Think of a doctrine you have been taught in church.
Any doctrine. I don’t care which. It doesn’t matter.
Now ask yourself a question: “How can I be sure that this is God’s will – for me; for His people; for His church; for anyone; for everyone?”
I’m betting your first answer to that question is: “Look in the Bible.”
If you can find that doctrine taught explicitly in scripture, just as it was taught to you, you have been taught well and you have learned well.
What if the doctrine you thought of can’t be found in scripture? And I don’t mean that just you yourself cannot find it; I mean if no one can find it. What then?
You could pray for clarity and an answer from God. He gives them sometimes; don’t tell me He doesn’t. Gideon and the fleece. Job and the whirlwind. Elijah and the still, small Voice after the whirlwind and the earthquake. Jonah under the withering vine.
What if you don’t receive an answer? Does that mean God doesn’t want you to know? That you couldn’t understand the answer? That it’s none of your business what His will is in this matter?
Or does He want you to look some more?
Maybe outside of scripture. Maybe in a library, or on the Internet, or from a wise and beloved friend and/or teacher.
What if you find the doctrine in a book or on a site or from trusted lips, and it’s attributed to someone who wrote long after the canon of scripture was collected?
Does that automatically mean it’s a teaching of man, and not credible? Or is it possible that it is a teaching of a man acquainted with God’s word and will and nature, and reliable as an interpretation of scripture?
What if you find credible, intelligent, reasonable, spiritual sources which contradict that doctrine and outline believable reasons why it is in doubt or error.
How can you be sure?
These are some of the things I would want to know about that doctrine:
- Does it say more than scripture says?
- Does it say less than scripture says? (Does it ignore scripture which may contradict it? Explain away those scriptures?)
- Does it actually say something different and contradictory to what scripture says?
- Is it consistent with both the just and merciful nature of God; His kindness and severity?
- Is it reasonable inasfar as human knowledge extends?
- Is it logical inasfar as human logic extends?
- Is it something that genuinely contributes to the transformation of the believer into the image of the living Christ? (Or does it have only an appearance of righteousness?)
- Does it reflect the nature of Christ to be shone among His followers, exhibiting the fruits of His Spirit? (Or does its practice lead to self-righteousness, judgmentalism, arrogance, hatred, envy, strife, anger, divisiveness, and the like?)
- Does the environment in which that doctrine is taught disallow or discourage investigation, especially using sources that are outside of its influence or which contradict the doctrine?
I would say that if my answer to any of those questions regarding that doctrine is undesirable, unscriptural and unenlightening, then I have a serious and legitimate cause for doubting the doctrine.
You can bet I am going to ask God again. And I am going to keep asking. And keep asking. And keep asking.
Would you like to know why?
I believe God listens, and He answers, and He wants us to know His will. I believe this because of Luke 11:1-11. If that passage were suddenly expunged from all scripture and remained only in my head, I would still believe this because of John 14:12-14. And if all the red-letter words in all the red-letter Bibles faded bleachingly away in the night tonight, I would still believe because of James 1:5-7. And 1 John 5:1-5.
And many others.
He might speak through His word in a way you’ve never read and perceived it before. He might speak through His very Spirit commingled with yours, in a still, small voice that hushes whirlwinds and earthquakes and brings peace to the soul. He might speak through others with whom you converse, circumstances in your life, songs that you hear, books that you read, e-mails that you receive – any way He chooses.
If it is a doctrine you need to know and obey, He will not encrypt it, obscure it nor hide it. He is not in business to make your life more difficult to be like Him; to make it harder to obey.
That’s Satan’s job.
And that should give you some idea where false doctrine – hidden doctrine, secret doctrine, gnosis doctrine – comes from.
You can be sure of it.
But don’t just take my word for it.
Ask. Seek. Knock.