Joe R. Price
Testing doctrine is very important to every person who is interested in living by the truth of God. Truth must be known in order to be lived (cf. John 8:31-32). But, to know truth we must be willing to test what is offered to us as truth in order to determine if it is, in fact, the truth of God.
The Bible teaches us to prove all things so that we may hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). We should pray to abound in knowledge and discernment so that we can distinguish between what is right and what is wrong (Philippians 1:9-10). "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). Every preacher or teacher should be willing to have his teaching examined for its accuracy (1 Timothy 4:16). Unfortunately, such is not always the case.
Many people who want to live in the truth have not properly tested the doctrine they accept. Some of them test doctrine to see whether it is true by how it makes them feel (Proverbs 14:12). Others, use tradition to determine right and wrong (Matthew 15:1-3). Still others determine the validity of doctrine on the basis of human wisdom and philosophy (1 Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 2:8). Some base truth upon whether the doctrine in question is popular (Galatians 1:10). Some expect to receive a "prompting in the heart" telling them whether something is truth or error. Their eyes have been blinded so that they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). In contrast, here are biblical ways to test the accuracy of doctrine:
1) Does it agree with what the apostolic doctrine of the first century found in the New Testament? "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. BY THIS WE KNOW the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6). It was the "apostles' doctrine" in which the early Christians "continued steadfastly" (Acts 2:42). They had been taught it, they had knowledge of it, so they could live it and use it to test what others taught them. We must learn and know the apostles' doctrine - it is our God-given instrument of testing to avoid being tossed about and destroyed by error (Ephesians 4:14).
2) We now have the apostles' doctrine in the form of inspired scripture (1 Corinthians 14:37). The scriptures must be used to establish doctrine and to equip us to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). When we use the scriptures to test doctrine we are using an objective standard. It is the same truth for everybody. Compare this with the false ways of testing doctrine mentioned above (feelings, tradition, human wisdom, popularity, "promptings" of the heart). There is a big difference between doctrine that changes depending on who is talking and doctrine which remains the same for everyone! (cf. 1 Peter 1:22-25)
Jesus warned us against false prophets in Matthew 7:15-23. Please read this passage carefully. The standard we must use when testing prophets (teachers, preachers, etc.) is the will of the Father - the gospel (v. 21). It is the standard that measures every man. Everyone who does not conform to it will be rejected by Jesus (v. 23). The "fruit" the prophet bears must harmonize with the Father's will, the gospel (v. 16-20). Don't accept man's word as truth - test it with God's word! (Galatians 1:6-10)