continues to remain in sin. The complete gospel is destroyed by taking out this single essential death on the cross.


4. Christ and Salvation




Other false teachings maintain that Christ was only a teacher and prophet. Christ was more than a teacher and prophet. He was GOD and man at the same time, being High Priest and King (Heb 8:1; 1 Tim 6:15). John 3:15 to 18 spells out the very basis of salvation: Christ giving His life for us.


5. Search for the “Real” Jesus




Another misconception is to look at the message of Jesus but ignore the person. This false notion suggests that we look only at Christ’s moral and ethical teachings. This makes Christ irrelevant to mankind because we do not need a moralist on his own: there are far too many moral teachers on their own steam. What we need is a Saviour who can bring us back to GOD, the only source of moral/ethical authority. Christ and His message are not separate. This is because the Messenger is the Message; and the Message is about the Messenger (John 14:6)!


6. Unitarianism/Deism




This false view does not consider Christ being both GOD and man at the same time. It considers Christ to be only a man. It does not recognise three persons in one GOD. Turning to GOD without Christ as the mediator is not true faith. No one can come to the Father but by Christ (again John 14:6).


7. Demythologisation




This false doctrine maintains that we should cut out the “myths” about Christ’s life and make the gospel acceptable to scientific man. The miracles of Christ and the Old Testament prophecies should be withdrawn, this view suggests. This is again trying to preserve the message without the messenger. 2 Peter 1:16 maintains that we “have not followed cunningly–devised fables” but have been informed about Christ by eye-witnesses.


8. Universalism




This belief system treats all Christians as being saved irrespective of their spiritual status, whether in sin or not. This contradicts the Bible as Christ died to only save those who knew Him as Saviour (Matt 7:21- 23; Luke 13:24-28). Related to this is a similar false doctrine which teaches us that between death and the last day, there is a second chance for sinners to repent and be forgiven. The Bible does not support a second chance view: our present opportunity is the only opportunity.


9. Pluralism




Perhaps the most erroneous concept is pluralism. This doctrine states that all religions save and that Christianity is one among many such religions. The Bible teaches that only Christ saves as none get to the Father but by Christ.


10. Glorifying the flesh




This false doctrine plays down the need to discipline the flesh because only the spiritual life matters, it suggests. This then permits all sorts of worldly sensations that include lust, notably sexual perversion and fornication. The Nicolaitans in Rev 2: 6 were one such group. This teaching is against 1 Cor 6:19 & 20 where  we are told to glorify GOD both in the flesh and in our spirit as the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.


11. Worldly Gospels




The key element of worldly gospels is the limited extent that they focus on Christ and the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20).

Such gospels include the “money” gospel which teaches us that Christ wants us to be rich. It has little time for sin and confession (Matt 6:12; 1 Jn 1:8-10).However, the Bible is unconcerned with our economic state but warns us of the dangers of wealth and the love of money (Mark 10:25; 1 Tim 6:10). Prosperity, as used in scripture, is not to be confused solely with asset-acquisition. It instead refers to overall spiritual, physical development and personal sustainability (1 Cor 16:2; 3 John 2).

Another gospel is the “feel good” gospel which suggests positive feelings as GOD-given. Whilst we need to enjoy life (Ecc 2:24), we are to ensure that enjoyment is not going to lead to lust (1 John 2:15-17) and we must be ever-ready to deal with our sin (Ps 51:3).

The “self development” gospel teaches us about developing our potential with self–reliance and motivation as paths to success. This is incorrect because without Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

Other “gospels” form around man-made homilies as biblical precepts e.g. “GOD helps those who help themselves.” This is a misconception of the relation between GOD’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.


12. Sects and Heresies




These are a body of beliefs associated with major cults such as Mormons (Latter Day Saints), Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah’s Witnesses (Watchtower Bible Society and their New World Translation of the Bible). They distort the role of Christ and supplement the Bible with post-New Testament teachings of their founders in the 19th century. They each maintain that theirs is the only correct gospel (exclusivity) and that all established churches (Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians) and free churches have the incorrect gospel.


13. Every Wind of Doctrine




In Eph 4:14, St Paul points out that we must not be like infants tossed about by every “wind of doctrine”. The manipulation, he says, is done by those who are out to deceive us by cunning and crafty ways. Their style is usually to find a single doctrine and suddenly stir people up by over-emphasising its relevance at the expense of other doctrines. Instead of using doctrines to support each other, what they do is to pick on one doctrine and use that as an incorrect standard to demolish other beliefs of the faith. They exaggerate its relevance and bring about a “wind” of attention to it. Its overemphasis is carried off to extremes because people may be looking at the “benefits”, or “innovation” of the faith rather than to engage in a serious relationship with Christ. There is no balance and reasonableness applied when considering such a doctrine.


14. Disputed Doctrines




These differ from false doctrines and do not water down Christ or His work. They arise because there is not enough evidence in the Bible to support their validity. The most common is the concept surrounding the Lord’s Supper. Roman Catholics maintain that Christ is actually present in the bread and wine. The reformed churches maintain that it is a memorial of spiritual significance. Within reformed groups too, different views arise. If a doctrine cannot be supported by scripture beyond a certain point of reasonableness, then it should not be pursued.


15. Approaches to examine Beliefs




A Christian should identify his belief system. Contrary to widespread misconception, basic biblical beliefs are easy to understand if a simple primer is consulted e.g. Louis Berkof’s “A Summary of Christian Doctrine” or any of the Confessions and Catechisms. We should also ensure that the websites we turn to are not those of a cult or heresy.


Tests to establish whether a doctrine is false or a new “wind” are as follows:


a) scripture supports scripture: a belief can be measured against another doctrine to see its overall place in the Bible; if it won’t stand up to such “backing” by another piece of scripture, ignore it;

b) a belief can be studied against the main creeds of the faith: the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed , the Athanasian Creed, the Chalcedonian Creed, the Canons of the Council of Orange, the Third Statement of the Council of Constantinople of the early church from the 4th to the 7th centuries;

c) doctrines can also be examined for their validity against the Thirty Nine Articles of the Church of England, the Augsburg Confession, the Belgic Confession, the Waldensian Confession, the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, the Lutheran Catechism, the Canons of Dort, the Heidelberg Catechism , the Lausanne Covenant and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy;

d) major time-tested theological works could also be consulted to study disputed beliefs and these works include John Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” and Louis Berkof’s “Systematic Theology”;

e) prayer is always the best weapon alongside scripture.


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