The Sickness in Discernment Ministries

Reposted with permission from Randy White Ministries.

In the past few years, a new form of ministry has emerged called discernment ministry. Make no mistake, it has become a big business, providing the livelihood for many men and women who are making their living as the world’s theological police.

Discernment is sorely needed.

We are in an era in the church in which discernment is utterly lacking. The church has a generation or two of Christians who have had a steady diet of felt need sermons filled with life-application. These Christians have little to no understanding of the content of Scripture itself. Their “Bible studies” are really book studies, and their sermons are self-help pop-psychology that is not fundamentally different from what you find in the self-help section of any secular bookstore.

I can only think of a few things that the church needs more today than discernment. But I am completely convinced that discernment ministry is not the way the church is going to gain this discernment.

Discernment ministry had a good beginning.

As the lack of discernment became more and more of a problem in the broader church culture and this lack of discernment began to be front-and-center in the pulpits across America, a few lonely voices began to speak up. When they did, others began to say, “You know, that’s right!” The discerning voice, for the most part, did not intend to create a national ministry of discernment. Rather, the lack of a sane voice brought prominence among the faithful to those who had the ability to articulate the problem.

While this article is about the sickness in discernment ministry, I don’t know of any of these ministries that started out sick. They started almost accidently, filled a need, and voiced a concern. Along the way, however, this new industry has become as much a part of the problem as they have been of the solution.

Discernment ministry has become like 24/7 news — a feeding frenzy.

As a former news-junkie, I’ve often lamented the advent of 24/7 news. It has done more harm to journalism than any school of journalism (with all of their agendas) could have ever accomplished. Today, 24/7 news has created a feeding frenzy around every speculation, hearsay, possible motive, or misspoken word. The men and women formerly called journalists have an audience waiting to hear something new, and the industry demands that our network get it out before your network. So, rather than well-researched facts, so-called journalists are spitting out every kind of agenda-based opinion, to the point that fake news has become “a thing.” Have you notice how many “breaking news alerts” you hear on the 24/7 news channels? Events that have been scheduled for weeks are “breaking news.” Why the hyperbole? It is because of the feeding frenzy.

Discernment ministry has grown to this level as well. Those who have built their ministry around this work now have a constituency that they must feed. There is an expectation that the so-called discerners bring forth a new heretic of the week. After all, we already know about the other heretics, we’ve left their teaching, we are bored with them, and we’ve already posted the warnings on social media. But this is a new day, and discernment ministries have an empty blog and a silent podcast to fill.

Listen carefully to this: anytime a ministry is built on pointing out everything bad in the world, it will spend its time searching for all things bad. This becomes a sickness in itself.

Discernment ministries have ignored the real heretics.

There are heretics in the world. A heretic denies the essential identity of Jesus Christ, rejects the inerrant nature of the Scriptures, or perverts the message of the saving Gospel. Catholicism (and other non-reformation churches) is filled with heresy. Mormonism and other cults are also heretical. The liberalism of much of the protestant world is heretical in its view of the person of Jesus Christ and the nature of Scripture.

But these real heretics are largely ignored by discernment ministries. Rather, the focus is on Bible teachers who may have a different view than the norm on matters that make no real difference for the essentials. I’ve been called a heretic because I teach that the church is not under the New Covenant (which is clearly stated in Scripture as a promise for Israel). This is not a “normative” teaching in evangelicalism; therefore, I am a “heretic.” On issues like this, one must ask what difference does it make in terms of Christian living or the Gospel message? Can a person be a faithful Christian, loving and serving the Lord, yet hold to a future view of the New Covenant?

All in all, the feeding frenzy has brought us into a world in which the word heresy is losing its meaning. This, in the end, is more dangerous than the differences of interpretation which some of these heresy hunters (as some have called them) are slobbering and shouting over. Far better that we point out differences of interpretation for exactly what they are. I’m not a charismatic, but some good believers have incorrectly interpreted Scripture to build a charismatic doctrine. They are not heretics, they are simply wrong. I’m not a Calvinist, but some good believers (even friends of mine) have built a doctrine (based on a false assumption) that requires a Calvinistic theology. They are not heretics, they are just wrong (and some of them are annoying…ha ha).

Discernment ministries are internally sick.

Anyone who has spent much time within the confines of these ministries has come to realize that there is an internal sickness which is shocking. There is so much jealousy and backbiting within these ministries that anyone who has been too close has been bitten or vomited upon. One ministry hates the other ministry. If you are caught having a conversation with the other ministry, you’ll receive a gossip-filled email rebuke. I’ve received these emails and phone calls repeatedly. “Don’t you know that so-and-so is …” One even just said I should not associate with a man because he is an “awful fellow” and is “mean-spirited.”

Just know that the making of discernment sausage is a very ugly experience. I hope these ministries will work on their own jealousies and anger issues and learn the grace and kindness of the gospel. I fear for many of these so-called discerners because they are at such a high stress level from being continually on a crusade and from tying themselves into unbelievable internal tension (and doing the same to their listeners) that they will die an early death from stress-related ailments.

Discernment Ministries Are Not What is Needed.

Remember when they used to teach that the best way to know a counterfeit bill was to study the real thing? Discernment ministries are pointing out counterfeits, but they are not giving the real thing that is needed to stem the tide.

Bible study is the way to know the real thing. Individual, verse-by-verse, word-by-word study will highlight errors of theology and teaching better than any discernment ministry ever will.

If you are in discernment ministry, try morphing your ministry into a Bible study ministry. Teach the Word. Help your followers know the content of Scripture and allow the Spirit to work on a daily and individual basis. Sadly, many in the discernment ministry cannot or have not led a Bible study, taught a passage, dealt with the struggles of interpretation, or studied the issues of a doctrine from the pages of Scripture. This must change or the entire discernment industry will move from internal sickness to being the source of further sickness within the church.

If you regularly spend time listening to, reading, or watching a discernment blog or podcast, let me encourage you to move on. Spend that time in study of the Word. Your own ability to discern will soon skyrocket. You’ll be able to smell a skunk when it is near and will not be dependent upon someone else to explain it to you.

Bible study ministries will point out issues of discernment and false teaching, but they will do so in the course of teaching the Word. The Bible teacher will often say, “This passage is teaching that ____, but Dr. Wigglejaw teaches that ______.” But these will be passing comments, not the main entrée.

Be quick to say, “I was wrong.”

I think one hallmark of a good Bible teacher is the willingness to say, “I was wrong.” As we study the Word, it cuts away the error from our thinking. Bible teachers should be the first to admit when they’ve had some of this error cut away. This is why I so often close my studies with a prayer that says, “Father, if I’ve taught this wrong, please use Your Word or one of these fellow students to point it out to me, and may I be quick to make it right.”

After all, my friend, it is the Word that matters, not my word on the Word.

Randy White bio

Randy White Ministries began in 2011 as an online and radio Bible teaching ministry. Today, the ministry is focused on producing verse-by-verse Bible teaching resources for individuals. White has 25 years of pastoral experience—including 12 years at First Baptist Church of Katy, Texas, where he ministered to a large congregation and preached numerous times each week.

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There are 9 Comments

Bert Perry's picture

OK, now I concede that Randy would be falling into some of the same patterns he criticizes if he gave examples, but nonetheless, I think it ought to be done.

I find myself agreeing with him for slightly different reasons.  I don't mind that many "discernment ministries" aren't going after the real heretics, like the Mormons; their goal is, after all, to purify the believing church.  Their goal is different than Walter Martin's, to put it mildly.

What I can say, though, is that we ought to have such things in the church.  We have some promises--some inheritances--in fundamental, Protestant, Baptistic faith like the Solas, the Fundamentals, the Trinity, Baptist distinctives.  Why is it that we so often fail to realize the implications of these?   Why can't we emphasize these in our churches?

 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm tempted to name examples, myself, but it probably isn't necessary... and might just be distracting. For sure, I've seen the type, not just in "ministries," but individual believers in local church settings. There is truly something sick that happens when we put most of our critical energy into finding fault with others and almost none into what needs to change in ourselves (or our "movement" etc.).

Also, there's the whole conspiracy-minded sickness... Some of these leaders/their ministries (and followers) have an eagerness to see secret agendas, secret connections, secret strategies in everything the alleged bad guys do. I really don't understand it. There is way more stupidity in the world than brilliantly evil strategizing!

Darrell Post's picture

This particular genre of ministry isn't the problem. Like any given role, this can be done well or done poorly. There have been good and poor Christian college educators. There have been good and poor Christian camp directors. There are no doubt good and poor attempts to expose error and call believers to discernment. A good-sized chunk of the New Testament could be said to be a ministry of calling Saints to be discerning against error.

 

Ron Bean's picture

I was involved in one of these discernment (?) ministries for over 10 years. I even wrote articles for their still published quarterly newsletter. When they began in the mid 70's they were proud to "name names" (remember the Mark and Avoid mantra from Romans 16:17?) They went after Billy Graham, Bill Gaither, and Bill Gothard (the Bee Gees). Then they turned their ink pen guns on John MacArthur. They started to change a few years ago after taking some tepid shots at Matt Olsen and Northland and recently ceased naming names, defending their new stance by saying that Paul didn't always name names. Now their warnings are generic and their followers are suspicious of anything that doesn't have the imprimatur of their leader. 

BTW, I still get 2 of these periodicals in the mail for entertainment purposes and like to see how many pages it will take before they mention CCM.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

JD Miller's picture

Aaron Wrote:

I'm tempted to name examples, myself, but it probably isn't necessary... and might just be distracting. For sure, I've seen the type, not just in "ministries," but individual believers in local church settings. There is truly something sick that happens when we put most of our critical energy into finding fault with others and almost none into what needs to change in ourselves (or our "movement" etc.).

This reminds me of a pastor I am aware of.  It seemed like every time that he got together for pastor's fellowships he was being critical of some other area pastor.  Some of his criticisms may have been valid, but it was so regular that it became hard to take what he was saying seriously (for example he was complaining about a pastor who preached with his notes on his cell phone). 

I kept thinking, "if he is that critical of others he must really be critical of me too."

We were at another pastor's fellowship when we were discussing a minor point of theology and I was asked about my position (I do not even remember what the issue was).  After sharing where I stood he went on to say that I was essentially a (I do not remember the group he listed, but he said that is who I was based on that position).  I responded that I was not familiar with them but that if that is what they believed then I guess that is what I was (even though he had said it in a way that made them sound really bad).  He then went on to list all the bad theology that they held.  I responded that I did not believe any of those other things and that it was ridiculous for him to call me one of them based on a minor point of theology- especially when neither side of the issue would be outside the realm of orthodox evangelical Christianity.

I must admit I did not act in a Galatians 6:1 manner, and I quickly apologized for the tone of my response.  At the same time, my concerns stood.

I am finding out that the sort of experience I have had is not as isolated as it should be, and I have began to wonder how much of it can be traced to some of the Reformed blogs and their approach to the discernment issue.  I appreciate much of what is coming from many Reformed blogs, but I personally know of pastor's who have been quite focused on them and have ended up in conflict with others as well and I have wondered if there may be a connection. For some it is almost as if every last detail of Reformed theology has become a new fundamental to separate over.

Ron Bean's picture

These people remind of something my father told me. He said there are some short people who seek to make themselves taller by continually trying to chop off other people's legs.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

JD Miller wrote:
We were at another pastor's fellowship when we were discussing a minor point of theology and I was asked about my position (I do not even remember what the issue was).  After sharing where I stood he went on to say that I was essentially a (I do not remember the group he listed, but he said that is who I was based on that position).  I responded that I was not familiar with them but that if that is what they believed then I guess that is what I was (even though he had said it in a way that made them sound really bad).  He then went on to list all the bad theology that they held.  I responded that I did not believe any of those other things and that it was ridiculous for him to call me one of them based on a minor point of theology- especially when neither side of the issue would be outside the realm of orthodox evangelical Christianity.

I don't want to be harsh, but what you've described here is just old fashioned stupid. Here's the reasoning:

A. Some left handed people are bowlers

B. You are left handed

C. Therefore, you are a bowler (and in a league, and have special shoes, and carry a bag with a heavy colorful object in it, and hang out at Bob's Lanes on Monday nights)

It doesn't matter what you replace "left handed" and "bowlers" with; it's still just as stupid.
Fortunately, in this case, we're all a bit "selectively stupid," so that sort of "thinking" tends not to be consistent! (Good thing, since just about all axe murderers are right handed... and most of us are right handed!)

JD Miller's picture

Aaron, thank you for understanding my frustration.  This pastor is not stupid.  In fact, in many respects, he is quite intelligent and I am thankful for his ministry.  I have appreciated much of his teaching and I still value him as a friend.  I think that when he does things like this, it is just a symptom of Proverbs 16:18.  I know I have erred myself because of that same Proverbs 16:18 issue.  I hope this discussion is simply an opportunity for all of us to examine ourselves and realize that there are influences (like some of the discernment blogs) that could push any of us toward doing similar things.  At the same time, we must call out such error when we see it.

Pr 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
 

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'm sure he's not stupid in general. That's what I was trying to convey with the "selectively stupid" description. I've been doing some work toward a post on "how stupid happens," inspired partly by some criminal psychology I was reading at work a while back. (There are researchers getting paid to try to figure out why normally smart people do incredibly stupid things that land them in jail).

What I've observed in myself and others is that minds that normally work just fine run into barriers under the right conditions and we get really stupid. So... no, not a stupid guy, but he was having a very stupid moment. We all do, for sure. 

Proverbs has a special category for those who do it as their "norm" rather their exception!

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