Aw. Poor discernment ministries. They are getting such a bad rap these days.
Richard Caldwell tweeted,
That makes sense, and I agree. However the “scare quotes” might not be totally necessary. Discerning the true from the false is a Ministry. Not a “Ministry”.
Randy White says there’s a Sickness in Discernment Ministries. (Not THAT Randy White)
I can only think of a few things that the church needs more today than discernment. But I am completely convinced that discernment ministry is not the way the church is going to gain this discernment.
Perhaps this author and I have a different view of the goal of discernment ministries. The individual Christian is the one responsible responsible for cultivating their discernment, not ministries external to the local church. They are a resource, not the sole training ground for the Christian. Hebrews 5:14 says,
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
So, whether or not we specifically possess the spiritual gift, we’re supposed to practice discernment constantly and train ourselves to detect good from evil, or as Charles Spurgeon says, detecting right from almost right. The pastor, if he preaches expositionally verse-by-verse, helps his people learn discernment because they are getting a good grounding in the word. Daily study and weekly sermons and personal study are the training we need in order to discern. We don’t rely on outside ministries to train us. We do consult ministries as an additional resource. Discernment ministries can be a good educational source, but a secondary one. So, in that sense, no, external discernment ministries are not the way the church is going to gain this discernment – or shouldn’t. However, that isn’t their intent.
Pastor John Chester of Piedmont Bible Church and Parking Space 23, says that we need discernment. However, in his view, “many of my concerns about many of these ministries have been magnified as some prominent ones have degenerated into de facto internet gossip columns and platforms to pursue personal grudges against pastors, theologians and churches.” Further, he believes ‘they are unbiblical, they are unhealthy, they are not very helpful, they often have significant blindspots’ and Pastor Chester has sworn off them.
Yes, some of these ministries have devolved. That’s sad but true. But swearing off all discernment ministries because a few, and I say a few, have devolved, is throwing the baby out with the bathwater in my opinion. Satan has the purpose and ability to corrupt every ministry that’s based on a spiritual gift. He has corrupted Preaching. He has corrupted Helps. He has corrupted Missions. He has corrupted Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, and Leadership. Discernment is no different. Or maybe it is, because discernment is the gift that aids the Christian in detecting when any spiritual gift-based ministry locally or globally is going adrift.
Eric Barger writes When Discernment Turns Ugly, that “Until the Church rejects the venomous battering of Christians by other Christians merely pushing their pet theologies, we will continue to exist in various “us and them” camps where some are simply intent on impugning others for the sake of making points with their followers and proving themselves “right.” ”
But again, I agree to a point. Some Discernment Ministries that devolve entrench themselves into an us-and-them camp. Paul warned about dividing into camps based on who the leader is. (1 Corinthians 1:12). This isn’t new. It’s an old tendency not restricted to Discernment Ministries. Not new are theological debates with entrenched sides and camps. (Synod of Dort, anyone?). Sometimes theological debates on gross or fine points of theology are important, and by necessity, whenever you have debates, there are sides. That’s OK sometimes. Good debates help the cause and keep the doctrinal lines clear. Bad debates can simply be ignored. It’s that simple.
Add to this, biblical illiteracy is at an all-time high. Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace To You and a pastor at GraceLife, and a conference speaker, said recently that he believes that the state of the church now equals or exceeds the doctrinal mess and moral decay evident in Corinth. Isn’t it interesting that just when biblical literacy and by extension, discernment, is most needed, discernment ministries are being tarnished and urged to be done away with? Another brick in the wall.
There is a great need for discernment.
Pastor Gabriel Hughes of First Southern Baptist Church in Junction City, KS and the voice of When We Understand the Text (WWUTT.com) said this week,
Just witnessed to 36 high school students, mostly churched. I asked them, “How do we talk to God?” Unanimously they said, “Prayer!” I then asked, “How does God talk to us?” They said revelations, visions, voices, dreams, someone said, “He just does.” No one said the Bible.
This week also, a pastor studying in a Maine seminary wrote a short letter to the editor at Lighthouse Trails, mourning the lack of discernment in seminaries and churches.
Letter to Editor: Pastor Studying at Christian College in Maine Discouraged by Lack of Discernment
Yet discernment ministries are getting slammed
Michelle Lesley does a gracious and expert job of defending discernment ministry. Again.
Answering the Opposition- Responses to the Most Frequently Raised Discernment Objections
You notice that lack of discernment in general arose during an era when expositional preaching is in decline. Topical, hip preaching based on felt needs and pragmatism (whatever works) was the fad these last couple of decades. And as a result, lack of discernment has risen. Since it is not to be found in many local churches, or is absolutely rejected when brought up, then the need for outside ministries filled that need for many. People searched for confirmation of the things they were identifying in various books, sermons, ministries and the like in their home churches. They weren’t getting help at home, so they went to web-based ministries. At least they were trying to follow the Hebrews verse. Good for them. Good for the good Discernment Ministries that were able to provide good information.
I was blessed. Back in 2011, I had a difficult time accepting that Beth Moore was a credible teacher. Yet everyone around me was applauding her and enthusiastically using her books and materials. I broached the question respectfully to a leader and received a less than respectful reply. Unknown to me then, I was also marked as a troublemaker. When the leadership later flogged Jentezen Franklin’s Daniel Fast book from the pulpit and urged us all to publicly contract to do his Fasting Plan, I again respectfully questioned it. I was veritably tossed out on my ear. But in between those two events I searched online for help with the Beth Moore issue and Franklin’s Daniel Fast issue. Chris Rosebrough was helpful with the Moore issue. He not only declared that she was wrong, but taught why, point by point. In this practical fashion, I learned how to discern. Tim Challies’ book reviews and John MacArthur’s expositional preaching helped so much also.
In my experience, far from Discernment Ministries promoting “venomous battering of Christians by other Christians merely pushing their pet theologies” as Eric Barger said above, I’ve seen venomous battering of Christians by other Christians for merely questioning their pet teachers. But these internal bickerings, protections of pet teachers and theologies, and take-downs, are invisible when they happen inside a church. More noisy and visible are the few Discernment Ministries crashing spectacularly. Those get the attention. But the real problem is inside churches that marginalize discerners, and fail to cultivate knowledgeable members through preaching strong and correct biblical doctrine.
To me, the big issue isn’t discernment ministries. It’s lack of discernment from elders, pastors, and leaders who are actively teaching inside local churches. And it’s lack of tolerance or respect to hear those members out when an issue does arise who either trying to follow Hebrews 5:14’s example, or specifically attempting to edify their home church via the spiritual gift of discernment .
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Discernment is both a duty of every Christian and a spiritual gift given to some for the purpose of edifying the body.
As with all spiritual gifts, it’s incumbent upon the gift to use it wisely for the edification of the local body. (1 Corinthians 14:3-5, 12, 17, 26; Ephesians 4:12). If you have the gift of discernment, please use it wisely and humbly. We would say the same about those with the gift of giving, helps, leadership, teaching, mercy, and the rest.
Most discernment ministries (or ministries that partly deal with discernment among other issues) are good. Justin Peters Ministries, Michelle Lesley, Gabe Hughes/WWUTT, Tim Challies, DebbieLynne Kespert, Chris Rosebrough, Phil Johnson, Berean Research, CARM.org, and others manage to maintain a clean discernment ministry and also use their other gifts in balance, and do so wisely, humbly, and doctrinally. There are many others I could name.
This issue arose because some false brothers were brought in under false pretenses to spy on our freedom in Christ Jesus, in order to enslave us. (Galatians 2:4)
If there was somebody out there who could correctly help us avoid enslavement to false doctrines, why would we want to say no that that?