A former pastor once counseled me to write about things God showed me during my personal devotions. I rather suspect he noticed John MacArthur’s influence on me and hoped to steer me away from Reformed Theology. For the most part I ignore that pastor’s counsel, preferring to blog about topics that press on my mind at any given time.
This morning, however, I read a passage in Revelation 2 that really fit into my growing concerns about abuses I see in a few discernment ministry blogs I follow. I believe the warnings in this passage desperately need to come to the attention of those who care about Biblical discernment, and I don’t think many people have considered these verses in relation to contending for the faith. But look at what the Lord commands the apostle John to write to the church at Ephesus:
2 “‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6 Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ ~~Revelation 2:2-7 (ESV)
In this letter, the Lord begins by commending the Ephesians for standing against false teachers. This point shows that discernment ministry definitely has its place. Indeed, several of the other churches in Revelation 2 and 3 receive harsh chastisement precisely because of their tolerance of false teaching. The Lord demands purity in His Church.
Yet the Ephesians focused so much on discernment that they abandoned their devotion to Christ Himself. They no longer had a zeal to serve Him in other ways. So, despite their stellar record in standing against false teachers, they stood in grave danger of losing their testimony. In no uncertain terms, these discernment giants were ordered to repent.
I’ve been writing fairly often on the problems with many present-day discernment ministries, as I’ve seen how some of them lean toward calling out people they disagree with and toward propagating conspiracy theories. Many, or perhaps all, of these people undoubtedly started out genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to please Him by refuting false teaching. Somewhere along the way, however, their focus shifted from Christ Himself to their ability to argue doctrine.
I myself was on that trajectory for a while. God graciously intervened by letting me see that discernment ministry was becoming an idol. More accurately, I idolized myself as having polished discernment skills. In my idolatry, I minimized the Lord Jesus Christ and so many of His teachings on loving others and serving within the local church. Thankfully, the Lord has since reoriented my priorities by reminding me that He wants my attention set squarely on Him.
Any type of ministry can distract us from loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves. Discernment ministry is no exception. The Ephesians excelled in recognizing and refuting false teachers, which pleased the Lord. But once they let discernment ministry eclipse their love for Christ, they jeopardized their testimony. As 21st Century Christians, we must learn from their mistakes and fix our hearts on our first love: the Lord Jesus Christ.