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: August 6 — August 12

Vexel Rose TrioDo you need practical guidance in structuring your personal Bible Study time? If so, How Much of the Bible Should I Study? by Ryan Higginbottom in Knowable Word will provide you with a good variety of suggestions.

I suppose that moms make up the vast majority of my readership. Since I couldn’t have children, however, I feel unqualified to counsel anyone on child rearing. Thankfully, One Degree To Another author Scott Slayton posts How Can I Help My Child Grow as a Christian? As a pastor and father of four, Scott can address this subject more authoritatively than I could.

Entering the Empty Nest season, Leslie A writes We know we will be fine in Growing 4 Life. Her post enables me to sympathize better with ladies in her position. Extending grace goes so much further than spouting off platitudes!

In her guest post for Berean Research, Grace Scott maintains that The felt-needs gospel is no Gospel at all. Ladies, this is well documented and extremely thought through in its engagement with an article defending a felt-needs approach to evangelism. Don’t pass over this superb presentation of how to Biblically proclaim the Gospel, even to millennials.

Sammy is a cute little dog. Why is Michelle Lesley blogging about a cute little dog? There’s only one way to find out — go ahead and click the link.

Sydney is a young woman, still in her teens, with astonishing insight which often shows up in her blog, Squid’s Cup of Tea. Her reflective essay, Jealous No More and Other Thoughts, bring me joy as I see the Lord maturing her. You may be encouraged (and possibly even challenged) by her godly attitudes.

Like all bloggers who stand against false teaching, Tom of excatholic4christ has his share of critics. “Stop saying Catholics believe they must obey the Ten Commandments PERFECTLY!” responds to a frequent complaint he receives by explaining how Catholics maintain a state of grace.

Dispelling yet another myth of liberal theologians, John Ellis writes God Is Not Everyone’s Father for PJ Media. I appreciate Ellis’ courage to hold to solid Biblical doctrine on this point.

If you struggle with your prayer life (and really, what Christian doesn’t), Prayer: some thoughts on the how-to’s by Jennifer at One Hired Late In The Day might be just what you need.  I love Jen’s focus on Scripture as the model for prayer.

Scott Stayton, in One Degree to Another, supplements Jen’s essay with Why We Struggle  to Pray in the Digital Age. What a challenging, thought-provoking article! I’d never really considered some of the points he raises, but they make a lot of sense. He also offers wonderful suggestions for restoring prayer to its proper priority.

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The Best We Can Do Is Sin

Young Lady 01Perhaps the biggest difficulty in evangelism is getting people past the belief that they are basically good. Most people will, of course, acknowledge that they’ve done a few things that they probably shouldn’t have done, but they quickly take refuge in the thought that their good outweighs their bad. So when we tell them that Jesus died for their sin, they give us quizzical looks as they shrug off the Gospel.

Evangelism that minimizes human sinfulness and presents Jesus as a Cosmic Personal Assistant exacerbate the problem by marketing a false salvation. Such evangelism ignores the holiness of God as well as Christ’s demand for repentance. As a result, the real issue gets obscured, and Christianity becomes just another way of satisfying selfish desires.

The Gospel, to be proclaimed accurately, depends on the understanding that we are absolute wretches who desperately need God’s grace. Without recognizing that nothing good dwells within us (Romans 7:18). we have no way to appreciate the wonder of Jesus taking God’s wrath on Himself in our place. Grace, therefore, loses its significance, and we  really don’t comprehend the Lord’s stunning holiness.

Teachings on human sinfulness never feels warm and fuzzy, admittedly. I struggle daily to see how depraved I am apart from Christ, and I suspect most Christians fight similar battles. If those of us who genuinely know the Lord have trouble accepting the truth regarding our sinful condition, imagine how hard it must be for non-Christians to face their sin!

But both Christians and non-Christians must come to terms with the gruesome reality that we are children of wrath unless we take refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:3). Unless we draw strength from the Holy Spirit, our perceived good works become filthy in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). Left to our own devices, we have no choice but to sin. It’s literally the best we can do.

Thankfully, once someone sees the inescapable prison of his or her sinful condition, Christ’s mercy and grace becomes precious and beautiful. At that point, the Gospel indeed proves to be very Good News, and we find ourselves unable to stop adoring the Lord for taking the punishment that properly belongs to us. What a wonderful Savior!

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Showing Compassion Doesn’t Mean Discarding The Bible

Rainbow and Cross“Why are Christians against gay people?” The broader society asks that question frequently, and I think many times they ask it sincerely. For those who don’t accept the Bible as God’s authoritative Word, we certainly seem like narrow minded bigots who arbitrarily hate a segment of society that we just don’t bother to understand.

I get what they’re saying. I know, as someone with Cerebral Palsy, how it feels to be stereotyped and excluded. People often misunderstand me by judging that my inability to hold my head erect, speak without slurring my words or swallow my saliva indicates that I’m intellectually impaired. Yes, being different, and therefore rejected because of those differences, hurts members of the LBGTQ community in much the same way as it hurts me. And, if you remove the Bible from the equation, it indeed does resemble irrational fear and prejudice on the part of Christians.

But as Christians, we must not dismiss the authority of Scripture. True, we need gentleness and compassion, realizing that people with homosexual feelings honestly believe they were born gay. Or that transgendered people genuinely believe they have the wrong body parts. At the same time, the Word of God mandates that we accept God’s pattern for human sexuality, even when doing so makes us appear callous and arrogant.

In responding to charges that we hate gay people, we must begin by explaining that same sex attraction does not make homosexuality a person’s actual identity. Those with same sex attraction will automatically balk at this distinction, and we need to understand that they’ve experienced these attractions since early childhood. Similarly, we can tell them, we’ve experienced sinful feelings like anger, greed, egotism or anxiety since our early childhood, but we separate those powerful predispositions from who we are, correctly naming them as sins.

From that point, we absolutely must affirm that, though we hate homosexuality (just as we hate our own sin). we love people trapped in that sin enough to call them to repentance. Typically, that affirmation will be met with great cynicism. We must accept the cynicism as a result of all the rejection people with these particular sins have historically endured.

Yet we cannot allow compassion and understanding to modify the truth. No matter how gently and lovingly we express the Biblical view of homosexuality, and no matter how much we understand their perception that calling homosexuality a sin attacks their very identity, most people suffering with this sin simply won’t believe us. They will demand that we reject Scripture’s authority in order to prove that we accept them.

Absolutely, let’s do our best to treat people with compassion and respect, no matter what sins dominate their lives. But let’s also adhere to God’s Word as our ultimate authority, praying that some will comprehend the truth and turn to the Lord.

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The Folly And Shame Of Weighing In Too Quickly

ae2c7-pearlonvictoriandesignLast January, well-known Christian apologist James White and Islamic scholar Yasir Qadhi conducted a two part dialogue to help their respective communities understand some of the actual beliefs of Christianity and Islam. On the first evening, they appeared in a church, where White permitted Qadhi to present Muslim beliefs without challenge. On the following evening, they met in Qadhi’s own Mosque, where White straightforwardly declared the Gospel.

In June, Christian radio host Brannon Howse unearthed the YouTube video of the discussion in the church, and has since launched a vicious attack on White. He believes White has violated 2 Corinthians 6:14-18, particularly in failing to refute Qadhi or proclaim the Gospel during the meeting in the church. The controversy escalated, even to the point of branding White as a heretic.

I’ve followed the bruhaha fairly closely, reading arguments on both sides and watching the video of the discussion in the Mosque (which, it should be noted, Howse and his supporters carefully avoid mentioning). Although I wrote a couple posts early in June which indirectly alluded to the controversy, for the most part I didn’t really believe I had enough information to state an opinion. And frankly, I struggled to the point of doubting my own discernment abilities, therefore putting off blogging about it until I could reach a solid conclusion.

I took my guidance from Proverbs:

13 If one gives an answer before he hears,
    it is his folly and shame.
14 A man’s spirit will endure sickness,
    but a crushed spirit who can bear?
15 An intelligent heart acquires knowledge,
    and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
16 A man’s gift makes room for him
    and brings him before the great.
17 The one who states his case first seems right,
    until the other comes and examines him.
18 The lot puts an end to quarrels
    and decides between powerful contenders.
19 A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city,
    and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.
20 From the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach is satisfied;
    he is satisfied by the yield of his lips. ~~Proverbs 18:13-20 (ESV)

I kept studying the various arguments, knowing I shouldn’t speak further until I felt assurance that I adequately understood whether or not James White did anything wrong. Only in the last week have I settled in my mind that, though he probably could have found wiser ways of staging the dialogue, he made no substantive compromises. Additionally, Brannon Howse erred by totally ignoring what happened at the Mosque, therefore misrepresenting the facts in order to smear White’s reputation.

Now that I feel ready to weigh in, however, everyone else has finally moved on to other matters. As well they should! The ugliness displayed on both sides dishonored Christ.

Part of me regrets waiting so long to voice my opinion. Blogging gains traction, in part, by addressing controversies  as they unfold. If a Christian blogger handles a controversial topic with humility and fairness, bringing out Biblical principles that direct readers to the Lord, I see no reason not to write about it.

I can’t stop remembering childhood experiences of crawling across  the lawn to join the neighborhood kids in play, only to watch them move to another yard just before I reached them. Once again, I’ve arrived too late.

But another part of me appreciates the Lord for teaching me to remain silent until I could properly research the situation. In this particular case, my investigations confirmed my original position on the controversy, but what if I had stated my opinion immediately and then discovered that I was wrong? Retractions rarely receive the same attention as original articles do.

In the end, writing a blog post in the heat of the controversy would have probably boosted my readership, at least temporarily, but I would have sinned by expressing an opinion before I really knew all the facts. Such recklessness has no place on a Christian blog. Praise the Holy Spirit for convicting me to wait, study and understand all aspects of the controversy before I put forth my thoughts.

That’s actually the greater lesson in all of this, when you think about it. Ironically, White’s primary purpose in having the dialogue with Qadhi was to help Christians understand what Islam actually teaches. Understanding other viewpoints enables us to present the Gospel with greater clarity because we know their way of thinking. When Christians listen before speaking, we can make a more effective case for the Gospel.

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Saturday Sampler: July 16 — July 22

Critter Sampler 01Too bad Summer White’s Peterson and the Ghosts in the Machine (appearing in Sheologians) didn’t reach my in-box until after I published last week’s Saturday Sample, because Summer raises some extremely interesting angles to the controversy.

Examining one of the more prevalent false dichotomies among evangelicals, Mark McIntyre of Attempts at Honesty presents External versus Internal Focus to remind us that the Great Commission involves more than just evangelism and more than just discipleship.

Speaking of good reminders, Elizabeth Prata cautions us against Lucky Dipping by her post in The End Time. Her warning isn’t particularly novel, but it can’t be repeated too often.

Interestingly, Nikki Campbell of Unified in Truth also directs us toward proper Bible study techniques in the article Rightly Handling the Word of Truth (part 2). The principles laid out can help us in our own understanding of Scripture, and they can also assist us in discerning false teaching. Therefore this post deserves our careful attention.

Regular readers of Saturday Sampler know that One Hired Late In The Day is a blog I love to feature. This week’s article, The narrow gate, looks at the Lord’s claim that salvation excludes many people — including professing Christians who show no fruit of genuine conversion. Jennifer substantiates her points with a good variety of Scripture, making this an essay well  worth your time and attention.

Those of you following the Eugene Peterson fiasco might appreciate Amy Spreeman’s  Eugene Peterson’s error isn’t about gay weddings in Berean Research. I think she gets to the heart of the matter quite effectively.

Michelle Lesley weighs in with The Peterson Predicament and LifeWay’s Peculiar Policies. She raises excellent questions that this Southern Baptist Convention publishing company should have answered years ago.

As women, none of us should serve as the pastors that John Chester directly addresses in his Parking Space 23 article, Church 101. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the principles he puts forth, however. I especially appreciate his thoughts on the purpose of the church.

Am I including Elizabeth Prata’s The Approachableness of Jesus (Reprise) because she mentions John Adams? Maybe a little (I live near Quincy, MA). But seriously, she uses Adams’ struggle with royal protocol to highlight the graciousness of the Lord Jesus Christ to receive us into His presence without  condition. Her post fills me with adoration for the King of kings!

Yes friends, it’s true. I’m really giving you two posts by Michelle Lesley on top of two by Elizabeth Prata this week. Michelle’s Throwback Thursday ~ Persecution in the Pew brings back an article Michelle wrote nearly two years ago about a sad form of persecution that I’ve personally experienced. As we stand for Biblical truth, we should expect pushback — even from professing Christians.

I’m new to Lara d’Entremont’s blog, Renewed in Truth Discipleship, so I can’t yet fully endorse it (I have a sneaking suspicion that I eventually will). Her post, 7 Mistakes You Might Be Making When Studying the Bible, certainly indicates that  she’s worth reading. See if you agree.

Tom at excatholic4christ writes Papal allies accuse American right-wing Catholics and evangelicals of joining together in “ecumenism of hate” to remind us that the Gospel is not about American politics. It’s an interesting read for many reasons.

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Saturday Sampler: July 9 — July 15

Heart Sampler 02Let’s begin this week’s edition of Saturday Sampler with An explanation of Martin Luther and the Reformation for children (and adults can watch, too!) courtesy of Tom and his excatholic4christ blog. Tom features a charming (and surprisingly accurate) animated video using Playmobile figurines to tell the story of Luther. Even if you think history is boring, I guarantee you’ll enjoy this video and Tom’s remarks.

Studying the Bible should change us as we apply what we’ve learned. Sometimes, though, we don’t  quite know how to make the application. Ryan Higginbottom of Knowable Word writes Make Your Bible Application Stick to provide helpful tips.

Celebrating a milestone in his blogging career, Tim Challies offers advice to his fellow bloggers in 5,000 Days. Whether you’re just starting to blog or you’ve blogged for several years, you will definitely learn something from Tim’s wealth of experience. And Tim, if you read this paragraph via pingback, congratulations on having produced 5,000 blog posts!

Prayer is difficult, especially when we don’t see immediate results. Praise the Lord for Elizabeth Prata’s encouraging article, Heaven is a busy place in The End Time. I appreciate the wonderful glimpse of the heavenly realm in reference to prayer that Elizabeth opens to us in her essay. I think you might also find it exciting.

Five “Fake News” Stories That People Believe about Early Christianity by Michael J. Krueger of Canon Fodder corrects common arguments refuting the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. I hope people who dismiss the importance of church history will read this piece and consider that knowing the past can help us correct flawed thinking in unbelievers.

The doctrine of the Trinity fascinates me. Sadly, I seldom write about it. While I certainly should change my silence on this wonderful topic, Jeanie Layne introduces it brilliantly in The Mysterious Trinity and Why It Matters, which appears in For The Church. Her work challenges me to devote more blog time to writing about God’s triune nature.

Readers of The Message paraphrase should read Denny Burk’s informative post, Eugene Peterson will always exist. I’m not totally surprised by this revelation about Peterson, but it intensifies my belief that Christians should not read The Message as their Bible. You’ll also want to read Burk’s follow-up article On Eugene Peterson’s Retraction.

In his piece for Parking Space 23, Jason Vaughn writes Sex as a Biblical overview of the Lord’s intention for this special activity between husband and wife. It’s a lengthy read, but well worth the time.

For those who believe that Calvinists don’t support evangelism and/or missions, please go to 5 Minutes in Church History and read Calvin & Missions. This transcript of Stephen Nichols’ interview with Michael Haykin dispels the widespread characterization of Reformed Christians by explaining John Calvin’s passion to bring the Gospel to lost people.

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