As many of you know, I am writing two books on failed leadership in the church; one for victims and one for the remaining leadership. In the research for this book, I have come across many social media posts and news articles about big name teachers. Of course, I look into those and investigate whether they appear to be legitimate. (You can check at the end of the post to see my qualifications on that procedure.) But it was my Bible study class that brought something else to my attention, how do we know who we can trust to teach us about the Bible? With so many people being accused, rightfully and wrongfully, how do we know which teacher is qualified? When you don’t know the teacher personally, and the internet fills up with accusations, how do you know if it’s true?
In the process of working through this with some of the people in my Bible study regarding a certain author I had chosen to use, I realized that this is a problem many people face. That although it may be easy for me to see what is legitimate and what is truly just online gossip, others don’t have the training that I do and it is not as easy for them. So, I went about writing this post. My hope is that it will help you discern whether you should continue reading someone’s materials or if it is better to stop. I have “investigated” several of my favorite preachers and teachers. Some I have found to be the victims of character assassination and others I have had to stop using their materials because they were found to be disqualified. This process will help you look at the very messy situations and decide what is gossip and what is legitimate.
LOOK AT THE SOURCE
This is a very important first step. In fact, by learning this step well, you can eliminate a lot of internet gossip. Most of the reason we have trouble ascertaining what is legitimate is because a lot of people are just gossiping. Even people who should “know better.” A look at our government officials is a great example of this. They are all supposed to be experts, to be in-the-know, and to not propagate lies. However, we all know that right now, they are all doing that. We can’t figure out who is right, who is lying, and if there is any truth to anything. So, by eliminating the gossip, you can eliminate a lot of confusion. We do that by looking at the source.
What is a source? It is simply where you got your information. The source of this article is www.LDMurray.com. The source of the information is me, Laura Murray.
So check where you get your information. Then check it out against these questions.
- Is this a first-hand account of the situation? A first-hand account is when the person heard it, saw it, or experienced it. If it isn’t a first-hand account, you have already entered the land of gossip. That doesn’t mean you stop right here, but it does mean that what you are reading currently is gossip. Now you will have to determine if the gossip started in a place of legitimacy.
- Does this person know the accused? This is important. When people are accusing someone of believing this/that, acting this/that way, or assigning motive to the person, you need to know if the person accusing even knows the accused. The Bible speaks about us judging others. I can get into a long discussion on what kind of judging is/isn’t ok but let’s boil it down to this… if you aren’t God, you don’t know what someone is thinking or intending. People close to the person may have more insight into it, but even they don’t fully know. So take a look at it and see if this person even has any idea what the accused would/wouldn’t do.
- Is the source legitimate? Does the person writing the accusations have any background, education, experience, etc. regarding this issue? If they are claiming to have found out about something, do they actually have the investigative resources to have done that? For instance, many “news” websites aren’t journalistic, they are just opinions that may or may not be based in fact. When you evaluate this part, you need to look at if the person even has the credentials to be saying what they are saying. I can say that I am an expert on astronomy and use a lot of astronomical terms to make me look like I know what I’m talking about. But the fact of it is, if I don’t have any education in it, I haven’t been trained in any capacity, and I have no experience with it, then I am really not an expert. In fact, you shouldn’t trust anything I say in regards to astronomy without checking it out first.
- What is the date of the source? This seems a little silly, but can be critical to evaluating whether the issue is pertinent. For instance, the information you are looking at may be years old and already found to be faulty. I will give you a personal example. I was on Facebook and saw that the government was going to change some things with military health benefits. I read the article and got really upset. I thought to myself, “Really?! Again? We already went through this! Why can’t people leave us alone?” Then it hit me. We had gone through this already. I checked the date on the article and it was 8 years old. The problem had already been resolved. The person on Facebook had simply read the title of the article and reposted without even checking.
So these are the questions you need to look at first. Don’t just look at one source, look at several. Remember, people today can make very sophisticated looking blogs/websites and can sound very convincing, linking to many other places with similar information. However, that doesn’t mean they know what they are talking about. Remember, people on the internet make money when you click on their material and when you click on their links. So they will put effort into making it look legit. Also, if it is a place that has an agenda to push, they will go to extra lengths to make themselves look smarter than they are and more legitimate than they are. Most of what is on the internet is simply opinions.
Going back to the astronomy example. I could write a lot on this blog about aliens and UFOs. I could describe what an alien looks like, link to US Air Force documents, post pictures of Area 51, and then put up podcasts by others who believe the same way I do. That still doesn’t mean that I know what I am talking about. Have I seen an alien? Have I experienced an alien? Is there evidence that I have actually seen and touched and recorded? Have I misrepresented the documents by the government, or have I twisted what they’ve said? Plain and simple, you couldn’t trust what I was saying, no matter how much I linked to other things. I have not experienced an alien, I have not studied astronomy or aliens or UFOs, I have not seen an unidentified flying object, I have not been to Area 51 (inside or outside), I have no education in astronomy, astrophysics, aliens, aircraft, or anything else. So why would you believe me? When you are evaluating your sources, you need to think like that. Why should you believe the person that is accusing someone else?
LOOK AT THE ACTUAL ACCUSATIONS
Once you have established that the source is most likely legitimate, you can move on to this section.
- Has the accused actually addressed the situation? When you do not know someone, and you do not know a person if you have no relationship with them, then you only have their words and their actions to go off of. Look to see if the accused person has addressed the situation. What did they say? Did their defense line up with the Bible? Remember, we are evaluating this person against the Bible, not worldly standards. If their defense is against what the Bible says, then you should definitely stop following the person. Be careful here as there are many things that people disagree about that aren’t necessarily against the Bible. Research scripture and see if what they have said is in support of scripture or not. Are they acting opposite of what their words say? Look at the actions and the words of the accused. Do they add up?
- Where is the accuser getting their information? This is hugely important. Are they linking to other unreliable sources? If so, this is majorly a gossip campaign. We talked a little about this earlier but I bring it up again. Especially in today’s world, people who are legitimate sources (ie: news agencies, officials, coworkers of the accused, etc.) lie or exaggerate because they ran with false information. An example of this is the Covington Catholic situation in Washington D.C.. The news agencies, government officials, and others that we are supposed to be able to trust, accused the kids of harassing, racism, and more only to find out that if they had just watched the full video, instead of going off of other people’s information, then they would have seen that the kids were actually not doing those things. Not only did others do that, but the school the kids belonged to went off of those sources and sided against the students. After an investigation, it was found out to not be true. Many people had to make retractions over this and the kids’ lives and reputations were already ruined. The point is this: Just because the source is a legitimate one to get information from doesn’t mean that they got their information correctly.
These questions are crucial. Internet gossip gets a lot of attention and a lot of shares. News media agencies recycle each other’s news until you don’t actually know where the complaint came from in the first place. It has been shown over and over that a lot of accusations made in the media and social media and internet are based on nothing. Be wise about where the information is coming from, whether the accused’s actions/words coincide with the accusation, and know your Bible.
LOOK AT CLOSE FRIENDS AND BUSINESS RELATIONSHIPS
- Have their friends, family, or business relationships come out against them? It is true that often these groups will stay loyal to their family member and friend, however, eventually, they will start speaking out. Especially business relationships like publishers. If the publisher has theological standards for publication and the author is accused of something that is against those standards, look to see if the publisher drops them. That is a good indication of whether or not the accusations are true. The flip side of that is that if you see family/friends stop supporting the accused, there may be something to the accusation. This should be a red flag, but not an indictment, of what is going on.
CHECK THE BIBLE
Now that you have done the other steps, you have tossed aside everything that is irrelevant. Now look at what you have that is relevant: accusations that seem to have validity, any comments that the accused has made regarding the situation, the circumstantial evidence of friends/business deals/family, and anything else that you deemed pertinent that came from a source that was not intending to slander. This information will help you make a clear decision about whether or not the accused could possibly be a false teacher. But you’re not done.
Take this information and compare it to the Bible. This is lengthy, I know. You can use web tools to help you expedite the process. I use OpenBible to help me get to the nitty gritty of what the Bible says about something. Just type in the topic and you can see verses related to the topic. If the situation is about adultery, then put “adultery” in the search box and hit enter. This is meant to direct you to the Bible passages that you may need. Make sure to read the verses surrounding the search results passages so that you get the full breadth of what is being said.
Once you have found scripture that is relevant to the topic, see how it stacks up to your legitimate information. From here, you can make an informed decision. It may still be a little murky. After all, we are humans and we are trying to decide if someone we do not know may or may not be deceiving us. That is a hard thing. That is where prayer comes in.
TRUST GOD AND YOURSELF
You need to be in prayer about this. Let God direct you to the answer. We are not all-knowing, but God is. God wants us to use the brains he gave us, but sometimes, things are beyond what we can do. The Holy Spirit will help us through this.
Don’t let others do your thinking for you. Take things seriously by looking into them seriously. The more impact a person/ministry has, the more the devil is going to scheme against them. If he can’t bring them down, then he will go after their character so that people will abandon them. Don’t believe me? He did it with Jesus. If he will do it to the Son of God, what makes you think he won’t do it to a simple human? We make such easy targets. If he can’t get to the righteous person, there are plenty of people around who love gossip and will unknowingly help bring that person down.
We are told to be better than that and to act better than that. So before you make a decision about someone or a ministry, take the time to find out if what is going on is a legitimate case or if it is just gossip meant to slander. You can make that decision through prayer, logic, and scripture. Those are the only things you need to figure it out on your own. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it can be cumbersome. Yes, it can be confusing. However, God tells us that if we seek wisdom, he will supply it. So pray for guidance, take time to investigate, and compare it to scripture.
You may not come to a full guilty or not guilty conclusion, but feel uncomfortable following that teacher. That is ok. Your decision has been made with sound logic and prayerful consideration. It is equally ok to decide that the person is or isn’t guilty and make your decision off of that too. No matter how it turns out, it is important to remember this: Unless you can show clear false teaching that goes against the Bible, and can back it up with the accused person’s words/actions as well as scripture, then you should not go around defending or accusing anyone. After all, you are not God and you do not know the accused personally. So without facts, your propagation of this is merely gossip. You may end up defending someone who ends up guilty or accusing someone who is actually innocent. So before you go around spreading your opinion, make sure you check it against the rule.
Deciphering if someone is/isn’t a false teacher is a hard thing. It is exceptionally harder if it is a mega-teacher (the teachers who are famous and we do their studies but don’t know them personally). However God has created amazing brains that can think logically. He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill in where logic fails and to remind of what God says. He has given us the Bible so that we can read God’s words ourselves and see what he says. Scripture is God’s testimony and is relevant for working through all of these issues. Rely on those things. Used properly, you can make an informed decision about who you will or won’t trust to teach you the Bible.
I am providing my credentials regarding this topic so that you can be assured that I know what I am talking about. Just like you should check out sources regarding the character of your teachers, you should also be confident in who you are getting the information in this blog from.
I have a Masters of Strategic Intelligence in Terrorism. This degree required extensive training in analysis and understanding the validity of information in various formats, to include writing.
I have training from multiple federal agencies in analysis and source validation.
I have experience supporting law enforcement agencies in their investigations. I provided analysis, information, and training.
I have worked in the federal government creating and providing resources, making sure to meet validation requirements.
I have worked in the corporate world advising on various matters requiring discernment and preparing documents for business and legal consideration.