The Importance of Discernment - 3 Examples

Monday, November 14, 2011

Spiritual discernment. Do you have it? You say, "I'm not exactly sure what it is, so how do I know if I have it?" Fair enough. A quick google search reveals a plethora of definitions of the word discernment, but I'm especially interested in "spiritual discernment." Tim Challies offers two definitions. "Spiritual discernment is the ability to think Biblically about all areas of life," writes Challies. He expands on this thought with a more thorough definition, noting that spiritual discernment is the "God-given,Spirit-empowered ability to understand and interpret truth, so that we can apply truth to our lives, thus bringing glory to God and furthering our enjoyment of Him." To understand and interpret truth, it is also necessary to understand and interpret error. In other words, you must be able to distinguish truth from error. Are you able to recognize truth from error?

Paul told the Ephesian believers that pastors and teachers were given to the church "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ," (Ephesians 4:14-15). In the first epistle to the Thessalonians Paul admonished, "Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil" (1 Thessalonians 5:22-23). Clearly then, if you and I are to avoid being "tossed to and fro by the waves of human cunning," and we are to "abstain from every form of evil," then we must ask God to give us spiritual discernment.

Let me give you just a few examples of why discernment is so important for followers of Jesus Christ.

Exhibit A:
If we aren't careful, error can actually creep into the church through the songs we sing as the people of God. One author suggests that a way to get heresy into the church is to put heresy into a song with a good beat or a song with a lot of sentimentality, and it will be sung in churches all over the world. I think there is a lot of truth in this, but I don't think heresy is found only in upbeat songs. The other day I came across this beautiful rendition of an old hymn that I just love: "Come Thou Fount." Give it a listen...

Sounds good, right? However, as I was listening to the beautiful harmonies of these four men who call themselves "Jericho Road" I was stopped dead in my tracks at the 1:18 mark in the video! In fact, I said to myself, "Did I just hear that right? Did they REALLY just sing 'and I hope by some good measure safely to arrive at home?'" Just so you know, the CORRECT wording of that hymn is "and I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home." Now, why would they change the wording of the song like that? Well, it turns out these four men are Mormons. Yep, that's right folks.They changed the lyrics of the song to reflect their works-based, anti-gospel theology. Mormons may be nice people, and apparently they can even sing four-part harmony really well. But they don't believe we "arrive home" by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, which is indicated in the song’s original lyrics "by Thy good pleasure." The original version emphasizes God's grace and God's sovereignty in salvation, while Jericho Road's version emphasizes good works and man's (futile) attempt to merit God's grace, forgiveness, and ultimately a place in heaven. Do you see how subtle that is? They sound so good and they seem so....well....nice, don't they?

Exhibit B:
If we aren’t careful, error can creep into the church through large, ostensibly spiritual events. Last weekend, Christians in Metro Detroit were invited to “The Call” at Ford Field (home of the Detroit Lions). The Call is a prayer vigil patterned after the solemn assemblies of the Old Testament. Movement leader Lou Engle explained:
“We will gather to this city that has become a microcosm of our national crisis—economic collapse, racial tension, and the shedding of innocent blood of our children in the streets and of our unborn. But the place where they say there is no hope, God has chosen as His staging ground for a great communal healing and His house of prayer for all nations. Therefore, we are calling the nation to a 24-hour solemn assembly, daring to believe that Detroit’s desperation can produce a prayer that can change a nation. Come and take your place on the wall in Detroit, where we will ask God to send fire on our hearts, to forgive our national guilt and establish justice in our land.”

Sounds good, right? I mean, who doesn’t want a revival in America, starting in Detroit? However, if you dig beneath the surface you will find some disturbing presuppositions and omissions underlying this event. Reagan Rose helpfully explains some of these concerns: (1) the false assumption that OT Israel = America, (2) the emphasis on moralistic themes far more than themes of grace, (3) “Lou Engle and his ilk blaspheme the Holy Spirit of God by repeatedly giving false and self-fulfilling prophecies, claiming the Spirit is doing things which He is not, and performing blatantly false signs and wonders supposedly by the Spirit’s power.”

Exhibit C:
If we aren’t careful, error can creep into the church through dialogue with “Christian” leaders who deny essential doctrines of God’s Word. Much controversy has surrounded James MacDonald’s upcoming Elephant Room Conference #2, to which he has invited popular pastor T. D. Jakes. Bishop Jakes’ health and wealth teachings are troubling, but even more disturbing is his teaching on the Trinity. Jakes aligns himself with Oneness Pentecostalism, a modern-day form of the ancient heresy modalism. This view denies that Christ is a distinct personin the Trinity, reducing him to a “manifestation” of God. James MacDonald repeatedly refers to Jakes as a Christian brother, believing that Jakes will confess an orthodox understanding of the Trinity at ER2. MacDonald argues that his motive is love, explaining: “we are attempting to model an ethic of behavior and expression of love that adorns the gospel…. Before you lower your gun at a ‘wolf,’ don’t you want to get close enough to make sure you’re not shooting a brother?"

Sounds good, right? However, through the years T. D. Jakes has made it clear what he believes about the Trinity. If his views have changed, he is perfectly capable of making that clear on his own, without being given a microphone in the Elephant Room. If Jakes has recently adopted an orthodox view of the Trinity, why would he and MacDonald wait until January 25 to make this plainly known? Certainly the body of Christ deserves to be blessed with this knowledge sooner rather than later! Because for now, Jakes remains in the category of false teacher - one who denies the Biblical doctrine of Christ. And John, the Apostle of Love, told the church years ago how to respond to someone like this. "Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works" (2 John 9-11). “Loving dialogue” is not to be sought with teachers who persist in error. Burk Parsons writes: “Jesus said ‘the world knows you're my disciples by your love for one another’ AFTER he dismissed the heretic from the room.”

Sadly, MacDonald has rejected the rebukes of several conservative evangelical leaders. He stereotypes them as “afraid…hiding…crouching behind walls of disagreement.” Yet these men are doing nothing but following the Holy Spirit’s instruction to us through the apostle John. It is not our job to model loving confrontation. The apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ have sufficiently modeled for us when and how to unite, when and how to confront, and when and how to separate.

Yes, my friends. Discernment is still very much needed today. But be warned: if you discern, prepare to be called a "hater."

- Dan McGhee


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