In my reading this Lenten season, I’ve been reminded of truth that was new to me some years ago: Jesus and the apostles didn’t focus on “going to heaven when we die” as an element of the gospel. I was a bit taken back when I heard it, but I’ve checked it out.
For me, and likely for many of you, it’s normal to accept the terminology and teaching of those we listen to. It’s challenging to hear that something we’ve been taught may be a bit amiss, if not completely false.
When we hear new, fresh teaching that excites us, we should never adopt it without question, but be like the Bereans who compared Paul’s teaching with God’s Word (Acts 17:10-12).
So how can we get to truth when confronted with teaching that either clashes with our beliefs or is new and exciting?
First we pray, knowing that only God can reveal truth. When I encounter new or alternative teachings, I ask God to humble me and give me the desire to be open instead of right. I ask him to remove my excitement over what’s new. If I’ve never heard anything about it in decades of being a Christian and studying the Bible, I should be suspicious of excitement or easy answers.
So secondly, we investigate Scripture itself. It takes time and work to rightly handle the Word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).
Here are some general questions I consider as I study:
- What does the Bible clearly say about the issue? What’s clear always trumps what’s not clear.
- Is the teaching taken out of context, or does it require mental gymnastics to discover it? Either way, it’s suspect.
- What commands relate to it?
- Is the teaching based on clear New Testament examples of God’s people following/believing it? If I can’t see Jesus or an apostle practicing or teaching it, I’m uncomfortable adopting it. Perhaps it takes the glory off of God or subtly changes his character. Or maybe it’s just tickling ears (2 Tim. 4:3).
- How does the teaching relate to other verses?
- If scriptures seem to support two sides, which is the more prevalent teaching? (Issues like baptism, losing salvation, etc.)
- What is the emphasis in scripture concerning the issue or problem? How are we told to handle things in general?
- Without hearing this interpretation, would I be able to see it? (Good historical research is important in interpretation. With that as background, then can see it?)
- Does it violate the truths of the historic creeds or the nature of God as trinity?
Third, I check it out with the greater body of Christ by going to teachers or books and commentaries from scholars who trust that Bible as I do to see how they approach the issue.
Fourth, I keep reading and rereading the whole Bible so I have a sense of the overall ways and nature of God, what’s on his heart, and what he values.
In the end I’m not always sure whether my original belief or an alternative is correct. I still struggle with exactly what roles women can hold in the church, having been in conservative churches my whole life. I’ve studied it well, hearing both egalitarian and complementation arguments, but I don’t have a final answer. My study has given me awareness of the breadth of the issue and an appreciation of how Christians who believe God and trust his Word can come out on different sides. I, however, remain open and am not threatened with those who believe either way. I have some answers, but not all. I’ve changed my original stance, but I’m not sure how far I go. But I can be content without the answers.
What new or alternative teachings have tripped you up?