D iscernment is a most wonderful gift which the Lord grants to His people and it is needed because - let's face it - sometimes we Christians seriously misjudge things! Let us recall what we are told in Hebrews 5:
For at the time when ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and have become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to those who are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14, 21st Century King James).
The big question is:
Do we have our senses exercised to discern both good and evil?
Frankly, I am inclined to believe that an increasing number of Christian believers don't even think that this is an important point. But this puts us at odds with the Scripture which insists that it is a most important point!
I always used to agree with leading British evangelical writer of the 1990s, canon Michael Saward (now retired). Michael used to say, "I love my fellow evangelicals but sometimes I am so disappointed by things which they do and say." I too love my fellow evangelicals but - frankly - they regularly exasperate me. We need to face the fact that sometimes we are exasperatingly naive as a group of people. A slowness to judge can be commendable but sometimes this is taken to such an extreme that plainly heretical, money-motivated preachers are not only tolerated among us, but warmly welcomed. I recently heard a typical remark from a very fine Christian gentleman. He said, "I don't completely go along with this man (a famed prosperity gospel man) and some of the things which he says, but I nevertheless embrace him as a brother in Christ!" Now that is all very well but does not the New Testament fairly beg us to condemn heretics in our midst? Can refusing to ever judge a "fellow evangelical" sometimes even amount to submitting to heresy? Where is the maturity of Christian discernment here?
Here in the West we now live in what can unquestionably be described as 'a post-Christian age.' Churches which preach the genuine, bone-fide Christian message now often struggle to get good attendance at their places of worship, yet extremist charismatic churches, frequently preaching a mixture of the Gospel plus some dreadful heresies, accompanied by a more money-motivated approach seem to get an increasing following. The lack of good Christian, seasoned discernment has not only led to such a situation but now encourages it to grow. So Christian discernment has started to take a major hit. I find that modern Christians are not quickly sensing evil, greed and spiritual posturing. It's fine to go on believing the best about people but don't we sometimes have to stand up and be counted?
We evangelicals are sometimes incredibly naive; we want to believe the best about our fellow evangelicals and that is generally a good, positive approach to adopt, but sometimes we are too naive, too gullible, to open to being 'taken for a ride.' Just recently I heard about a sincere group of people who have come under the influence of an extreme charismatic. To my amazement, quite an elderly and experienced ex-pastor (who was personally known to me a few years ago) actually encouraged these people to go in that direction. Where was his discernment? In a man of his years and experience I would have expected far better. Such things are very disappointing.
Does It Even Matter?
In case a few are now asking the above question, let us now look at a few Scriptures. Please note: the following Scriptures have not suddenly gone away! As well as delivering the great commission to His Church, our Lord - through the pages of the Bible - has delivered a stern warning to us all not to associate with those who would manipulate and distort the message of the Gospel:
These Scriptures Have Not Suddenly Gone Away, Why Do So Many No Longer Even Consider Them? ...
For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you...(1 Samuel 15:23a).
"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves....Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' "Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." (Matthew 7:15,21-27).
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. (Acts 15:24).
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (2 Cor. 2:17).
But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough (2 Cor. 11: 3-4).
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel - which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God's curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God's curse! (Galatians 1: 6-9).
Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11).
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:6-10).
But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them - bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 Peter 2:1-3).
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (1 John 4:1-6).
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 ['loves to have pre-eminence,' according to JFB, compare with the next verse], 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. (2 John 1:7-11).
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first [compare with 'runs ahead' in last quote], will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10).
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God's holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. (Jude 3-4).
A POINT TO NOTE: John tends to highlight the early heresy of gnosticism because it was one of the first to hit the church. These people taught that Christ did not really come 'in the flesh' but as a phantasm, ghost, or spirit, but all heresies which subvert the plain Gospel message were to be avoided. As we have seen, those who turn the gospel into a kind of money-based message are especially condemned. The above are not the only New Testament warnings about false teachers, just a selection of them.
May I Issue A Challenge To You, The Reader?
I know that many of you who read these pages are not only preachers but a fair number of you are also pastors and ministers. Why not make a point of preaching a sermon on wise Christian discernment within the next 3-4 weeks, including a warning that some who preach about Jesus have hearts which are not right before God and have motives of greed and self-promotion? There are certainly some Scriptures on this very page which you could use.
Robin A. Brace. May 31st, 2014.