In the book of Ecclesiastes, there is a simple statement about the world in general that has become my core defense against false doctrine. From the Revised Standard Version we read: "What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done there is nothing new under the sun" (ECC 1:9 RSV).
If there is nothing new under the sun, how is it possible for people to keep finding new interpretations of Scripture? If the Bible is said to be sealed up (Rev. 22:18-19), why does God supposedly keep providing new information to select groups of people? The only valid answer I can think of is that this new stuff is just the same old lies and deceptions repackaged.
"For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18-19 KJV).
The Bible is God's complete and exhaustive manual on how to maintain a good Christian life. There is no need for us to go on a quest for higher understanding. Any difficulty on the part of man's understanding rests with his inability to just accept the boring truth. Satan keeps trying to say, "You're missing something," or "There's a better way." He told this lie to Adam and Eve, and we all know what happened to them.
"All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NIV).
Christian apologists spend a huge amount of time refuting every new teaching that springs up. Because the devil is continually on the job, erroneous doctrine tends to encroach upon us like jungle vines. In the early Church, every time Paul turned around, he had to combat some new falsehood that was creeping into the body of Christ.
Because an unlimited number of false doctrines is circulating in the world, rather than reading up on what everyone else believes, I think it's a far easier task to focus on what we should believe concerning God's Kingdom.
In many cases, heretical doctrine can be very difficult to detect. A lie can be wrapped in 95% truth and still be a lie. This is why we need to use the Word of God like a Geiger counter. And we donít just need to use it to help us discern the truth about what others believe, we also need to use the Bible to help us evaluate what we believe because deceived people are often led to believe that everyone else is in the grip of deception.
One of the easiest ways to identify false doctrine is to constantly remember that there is nothing new under the sun. If someone comes to you with a new revelation or a vision he or his organization claims to have received from God, this new doctrine needs to parrot what is already plainly written in the Bible in order to be considered truth.
New doctrine also must stand up against any opposing passages. Several years ago, a group in California claimed that the Bible granted the right to smoke marijuana. They cited Genesis 1:30: "I have given every green herb for meat." The local police allowed this band of potheads to get away with smoking grass in public on the grounds of religious freedom until they caught some of them selling the green herb to undercover agents.
Genesis 1:30 does say that God has given us every green herb; however, elsewhere in the Bible it says we should be sober-minded. Taking a stand against man's first choice of drugs and alcohol, the Word of God says, "For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation" (1 Th. 5:7-8 KJV).
Many cults have sales pitches that sound very compelling. With recruitment being their primary goal, it should come as no surprise that most cults use a number of enticing tactics.
When approached by a cult member, you might get the hard sell: "If you don't join us, you'll end up getting tossed into the Lake of Fire with the rest of the harlot church.Ē Or you might hear the soft sell, which might go like this: "Don't you want to be a part of God's perfect will?"
Before you get stressed out from trying to figure out whether they're right, you need to realize one very important fact. If 1,000 cults are active in the world, with each one claiming to be the one true religion, the law of mathematical improbability should put the burden of proof on them, and not you.
Your average cultist just assumes his group is the lucky one out of 1,000 that holds a monopoly on the truth. It should be obvious that they all can't be right. If it were legally possible to patent religious slogans, I'm sure there would be quite a fight at the U.S. Patent Office over who gets to claim the right to "the one true religion."
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
It never ceases to amaze me how people can hold firmly to beliefs they never bother to verify. When we get into the shower, we first check to see if the water is too hot or too cold. When we go on an extended trip in our cars, we make sure the gas tanks are full. How in the world can people just blindly assume they have it right without first checking the Bible?
I fear many people must think the spiritual world runs exclusively on the power of positive thinking. Those blank pages at the back of your Bible are for dedications; they're not there for us to write in our own opinions of what constitutes biblical truth.
When men decide to implant their own ideas into the Bible, false doctrine results. And once it's conceived, the author of the false doctrine will often bend Scripture to support his new interpretation. Quite often, false doctrines are so much in conflict with the rest of the Bible that huge portions of Scripture need to be given special interpretation.
One of the worst cases of Scripture bending I've seen is the "Jesus only" doctrine. This cultic teaching says there is no God or Holy Spirit; there's only Jesus Christ. It is based on Acts 2:38, which records Peter telling people to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
The Oneness people have an incredible task in trying to explain away hundreds of passages that imply oddities like God talking to or sitting next to himself. If Jesus is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, then who was praying to whom at the Garden of Gethsemane?
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears. And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables" (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
With prophecy being fulfilled every day and with the rapture of the church ever closer, we could easily say we are living in the most exciting part of the Church Age. Because the end times are predicted to be times of gross apostasy, we are also living in very spiritually dangerous times.
We have the opportunity to be the first generation to not experience physical death, but we also have the same opportunity to come under God's unrestrained wrath. It behooves us to choose very wisely which path we intend to follow.
As we near the conclusion of this age, who knows what kind of tricks the devil has up his sleeve. It's not just the well-identified cults we need to worry about. Deception is erupting in some of the most unlikely areas of the Church. Denominations that once stood firmly on God's Word are now suddenly falling victim to false doctrine.
So what do you do when you hear some new teaching that sounds as delicious as homemade ice cream on a hot summer day? Remember to verify it against the Bible, first keeping in mind that there is nothing new under the sun.
"Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth" (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
"For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect" (Matthew 24:24).
"But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not" (2 Peter. 2:1-3).
"Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? And now ye know what withholdeth that he might be revealed in his time. For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming" (2 Thes 2:3-8).