When Discernment Lacks Wisdom

Discern WiselyA few years ago, everybody wanted to bill themselves as having discernment. Myself included. At that time, many people equated discernment ministry with calling out false teachers and exposing unbiblical trends within evangelism.

Certainly, discernment ministry includes such activities, and Christians shouldn’t apologize for speaking against people and movements that contradict Scripture. If anything, more Christians need to brace against the many deceptions that continually creep into the church. So please, as you read this article, understand that I most assuredly believe discernment ministry encompasses exposing people and practices that oppose sound doctrine.

Having said that, I’ve learned that some Christians limit discernment ministry to nothing more than heresy hunting. Such people, despite their claims of being discerning, fall for conspiracy theories and impugn genuine brothers and sisters in Christ over secondary issues. Brannon Howse obviously comes to mind in his attacks on James White, Phil Johnson and Justin Peters.

The attacks on Justin Peters is perhaps the most interesting, and the most instructive.

Both Brannon and Justin have ministries that they call discernment ministries. Both believe they call out false teachers (and indeed, both have done so). As a matter of fact, both have publicly disagreed with James White’s Interfaith  Dialogue with Yasir Qadhi.

Justin, however, refuses to label James White as a heretic. While he disagrees with the methods James employs, he trusts that James submits to the leadership of his local church and that he’s motivated by a real desire to evangelize Muslims. For those reasons, he won’t join Brannon in denouncing James.

As a result, Brannon has now declared that Justin Peters supports Islam and has compromised his ministry. Brannon’s Facebook page bulges with invective comments against Justin, almost gleefully predicting the demise of his ministry.

I question whether or not Brannon Howse truly understands discernment. If he researched even a little bit, he’d quickly realize that none of the people he’s denounced in this matter compromised with Islam. True discernment would cause him to disagree with James White’s approach (as Phil Johnson and Justin Peters have) without trying to discredit them. True discernment would seek unity on primary issues and graciously accept differences on matters of preference.

Discernment ministry goes far beyond naming false teachers. It discerns when to make something an issue and when to quietly disagree without breaking fellowship with Bible-believing Christians who hold to sound doctrine. Furthermore, it rejects conspiracy theories in favor of loving enemies (like Muslims) enough to respectfully dialogue with them about the differences between Islam and Christianity so that we can effectively evangelize them.

Discernment is a great deal more than publicly calling out false teachers, particularly when someone actually teaches sound doctrine. True discernment investigates a person’s overall ministry to determine if he or she consistently upholds Scripture or consistently makes mistakes. True discernment, moreover, doesn’t distort that person’s words in order to win a fight.

Above all, true discernment seeks to honor the Lord Jesus Christ. Even in calling out false teachers, true discernment points people back to the Lord, helping others understand the Gospel. In fact, it affirms efforts to proclaim the Gospel to people caught in deceptions like Islam. As long as someone presents the Gospel fully and without minimizing its components, we should rejoice that someone cares enough to bring it to Muslims.

Discernment is necessary to Christian maturity. So let’s use it, not just to identity people and practices that contradict God’s Word, but to conduct ourselves in ways that honor the Lord.

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Italian Renaissance Art, My Bucket List And The Protestant Reformation

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The Holy Family by Botticelli

During my freshman year of college, I took an overview class on Italian Renaissance art (fall semester) followed by a class on High Renaissance art (spring semester). I loved all of it, and developed a desire to visit Florence and Rome to see some of the pieces I’d studied in person. Especially Saint Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel.

Shortly after moving to the Greater Boston Area to marry John, complications from my disability curtailed my ability to travel. Providentially, however, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has hosted several exhibitions of Italian Renaissance art, allowing me to see works by Titian, Tintoretto, Donatello and even sketches by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo! Last month we saw an exhibition of Botticelli which also included works by Fillippo Lippi and Verrochio.  Okay, not everyone’s cup of tea, but I praise God for bringing these artists to my doorstep.

Therefore I’ve been content about never visiting Italy. That contentment has grown as I’ve learned more about the Protestant Reformation and the events that led Martin Luther to post his 95 Theses.

As I’ve explained in numerous blog posts, Luther protested the selling of Indulgences, Pope Leo X’s primary means of financing the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Basilica, offended that the Roman Catholic Church preyed on the fears of poor people by propagating the unbiblical notion of Purgatory. Terror stricken peasants eagerly purchased Indulgences in hopes of minimizing time in Purgatory, never realizing that Christ completely paid  for the sins of all who believe in Him.

In other words, Rome exploited the fears of people who believed their false doctrine of Purgatory for the purposes of financing Saint Peter’s Basilica. Really comprehending that horrible fact made me kind of glad that I can’t go to Rome. It sours my taste for seeing Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling (though I might enjoy his Last Judgment fresco, in which he put Leo X in hell).

A couple days ago, however, John and I watched a YouTube video called Introduction to the Life of Martin Luther on Bruce Gore’s channel. Gore reiterated the account of Luther being grieved by the sale of Indulgences, mentioning the role of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Then he remarked that Protestants can enjoy the Basilica as the catalyst for our Protestant heritage.

Although I still feel content with the marvelous Italian Renaissance art that the Lord has brought to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, I greatly appreciate the perspective Bruce Gore articulated regarding Saint Peter’s Basilica. Though I’ll only see it through books and Internet articles, I’ll know that God used the evil means of financing that building to bring about the Protestant Reformation. Doesn’t He do all things well?

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Yes, I’m Giving You Homework!

Perspectives in TitusA migraine Saturday changed my plan to resume the Perspectives In Titus Bible Study today. Maybe that’s  the sovereignty of God giving us time to review the passages we’ve studied so far. You can find most of the studies (in reverse order, I’m sorry to say) by clicking this link. Perhaps spending this coming week going over the epistle will help us remember the context of the passage we’ll study next Monday.

Truthfully, I hadn’t considered the importance of maintaining context or continuity when I decided to take a summer break from the study, nor did it occur to me last week when I decided to start back up again today. Apparently I thought I could plunge right into Titus 2:11-14 without recalling what Paul had written to Titus up to that point. I’d forgotten that we’d need to review the situation Titus faced in ordering the churches of Crete, and how those churches would need to respond to the Cretan culture.

Titus 2:11-14 overflows with wonderful doctrine on God’s grace and His purpose in electing us.  In my September 5 article, Our Teacher: Grace, I used this very passage to demonstrate the relationship between grace and holiness without paying much attention to the rest of the chapter, and I believe I did so without violating its meaning. I love this passage so much that I refer to it daily in my prayer time.

Although this passage can, in a sense,  stand alone, studying it within its larger context next Monday will increase its power. We will see how it connects to the groups Paul addresses in Titus 2:1-10, as well as to the challenges the Cretan Christians had in distinguishing themselves from the false teachers in their region. Finally, we’ll apply its principles to ourselves.

So, dear sisters, let’s use this week to read back over the lessons in this series before we move forward. My migraine Saturday may have prevented me from barging back into the study without proper attention to how Paul got to this marvelous exposition on grace, leaving us unprepared to fully appreciate it. Please take advantage of this opportunity to review our Perspectives In Titus Bible Studies.

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Visions of Holiness

Few of us (perhaps none of us, actually) really comprehends God’s holiness. We read Isaiah 6 without really visualizing the ground shaking and the Temple filling with smoke as the Lord, attended by angels who declare His holiness, reveals Himself in such a way that Isaiah crumbles under the weight of his sinfulness. How many of us, however, honestly believe we would be so completely undone if we experienced a vision of how holy the Lord really is?

Yet in His compassion  and grace, the Lord has shown us that the same holiness that brings us to our knees in repentance also fills us with wonder. We worship this thrice holy God joyfully, admiring His splendor and relishing His glory. And so we sing today’s beautiful hymn with eager anticipation of enjoying His holiness throughout eternity.

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Saturday Sampler: August 6 — August 12

Vexel Rose TrioDo you need practical guidance in structuring your personal Bible Study time? If so, How Much of the Bible Should I Study? by Ryan Higginbottom in Knowable Word will provide you with a good variety of suggestions.

I suppose that moms make up the vast majority of my readership. Since I couldn’t have children, however, I feel unqualified to counsel anyone on child rearing. Thankfully, One Degree To Another author Scott Slayton posts How Can I Help My Child Grow as a Christian? As a pastor and father of four, Scott can address this subject more authoritatively than I could.

Entering the Empty Nest season, Leslie A writes We know we will be fine in Growing 4 Life. Her post enables me to sympathize better with ladies in her position. Extending grace goes so much further than spouting off platitudes!

In her guest post for Berean Research, Grace Scott maintains that The felt-needs gospel is no Gospel at all. Ladies, this is well documented and extremely thought through in its engagement with an article defending a felt-needs approach to evangelism. Don’t pass over this superb presentation of how to Biblically proclaim the Gospel, even to millennials.

Sammy is a cute little dog. Why is Michelle Lesley blogging about a cute little dog? There’s only one way to find out — go ahead and click the link.

Sydney is a young woman, still in her teens, with astonishing insight which often shows up in her blog, Squid’s Cup of Tea. Her reflective essay, Jealous No More and Other Thoughts, bring me joy as I see the Lord maturing her. You may be encouraged (and possibly even challenged) by her godly attitudes.

Like all bloggers who stand against false teaching, Tom of excatholic4christ has his share of critics. “Stop saying Catholics believe they must obey the Ten Commandments PERFECTLY!” responds to a frequent complaint he receives by explaining how Catholics maintain a state of grace.

Dispelling yet another myth of liberal theologians, John Ellis writes God Is Not Everyone’s Father for PJ Media. I appreciate Ellis’ courage to hold to solid Biblical doctrine on this point.

If you struggle with your prayer life (and really, what Christian doesn’t), Prayer: some thoughts on the how-to’s by Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day might be just what you need.  I love Jen’s focus on Scripture as the model for prayer.

Scott Stayton, in One Degree to Another, supplements Jen’s essay with Why We Struggle  to Pray in the Digital Age. What a challenging, thought-provoking article! I’d never really considered some of the points he raises, but they make a lot of sense. He also offers wonderful suggestions for restoring prayer to its proper priority.

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Giving Permission To The King

Cinderella's  ClosetThroughout the bulk of my Christian life, I’ve heard the following sentiments:

“God is a Gentleman; He won’t violate your will.”

“Give the Lord permission to work in your life.”

“You need to get out of the way in order for God to work.”

“Let go and let God.”

You’ve undoubtedly heard these same ideas, and maybe you’ve even said them. They sound very reasonable, and even a bit spiritual. Many celebrity evangelicals routinely teach them, urging us to partner with God as if He’s helplessly wringing His hands as He waits for us to participate in whatever He’s doing.

Now, I understand that the Lord chooses to work through human beings much of the time. He calls Christians to obedience, especially in regard to proclaiming the Gospel to all creation. The same letter of Paul that declares God’s sovereignty in determining who should be numbered in the elect (Romans 9:6-26) also pronounces His decree that the elect should come to faith by means of evangelism (Romans 10:13-17). In that sense, He indeed uses our obedience as the means of accomplishing His purposes.

But we make a grave mistake if we assume that a lack of cooperation on our part in any way hinders or prevents the Lord from carrying out His will. In truth, He has all power. Nothing any of us does, even at our highest points of rebellion, can possibly block Him from doing exactly what He wills.

From the time Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, men and women have tried to claim control over God. We cherish the notion that we somehow allow Him to have His way in saving us and then in working in our lives. Proudly, we believe He stands immobilized, waiting patiently until we grant Him permission to move.

Look again at Romans 9.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? ~~Romans 9:19:24 (ESV)

Who do we think we are? Do we seriously believe the sovereignty of God depends on our will or behavior? Does the King of kings and Lord of lords bow in subjection to us? Scripture certainly never portrays Him as such a dependent weakling, nor does it suggest that He gives us authority over His dealings in our lives.

We need to repent of our arrogant attitudes. Let’s stop flattering ourselves that anything God does hinges on our attitudes or actions. If sovereignty really belongs to Him (and it does), then He will do anything He wants to do with or without our permission.

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The Reformation Reflects Today’s Church

Modern ReformationAs this year leading up to the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has progressed, I’ve grown disappointed (if not a little frustrated) with my lack of structuring my study time. So many men and women risked their lives standing against the Roman Catholic Church for the sake of the Gospel — some even becoming martyrs rather than compromise God’s Word. I’d anticipated telling their stories as a way of inspiring you (and myself) to stand firm against the erosion of sound doctrine in our own day.

The truth is, my almost 64-year-old body can’t accommodate my to-do list. Bible Study, blogging, social media and trying to be a wife collide with expanded Personal Care Attendant schedules and slowing typing speed, leaving less time and energy to research Knox, Lady Jane Grey, Zwingli and others who did so much to restore Biblical Christianity to Western civilization. Would Christ’s words about the spirit being willing and the flesh being weak apply here?

Maybe. But I digress.

With three months still to go until October 31st, I intend to continue using Tuesdays to keep the Reformation before you. Why? Because I believe Christianity in postmodern times has been corrupted as badly as it had been in the 16th Century, and consequently that Bible-believing Christians in our day need the fortitude and conviction that led those Reformers to praise God as their bodies were burned at the stake for the sake of the Gospel. Their willing spirits certainly conquered their weak flesh!

The assaults on Biblical Christianity came from Roman Catholicism during the Middle Ages as the church developed traditions that had more to do with supporting the opulent lifestyles of popes, cardinals and bishops than with the Gospel. Let’s briefly review the teachings that first prompted Martin Luther to openly question the church.

As we’ve seen throughout this series, teachings on the sacramental system, Purgatory and Indulgences taught people that, although their baptism as infants brought them the initial grace of salvation, they perfected that grace through the sacraments. But even then, they might need to spend time in Purgatory atoning for sins left unconfessed. Of course, purchasing Indulgences for themselves or loved ones could shorten that time, admitting the suffering soul to heaven.

Not surprisingly, medieval Catholicism suppressed access to the Bible. Obviously, reading the Bible without the church’s official annotations and apocryphal books would expose the errors propagated by church authorities.

Professing Christians in our day have different false teachings, in addition to having various vestiges of Roman Catholic mysticism, making it necessary to look again at the Reformers and the doctrines they recovered. As those Reformers directed people back to reading the Bible in its proper context, we must hold to solid Biblical doctrine and resist evangelical fads.

Neglecting the Protestant Reformation may be fashionable, but it increases our vulnerability to present-day false teaching. I’m clearly not the polished church historian that I’d like to be, and I may fail to tell the stories that need telling, but if I can keep the Protestant Reformation before you, perhaps you’ll start researching it for yourselves. You just may be surprised by what it reveals about the 21st Century church.

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