Discernment

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.

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Are Christians Supposed to Judge Others?

Jesus says in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, that you may not be judged.” From this statement one might conclude that judging is prohibited, but in the next verse the context helps us understand that the passage is not a prohibition. Rather it is a warning: “For in the way that you measure, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2).

Luke 6:36-37 records a similar statement by Jesus: “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. And do not judge and you will not be judged, and do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Set free and you will be set free.”

The starting point here is following the Father’s example of mercy, and a sound standard of judgment. A few verses later, Jesus reminds His listeners to beware of the log that is in their own eye rather than trying to remove the speck from someone else’s eye.

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Discernment and Revelation, Part 1: Five Views

(From Think on These Things. Used by permission.)

Discernment, one would think, is an extremely positive quality. In a world with incalculable numbers of voices calling us to travel many different directions, discernment is invaluable. However, when used by those involved in spiritual formation, discernment is defined as the discipline that enables one to know when a person has supposedly heard the voice of God.

Spiritual formation leaders do not question that God speaks to us today apart from Scripture, but they do believe that since God is speaking there has to be a means whereby we can discern the voice of God from our own thoughts.

Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes in her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, “Discernment opens us up to listen to and recognize the voice and patterns of God’s direction in our lives.”1 Ruth Barton further explains,

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Discernment Ministry - A Biblical Defense, Part 3

(Read the series.)

Objections to Discernment

Despite the clear mandate given throughout the Scriptures concerning the necessity for biblical discernment and critique, most continue to be critical of the whole concept. Ironically, those who preach most tenaciously the need for tolerance are themselves intolerant of those who seek to faithfully follow God’s directives in this matter. Let’s briefly identify and analyze some of the most common objections often heard protesting the need for discernment.

1. What right do we have to judge others?

Some claim that the best known verse of Scripture in America is Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Most who recite this command do so without the advantage of having ever read it in context. If they were to do so they would see that the Lord is not calling a moratorium on examining the lives and teachings of others; He simply wants us to do it in the correct way. The Lord tells us to first judge ourselves. When that has been done properly we are in a position to help others with their sins and false beliefs (Matt 7:1-5).

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Discernment Ministry - A Biblical Defense, Part 2

(Read the series so far.)

The Necessity

As we survey the Word of God it is impossible to miss the prominent place that God places on truth and the deep concern that our Lord has when His people err in doctrine or in living. The Old Testament is permeated with calls to live on the basis of God’s truth and warnings about those who stray and teach anything else. For example the heartbeat of God is evident in Jeremiah 23,

“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord… “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord… The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth… Behold I am against those who have prophesied false dreams… I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit…” (Jer 23:1,16, 28, 32).

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Discernment Ministry - A Biblical Defense, Part 1

Discernment in our times

We live in an environment in which it is most difficult to stand for the faith. Not only will those who attempt to be on the front lines of discernment face the guns of those in opposition, but they may be hit by “friendly fire” as well.

For example: I recently wrote what I thought was a rather innocuous article expressing a high view of Scripture including a belief in its sufficiency. I was nevertheless surprised to receive a quick email rebuke by a pastor who also claimed to believe in the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of the Bible and who ultimately accused me of taking what he called a “biblical charismatic” view. When I inquired as to how that could be, since I believe God speaks to us today only through Scripture and charismatics believe God speaks through means beyond the written Word, he did not reply.

I did not mean to imply to this pastor that I reject general revelation in which “the heavens are telling of the glory of God” (Ps 19:1-6), but that specific, authoritative revelation for this church age is confined to the Old and New Testaments. God is not adding new revelation or inspired texts to supplement the canon of Scripture. I believe that such revelations are unnecessary today because God has promised that the Scriptures are “adequate [to] equip [us] for every good work” (2 Tim 3:17).

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Fooling Yourself, Part 2

Read Part 1.

Groupthink and Collective Self-Deception

In George Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, Winston Smith lives in a world completely controlled by the government, personified by the moniker, “Big Brother.” Everyone is conditioned to believe exactly what Big Brother says is true. Winston, along with many others, spends his life manipulating history and documents so that Big Brother is always right, and has always been right, even when Big Brother changes his mind. Big Brother controls public thought through the promotion of “doublethink” and “newspeak.” In this way “thought crime” (disagreement) is prevented, and Big Brother retains absolute control, keeping people in constant ignorance and denial of the truth. By the practice of “groupthink” everyone is pressured into agreeing with whatever Big Brother proclaims.

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