Pastor, book reviewer and discernment blogger Tim Challies recently wrote an essay titled “In the Crosshairs of the Discernment Bloggers.” His post is causing an uproar. The uproar is for a lot of reasons, but I am not here to write about those. I’m writing about the confusion that has resulted for some people.
In his essay, Mr Challies lumped all discernment bloggers, or “watch bloggers” into one category. The irony that he is a discernment blogger himself wasn’t lost on many. He wrote, “They are the playground bullies of the Internet, shaking their fists and demanding your lunch money; if you give it to them you go hungry, if you don’t give it to them, you get your head shoved in a toilet. Where the Bible calls us to approach conflict with equal parts truth and love, discernment bloggers operate by lies and fear–or half-truths and fear at the very least. It is an intimidating combination if you are the one who may face their wrath.”
Subsequent to his essay, I received a query from someone who said they were not in the habit of reading discernment blogs and supposed that there are all kinds out there, some who do right and some who do wrong. That was a wise statement, but it got me wondering about the new Christian and babes in Christ. What are they to think? Is the entire well of the discernment ministry polluted? I believe Mr Challies did much to discredit the ministry, adding his voice to a growing chorus who either overtly or implicitly (as Mr Challies did) discount the ministry altogether. This is dangerous.
The first problem is that the essay did not name the ministry with which he had issue. This does a disservice to him, the other ministry and to the body in general. As I said a moment ago, it added confusion instead of clarity. No one can go to the other blog and discern whether their words were judgmental or discerning. (Credit: The American Judicature Society).
In the book of Timothy, Paul was not shy about naming the names of the false teachers – he named 8 of them. The NT wasn’t shy about naming the names of the movements that were perpetuating falsity, either, naming two that come to mind: Judaizers, Nicolaitans.
I consider myself a discernment blogger. I was given by grace through the Holy Spirit, the gift of discerning of spirits, prophecy, and teaching, along with faith. Because He has been so abundant giving His gifts to me, there is a responsibility for me to use them for the edification of the body. That is why I blog every day.
In modern times, the body has widened in every day practical life to extend to the global body. Cell phones, blogs, twitter, Facebook, Skype, and many other media have allowed connection to and discussion among believers across the world. This has certainly impacted missions, as it has impacted the kind of ministries now present on earth. Who would have thought of the blessing and benefit ten years ago of The Shepherd’s Conference being live streamed, and being able to watch 3000 men sing hymns to God and listen to astounding preaching at the same time they were receiving it? Or to pray for them while they were receiving it? That is the blessing.
With a widened body connected through media, comes the danger. There are a lot of things to discuss. But there are also conspiracies, mud fights between denominations and individuals, sinful teaching everywhere, and the tendency is to speak on these things carelessly. My personal barometer before blogging is to ask myself two questions, “Does it exalt Jesus?” and “Does it bring clarity or confusion to the situation?”
My e-mailer was right- as with any ministry, people, or organization, there are the good and the bad. I do agree that many watchblogs are gleefully maniacal when it comes to ‘discernment.’ We need discernment to know which discernment blogs to read!
Dr. John MacArthur wrote on the topic of discernment in March 2013, in Pulpit Magazine. (Note that link has gone dead but here is another). The title is “The formula for Biblical Discernment.” I think it applies to what Challies was trying to say
“It is quite true, of course, that exercising real discernment and being merely judgmental are two vastly different things. There are people who seem to take sinful delight in fault-finding, and they do sometimes try to justify their censorious spirit in the name of biblical discernment. But it isn’t terribly hard to distinguish true discernment from mere judgmentalism. Watch out for the full-time critic who constantly reproves and rebukes others but rarely offers any edifying instruction or exhortation when he is the one doing the teaching. Beware the self-styled discernment expert who is always hostile, scornful, or angry toward the subjects of his criticism. There is a place for indignation, sternness, and even sanctified sarcasm, but animosity should not be anyone’s default mode. Also, be especially cautious when you encounter someone who seems to take delight in uncovering others’ sins or constantly publishing shocking exposés. Gossip, guilt by association, mud-slinging, and personal slurs are fleshly weapons. “The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (James 1:20). Some who fancy themselves skilled in the art of discernment are merely being fleshly and factious.”
Of course those are very wise words. The lengthy essay continues in describing what discernment is, why we need it, and how to apply it. I encourage one and all to go to the link and read the piece in full.
I liked how this website described the gift of discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10): “Discerning of
Spirits=Revelation Gift. Definitions: Recognizing what is of God verses the world, the flesh, and the devil. Example: Paul recognizing that the girl in Philippi had a spirit of divination.” They go on-
Discerning of spirits is the supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to perceive the source of a spiritual manifestation and determine whether it is of God (Acts 10:30-35), of the devil (Acts 16:16-18), of man (Acts 8:18-23), or of the world. It is not mind reading, psychic phenomena, or the ability to criticize and find fault.
Discerning of spirits must be done by the power of the Holy Spirit; He bears witness with our spirit when something is or is not of God. The gift of discerning of spirits is the supernatural power to detect the realm of the spirits and their activities. It implies the power of spiritual insight – the supernatural revelation of plans and purposes of the enemy and his forces. It is a gift which protects and guards your Christian life.
How to Test a Spirit
You can discern or test whether or not a spirit is of God by the following three ways:
–Observing what a person does. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus explains that false prophets are known by their fruit – by their conduct and actions.
–Observing whether or not a person exalts Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as Lord and Savior (1 Corinthians 12:3).
–By listening to what a person says (I John 4:1-3). Does their confession line up with the truth of God’s Word?
This is not to excuse the Christian to whom the Spirit has not bestowed the specific gift. We are all to display wisdom in our dealings. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says “but test everything; hold fast what is good.” Rely on the Spirit for judicial and correct application of that verse and the others (1 John 4:1, 1 Cor 14:29) which will grow your skill in discernment even if you do not have the gift. However, Christians with the specific gift strive to use it in every area available to them to edify the body (1 Corinthians 14:3-5, 12, 17, 26; Ephesians 4:12). It is not to be carelessly used to gratify the ego, puff up personal pride, or sling mud.
Those with the gift of “discerning of spirits” or discernment do often run into a problem of pride, and/or of entrenched negativity due to the nature of the ministry. I have to watch out for that myself. With the ease of setting up a blog and gaining an audience, these kinds of sites have proliferated. Look at Jeremiah, depressed and petulant with God. Elijah, running away and then demanding fire from heaven instead of a still small voice. One can get pretty angry and negative. It is a tough, tough ministry. (Graphic, Bible Yellow Pages)
I’ve often said that it’s much more nice to be in a helps ministry. You bring cake. Everyone loves you. In a discernment ministry, you point out sin and call people to accountability and repentance. No one likes you. It always involves some sort of conflict. It gets tiring, and when one is tired they don’t guard against negativity. I combat that by praying and looking to Jesus. But someday I may start slipping. I pray good people will point it out to me if I slide toward constant negativity in tone or subject.
I give the Holy Spirit credit in Justin Peters’ case. He has been a discernment preacher for many years and he is still as gracious and gentle as he was when he started. A hard thing to do for the flesh is weak. Thereby we know it is the Spirit who strengthens Mr Peters. This is to the glory of Jesus.
Some people do not fall into negativity over time, but incorrectly use the concept of discernment as an excuse to bully right off the bat.
But worse, others take the “judge not” verse to the other extreme. That is what Challies is intimating in my opinion. It is what MacArthur was addressing, he said in the same article,
“It is tragic that real discernment is considered out of fashion by so many evangelicals, because the church has never been more desperately in need of sober, discerning hearts and distinct, authoritative voices to call the people of God back to the clarity and authority of His Word. … An undiscerning church has no defense against false teaching.”
Liberals unfortunately piggy-back on the proliferation of negative discernment bullies and use them to make the claim that discernment isn’t needed at all. “Judge not!” they say (a stance MacArthur addresses also in his essay.” Those ‘bullies’ are actually doing satan’s job for him because the more people pull back on discernment, the more satan infiltrates, and the more the few discerners out there have to do and point out. It is a downward cycle.
Friends, use discernment when reading discernment blogs, including mine. MacArthur’s words above are
wise. Is the blog a screed of hateful and gleeful finger pointing? Or is the finger pointing to Jesus in hopes that restoration and repentance can arise from the false teaching or bad situation being written about? It is not hard to detect the difference between judgmentalism and discernment, the Spirit is there to lead you. And if you ever want more wisdom, pray to the spirit and He will give it without reproach.