In these latter days, there is a great need for discernment in the church (and in the world) because of the rise of heretical teachings and apostasy. Pastors and teachers, left and right, are embracing what they may think are truths, but upon examination are not Biblical. This is a strong indication that our time on earth is growing short. Deception is rampant. False teachers, messiahs, and doctrines are so prevalent as to make us dizzy as we turn first one way then another to vet their Scriptural veracity.
We know the verses warning of these times:
1 Timothy 4:1-2
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
1 Timothy 6:3-5
If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
1 Timothy 4:3-4
For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
2 John 7-11
I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.
There are many other such verses.
This has led to numerous Discernment Ministries that examine potentially questionable people, both what they say and what they do, potentially being the operative word. One person’s practices might be of concern to one group, but not to another. Generally, I think these ministries can be valuable to the Body of Christ. I say generally because there are countless such ministries that do nothing but criticize in an unscriptural manner. A quick example is that many of us believe whole-heartedly in the pre-Tribulation Rapture. There are criticizers of this position who “discern” that it is errant, believing that its supporters are leading many straight into the throes of the Tribulation where those hapless followers will lose their salvation. From what I’ve seen and heard, there’s quite a rabidity to a lot of these anti-pre-Tribbers. This has led to numerous un-Christian-like verbal attacks, which leaves a lot of us scratching our heads. Maybe the discerners in this instance should look in the mirror.
There are also many good ministries bringing a discerning spirit into the marketplace of Christian ideas. Like all of us, the folks doing these ministries are fallible and subject to error. They can also jump to conclusions that may be warranted, but perhaps should have been validated more fully. In any of these circumstances, because of the public nature of the Internet where all things said never die, reputations can be tarnished on one side or the other.
Mistakes happen. Misunderstandings can abound. People and ministries get hurt. Resolving a discerned error from either side of the position can be difficult. Once the damage is done, again warranted or not, it’s hard to undo.
In a prior post I mentioned that recently I got involved at the periphery in a discernment dispute. Because I happen to have some minor connections to the people on both sides of the issue, I believe the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me just watch from the sidelines. My heart in this instance was to attempt to bring truth and resolution into the issue. Both sides had valid arguments in my estimation. It grieved me that the public nature of this situation seemed to bring a hardening from both camps.
The purpose of this particular message is ultimately one of methodology. How should a discernment ministry go about its task? I won’t dwell on these points, but try to succinctly lay them out.
- The first and most obvious is that the Word of God should be the foremost means by which anyone is judged. Does the ministry in question adhere to Scripture?
- When an issue arises and a question is asked whether someone is deviating from Scripture in their teachings, the source should always be noted.
- There should be an investigation of the one accused of heretical teaching. Is there a consistent pattern of errant doctrine? Or, are there simply things spoken that could be up for misinterpretation? I think one aspect of this should also be to validate those various sources that led to the issue at hand.
- The evidence should be accumulated and examined. Does it rise to the level of concern? If the answer is yes, then the case continues.
- If the discerning ministry believes a teacher has gone off the rails, the resolution effort MUST begin with the admonition of Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”
- Every attempt should be made to go directly to the source for a direct confrontation in love. If we can’t follow the example of Jesus here, we’ve got more issues than discernment.
- This one-on-one discussion should address all the issues of concern through a Biblical lens. From this encounter all aspects of the issue should be explored. Resolution is the most desirable outcome in which one or both of the parties repents. It’s possible the discerner was wrong; there must be admittance of error on whichever side it lies. Paul in 1 Timothy 4:6 tells us the value of a discussion that gets at the truth:
If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.
- Sometimes, for one reason or another, access to the potentially offending party is difficult. Hopefully, however, the discerner can reach out to others who might have access to the person accused of speaking falsely. If a public ministry, perhaps there’s an accountability board through which someone can go. If the ministry has a public presence on Facebook or other social media, perhaps there is a closed group that can be joined and access attempted through the administrators of the group.
- If neither of these approaches is successful and the discerner believes the public outing of the errors is necessary, that point is the one which corresponds to Jesus saying that it must be told to the church, in this case whatever forum the discernment ministry uses for its public exposure.
- Even after this public outing, there should be every attempt at resolution. Often publishing on the Internet has the effect of getting people’s attention. As Christian brothers and sisters, we MUST do everything in our power to bring the love of Christ into the situation. Repentance, apology, forgiveness, whatever is needed should happen. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 6:15:
But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are NOT optional in the Kingdom of God.