One of the most common questions I receive about simple church is, “What happens if someone teaches something incorrect?” It’s a good question with good news for an answer. Simple church can allow for one of the most full-proof methods of discernment if we choose to use it.
Often one or two people within Christian groups bear most of the responsibility to explain Scripture. Usually these teachers/leaders remind hearers to compare the message with Scripture, but follow-up opportunities for questions, clarifications, or correction are rare especially if the message is given and received within the context of a large group. In simple church, there is greater chance for everyone to share and correct. We see this in 1 Corinthians 14:
29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. 31 For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. 32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. 33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people.
Having “many counselors” is God’s system for checks and balances not only for those who lead our country (Proverbs 11:14 and 15:22), but for those of us in the body of Christ. I put it to a friend just today this way: Suppose you want to find information about Topic A. An online article on the topic may help, a friend might recommend a valuable resource, or perhaps you could ask for personal advice from a trusted counselor in your life. In doing so, whatever you learn about Topic A will undoubtedly be shaded by the source. While this is not a reason to avoid choosing these options, remembering bias is important.
Another option would be to look up Topic A on Wikipedia. Wikipedia uses checks and balances since anyone can contribute at any time. Misinformation can be corrected quickly and researchers are aware they are gathering information from other ordinary people. In much the same way, simple church can allow for the discovery of truth by providing an open forum for multiple people to teach insights gained from Scripture–even ideas that may oppose one another. Similar to Wikipedia, contributors working together zero in on Biblical truth. For the best outcome, believers trust the Holy Spirit for understanding and trust in the Father’s design for the priesthood to consist of all believers. Without this trust, we are in danger of listening to only the opinions of a select few “spiritual giants” that “tickle our ears.”
2 Timothy 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
Please hear me, gifted teachers help us understand scripture. However, we all have a great privilege and responsibility to bring our questions to God, diligently seek Truth in His Word, and listen to the Holy Spirit as He teaches us. In simple church gatherings, we can zero in on truth together as we are living this way individually. Simply being involved with simple church offers no guarantee to find and walk in the Truth. Just as in any church, false teaching can find a home in simple church. Here are some unhealthy patterns to watch out for:
* Simple churches become to homogenous only consisting of believers who all think alike.
* One person dominating discussion/teaching
* Failing to “weigh carefully” what is said.
* Failure of believers to learn to “feed themselves” on God’s word, with Holy Spirit as teacher, throughout the week. (This is why we encourage Life Transformation Groups that focus on reading lots of scripture)
* We find ourselves talking more about what a particular author or teacher has to say about God’s Word than God’s Word itself.
* An unwillingness to be challenged in our view of truth or challenge others (in love) on theirs.
* Intentionally or unintentionally avoiding others who do not think or believe like you.
* A sense of discouragement from simple church gatherings rather than peace (see verse above).
* Simple church relationships become primarily about policing behavior and theology rather than fulfilling the Great Commission.
* We have a need to be right, fail to give grace, lack of humility, and we fail to obey Romans 14.