When people think of discernment ministry, they usually think of calling out false teachers. And that’s certainly an important aspect of discernment. Jude’s epistle supports the task of identifying those who propagate false teaching, suggesting an urgency in doing so.
3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ~~Jude 3-4 (ESV)
And regretfully, the visible church in our century swarms with more false teachers than I can keep track of. So we most definitely need people who have the courage to name names when they see a popular teacher consistently spouting error.
That said, it increasingly bothers me that we’ve apparently diminished the concept of discernment to this one area. Contending for the faith definitely has a part in discernment ministry — a vital part, as a matter of fact. But if we limit the role of discernment ministry to merely pointing out false teachers, I believe we miss the grander scope of what it means to be discerning.
Discernment, in its broadest sense, encompasses the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. This distinction necessarily includes distinguishing between truth and error. Therefore, identifying false teachers is obviously part of the process, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for discernment as a whole.
To properly discern whether or not someone teaches falsely, we first need to know true doctrine. Reputable discernment bloggers like Elizabeth Prata, Michelle Lesley, Leslie A and Amy Spreeman can tell you who the false teachers are, and even demonstrate why they’re false teachers. But unless you have a firm grasp on sound doctrine, you’ll likely replace the teachers they identify with other false teachers who are just as dangerous.
Therefore, true discernment requires regular and careful intake of God’s Word.
I hear some of you groaning, wishing I wouldn’t bring up something as dry and academic as studying Biblical doctrine. Isn’t it more interesting to pick apart Beth Moore’s latest sermon?
Yes, I agree picking apart her sermons provides hours of entertainment, but again, we still need to land on truth after examining her half-truths and falsehoods. We need to know what God really means, and how He really desires us to respond to Him. In a nutshell, ladies, we need to know truth.
Furthermore, we need to know truth for its own sake, rather than simply so that we can refute false teachers. God is more concerned with our ability to worship and honor Him than with how many false teachers we can call out. His Word, more than anything else, teaches us how to love Him as He wishes to be loved. Discernment helps us understand how He wishes us to love Him properly.
Like every other spiritual discipline, discernment has the purpose of drawing us closer to the Lord. True discernment shows us how to live in ways that glorify Him. Yes, contending for the faith is one part of Biblical discernment, but I’d encourage you to remember the bigger picture. The Lord calls us to discernment for His glory. What a high calling!