How to read Online Discernment Blogs

In my previous post here I made some preliminary comments about discernment in general and in this post I’ll turn my attention to the phenomenon of the Online Discernment Blog and how to read them.

By way of introduction let me firstly say how much we need people in the church who are calling leaders to check and evaluate what they believe and how they are living that out. In the Old Testament we see prophets sent by God to direct, encourage and sometimes rebuke leaders. In the New Testament we see prophets speaking the Word of God by the power of the Holy Spirit to do the same thing. I have been grateful for those people who over the years have boldly and loving done this in my life.

The second thing I’d say about these blogs is that you must put them to the test. The very first question I ask is this: how do I know that what they are saying is true, is actually true? Is it true because they say it’s true or because it is actually true? The answer to this question with raises or lowers the importance of what they are saying.

You also have to watch out for some of the manipulative language that is used. I’m grateful for Dr David Stone of Stand with Us UK for providing these headings. Here’s how these headings could be fictitiously used about our recent church Carol Service where we had small children at the front of the church singing a Christmas Carol, candle-light, a Christmas tree and even the speaker wearing a Santa Hat whilst giving the message. Here are some of the amusing consequences:

Headline: Calvary Chapel employs children to lead worship in another attempt to be seeker-friendly.

– Exception – this is where a case is based on an exception rather than a rule. Ask the question: is what is being portrayed normative? As this isn’t a normal church service even though it did happen at our church the headline is turning an exception into a rule, then drawing a false conclusion.

Headline: “Children attract a crowd!” says onlooker as Calvary Chapel employs children to lead worship in another attempt to be seeker-friendly”

– Selective / unbalanced  – this is where witnesses have been drawn from a selected group of people with the aim to provide an unbalanced view. Ask the question: what relationship do the quoted people have with those at the core of the article? In this instance it’s clear that the quote isn’t by one of the leadership team and therefore unrelated to the object of the article.It is only being used to reinforce the false conclusion.

Headline: “Calvary Chapel Pastor endorses seeker-friendly movement: “RT @seekerfriendlymegapastor ‏get the kids involved this Christmas!””

– Quotes not policies – in the land of Facebook and Twitter this is not an uncommon problem. In fairness, church leaders need to be more a little more thoughtful about what they are retweeting and liking but, let’s not replace policies with quotes. Chances are the above pastor has speedily agreed with what has been tweeted without thinking who may have tweeted it. There is no reason to suggest that there is a shift in policy. Ask the question: what was the context for what was said/posted?

Headline: “Everyone knows that candles ward off evil spirits as Calvary Chapel departs from God’s Word”

– Fake consensus – this is where the blogger appeals to the “everyone knows / we all agree” argument to a draw consensus against the object. This is actually more common than you think and is often given in conversation (for example: “me and a quite a few others in the church think …..”). Ask the question: who are these “others”? Does everyone really know this? Is that actually true?

Headline: “When I was ministering at …… I spent a lot of time watching and observing [insert famous deceased pastor name here]. I personally knew him and I can tell you …”

– “Halo effect” – this is where an impression (halo) is created so that we make a false assumption about a person. For example, in 2016 we have tragically heard a lot about high profile pastors committing adultery or becoming disqualified for other reasons. The halo effect tells us that because they are good at preaching (aka the halo), they will also be good at being husbands, good businessmen and effective leaders. We assume that people who are good at doing “A” will also be good at doing “B”, “C” and “D”. This leads readers to be inaccurate in evaluating some areas of performance and fails to reflect the fact that pastors are sinners, churches are full of sinners and we all (collectively and individually) need grace, forgiveness and restoration. This can be turned on it’s head too, for example the “halo” could be applied to the blogger (as above). Ask the question: is the evaluation fair?

In addition to these rather subtle uses of manipulation there is also the plea to “better days”, the “what if’s” as well as the odd “private conversation that took place behind closed doors that only the blogger knows about” card thrown in there for good measure. The lesson? test what you are reading.

The third thing I’d say about these blogs is in relation to how we guard our own hearts. I say this because too often I’ve seen posts shared and spoken about rather gleefully. Our response to fallen brothers, church problems and gone stray churches should be mourning and not dancing. So, to guard our own hears do these:

1. Believe the best, and pray, for the those that are the object of the article (1 Corinthians 13:7).

2. Don’t share the post until you know the article is true, otherwise it’s gossip (Ephesians 4:29)

3. Seek the truth by going to the source – or people that we trust and are in “the know”. (Matthew 5:23). Otherwise we keep quiet and commit these things to the Lord. Solomon warned us “whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” (Proverbs 26:17).

4. Shine the Light of the gospel on everything you do. You may not know the ins and outs of every situation but you can be light to that situation. You can love, encourage and support your family in Christ.

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