Posted in discernment, theology

How do you trust a teacher? Discernment lesson

By Elizabeth Prata

The rate at which false teachers reveal themselves these days is staggering. The rate at which false teachers apostatize is amazing. The rate at which a good teacher begins to adopt some troublesome philosophies but largely remains above reproach in life & doctrine is frequent and puzzling.

It used to be that one could trust a teacher for long periods, their ministries would stay clean for years or even decades. Only rarely would a teacher reveal himself as false, holding aberrant or unorthodox doctrines.

Younger sisters in the faith notice this. Which is a good thing, they are practicing discernment.  One young lady came to me asking “How do you trust a teacher?” Good question.

Trust is earned. Like any relationship, trust takes time. If you are a mom with a 7 year old, say, and your son comes home from soccer practice saying he met a new friend on another team, and wants to go to his house, do you drop your son off for a sleepover that day? Of course not. You speak with the parents. You have some playdates at the playground or Chuck E Cheese. You do things together slowly over time to establish to your satisfaction that this family is trustworthy and is acceptable to be around your precious son.

If your own child is so precious to you, then how precious is the redeemed soul in you and the Spirit who dwells there! When deciding to have a ‘relationship’ with an author or teacher, no matter how virtual or remote, you are absorbing his teachings directly into your transforming mind and your invaluable soul. Be careful of what you absorb. Taking in teachings that dull the mind and harm the soul are not worthy of Christ and not worth the paper they are printed on.

So how did I answer the young woman who had asked me how do you trust a Bible teacher or preacher with all the false ones running around? I said,

1. Start with your pastor. You trust him, right? Who does he read? Who does he mention from the pulpit? You can directly ask him, ‘who do you recommend?’

2. From there, find a teacher/author you trust and go step by step in his sphere- who do they recommend? Who do they read? Then who does that person recommend? Discernment is like small, overlapping concentric circles.

Remember Spirograph? Maybe not, I’m old. I loved this art toy when I was a kid. It made concentric circles as you placed a ring down and another ring inside it and poked a colored pencil through the hole and swirled it around.

Grow your discernment the Spirograph way. Start with one circle you’ve deemed as safe and then slowly expand.

You can look at book blurbs of the book you want to read, who is writing plaudits on the back cover? When I was at the Library used book sale browsing the religion section, there were a bunch of authors there I didn’t know. I looked at the blurbs to see who was recommending the book, and I looked at  the bibliography if any, and read the first few pages, especially the preface, since it’s usually in the author’s first person words. If the book was recommended by Mark Batterson and Joyce Meyer for example, as some of them were, then I knew not to buy it.

Who does the teacher or author partner with on a regular basis? How close is that partnership? AN occasional sharing of a schedule at a conference, or affirming each other with hugs and love?

3. Hebrews 5:14, But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Like everything else in the Christian life, discernment arises from training, practice, and experience. Jesus does not drop full knowledge into us at conversion. Even the boy Jesus grew in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). You must make an effort. Hebrews 2:1 says you must “pay close attention”.

The word in Hebrews 5:14 “training” is a Greek word from which we get gymnasium. It means from Strong’s Greek Lexicon,

1128 gymnázō (from 1131 /gymnós, “to train, naked or wearing a loin cloth”) – properly, naked or lightly clad, as with an ancient Greek athlete in a sporting event; (figuratively) to train with one’s full effort, i.e. with complete physical, emotional force like when working out intensely in a gymnasium.

In the two verses prior to Hebrews 5:14, the author is talking about babies and milk. Babies must be weaned from milk and trained to eat solid food. Slowly, the more mature food is introduced to their diet. As they absorb each new diet item, they grow stronger and their inner constitution can accept it. So it is with the baby Christians who absorb a constant diet of the Word, and when introducing other authors or teachers into their diet, their trained-up discernment bell in their mind accepts or rejects it.

4. As you grow and mature, pray. Pray to the Spirit who points to Christ. Appeal to Him to guard and guide you into all truth (John 16:13). As He does so, He will alternately guide you away from all untruth. Trust is earned over time and maintained over time, so go slowly and carefully.

One more picture metaphor. You’ve heard, “Those two are like oil and water, they don’t mix”. No teacher is perfect. Only Jesus was perfect in everything He taught. Our job is to find the MOST trustworthy teachers and preachers we can. Are they trustworthy in the doctrine they teach? Are they trustworthy over time, having a proven track record? Are they trustworthy in lifestyle having stayed above reproach?

Maybe this preacher has one view with which you don’t agree, it’s like a drop of oil in otherwise pure water. It hangs there, suspended and not really doing much mixing with the rest of his teaching.

Maybe a teaching with which you do not agree is like a drop of food coloring. It goes into the water, but slowly over time it begins to color everything else he teaches.

If you are training your mind in discernment, you will be patient, and carefully watch for developments.

The best way to train your mind in discernment is to keep reading the word of God, from which all other truths can be measured and compared (Acts 17:11), and pray to the Spirit for help. Do you not have because you do not ask? 🙂

So that is a longer answer to the question! What are your thoughts? What did I miss?


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

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