The False Arguments: Most everyone who professes to believe in Christ, claims to derive their doctrines from God’s word… even the papists so claim. Most everyone likewise listens to teachers, to one degree or another, including those who warn against those who make use of the teachings of others. Seeing that the Bible specifically declares that, on the one hand, God Himself gives His people teachers of His word, and on the other, false teachers (those not raised up by the Holy Spirit), abound, we need to conclude that such arguments against those who make use of the teachings of others are (in and of themselves) meaningless.
I have seen learned men warn against the unlearned; unlearned warn against the learned; men who use means (lexicons, concordances, commentaries) against those who don’t; and those who don’t against those who do. I have seen men claim to be operating ‘solely by the Spirit,’ as if many of those in direct opposition to their doctrines do not make the very same claim, or close to it. It’s all distraction; it’s all a mish-mash of logical fallacies and cognitive biases.
The Reality: Here’s what really matters…
1. Accurate Context: Is the doctrine put forth supported by the immediate, historical, lexical, and greater biblical context? If so, that’s all that matters. If the Bible wholly supports the teaching being put forth, then it doesn’t matter if one came to the right conclusion via the direct reading of God’s word, or by hearing others who faithfully expounded upon God’s word. Hopefully, none of us are so “arrived,” so “learned,” so “holy,” so “spirit-led,” so [whatever] as to believe that (a) we have a complete set of doctrinal beliefs that were completely free from the teachings of others and (b) that we are inerrant in all of our positions/beliefs/leanings.
2. God-Honouring vs. Flesh-Pleasing: Another test is whether the doctrine one clings to/promotes is flesh-pleasing or God-glorifying. I know from my own personal experience, regarding my own error, that men will explain away the very clear words of God if the words seem too arduous for the flesh to endure.
Men will look for reasons not to have to ‘deny themselves, taking up their cross daily, following Christ’ (Luke 9:23-24). Men will look for reasons NOT TO evidence their (supposed) love for God by keeping His commandments, with said keeping being non-grievous to them after the inward man. (1 John 5:1-5). Men will scoff at the notion that Christians really can, and should, deny ungodliness and worldly lusts (Titus 2:11-13). Many will shrink back at the truism that we are to ‘submit ourselves to God, resist the devil, drawing nigh to God, and experimentally cleansing [our] hands, and purifying [our] hearts (e.g., via the choices we make throughout the day)’ (James 4:7-10).
Men disdain the precept that Christians are to ‘strive (agōnizomai, fight/contend as against a strong opponent; labour fervently, endeavor with strenuous zeal; struggle as with difficulties and dangers) to enter in at the strait gate.” These men want the finished work of Christ alone to save them, and rightfully so; but they want none of the spiritual life that is intrinsic to true, Gospel salvation. They want to be freed from the bondage of sin, and set at liberty in Christ, but they do not want to be in bondage to Him, nor do they want to serve Him in ‘too flesh-displeasing’ a manner. Not only do they have no fervent, zealous desire to obey our Master; to keep His commandments; to deny themselves; or to live soberly, watchfully, etc., they actively discourage others from so striving, arguing that it can’t be done, and thus, shouldn’t be attempted.
Now granted, the vast majority of them don’t want to be outright heathens and hedonists by any stretch, they DO believe in having general good behaviour. However, they want to walk as freely as their erroneous understanding of Christian liberty allows them to, and far too many simply do not care about actively, purposely, striving (via the means God has given) to abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul. It is not of great interest to them to labour to have their conversation holy/upright/godly (they say “it’s not possible!”). No, give them much repeated talk about ‘imputed righteousness,’ repeatedly point out the grave error of will-worship, and that will suffice for faithful preaching and teaching. Spare them the talk about how we ought to live, and obey God, in light of the salvation He has already wrought for His people — for that, they say, is just… legalism.
3. Are they Up To “The Challenge?” A final key test is, indeed, to test. Many such men do not want to be questioned, tried, proved, let alone refuted. When you call them on things, they will claim not to want to argue; they will claim not to believe in debate; they will shut up the means to reason together deeply, thoroughly, over such matters. Sadly, many simply do not want godly Berean-type challenges.
Acts 17:10-11 “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming [thither] went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.“
Many may claim to welcome a good Berean-review but, in reality, they simply want to be able to put forth their error unhindered, unrebutted, all without serious questioning/challenge.
Conclusion: It’s simple really, anyone who doesn’t encourage you try the spirits (1 John 4:1), including their own, should be somewhat suspect — at best. Anyone who has no real interest in making a good faith effort to hash out the finer scriptural points, but only wants to be heard/believed/accepted, is questionable. They may be true Christians but their teaching methods are bunk. Why? Because no one is beyond challenge. No one is inerrant. No one should expect to put forth any doctrine and not have people not only questioning the teaching, but searching the Scriptures diligently (holistically, thoroughly) to see if such things are so.
Anyone unwilling to walk you through their doctrinal thought processes, using Scripture to do so, is (knowingly/unknowingly) trying to indoctrinate you…. not edifyingly teach you. Anyone who doesn’t look to the passages that appear to state something other than their own position, and incorporate those passages in (seeking to legitimately harmonize such apparent contradictions — I say apparent, since there are no true contradictions in Scripture), is not truly trying to teach you; instead, they are just talking at you, and hoping that you will agree (or expecting you to do so). We must all strive to be good Bereans, and we must welcome and encourage everyone so being, so long as it is in a spirit of deeper understanding, unto edification.
To God be the glory.