Guys, I figured I’d share some of my thoughts and experience with discernment in the next three posts. I’ve noticed two unhealthy trends related to discernment. We’ll look at them this week. Next week we’ll talk about how to discern your own discernment—how to tell if what you’re feeling is really God showing you something, or if you have that “feeling” for some other reasons. Then in the third week, we’ll talk about what to do with it if you feel like something is wrong.
The gift of the “discernment of spirits” includes seeing or sensing angels or demons, as well as getting a feel for people. It’s not only about discerning what is wrong, but also about discerning what is good. However, in these three posts we’ll focus on discernment dealing with problems in the church.
The first of these unhealthy trends comes out of a mindset that assumes these are the “last days” so most teachers are probably wolves in sheep’s clothing. This twisted mindset delights in evil, and those who have been deceived by it feel more spiritual when they denounce somebody. It’s what many of us call “heresy hunting.” It starts with an assumption of the worst, and it’s all too quick to assume the worst.
I’ve heard a lot of these “warnings” going around. One of them was a few weeks ago. Somebody wrote an article calling a teacher I’m familiar with (and appreciate) a “heretic” and a false teacher. OK, everyone has a right to disagree and to share their own views. The thing was, this article grossly misrepresented that teacher on a major doctrinal point. It accused him of “mocking Christ’s return.” Being familiar with the teaching of the one being accused, I knew this was false. I quoted the teacher in question, showing where he teaches Christ’s future return. Then I challenged the author of the “heretic hunter” article to give a quote citing where this person has ever mocked Christ’s return. He was unable to. I also challenged a few other false accusations with citations from the teacher in question and found out that the guy who wrote the article hadn’t read the book of the guy he was attacking. It was no wonder he didn’t know precisely what this leader taught!
We later found that the author of the inflammatory article was a notorious troublemaker who is well known for stirring up trouble–including writing articles and making Youtube videos to bash what he considers “inferior cultures.” The sad thing was that so many Christians latched on to his article and ran with it. It was all over Facebook. A lot of people were saying “I knew I had a bad feeling about that person…” Yet the main point in the article they were latching on to in order to confirm that “bad feeling” proved to be a downright lie!
Scripture says that love doesn’t delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Love looks for the best and wants to believe the best. It’s not hasty to embrace rumors of evil. When love hears a sad report it hopes it isn’t true, and love grieves if it learns that it really is true. It gives a person the chance to explain what they believe, hearing both sides of the story, instead of just taking someone else’s word for it.
These evil reports are a problem in the body of Christ. Many of them grossly misrepresent (and even lie about) the beliefs of the people they attack. Many of them are based on fallacious logic and are more about “having a bad feeling” than having a solid scriptural objection to something. They also tend to take a term like “NAR” (New Apostolic Revolution) and lump together a bunch of teachers who don’t even associate themselves with that movement and have a vast range of beliefs. These accusations are often nothing less than slander. Some are preposterous. I read one article opposing Dan Mohler. The only thing they could come up with against him was that he talks about God’s love too much! Like Daniel, the only fault they could find had to do with his devotion to God!
It’s a wonder that these people forget that the Pharisees were some of the most deceived people in history, and their deception was rejecting the Son of God and accusing him of doing his works by Satan’s power. Saul was so deceived that he thought he was doing God’s will by persecuting the church. If you are quick to embrace slander instead of delighting in the truth, you are the one who’s deceived. There’s been at least one time when I heard a bad report about a leader I knew and I found out it was a lie. I was saddened by the report yet I wasn’t going to deny it if it proved to be true. I was glad to find it wasn’t!
“Don’t Be Divisive!”
The second unhealthy trend is the tendency to get angry when anybody questions a teaching or practice that’s becoming popular. Charismatics sometimes get so used to false accusation and petty slander against them that they are too quick to dismiss valid concerns in the body of Christ.
There’s such a thing as teaching that’s destructive. And it needs to be confronted in order to protect people. At times I’ve heard Charismatic Christians protest “You can’t question that person’s teaching if you haven’t gone to them personally first.” Yet scripture teaches to go to a person first in relation to resolving personal offense. Expressing disagreement with public teaching that anybody can find is a different matter. Just make sure you actually know what the person is teaching or doing.
I’m not talking about slapping “heretic” labels on people over petty doctrinal disagreements. I’m talking about the freedom to disagree honorably with another person, as well as confronting teaching which proposes that people can get to God by any means other than through Christ.
A few years ago Bill Johnson publicly warned about a guy who was making a mess, including denying Christ’s deity. Some people got upset that Bill would “attack” another Christian. I’ve heard more recent warnings from Charismatic leaders who love the body of Christ. Some have gotten upset, feeling these leaders are being “divisive.” Yet scripture teaches leaders to oppose doctrines that work against faith in Christ. Some doctrines have the potential to destroy people’s faith, and leaders have a responsibility to make a stand against them.
1 Timothy 1:3-7 (NIV) As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.
1 Timothy 4:2 (NIV) Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.
Much harm has been done when people in the church have been too quick to dismiss valid concerns or warnings. I’ll share a story about this in the third week. Let’s not fall into the trap of foolishly ignoring a much-needed warning.
How Can We Proceed With Wisdom?
True discernment comes from knowing God. It’s rooted in worship, or “worth-ship.” As I shared in the article Faith And Focus, that means having your attention captured by what God is doing, and not by evil. To walk in wisdom, be slow to speak and quick to listen. That means being willing to wait until you hear both sides of a matter before you speak. Don’t delight in evil, but rejoice with the truth. Expect the best of people instead of rushing to assume the worst.
1 Thessalonians 5:21 (NRSV) … test everything; hold fast to what is good
Discernment is more about holding fast to what is good than it’s about trying to find what’s wrong. That’s where we need to start. But we should never ignore genuine concerns. Our discernment about what isn’t right will only be sharp if we are holding fast to what is good.
If you or your friends been disturbed and confused by some of the accusations going around that target the “NAR” or so-called “Kundalini in the church” check out my 99 cent e-book book Refuting Fallacious Criticisms Of Signs And Wonders. (You can also get it free for subscribing.) Consider Randy Clark’s response to Andrew Strom. Or check out Jon Welton’s response to “7 Major Concern About Bethel Church.”
Have you ever felt your stomach turn in a church service, as if something was terribly wrong? I have. How do you deal with this? How do you discern if your own discernment is from God? And what do you do with it if it is? We’ll talk about these questions in the next two weeks. Hopefully, my thoughts may help some friends who are “feelers,” as I am.