Posted in doctrine, post-modernism, rachel held evans

Can we ever know doctrine for certain?

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-20)

I’ve often written about this passage, showing the process of recognition via the example Jesus gave. In other words, emphasizing the fruit. In this essay I want to focus on one simple thing.

The word will.

In today’s mushy, emergent, false humility-filled, intolerant of certainty world, people say you cannot know doctrine for certain, and to attempt to do so is arrogance. It’s popular to say that “Truth for me means…but I can’t be sure…I’m open to other interpretations…”

It is extremely unpopular to be dogmatic today. Yet if we cannot know good doctrine with any certainty, then that means we can’t know bad doctrine for certain, either. What they are basically saying is that it is never possible to know if a doctrine is false. This is very convenient for the false teachers out there because this would mean that they can never be identified.

But this is not what the bible says.

The verses above tell us that false prophets will come. False prophets (false teachers) bring false teachings. We know that. The word in the verse for false prophet is “pseudoprophētōn” and you notice the ‘pseudo’ right away. The definition of the word is “a false prophet; one who in God’s name teaches what is false.”

So watch out, they will come.

But have no fear, because … and here is the good news … you WILL recognize them. The verse states that plainly. It then sums up with its re-statement that you will recognize them. Jesus is assuring us that we will recognize the ones who come bringing false teachings and if they bring a false teaching then they are false themselves.

It doesn’t say, “You may recognize them.” It doesn’t say “Sometimes, in the right light, you could recognize them.” It doesn’t say “On a good day, it’s possible to recognize them.” It says, “You will recognize them.”

How do we recognize them? By their fruits- their teachings.

No wonder the emergent crowd so longs to bring disrepute to the certainty of understanding what is false and who is false! If all doctrine is potentially valid, then the ones bringing them are also valid, and should be listened to. This gives satan a toehold in your mind to widen that crack of doubt, plant false seeds, and confuse you. When Satan asked Eve, “Hath God said?” in Genesis 3:1, instead of being dogmatic and responding, “Yes, God hath said…” she answered with a confused doctrine that she had added to. Satan ran with that and persuaded her to bite the fruit. The rest is our sad history.

By saying we will recognize them, I don’t think it means that every believer will recognize every false teacher instantly at all times. We are a body. That means we are organic and mutually working together for the glory of God within the scope of each of our gifts the Spirit dispensed.

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

Some were given discerning of spirits, others the gift of helps. Where those with discernment cry out that a wolf has infiltrated, others busy helping perk up and take heed. Where those with the gift of helps can earlier identify one who needs support, those who are watching for wolves may be slower to spot the need. We work together for His good and glory through the dispensing of the gifts.

Being dogmatic can be good and it can be bad. By dogmatic, I mean having studied, prayed, and come to a certain knowledge of a certain doctrine. We can never be casually dogmatic, or unintelligently dogmatic. Ever. But a person can be certain of right doctrine and can know when a doctrine is false for sure, too.

I’ll use the doctrine of hell. I mentioned in an earlier post that very early on in my walk I studied all the different interpretations of hell. Some people who teach from the bible, say that we go to hell for a period of time and after a length of punishment, are annihilated, never to exist again and released from their torment. Others who teach from the bible say that unbelievers go to hell and remain there forever enduring the wrath of God. Both use the bible but both cannot be right. One of these stances is contrary to the other.

The bible does not offer confusion nor does it contradict itself. In this way, I know that one of those doctrinal stances is wrong. I prayed for wisdom and studied further and it was a short while after that where I understood that hell is eternal conscious punishment. (Revelation 14:11). Therefore I no longer need to entertain the thought that annihilation is a possibility. I don’t need to be “open.” I know it to be false, because eternal punishment is true. I’m closed on the topic. The bible is black and white like that.

However being dogmatic about your uncertainty is dishonoring to Jesus, because you have entertained a false doctrine and haven’t sought to reconcile them via the Spirit, prayer, and study. Mrs Rachel Held Evans wrote of her ‘evolution’ away from the traditional doctrines of the bible in her book, “Evolving in Monkey Town.” The book describes that she learned “in order for her faith to survive in a postmodern context, it must adapt to change and evolve.” Her evolution was unfortunately away from the traditional biblical doctrines of young earth, eternal hell, and so on. Mrs Evans said to me today that “My point is that Christians disagree on the clarity of the issues you bring up. I think Fudge makes a good case…” She was referring to a well-known theologian Dr. Edward Fudge who teaches an annihilation view on hell.

Of course they make a good case. If they made a bad case we wouldn’t have any discord, but be of one mind and on the same page. Additionally, just the fact that disagreement exists does not mean that all viewpoints are valid nor are they true. It also doesn’t mean we stop seeking clarity, thinking, well, if so many disagree, then there must not be one truth about this.” No, never let it be so!

When teachers use the bible to make a good case but that case is at odds with another good case, stop, study, and pray. It is up to us to recognize that pre-tribulation rapture, mid-tribulation rapture and post-tribulation rapture cannot ALL be true. Traditional view of the Trinity and Modalism both cannot be true. If one refutes the other, it is up to us to seek wisdom from the Holy Spirit. He will guide me into truth. That I don’t seek clarity isn’t even under contention, though some fail at that first step. Once the Spirit delivers the answer, I am grateful and can then ponder the doctrine, think of all the verses that go with it, and better get to know Who my Savior is.

If you allow yourself to exist in a perpetual state of doctrinal confusion, then you will always be confused about who Christ is.

John 8:44 says that satan is the author of lies. As God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) then satan IS the author of confusion and discord. Just because there are lies does not mean we cannot know the truth. Being careful to handle the word rightly, (2 Timothy 2:15) asking for wisdom (James 1:5) and discernment, and through the Holy Spirit, we can have comfort in knowing His truth.

You will recognize them. You will.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17 NASB).


Christian writer and Georgia teacher's aide who loves Jesus, a quiet life, art, beauty, and children.