A 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.