Discernment Ministries That Lose True Discernment (Avoiding Their Mistakes)

Discern YourselfTwo days ago I wrote about the necessity of using wisdom in discernment ministry. Sadly, I got more caught up in the attacks Brannon Howse is making on Justin Peters than I’d planned, and consequently had little time left to write about my real concern. I hope I can rectify that omission today.

As I said Wednesday, there’s definitely a time and place for naming false teachers in discernment ministry. I’ve done so many times in this blog, and I’m planning an article for next Wednesday on another evangelical trend that needs to be exposed. But I fear that, in our zeal to warn people of dangerous teachers and trends, we may have distorted the concept of discernment, forgetting that its real purpose lies in our Christian maturity.

Consider the argument that the writer of Hebrews makes as he pleads with Jewish Christians to lay aside their efforts to earn salvation in favor of resting in Christ’s finished work on the cross:

11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. ~~Hebrews 5:11-14 (ESV)

Here, discernment has precious little to do with generating conspiracy theories or calling out false teachers, and everything to do with helping these believers live in fidelity to the Gospel. Discernment isn’t sanctified gossip used to ruin reputations; it is the means of learning how to conform to God’s will.

Oddly, some bloggers and podcast hosts seem to have lost sight of this true purpose of discernment. They ironically fail to discern when they cross the line into fault finding for the sake of parading their supposed discernment skills. In so doing, they forget basic principles of Scripture, such as respectfully expressing disagreement while recognizing someone as a brother or sister in Christ unless they teach outright false doctrine.

Biblical discernment calls us, first and foremost, to distinguish good from evil in our own lives. How obedient are we to the Lord? Are we understanding His Word properly? Do we apply it correctly to our own lives before we hold others to its standards? Sisters, these questions make me uncomfortable, and they draw me to repentance. They confront me with my need to exercise discernment in my own life well before I call out anyone else.

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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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Saturday Sampler: July 30 — August 5

Extruded FunsiesVisit Growing 4 Life to see how Leslie A has revived her series on discernment with Learn to Discern: How Do You Determine What is True, Right, and Good? All of us need to think seriously about the way we make these determinations.

In her article for 9Marks, Carrie Russell writes about Ministry to Women When There’s No “Women’s Ministry”. Her thoughts on the topic go against popular ideas, but she successfully substantiates them with Scripture.

Speaking from her personal experience, Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day offers Turnstile Salvation as evidence that nobody can claim a relationship with the Lord simply because Christian parents raised her. Maybe Jennifer states the obvious. Then again, maybe not.

In his mid-teens, my Catholic-turned-agnostic husband decided to see what the Bible said about the origins of life, so he picked up a Catholic New Testament. The Holy Spirit used it to bring him to salvation. Tom’s article, Sketchy Catholic versions of the Bible were stepping stones to salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone in excatholic4christ, reminds me of John’s testimony. Even better, it reminds me of the power off God’s Word!

Denny Burk outlines Four stages of “evangelical” affirmation of gay marriage as a warning to us all.

In her blog, Renewed In Truth Discipleship, Lara d’Entremont uncovers The Real Reason to Remain Sexually Pure. She directs her teaching to women waiting to be married, single women and women who teach younger women.

Guiding us through Psalm 19, Lisa Morris of Conforming To The Truth lists 6 Reasons  to Glory in the Sufficiency of Scripture. Honestly, professing Christians often forget (or at least ignore) the marvelous provision God has made for us by His Word. Lisa’s blog post serves as a helpful refresher on this essential point of faith.

How about a double dose of Leslie A this week? Her candor in Grace That Changes convicts me of my own self-righteousness, which I appreciate. So often, we lose sight of God’s gentleness with us, and consequently get impatient with less mature believers. Leslie’s article encourages us as we endeavor to overcome that sin. Yet she offers an important balance.

Coming to Christ as an adult, Jennifer of One Hired Late In The Day has experienced both the world’s view of womanhood and the Lord’s. From this rare vantage point, she unveils the contrast between  Biblical vs. Secular Womanhood. Ladies, we can’t hear these things too often.

As I’ve been saying for two years, Obergefell vs Hodges opened a door for a full assault on traditional values. John Ellis’ article in PJ Media, Transgender Student Sues Private School in California, sadly confirms my warnings, but it also encourages us to stand firm.

Those who see no harm in the ordination of women will want to read The Slippery Slope and the Jesus Box by Richard D. Philips on the Reformation 21 blog. Philips’ assertion doesn’t at all surprise me, but it may help you to understand the dangers of compromising Scripture in this seemingly minor area. Obedience to Scripture matters!

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Bluebirds Don’t Speak As Clearly As The Bible Does

Thy Word is a LampI’ve written about the assaults on the sufficiency of Scripture more times than I can count. I’ve majored on this theme because most of the assaults come, not just from mainline liberal churches that reject the Bible’s authority anyway, but also from evangelical churches that claim to believe the Bible as the Word of God.

Increasingly, churches that would theoretically reject Charismatic teaching are embracing the idea of God speaking personally to individuals apart from the Bible. They argue that we need supplementation, especially in making decisions such as whom to marry or what job to take. One friend once reminded me that I never found a Bible verse saying “thou shalt marry John.”

Actually, the expectation that God should speak to me personally about marrying John very much complicated my decision. At one point, I asked for a sign of three bluebirds in one day. At sunset, having only seen two bluebirds outside my window, I felt very despondent. Then I noticed a painting of a third bluebird on my computer’s screensaver! Did that count? Most days, I assured myself it did; often, I struggled with nagging doubts.

Had I superimposed my great desire to marry John on the third bluebird? Should I ask for another sign? If another sign showed that God didn’t want me to marry John, which sign should I follow?

And why didn’t God simply speak to my heart, as I believed He had on other, less consequential, occasions?

Sure, I knew what the Bible said about the type of man I should seek to marry. And obviously, John met those qualifications! He exhibited Biblical attitudes in keeping with God’s commands to husbands, and I could see that he would lead me to obey the Lord in our marriage. Really, it was a no-brainer, with plenty of Scripture confirming that such a marriage would honor and glorify the Lord.

If I had trusted Scripture’s sufficiency as much as I claimed to trust it, I would have saved myself a lot less angst. I might have enjoyed the courtship even more than I did, and I certainly would have displayed a more godly character worthy of a man like John.

It troubles me to see people straining to hear God’s Voice or frantically searching for signs when a simple study of Scripture in context would enable them to make godly decisions without unnecessary struggle. No, you won’t find a verse telling you to take a certain job, marry a certain man or move to a certain town. But you most assuredly will find principles, based on Scripture as a whole, through which the Holy Spirit will guide you toward God’s will.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. ~~2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

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Saturday Sampler: July 23 — July 29

Swatches 01

For those who wonder why people object so strongly to The Message paraphrase of the Bible, I beg you to read Eugene Peterson by Justin Peters. He compares selected passages with more standard Bible translations to show why this paraphrase cannot be trusted.

One of the things I like best about Michelle Lesley is her unwillingness to compromise God’s Word. Her post, The Mailbag: Female Pastors – False Teachers or Just Sinning?, looks at the issue fairly while raising important questions based on both Scripture and Michelle’s observation. I do wish she would have also commented on women who, although they don’t hold the office of pastor, teach men.

Discernment ministry isn’t the path to popularity, as Leslie A of Growing 4 Life tells us in Don’t Expect a Crowd.

The problem with hip humility by Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day hits the nail on the head. Is it really cool to cuss a little if we profess to love Jesus? Jennifer causes us to think seriously about such casual attitudes.

What can I say about Erin Benziger’s essay, On the Dangers of Distorting God’s Grace, which you’ll find on Do Not Surprised? She gives a healthy balance on responding to the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. I love her passion for His truth!

It bothers me that evangelicals teach people to expect God to speak to them apart from Scripture. So Elizabeth Prata’s pointed essay, How did they ever hear God without a how-to manual? in The End Time, both amuses and encourages me. She stands firm on the Word of God, as we all should.

Sunny Shell of Abandoned to Christ writes a heartfelt blog entry called Content in Christ Alone that, to be honest, addresses a malaise common to all women. Although she doesn’t say anything particularly novel, she certainly reminds us of basic Biblical truth. Sometimes we need such reminders.

Are you in that heartwrenching season of praying earnestly for someone, only to see them harden themselves against the Gospel? If so, Even If He Doesn’t by Staci Eastin of Out of the Ordinary will most assuredly minister to you.

On her blog, Unified in Truth, Nikki Campbell educates us on The Downgrade Controversy that dogged the ministry of C.H. Spurgeon and relates it to the downgrade in evangelical churches today. She features a short, but compelling video with John MacArthur explaining how history is sadly repeating itself, as well as how pastors and congregations can resist this unbiblical trend.

Let’s add a second article by Leslie A., if only to validate my pet peeve regarding smart phones. Every Three Seconds looks at our addiction to these devices as well as suggesting ways to use them more responsibly and in ways that honor God.

Visiting an Embassy by Jesse Johnson is a slight departure from the sort of writing that usually appears in The Cripplegate. It also makes a powerful point about seeker-sensitive churches.

Please don’t miss Amy Spreeman’s article, When women’s ministries abandon the Bible, on the Naomi’s Table website. It perplexes me that any Bible Study group would choose to study a book when they can study the very Word of God.

If you feel left out because you don’t hear God speak personally to you, check out God Doesn’t Talk to Me on Rachel’s danielthree 18 blog. She guides us on making right decisions. I’ll offer no hints on how she advises us to seek God’s will; I want you to read her counsel for yourselves.

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Emotional Abuse, Divorce And Why I’ve Remained Silent About Them

Dear DebbieLynneA couple of years ago, a lady initiated an email correspondence with me. She suffered from an emotionally abusive marriage, and desperately wanted me to affirm her in seeking a divorce. More than that, she wanted me to blog about women in abusive marriages, presumably advocating for divorce in such circumstances.

I could do neither. Since that correspondence, however, I’ve often thought about the problem of emotionally abusive marriages. As someone who blogs as a ministry to other women, I sometimes wonder if perhaps people expect me to address this important issue. So today I want to offer some loosely organized reasons that I don’t believe I’m qualified to write much on this subject.

Of course I felt sad for the lady. Emotional abuse is terrible, and nobody should have to endure that sort of suffering. I really wanted to agree that God would bless her decision to abandon the marriage, especially as her emails overflowed with painful feelings of frustration and entrapment. Sadly, my understanding of Scripture doesn’t allow me to support divorce for any reasons other than adultery or abandonment.

Could I be too legalistic in how I interpret Scriptures on the topic of divorce? Yes, I absolutely could! I can see, based on commentaries and articles that I’ve read, the possibility of wider latitude in the application of the passages on divorce. Indeed, a desire to show compassion draws me to embrace that wider latitude.

The very fact that God has given me a godly husband and a happy marriage makes it difficult for me to identify with women who suffer through abusive marriages. Coming to terms with the disparity between myself and these hurting women challenges me to exercise humility. Since I don’t go through the type of suffering that they do, wouldn’t compassion dictate that I support their decisions to escape abusive marriages?

Yet if compassion would have me accept a relaxed interpretation of Scriptures concerning divorce, shouldn’t that same compassion lead me to soften my stance on same sex marriage? Why should a Christian who experiences same sex attractions be consigned to a lifetime of either marriage without real sexual satisfaction or celibacy? Wouldn’t either of those options constitute emotional abuse?

Compassion must flow from Christians, leading us to comfort people who suffer. I understand that principle. At the same time, compassion can’t permit us to water down God’s Word, even when God’s Word demands painful sacrifices from those we want to comfort.

The woman who emailed me  about her marriage. while she was genuinely hurting, could only give me the story from her perspective. Understand, I’m  by no means accusing her of lying. She presented the facts from her point of view, which is all anybody can do. But I hadn’t heard her husband’s version of the story, nor had I heard her pastor explain why he counseled her to remain in the marriage. I could have allowed a misguided sense of compassion to undermine appropriate Biblical advice, all because I couldn’t see all sides of her situation.

Perhaps God’s Word does make provision for abused spouses to end their marriages. I’ve read articles on both sides of the issue, and have concluded that I don’t have enough understanding to address the matter Scripturally. I’m sorry for ladies like the one who emailed me, but until I feel confident that I rightly understand the Bible about this subject, I’d rather write about subjects I actually do understand.

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The Trouble With Emphasizing Our Woundedness

Michele SmithThere’s something comforting in hearing someone confess their flaws and vulnerabilities, isn’t there? If she’s as imperfect and broken as we are, she makes us feel better about ourselves. Therefore, we gravitate to her blogs, books and/or conferences, knowing that she’ll make us feel good. She’ll assure us that God thinks we’re awesome, that He wants to date us and that He validates all our feelings. As He met her in her woundedness, so He will meet us in ours.

Lately, I’ve confessed, not cute little flaws in my character, but outright sin. Maybe you feel that I’m more approachable because of my transparency. That’s flattering to me, I’ll admit, but it’s also a little troubling.

If I use self-disclosure as a means of attracting followers, the focus goes to me. That’s not going to benefit either me or my readers. It may make me feel important and influential, but it probably does little to build the kingdom of God. And the possibility that I’m building my personal empire rather than investing the abilities He gives me in advancing His kingdom terrifies me.

The apostle Paul gives a glimpse into how the Lord will judge believers. Please read the following passage with the understanding that it refers to God judging how to reward Christians, not about salvation. Jesus Christ has already determined salvation by His death on the cross. The judgment in this passage focuses on whether believers have used our natural and spiritual gifts for Christ’s honor and glory.

11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. ~~1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (ESV)

(No, that’s not about Purgatory.)

When a Christian uses ministry to draw attention to herself, she’s failing to build on the foundation of the Lord Christ Jesus. Her fan base may believe she’s a personal friend to each one of them because she’s been so authentic about her brokenness. They wouldn’t mind having a cuppa with her while she empathized with their brokenness.

I have no problem with a Christian blogger, writer and/or speaker extending empathy to hurting women. Please don’t misunderstand me on that point. God’s Word specifically commands us to weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). But at some point, the empathy must lead to Christ. Sin must be confronted and the Gospel must be presented in its entirety. Above all, Jesus must be exalted.

So much so-called ministry these days revolves around making people feel good about themselves, prompting bloggers, writers and  speakers to parade their flaws and vulnerabilities without discretion. But many times their veneer of authenticity covers us a thirst for applause instead of a desire to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. And they forfeit eternal rewards.

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