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- Jacob Ninan
There are all kinds of preachers--those who threaten with fire and brimstone, those who soothe with "Everything's gonna be alright," those who tantalise with health and prosperity, those who teach ultra-radical discipleship, those who challenge with 'perishing millions', those who excite with end time prophecies, those who impress with Hebrew and Greek, and others who veer off from the track with special interpretations, hidden knowledge, sensational discoveries, etc. If we are not properly grounded in the Word of God, things can be quite confusing. If we aren't clear in our understanding and thinking, preachers quoting Bible verses can appear to be convincing.
Many believing Christians are not able to face this confusion because their knowledge of the Bible is limited to what they hear in their churches. In many churches, the focus of their particular ministry limits the preachers to select portions of Scripture. What the people hear are different versions of the same message, and they are really only familiar with certain verses. As a result they are not in a position to do a fair assessment of what they hear and read from others.
Any form of preaching, whether it is hard hitting or soothing, can be extreme if it addresses only that side of the big picture. We may think that preachers who speak of damnation and judgment without mentioning grace are extreme. But even those who only speak about 'grace' without mentioning God's strict hatred for sin and our need to repent are going to another extreme. Our first line of defence is from the Holy Spirit who can indicate to us that there is something that doesn't sound quite right when we come across error (1Jn.2:26,27). But then we may not feel competent to question teachers whom we respect! But it is necessary for our own safety and for ensuring our proper growth that we, like the Berean church who examined Paul's teachings (Ac.17:11), check things out before accepting them as truth.
The use of 'proof' texts is notorious, where selected verses are taken to prove one's point of view at the cost of other parts of Scripture that would provide a balance. When we listen to such an exposition it must immediately strike us in our mind that there are other verses that the preacher seems to be ignoring. At the same time we must keep in mind that it is not always possible to reach complete balance within individual sermons because they may be targeting only some particular issues. But we can assess a speaker over a period of time to see if he is presenting the full counsel of God, as Paul did (Ac.20:27).
It is true that not all are teachers and gifted to 'divide the Word accurately' (2Ti.2:15). But we can still take questionable teachings to the Lord and ask Him to reveal His ways to us. God can then bring other parts of Scripture to mind directly or use other people to bring us to a balance. What is needed on our side is a willingness to keep on learning and to change whenever we see a need for balance.