Saturday, October 5, 2013

Is “Discernment Ministry” a valid practice?


   At the basic sense of the word, “discernment” is simply the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth.
   Unfortunately, discernment is an area where most Christians stumble. They show little ability to measure the things they are taught against word of God, hence they are not able to take a decidedly stand against the onslaught of faulty thinking and attitudes that face them throughout everyday life. Or, as this article will seek to point out, the process of discernment as both a personal discipline and a ministry to the body of Christ is viewed as being an unnecessary liability.

How does the Bible define discernment?

It is considered a virtue to have and uphold:

The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying, “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations— 10 and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.”
Leviticus 10:8-11

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; Whoever is discerning, let him know them. For the ways of the LORD are right, And the righteous will walk in them, But transgressors will stumble in them
Hosea 14:9

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ
Philippians 1:9-10

God’s word nurtures it:

The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
Psalm 19:7

Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments.
Psalms 119:66

Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies, For they are ever mine. I have more insight than all my teachers, For Your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, Because I have observed Your precepts.
Psalm 119:98-100

He who keeps the law is a discerning son, But he who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father.
Proverbs 28:7

It is in God’s character to offer it graciously:

Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in [a]truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have [b]reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant [c]an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this [d]great people of Yours?”
10 [e]It was pleasing in the sight of the Lord that Solomon had asked this thing. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this thing and have not asked for yourself [f]long life, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have you asked for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself [g]discernment to understand justice, 12 behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. 13 I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days. 14 If you walk in My ways, keeping My statutes and commandments, as your father David walked, then I will prolong your days.”
1 Kings 3:6-14

Daniel answered before the king and said, "As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king. "However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed.
Daniel 2:27-28

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
1 Corinthians 2:12-15

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and [a]without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a [b]double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8

It is essential for knowing God, and worshipping Him alone:

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, `Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you to find out if you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Deuteronomy 13:1-3

"Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things; they have made no distinction between the holy and the profane, and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned among them.
Ezekiel 22:26

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:2

But aexamine everything carefully;
bhold fast to that which is good;
22 abstain from every 1form of evil.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22

Much of the proverbs are repeated instructions encouraging the cultivation of discernment:

A wise man will hear and increase in learning, And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel
Proverbs 1:5

Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning.
Proverbs 9:9

Wise men store up knowledge, But with the mouth of the foolish, ruin is at hand.
Proverbs 10:14

The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, But the mouth of fools feeds on folly.
Proverbs 15:14

The mind of the prudent acquires knowledge, And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge
Proverbs 18:15

Strike a scoffer and the naive may become shrewd, But reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge.
Proverbs 19:25

How was it that the Psalmist (David) was able to exceed the combined knowledge and insight of his enemies, teachers and elders? By making the Law the subject of his daily meditation, he was forced to bring God's word to bear upon all that he did in life - He had to Think (Psalm 119:97-104)!

By the same token, when the Word is removed from God's people, they lose their wisdom, they lose their discernment. They lose the training that God's word brings upon the human mind. They cannot bring godly reason and analysis into a given situation, hence they are led astray.

"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children."
Hosea 4:6

Ergo, reading, studying and thinking through the Bible won't just let you bear the fruits of godliness, it will make you smarter!

Discernment and the maturing Christian

The bible clearly attributes discernment as a characteristic of the healthy, growing and mature Christian:

14 1As a result, we are ano longer to be children, btossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by ccraftiness 2in ddeceitful scheming;  15 but 1speaking the truth ain love, 2we are to bgrow up in all aspects into Him who is the chead, Christ Jesus
Ephesians 4:14-15

Anyone who is a parent will tell that if there’s one key characteristic of children that develops with age, it is knowing right from wrong. For an infant in particular, the parent has to do the decision-making otherwise they be drawn to try anything with little to know regard for whether it is benign or not.
   So to, without proper teaching and growth, the new believer in Christ is at risk of being open to receive any given teaching with little insight or skill as to how to properly process it.
   This sentiment is echoed in Hebrews 5:12-14

12 For though [a]by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the [b]elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.
   The author of Hebrews similarly uses as the yardstick for spiritual maturity the ability to “discern good and evil”. True growth in Christ is marked not by how aloof one is in their thinking - shifting from one idea to the next with little to no thought about the particulars – but rather how grounded they are in their convictions.
   In the case of the Hebrews, there were evidently recipients of the letter who had been believers for a sufficient period of time to have had adequate discipleship to the point that they should not only have competent discernment, but to start passing their knowledge onto others. Unfortunately, this was not so.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,
    2   of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.
    3   And this we will do, if God permits.
    4   For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
    5   and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
    6   and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.
    7   For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God;
    8   but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned.
9 But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way.
Hebrews 6:1-10

At best, the faith of these immature believers had stalled. At worse, their profession of a new life in Christ was questionable altogether.

 Discernment as a Spiritual Gift

In addition to discernment being a virtue to be cultivated as well as a trait among mature Christians, the Bible also describes the “discerning of spirits” as a legitimate spiritual gift:

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith [a]by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of [b]healing [c]by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the [d]effecting of [e]miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the [f]distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
1 Corinthians 12:7-11

Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology defines the “Discerning of Spirits” as “the special ability to recognize the influence the influence of the Holy Spirit or of demonic spirits in a person”. This is distinct from mere observational deduction; it is a specific insight where the Spirit of God reveals whether something is of God, or may be demonic, or of even natural origin.
   We see this demonstrated in Acts 16:16-18 where Paul and Silas are ministering in Phillipi:

16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you [g]the way of salvation.” 18 She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out at that very [h]moment.
Acts 16:16-18

While such a gift obviously edifies the church and protects it from danger, the gift also serves as a blessing to believers in that it gives us a foretaste of the coming Kingdom of Heaven wherein the works of Satan will be revealed and judged:

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose [a]presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and [b]books were opened; and another [c]book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the [d]books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if [e]anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:11-15

Discernment and the Elder/Pastor

The ability to discern truth from error is also a compulsory necessity for those who are to be appointed to the pastoral ministry:

We’re told that:

If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
1 Timothy 3:1-13

8 Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. 11 The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
2 Timothy 2:8-15

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.
1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
2 Timothy 3:16-4:5

5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Titus 1:5-9
1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:1-5

Pastor/Teachers are called to:
- Set a moral example to the church
- Demonstrate humility and servitude
- Lead people in gospel-centredness
- Teach from God’s word
- Uphold and instruct sound doctrine
- Refute and correct those whose teaching contradict inspired scripture.

In addition to the moral and lifestyle qualifications, how much knowledge did a person need to have in order to fulfill the pastoral office? Enough to sufficiently engage and refute those those have fallen into error. In Romans 16:17, Pastor/Teachers are instructed to

“watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.”

The word for “watch”, skopeō σκοπέω means to oberve, to mark, to fix attention upon i.e., like a spotter working in partnership with a sniper we are to target – from afar if need be - our focus upon those whose teaching and doctrine doesn’t line up.
   So yes, pointing out the errors of those that have gone astray and are leading the flock in like manner is a valid aspect of the teaching ministry. How are we to protect the sheep from wolves if we do not do so?

ot only is the delivery of sound teaching an essential aspect of the Pastor/Teachers’ ministry, but also screening that which the sheep will likely be exposed to in their personal growth as a Christian.
   One only has to set foot into the local Christian bookstore and you will immediately be immersed into a theological smorgasbord of various books, videos, CDs from differing ministries that seek to impart their respective views. The question I’d like to ask any church elder is: if you were to take a random survey of those under your care and examine the receipts collected from their trips to the local Christian bookstore over a period of one year, would their spending habits point to a “balanced diet”, or have they been feeding on content that you know is of a highly questionable nature?
   If it were indeed the case that a believer has bought into aberrant doctrine, then the obvious response would be to meet with that person, go through the scriptures, and point to the right direction where necessary. This may seem common when it comes to discipling a young believer, but if you have someone who has reached a sufficient degree of knowledge to the point that they can interpret scripture themselves, they can defend and explain doctrines consistently and can engage in debate when confronted, then there is greater need for accountability and honesty lest any misunderstandings cause others to stumble.

   This raises the question: what if someone is already in a position of spiritual authority but either lacks discernment, or refuses to apply it altogether? Jesus himself used the comparison of a true shepherd vs a “hireling” to describe his own love for his disciples:

11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep.
John 10:11-13

The true overseer of the flock, says Jesus, keeps watch over the sheep, going as far as to give up everything, even their own life, for the sake of their safety. The false pastor, the hireling, has no care whatsoever for what God’s people will be exposed to and will flee from such responsibilities the moment they have the chance.

   To be blunt, if a church is being lead by a pastor who refuses to teach, exercise and model discernment as a virtue and discipline, then that is a church without a pastor altogether.

Wayward Brothers, Heretics and Apostates

How exactly do leaders of bible-believing congregations go from passionately contending for orthodox Christian doctrine to yelling “Amen!” to anything, no matter how obscure and unusual?
   Most of us know of at least one Christian friend who started off as a trustworthy peer, committed to solid discipleship to the point of teaching others, teachable, hungry to learn as well as to defend their convictions from attack at any angle. Yet over time, changes of mind take place. At first it may seem like a minor tangent, until you listen to who they’re listening and what they’re following. You notice they start to say and do things that they previously would have fought hard against. You hear them quote ministers who only seasons ago would have been put on the discernment blacklist. In only a short time, what started as a minor tangent becomes a large-scale deviation to the point that their Christian walk has undergone a massive revision that makes you honestly question whether you can still break bread with them in Christian fellowship. You voice concerns – only to hear them respond with full assurance that they are correct in their new direction even though you know it doesn’t stack up with scriptures. Worse still is when they go on the offensive against you or anyone else for not being as willing to follow suite.
For those of us who are familiar with scripture, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see such deviations happen:

3  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
2 Timothy 4:3-4

The Bible gives clear warning of false prophets, false teachers, false apostles, and false brethren:

15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will [a]know them by their fruits. [b]Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will [c]know them by their fruits.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many [d]miracles?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
Matthew 7:15-23

25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26 Therefore, I [a]testify to you this day that I am [b]innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you [c]overseers, to shepherdthe church of God which He [d]purchased [e]with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Acts 20:25-30

Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge? I robbed other churches by taking wages from them to serve you; and when I was present with you and was in need, I was not a burden to anyone; for when the brethren came from Macedonia they fully supplied my need, and in everything I kept myself from being a burden to you, [a]and will continue to do so. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia. 11 Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!
12 But what I am doing I will continue to do, so that I may cut off opportunity from those who desire an opportunity to be [b]regarded just as we are in the matter about which they are boasting. 13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.
2 Corinthians 11:7-15

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will [a]fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron,men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. Foreverything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.
1 Timothy 4:1-5

If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not [a]agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he [b]has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction betweenmen of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that [c]godliness is a means of gain. But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all [d]sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:3-10

But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will belovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, [a]haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of [b]godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. For among them are those who [c]enter into households and captivate [d]weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the [e]knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress; for their folly will be obvious to all, just as [f]Jannes’s and Jambres’s folly was also.
2 Timothy 3:1-9

17 These are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the[g]black darkness has been reserved. 18 For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, 19 promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved.20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.22 [h]It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.”
2 Peter 2:17-22

To sum up, false teachers are easily identified by:

- Questionable fruit of character (Matthew 7:15-19)

- Counterfeit power - miracles, signs and wonders, spiritual gifts, manifestations – that do not reflect the Holiness of God (Matthew 7:21-23)

- They will infiltrate church leadership with ambitions of seeking spiritual authority over others for their own agenda (Acts 20:29-30)

- They are burdensome, making demands that prove costly and unproductive to the church (2 Corinthians 11:7-15)

- Have a desensitized view of morality and evil (1 Timothy 4:1-2)

- They seek to prohibit and keep people from things that God does give permission and approval to (1 Timothy 4:3-4)

- Pre-occupied with trivial matters (1 Timothy 6:3-4)

- Are Greedy and Materialistic (1 Timothy 6:5-10)

- Self-centered and impulsive (2 Timothy 3:1-4)

- Are powerless when it comes to godly living (2 Timothy 3:5)

- They prey on those weak in the faith who still struggle with sin (2 Timothy 3:6). By the same token, they will keep minimum contact with those who are mature in the faith with strong assurance.

- They will make bold claims of having “higher knowledge” or “new revelation”, but when pressed are actually shallow in their own understanding with little signs of progress (2 Timothy 3:7, cf. 1 Timothy 6:20-21)

- Are outwardly full of life, yet driven by sensuality (2 Peter 2:17-20)

- Are bogged down by past sins, unable to repent and turn away fully (2 Peter 2:20-22)

Calling out false teachers (or: “Christians attacking other Christians?”)

What should be our response to those who propagate false teachings? We are to obviously keep an eye out for false teachings and false teachers, but when it comes to a proper response, do we merely refute the teaching only and point people back to biblical doctrine OR are we to actually go after and call out the teachers as well?

   First of all, yes, there is indeed precedent in scripture of “naming names”:

18 This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my [a]son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, 19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to [b]their faith. 20 [c]Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme.
1 Timothy 1:18-20

I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us.10 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 (Emphasis added)

In 2 Timothy, the Apostle Paul goes as far as to give two call outs per chapter:

15 You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes.
2 Timothy 1:18

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeusand Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.
2 Timothy 2:15-18

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men,their folly will be clear to everyone.
2 Timothy 3:6-9 (Note, this is a historical example. Jannes and Jambres are traditionally believed to be the sorcererors in Pharoahs court who taunted Moses)

10 for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia,and Titus to Dalmatia. 11 Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. 12 I sent Tychicus to Ephesus.13 When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments.
14 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. 15 You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message.
2 Timothy 4:10-15

So yes, calling out the teacher rather than just refuting the teaching alone, is indeed biblical. John Piper though, cautions that the extent to which we engage should be proportionate to the sphere of impact these individuals have upon our fellowships:

My problem is that I don't read these guys enough and don't know them well enough. If I read a whole bunch of books by so-and-so and had actual quotes that I could quote and arguments that I could give, I would feel more adequate to say something.
So that's one criterion: I don't feel like I'm in their world enough to know them well enough.
Secondly, if I knew that somebody I knew or my church was being swayed away by somebody that I felt was preaching a gospel different from our gospel, I would probably get real specific with the church, for the church's sake.
So the first reason may be owing to laziness. I don't think it's owing to cowardice.
I think that what happens when you name names is both good and bad. The good is that people are warned, and they now know that if they're going to turn on that TV program they're going to be alert to watch for error and be more protected, maybe.
The downside is that it so quickly becomes a personal thing rather than a principial thing. And I just want people to get the principles so right that they'll spot them anywhere.[i]

Still, those who are more passive still object “Should Christians really be attacking other Christians? Especially when they should be out there doing the work of seeking and saving the lost? What will non-Christians think when they see the body of Christ divided?”

   First of all, as we examine the above descriptions of false teachers, when it comes to the most heinous examples, the question has to be asked whether some false teachers are even Christians at all to begin with, in which case, they are strangers to the truth of Christ and know only the falsehoods that they themselves seek to promote. The Apostle Paul wrote:

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But[a]actually, I wrote to you not to associate [b]with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church13 But those who are outside, God [c]judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13

AS much as there is gross sin in the outside world, the church is not to serve the role of judge and executioner. Rather, such judgment is to be applied to those within the church who already profess the name of Christ. The specific sins that Paul lists in this passage includes idolatry, or to put it practically, false teaching.
   Hence, the church is to pay closer attention to the concerns within it’s own walls than the affairs of the outside world – obedience to the Great Commission is no excuse to falter in this area.   
   Furthermore, if we are truly committed to seeing the lost come into a saving relationship with Christ, we should have a passionate desire to ensure that these people are presented with an accurate and faithful portrayal of who God really is as revealed in Scripture rather than a caricature enforced and promoted by false teachers.

Why the Modern Church lacks Discernment

A recent Pew Forum survey conducted among Americans who claimed “Evangelical Protestant” as their religious affiliation was published in USA Today that showed curious discrepancies between their claimed affiliation versus answers to more specific queries. Of those sampled:

- 79% believed that God had a personal nature; 13% believed that God was impersonal while 7% listed “unsure”.
- 60% were pro-life on the issue of abortion (obviously then, the remaining 40% are pro-choice)
- 49% saw a conflict between their moral values and what is portrayed in popular culture
- 29% have attempted to make contact with the dead
- 23% believed that there was “spiritual energy” to be found in nature
- 23% believed that the alignment of the stars and planets had an effect on their personal welfare (astrology)
- 22% believed in reincarnation (that is, being reborn again and again within this world)
- 21% practiced Yoga regularly as a “spiritual discipline”
- 17% believed that once can use the “evil eye” to cast curses upon others
- 14% had consulted a psychic for guidance [ii]


While the survey was an examination of American religion, once can’t help but wonder about the wider body of Christ worldwide given that a significant portion of professing “evangelicals” seem to be no more or less “spiritual” than a thorough-going pagan.
   So why is there no discernment to the point that such abherent beliefs and practices are adopted by professing Christians? I’d like to offer six possible reasons:

1. The new “Wisdom”, the new “Humility”, the new “Maturity” and the new “Grace”

   Read any biography of former british Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and you almost always see him praised for his contribution to the victory over the German forces in World War 2. In Churchill’s own time as Prime Minister however, this was not so. The predominant policy favored by the government in dealing with Nazi Germany was that of appeasement – the need to keep open the windows of diplomacy in the hopes keeping conflict at bay. But Churchill would have nothing of it, he instead advocated direct engagement to the point that he was slammed as being difficult and close-minded. Nowadays, he is praised as a hero for having had the necessary conviction to take a stand.
   So to, in spite of what Scripture teaches about the nature of discernment in relation to wisdom and maturity, the contemporary church has chosen to revile those who are quick to take a stand for conviction.
You're now a narrow-minded person if you draw lines. You have an arrogant spirit if you think in absolutes. You're an evil person if you have convictions.
   This is in part due to the encroaching of relativism and postmodern thinking. Relativism is the belief that there is no such thing as absolute truth or objectivity. There is no definite right or wrong, just subjective value based upon differences in perception and consideration.
   When applied to the context of the church, the “Postmodern Christian” (if there actually is such a thing) would assert that there is no one single true system of doctrine, no right or wrong way to interpret the Bible, no straightforward explanation as to what is Holy or profane. The proof of this, they would assert, is that when one surveys the vast landscape of Christendom, there is so much diversity in the form of the various and differing  theological views, interpretations, worship styles and denominations; there is clearly no single expression of Christianity. Hence, with such thinking, for someone to step up and begin to explain the “hows” and “whys” undergirding their system of doctrine is immediately perceived by such people in the negative.
   And yet, advocates of “Christian relativism” will willingly borrow the language of biblical discernment to further their resistance towards claims of conviction:
   “You need to be more gracious when it comes to belief.”
   “If that’s what you believe, you really should grow in discernment. I really think you need more wisdom in such areas.”
   Or, should you show hesitation or are unsure about a particular area of belief: “You’re really showing true maturity in that area.”
   Of course, such rhetoric robs the scriptures own standard of grace, discernment, wisdom and maturity evidenced by being grounded in their beliefs (cf. Ephesians 4) with   sufficient knowledge to declare right from wrong (cf. Hebrew 5) and juxtaposes it with what the postmodern world decrees to be the norm by saying it is better to be aloof and ambivalent than rooted and uncompromising.
   But consider the book of Judges: in the closing chapters (17-21) we see the nation of Israel falling into gross sin in the form of rape and idolatry. In the final verse, we are told “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (21:25). The “each to his own” attitude of the people of Israel was not seen as humble, gracious or wise, rather it was seen as a sign of apostasy, having broken covenant with God altogether.

2. The elevation of experience and testimony over the authority of Scripture

   Empiricism is the theory that we learn by experience. At first this seems quite a reasonable means of acquiring knowledge on the basis that we can treat experience as a tangible entity with which we can experiment on.

Is it reasonable, then, to place scripture under our own empirical standards? What is the proper relationship between human experience and God’s word? Does one trump the other? What role does personal experience have in our own Christian growth and maturity?
Consider the following passages of scripture:

6 Jesus said to him, “I am l the way, and m the truth, and n the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 o If you had known me, you would have p known my Father also. [1] From now on you do know him and q have seen him.”
8 r Philip said to him, “Lord, s show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? t Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that u I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you v I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that u I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else w believe on account of the works themselves.

John 14:6-11

Phillip openly asked Jesus that he would reveal the glory of God the Father. Such an experience would not have been impossible, for Moses had a limited experience of God’s glory (Exodus 33:18) and Isaiah saw the glory of God within the sanctuary of the temple (Isaiah 6). Yet Jesus goes further to assert that those who see Him see God; he makes an open claim towards deity. Hence, when Phillip asks Jesus to reveal the Father, no doubt Jesus is exasperated. “Isn’t it enough for you, Phillip, that after three years of being with me, of sitting under my teaching as well as preaching it to others, you still ask for more?”
   To Phillip, mere words were not enough. He wanted something that would entertain his senses and imagination. Yet instead Jesus admonishes him, bringing into question whether or not he really understood what Jesus was trying to impart.

I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and x revelations of the Lord. 2 I know a man y in Christ who fourteen years ago was z caught up to a the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, b God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into c paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, b God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, d except of my weaknesses. 6 Though if I should wish to boast, e I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me.
7 So f to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, [1] g a thorn was given me in the flesh, h a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 i Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.
9 But he said to me, j “My grace is sufficient for you, for k my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that l the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 m For the sake of Christ, then, n I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For o when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Although Paul speaks in the third person in v3-6, v7 qualifies that Paul was actually referring to himself. The revelations he speaks of were not so much the inspiration of scripture, but rather face to face encounters with phenomena that were simply beyond the realm of normal human understanding, let alone his own e.g., journeys to heaven, at least four personal encounters with Jesus in addition to thinks that Paul was forbidden to speak of. We can only guess what Paul saw, but whatever it was it was definitely beyond what was the norm. No doubt such experiences would give Paul every reason to excitedly testify, but instead he is first told by God to stay silent about it, plus he has “a thorn in the flesh” (what this specifically is is unclear; some assume it to be a physical handicap a’la Jacob, a psychological disorder; though given that Paul attributes the “Thorn” to being of Satan, we can assume that the Thorn may have had a spiritual origin) that was so painful to endure that he begged at least three times that it be removed, to which God replied “My Grace is Sufficient.”
   Paul’s Christian walk was far from “a form of godliness lacking in power” (2 Timothy 3:5), but even so, 2 Corinthians 12 begs a very important question: if it is indeed the norm for Christians led by the Spirit to have deep and extraordinary encounters with the divine that reveal more and more of God progressively as one moves from “glory to Glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18), why then, was Paul held back?
   Paul was certainly self-conscious of the fact that his walk with God was far from being perfected (cf. Romans 7:21-25, 1 Corinthians 9:27, Philippians 3:12-15). Surely such encounters would leave him overwhelmed with conviction as to who God really is. Yet this was not so. On what grounds is there for God to label Paul’s thorn as being a means of grace that would mould Paul’s character?

It is only reasonable to say that such experiences were not to be the focal point of Paul’s Christian walk nor the message that would be at the centre of his apostolic ministry. Instead the focus was to be on that which could be known even if one did not experience it.

3. Pragmatism and the Market-driven church

Pragmatism (as distinct from mere practicality) is the belief that rather than an overarching ethos being what determines values of right and wrong, such is instead determined by whether one has attained their intended goal. Or, in shorthand, “The ends justify the means.”
   Like the relativist, the pragmatist would point not only to diversity of belief, but also practice. In the realm of Christendom, the pragmatist pledges commitment not to any conviction of belief, but rather seeks to do that which brings about success and achievement. Convictions, then, are seen as nothing more than being preferential in nature.

   We see this largely in the Seeker-Friendly (or Market-Driven) philosophy of ministry.
As the name of the movement suggests, the underlying assumption of seeker-friendly churches is that unbelievers are seeking the truth. In an age of consumerism, seekers have been offered numerous religious and ideological products— they are shoppers looking for the religious system with which they feel most compatible. Because the “unchurched” are seeking answers, Christians must pitch Christianity in a way that will appeal to them— helping them to understand that Christianity is superior to any of the other products available. This is usually achieved by first “scouting” the potential church’s surrounding community, examining demographics, surveying residents etc, and tailoring the church based thereupon.
In contrast, the Bible argues exactly the opposite— that no one is truly seeking after God or is let alone capable of doing so on their own. In Scripture, unbelievers are portrayed, not as those who earnestly seek God, but rather as the spiritually dead (Colossians 2:13), the spiritually rebellious (Ephesians 2:1-3), and the spiritually hardhearted (Ephesians 4:18). Even though God's self-disclosure through nature and the conscience should cause men to seek Him (Acts 17:27-29), unbelievers have rejected the truth that they know, becoming "futile in their thoughts [so that] their foolish hearts were darkened" (Romans 1:21).

   A second tenet of seeker-sensitive methodology is that believers need to get into the minds of unbelievers in order to reach the lost. To be effective, evangelists must begin by putting themselves in the shoes of the unchurched— purposefully making their messages relevant to the felt needs of the audience.
   In other words, believers need to understand the felt needs – material, emotional, physical etc. - of seekers if those seekers are to be effectively reached. By understanding the specific demographic and psychographic backgrounds of those in the audience, preachers can better appeal to their felt needs— showing the lost that the gospel is relevant to their current life situation.
   But are demographic, psychological, and geographic considerations the keys to evangelism? Is thinking like an unbeliever the way to effectively reach him or her? Is knowing what the unsaved audience wants to hear the proper means for preaching the gospel?
   Even a brief survey of the biblical evidence quickly reveals cracks in this seeker-sensitive argument. The early church, for example, clearly defied the "target audience" approach of the contemporary seeker church— having been built by the Spirit rather than statistics. Moreover, Scripture never commands Christians to think like the unsaved, but rather commands exactly the opposite. Paul simply says

"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart"
Ephesians 4:17-18

In other words, Christians are to stop thinking like unbelievers. In Romans 8:6-7, he puts it even more clearly,

"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so."

In light of this, believers are to avoid conformity with the world, allowing their minds to be transformed by God's truth (Romans 12:2), preparing their minds for action (1 Peter 1:13)— putting off the deeds and thoughts of the flesh (Ephesians 4:22-24).

   Still, advocates of the seeker-friendly/market-driven church will seek to vindicate their pragmatism by pointing to their large congregations and the high rate of baptisms per year.
At first, the large congregations of seeker megachurches seem visually impressive; landmarks that testify to the fulfilment of the great commission. As such, other pastors naturally look to their methods, ideals and teachings in the hopes that the same can be achieved for their own fellowships.
  There are obvious problems with pragmatism as a philosophy of ministry:
   First of all, anyone who equates methodical success with spiritual fruitfulness is bound to alienate and discourage those who while having faithful attitudes have little results. Says Matt Chandler:

I also find on that note one of the things we don't preach well but I think we gotta get better tat talking about is this thing where ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the scriptures,
but there's never been a conference on that; nobody's ever done a conference where  the key text is Moses up on the hill looking out at the promise land saying “We’re here!” only to have God say back “…No, they’re here. I’m leaving you to die on the mountain.”
Or Jeremiah, where he cries out to God “You have seduced me! You tricked me!” (Jeremiah 20:7). No one talks about that.
   What about John the Baptist? “Are you the one, or should I wait for another?”
   Jesus answers, “Tell them what you see: The blind see, the lame walk…” and the part [of the messianic prophecy] Jesus leaves off is “…the captives go free.” That’s Jesus’ way of saying “I’m the one, but you have to die down there.”
   No one’s done a conference on that or written a book about where you toil away for your whole life and be unbelievably faithful to God, yet see so little on this side of Heaven. [iii]


Secondly, for ordained ministers to embrace pragmatism is in of itself a profession of unbelief. The pastor seek to grow his congregation and reach the unchurched, and resorts to man-made techniques, methods and programs – and yet never actually gets around to making disciples and expounding the deep treasures to be found in God’s word. It’s been put on the shelf. Once you abandon the Word of God in favour of man’s ways, you forsake the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. And once the church kicks out the Holy Spirit, Christ is sure to follow.


   In such an environment, to bring biblical precedent to bear upon how one “does church” eventually becomes counter-intuitive to those whose most likely response is to be “that’s just a method…”

4. The Appointment of unqualified leadership to positions of authority


The simple question is: what ever happened to the notion of the pastor as a genuine man of God?  What ever happened to the man of God who is known as a man of prayer, as a man of deep understanding of Scripture, who is known as a Bible teacher, who is known as a godly man whose life is a pattern to follow, who is a discipler of others, who's a builder of spiritual leaders?

   Gone are the days, it seems, where theologians and expositors were held in high esteem by the church. Instead, theologians are often characterised as “ivory tower egg-heads”, people of great intellectual knowledge at the expense of real world application. Sadly, this false caricature is one that is fostered and promoted by pastors themselves, in spite of the fact that God’s appointed leaders are to model the life of “a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Today’s pastors are called to be not expositors or theologians, but motivational speakers, lifestyle coaches, or “vision casters” whose goal is not to encourage, promote and teach godly living, but rather answer felt-needs and present applications for everyday issues.

   The downgrading of the pastoral office not only cheapens the health of the church top-down, but it enforces the idea that spiritual leadership is a proficiency that can be learned, not a divine calling given as a gifting by the Holy Spirit. Some churches goes as far as to say that “anyone can be a leader”, and in turn expect members to eventually take up pastoral duties (not to be confused with Hebrews 5:12) as their walk with God advances. The obvious, yet serious problem with that is:

a) Not everyone will have a pastoral gifting

27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. 28 And God has [a]appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then [b]miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 29 All are not apostles, are they? All are not prophets, are they? All are not teachers, are they? All are not workers of[c]miracles, are they? 30 All do not have gifts of healings, do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they? All do not interpret, do they?
1 Corinthians 12:27-30

and b) not everyone in any given congregation will meet the criterion that qualifies one as a pastoral overseer

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of[a]overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 [b]An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine [c]or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation [d]incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Deacons likewise
 must be men of dignity, not [e]double-tongued, [f]or addicted to much wine [g]or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.11 [h]Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. 12 Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and [i]good managers of their children and their own households.13 For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a[j]high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus
1 Timothy 3:1-13

Let’s examine the qualifications:
   - Above reproach: Not attracting accusation or having a reputation as a troublemaker in the community.
   - Husband of one wife: Is not abusive, or adulterous; committed to upholding the marriage covenant (based on Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:31-32, divorcees who remarry would be limited in their candidacy for pastoral roles)
   - Managing his own family: Is the person at home as consistant in his personal conduct as his leadership within the church?
   - Not a recent convert: They are spiritually mature; not having to be going through what they should be teaching the young believers
   - Reputation with outsiders: A model citizen, not a nuisance; is he salt and light?
   - Keeping hold of the deep truths of the faith: Do they have godly convictions that they’re willing to take a stand for?

Some may argue that such standards are too restrictive and exclusive. That’s precisely the idea. Churches that ignore those guidelines set themselves against God’s design and forfeit His blessing. If discernment cannot be applied in the area of who governs the church, where can it be applied properly, if at all?
   One of the most disastrous examples of the lack of discernment in the area of leadership and spiritual authority in our generation is how quickly a person who has fallen into gross sin can be brought back into their position of authority after morally disqualifying themselves. It is not uncommon for Christian leaders to scandalize the church through gross moral failure, then resume leadership almost before the publicity starts to quiet down (in the case of Todd Bentley for instance).
   Certainly there should be restoration to church membership pending repentance and counsel, but never to the role of an overseer. Churches simply cannot ignore biblical precedent for the sake of accommodating prestige at the expense of holiness.  The biblical requirements for pastoral leaders is intentionally set high, because spiritual authority is to be exercised by example, not title. Those who continue to scandalize the church are not above reproach. They are disqualified from leadership as long as such reproach remains. A simple slap on the wrist with a brief time out just doesn’t do.
   If the church’s leadership fails in the area of godliness, the church itself fails to be a convincing witness to the outside world – no matter how passionate it’s members are in God’s purposes, or how detailed the statement of faith. No matter how boldly we call for truth and holiness, if our own leaders’ lives won’t back it up, many will reject the church as being hypocritical, or simply conclude that true godliness is but optional, if not unattainable altogether.

5. Failure to apply Church discipline

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Matthew 18:15-17

When Mark Driscoll came to the University of Queensland in 2008 to do a lecture, he asked the audience, “How many of you are satisfied with your church’s standard of discipline?”
    With UQ’s Abel Smith theater at full seating capacity, I would say that less than twenty hands went up.
      If it were indeed the case that a believer has bought into aberrant doctrine and practices which lead to gross sin, then the obvious response would be to meet with that person, go through the scriptures, and point to the right direction where necessary.
   On the other hand, if a person refuses to recant in spite of repeated admonitions from pastoral leaders, there is warrant for proper church discipline – the final step of which is excommunication, or complete removal from fellowship on the charge that the church no longer recognizes the guilty party as one of their own.
   Properly done, church disciplines serves three purposes:

1. Shows the guilty party that the church does not and will not identify their lifestyle as being consistent with what they consider to be genuine godliness

2. Sets an example to the church’s membership as to what is tolerated and what is not, hence sympathizers are quickly silenced.

3. Shows the outside world why the church says and does what it does, that the church is indeed aware of the issues at hand, and is pro-active in responding internally.

  The discerning church practices church discipline because they recognise that if a true Christian is living in sin for a period of time, he will turn to God following admonition. If he is a false professor on the other hand, he will leave the church and not wrongly  console himself that he is right when he isn't. He is not "innoculated to the gospel" message of repentance in the future because he is well aware that his fruit has been found to be dubious. His conduct is made plain for him and everyone else to see.
   The practice of church discipline presupposes that the people of God are indeed aware of what sin is and is not. On the other hand, when a church practices church discipline lightly or inconsistently, it shows that there is an abstract or even erroneous understanding of God’s holy Law.

6. The core issue: denial of Christ’s headship over the Church

If there is a common thread linking the above five points together, if would be this – Christians who refuse to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord over the Church.
   The relativist parrots Satan tempting Eve in the Garden of Eden by answering the doctrine of Christ by saying “…did God really say that?”
   The empiricist and sensationalists together refuse to heed Christ’s instructions until they are satisfied that he has first given them a sign.
   The pragmatist has the nerve to say “That’s just one way of doing things, Jesus. I can do better because I know what actually works.”
   The unqualified leader says “I’m here to do a job, just not that of a shepherd.”
   In the book of Colossians, we see the situation where members of the church at Colossae were led astray but false teachings that were supposedly derived from dreams and visions of angelic origin brought about by asceticism:

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels,going on in detail about visions,[a] puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Colossians 2:16-23

The solution, which Paul demonstrates throughout the letter, is to expound the glories of Christ: his lordship, his divinity, his work on the cross, his victory over Satan and the forces of darkness. Why do this? Because when God’s people set their eyes upon Christ, it becomes increasingly transparent whenever someone goes astray and looks elsewhere.

Application: How can we as Christians grow in Spiritual Discernment?

1. Pray for it

As we have seen earlier, it is in the character of God to give discernment to those who humbly ask for it:

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and [a]without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a [b]double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8

Let me add an additional point: If you want to see the prayer for discernment answered, you have to have a willingness to openly call out “right” from “wrong”. What is the point of crying out to God, to borrow the words of Solomon, “give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9), if you’re the kind of person who likes to sit on the fence and do nothing rather than putting your foot forward to take a stand? Why should God answer such a prayer, if it’s not an honest one from the heart?

2. Commit yourself to serious Bible study

If you’re a born-again Christian, you have already tasted the power of God’s word in the most profound way possible. At some point it penetrated your heart and transformed you from being an object of divine wrath to one of God’s love and mercy. And while such is nothing short of being miraculous, it marks only the beginning of your relationship with God and His truth.
   Scripture never stops transforming the lives of God’s children. Your lifestyle can be completely altered as you see sinful attitudes and habits drop away; you can become more like Christ.
   For those of you who listen to preaching podcasts on on regular basis, take inventory of who you listen to: do they preach with an agenda, merely quoting random verses here and there to back up whatever they seek to put forward? OR, do they do their best to give exposition, looking at a text exegetically, unpacking specific details in a systematic manner?
   Just as the diet based on the food you eat affects your physical wellbeing, so to does what you ingest spiritually affect your walk with God. For Bible study to foster discernment means doing more than just reading it for meditative “devotions” based upon “what does this mean to me?” and instead focusing on “What does this text actually say, and how does it fit into scripture as a whole?” What are the historical, cultural contexts? How does one doctrinal concept present itself in Genesis and carry on through to Revelation?

3. Learn from those who are already good at it

Who in your immediate fellowship seems to have the gift of discernment? Who is the one you know who can pick up instantly whether someone’s doctrine is off, if scripture is being misinterpreted, or whether something is masquerading as the Holy Spirit when it is a counterfeit? You know who these people are, learn their example.
   On the other hand, if you’re in the company of people who are apathetic, or even lazy towards matters of doctrine and theology, such will easily rub off upon you and will only dampen your spiritual growth.

4. Don’t be a “Lone Ranger”

Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.
2 Corinthians 1:24

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25

Where many falter in cultivating discernment (if not spiritual growth in general) is that many do it as an individual exercise, with little support, assistance or encouragement from others. This itself can cause people to easily stumble and be led astray.
   When you ask God for discernment and He does indeed answer such prayer while you dig deeper in your learning, ask yourself “How will this benefit those in my immediate fellowship?”
   Let your newfound fascination for the things that you are learning spur others to express conviction by way of worship unto God. When you learn something new, challenge others to open their Bibles and find the same truth for themselves. Sometimes there comes a time in the midst of battle when a soldier race to the hill, raise their nation’s flag and wait to see who will run to stand alongside you as an ally.

A final Word of encouragement and caution for pastoral leaders

If you’re a pastoral leader, let me ask you some candid questions.
   When someone under your care approaches and says “I would like to learn more about doctrine and theology”, what is your initial reaction?
   Is it excitement, that there is indeed a genuine hunger among people to know more about who God is?
   Is it a feeling of inadequacy; you are suddenly conscious about whether you have been as diligent in advancing your own knowledge base? 
   Or, do you experience envy at the prospect that someone may surpass you in knowledge and discernment?
   Now think about what is actually happening within your sphere of influence. If you're not teaching your people these things, who or what will? Or is all you have just a Social Club that knows how to use Christian jargon anytime you come together?
   Have you ever considered the possibility that the key to taking your people deeper into the things of God les not in sitting in a lounge room spending all night singing repetitive praise choruses ad nauseum, but rather opening up your Bible, and declaring “We are going to study x, starting from Genesis all the way through to Revelation.”

   If you’re in youth ministry, ask yourself: does the fact that you minister with teenagers and young adults mean that when it comes to actual discipleship, you have license to not be so focused on teaching theology to the point that people grow in discernment due to their age - OR you actually have to do much more for their sake so that when they come of age they will not feel sheltered, but ready to stand alongside the rest of the church in fulfilling it’s mission?


   If you minister at a University campus, do your people have a sufficient understanding of Christian Doctrine and Theology to give a solid defense of the Christian worldview when the need arises? In the short span of a person’s respective course of study (3-4 years), can you utilize that time to equip people to handle the challenges our secular education system will throw at them?

   The Apostle Paul said in his farewell speech to the Ephesian Church:

26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God,[a] which he bought with his own blood.[b] 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
Acts 20:26-31

Such resolve should be at the heart of every genuine pastoral ministry. Paul in effect says: “While the threat of false teachers will be as real tomorrow as it is today, I can say with a clear conscience that should you stumble it was not because I failed to teach you. Instead I sought to leave no stone unturned by brining the entirety of Scripture as a whole to bear upon everything it possibly could.”
   If only today’s pastoral leaders had even a tenth of such conviction when it came to what God expects of them!
   Where are the weeping shepherds not limited by delusions of “relevance” regarding what they will and will not talk about but instead are driven for the sake of the church to ensure that God’s people are guarded against the schemes of Satan that will present them both outside and within the church?
   If you’re a pastoral leader, let me say this by way of final conclusion: if I were to make eye-contact with you while you teach, would eyes by dry with apathy, or would they be red and raw because the sincere love you have for those that Christ has placed under your care compels you to take stand as a watchman, able and willing to call out any dangers that lie ahead?

   It is only when such brave and godly people arise that we will truly have discerning churches.