Discerning the Times
The Battle of Troy is one of the stories from the ancient world that has endured throughout history – being remade into films, novels and stage plays. It’s the story about deception, and the reason it has endured so long in our cultural vocabulary is because deception is a reoccurring theme. If you’ve been in or around church for any length of time you’ve probably heard a sermon or two about the topic. As I write there is a lot of talk at the moment about the future of our movement (Calvary Chapel) and what it is (or is not) becoming. (Actually, if the truth is told, when I planted our church 12 years ago it was the subject of conversation then (even when Pastor Chuck was alive and well), and has regularly been a topic of some debate every since). The proliferation of online “discernment blogs” has added to this conversation, but not always in the most constructive or helpful manner. Certainly, as someone who has been the occasional object of unfair critique myself, I am aware of how some arrive at their conclusions. A short example might help: earlier this year I was made aware of a blog post entitled “Calvary Chapel Pastor visits Vatican”. The blogger had given my name, the name of my church and the fact that I was visiting the Vatican in Rome when the Pope was due to give an important address. The entire post of factual, until it came to the conclusion. The truth is, I was visiting the Vatican in Rome and the Pope was due to give an important address (apprently). However, I was in Rome with my wife celebrating our wedding anniversary and we were visiting all of the tourist spots on our short stay. The conclusion that the post made, that I was somehow paying homage to Roman Catholicism and was evidence of my “emergent leanings”, was completely erroneous. But we do need to be discerning but what troubles me about discernment (as a whole) is that we often do exactly what the above blogger did – we take something that is true or factual but mix it up with an erroneous methodology, all at the same time as doing it in the name of truth and love. “This is true” we say, when actually the very method we’ve used to discern truth is false. Sometime we misinterpret even what is obvious. We stretch what is true so that it produces doubt or fear. We make way too many assumptions and then, if it doesn’t fit our theory, we make up the rest.
So how do we go about seeking out the truth when we have so many (often conflicting) perspectives? The Apostle John gives us some helpful advice about discernment in general, which I’ve divided into questions and answers, then I’ll post more about listening to discernment ministries:
Q: Why do we need discernment?
A: Because Satan is real, his work is real and his work is to misrepresent God
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 1 John 4:1
Satan is the master deceiver. From the day that Satan deceived Eve in the garden, until today, evil spirits have been actively deceiving people in the hopes to lead them away from God. Jesus calls them “wolves in sheep’s clothing” (Matt. 7:15). Paul said that they would look like apostles of Christ and servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:13-14).
Q: How do we discern?
A: Discern based on the confession concerning Jesus Christ
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 1 John 4:2-3
Discernment isn’t based on how eloquent, loving or miraculous a person is. The only thing that matters is this: what do they do with the truth about Jesus? Practically here are two things to be aware of:
- Doctrine – do they preach Jesus is the Second member of the Trinity? Do they also preach that Jesus was fully man? Do they preach that Jesus alone, through faith alone, by grace alone was made flesh and paid the penalty for sin, rose again from the dead and is now sat at the right hand of the Father?
- Practise – does their walk reflect their belief in the above? Paul writes that “with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:10).
Q: How do we know that discernment has taken place?
A: Because I have a life that is now filled with more godliness and less worldliness
4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 1 John 4:1-6
Notice John’s emphasis on “the world” versus “from God”. A. W. Tozer gives seven tests to apply to any teaching:
- How does the teaching affect my relationship with God? Is He magnified and glorified, or diminished?
- How does the teaching affect my attitude toward the Lord Jesus Christ? Does it magnify Him and give Him first place? Or, does it subtly shift my focus onto myself or some experience?
- How does the teaching affect my attitude toward Scripture? Did the teaching come from and agree with the Word? Does it increase my love for the Word
- How does the teaching affect my self-life? Does it feed self or crucify it? Does it feed pride or humility?
- How does the teaching affect my relationships to other Christians? Does it cause me to withdraw, find fault, and exalt myself in superiority? Or, does it lead me to genuine love for all that truly know Christ?
- How does the teaching affect my relationship to the world system? Does it lead me to pursue the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life? Does it lead me to pursue worldly riches, reputation, and pleasures? Or, does it crucify the world to me?
- How does the teaching affect my attitude toward sin? Does it cause me to tolerate sin in my life or to turn from it and grow in holiness? Any teaching that makes holiness more acceptable and sin more intolerable is genuine.
So what about Online Discernment Blogs? Here’s “How to read Online Discernment Blogs”