Like most bloggers, I have several things I want to say. I began this blog fancying myself as a “discernment blogger.” Shortly thereafter, people whom I respect began distancing themselves from “discernment ministries,” leaving me puzzled because a large number of them had pretty much billed themselves as “discernment bloggers.” As usual, I’d arrived at the party too late.
In recent weeks, however, I’ve seen for myself that some bloggers, in their claims to be discerning, degenerate into gossip columnists, picking at well-known pastors and Christian speakers with the goal of exposing every flaw and inconsistency. They congratulate themselves that they don’t idolize people like MacArthur, Mohler and Lawson. As proof of their “discernment,” they dig up articles (often from less than reputable websites) to substantiate their accusations. This practice directly violates God’s Word:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. ~~Ephesians 4:31 (ESV)
Part of discernment involves making sure we judge ministries, trends and personalities from godly motives, using good evidence from well-recognized sources. We must avoid the sin of slander.
One blogger has, just this week, written a piece alleging that I readily denounce people like Beth Moore (this blogger agrees with me on that score) while I idolize people like John MacArthur. She rightly believes that we must be careful not to worship human beings. Sadly, she has believed rumors about MacArthur based on two websites dedicated to discrediting him and an eschatological point where he differs from her. From these things, she has concluded that MacArthur is just as much a false teacher as Beth Moore.
John MacArthur has his flaws, to be sure. Some of his preaching has occasionally caused me difficulty in having assurance of salvation during times that my sin gets the better of me. Sometimes, in his efforts to counteract the rampant cheap grace and false conversions that permeate evangelical churches, he overemphasizes the need for self-examination. Because I tend toward self-righteousness, MacArthur’s sermons sometimes plunge me into fear that I’m not genuinely saved. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit always brings me back to the truth that Jesus gave me His righteousness.
My difficulty with John MacArthur means that he’s decidedly imperfect, and I need to evaluate his preaching against Scripture. I also need to be aware that my struggle with self-righteousness (and therefore self-condemnation) may cause me to overreact to his overemphasis on self-examination. I disagree with him on the extent of self-examination we should undertake, but I don’t believe he should be considered a false teacher.
In judging MacArthur’s ministry, as in judging the ministries of people like Beth Moore, we must consider the wider scope of his teaching and character. He does, in other sermons, balance himself out by teaching that salvation comes only through Christ’s work on the cross. Clearly, he teaches a Biblical Gospel. In contrast, Beth Moore violates Scripture by preaching with men in her audience, by making Scripture into an allegory focusing on us and by promoting the idea that God requires our cooperation to do His work. Several sources have documented her doctrinal errors, and most of these sources proved to be reliable and centered on Scripture.
Discernment is necessary in the Christian life. But we can turn “discernment ministry” into an idol, using it to point to our ability to ferret out problems with popular ministries, trends and personalities. When we cross that line, we exercise pride in ourselves rather than a humble desire for pure doctrine. We turn our blogs into gossip columns, using yellow journalism to slander and libel those that we dislike. Certainly, we must call out those who actually do teach a perverted gospel, but even then we must do so responsibly and in a way that seeks Christ’s honor.