Five Tests of Spiritual Error: Part 1

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The story is told of a liberal clergyman who was on trial in his church for his denial of the deity of Jesus.  When asked to defend himself, he replied, “Deny the deity of Jesus?  Deny the deity of Jesus?!  I’ve never denied the deity of any one of us!”

What are the biblical tests of false doctrine?  We shy away from the term “heresy,” but it is a Bible word.[1]  The Pastoral Epistles (I and II Timothy and Titus) give us clear, direct tests to help us sort out truth from error.

Test #1- Spiritual error engages us in useless controversies!  We read in I Timothy 1,   “. . . command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote controversies rather than God’s work . . .” (vv. 3-4). 

Test #2- Spiritual error does not conform to the glorious gospel of Christ and compromises salvation by faith alone!  I Timothy 1:10-11 speaks of serious sins such as those who kill their fathers or mothers, adultery, perversion, and then, “contrary doctrine”!  Our touchstone is the gospel.  Whatever teaching is not consistent with the gospel should have a big, fat warning label firmly stuck to it.  The minimization of the need for conversion and an overemphasis on corporate (rather than individual) salvation in certain Emergent writers comes to mind here.[2]

Paul tells Timothy, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance:  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners . . . Christ . . . [displayed] his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.” (I Timothy 1:15-16). 

Written by Dr. Larry Dixon Professor of Theology, Columbia International University Seminary and School of Ministry

[1] See my book Whatever Happened to Heresy? (CreateSpace, 2013, ISBN: 9781484141298).

[2] See the works of Brian McLaren as well as the controversial book Love Wins by Rob Bell.  This author has written a short critique of Rob Bell’s two books (Love Wins and What We Talk about When We Talk about God) entitled Farewell, Rob Bell (2nd edition), available on

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