Posted in discernment, theology

A few thoughts on discernment

By Elizabeth Prata

I wrote last week that I’d tweeted something about a certain false teacher’s lifestyle, and the tsunami of hate immediately came rolling toward me. It didn’t let up for three days.

As per usual I was called hateful, evil, a troll, jealous, self-righteous, covetous, judgmental, and more. That’s the usual stuff.

I always try to learn from any experiences, especially experiences in contending for the truth.

So in reviewing the last few days in my mind, I noticed now the pushback includes some different kind of comments. It includes social justice comments, gender comments, and racial comments, as in, black v. white, women oppressed, and social justice vs. injustice.

It really didn’t take long for this false teacher’s followers to adopt the issues she has suddenly been promoting. The lesson I took from this is that she still has massive influence and a large enough following to force her own narrative over a wide swathe of the church. Her followers are only too happy to carry those particular germs into the church and let them infect. (2 Timothy 2:17).

Secondly, I thought for a long while about why there is always more pushback when I do a discernment essay rebuking someone’s lifestyle than when I note their false doctrine. Both are important. Paul warned Timothy to watch his life and his doctrine closely. (1 Timothy 4:16).

Why the fiercest protections around someone’s lifestyle and personal choices rather than their teaching?

I was a reporter for a newspaper. Whenever I wrote something about what the Council or the School Board was doing that was related to policy, it generated interest, but not a lot of hoopla. But whenever I reported something related to zoning, especially changes to zoning or potential added restrictions, the citizens came out with pitchforks and torches and stormed the meeting halls.

This was because policy might or might not directly affect them. In the long run it does, but it was more intangible and distant, so the reactions might be bemusement or irritation, but not rabid anger. Zoning means MY HOUSE, and MY STUFF. It affected personal liberties, personal choices, and the immediate lives of the people. Citizens veritably foamed at the mouth over zoning issues (and ordinance issues too). Any talk of restricting any personal liberty got them hot.

It’s the same with a false teacher. People might or might not be discerning and even notice if the teacher is twisting doctrine. If told, they might be bemused, confused, or irritated, but in the long run they believe, doctrine doesn’t immediately touch them. (It does, but they don’t know that)

Rebuking a false teacher’s lifestyle choices directly affects them because if they are undiscerning enough to follow the teacher, they are also undiscerning enough to be making personal choices displeasing to God. Meaning, when a false teacher is warned about their excessive lifestyle or their behavior, the follower following the false teacher’s pattern is by proxy being rebuked too. Any talk of restricting any personal liberty gets them hot.

Their negative comments really all stem back to the root: “Don’t you tell ME what to do!” (Genesis 3:6).

Remember, the follower of a false teacher has purposely gathered to herself the false teacher. The follower is the initiator. They browse the potluck table of offerings by false teachers and select the one that’s saying what they want to hear and living like they want to live and satisfying sensual desires they want to indulge.

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3).

Part of discernment is watching doctrine, yes. It’s also watching our own lives and the lives of those we follow and emulate. Lifestyle matters. There are biblical standards for living that leaders are supposed to adhere to.

Qualifications for pastors/elders/overseers/bishops (synonyms). These are not a pick and choose. They ALL must be present in the leader’s life. At all times. (Titus 1,2, 1 Tim 3)

-is above reproach,
-the husband of one wife,
-his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination,
-must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,
-be hospitable,
-be a lover of good,
-be self-controlled,
-be upright,
-be holy,
-be disciplined,
-must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine,
-must also rebuke those who contradict it,
-self-controlled,
-respectable,
-hospitable,
-able to teach,
-not violent but gentle,
-not quarrelsome,
-must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil,
-must be well thought of by outsiders,
-not be arrogant,
-not quick-tempered,
-not be a drunkard,
-not be violent,
-not be or greedy for gain,

The following behavioral and lifestyle standards disqualify a pastor/overseer/bishop.

-insubordinate,
-empty talkers
-deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.
-teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

With that long list, you begin to see why the Bible tells teachers that “not many of you should become a teacher.” (James 3:1a). They will be judged, and with greater strictness, on qualities of teaching AND life.

Qualifications for deacons (and many churches apply these qualifications to teachers too).

-must be dignified,
-must not double-tongued,
-not addicted to much wine,
-not greedy for dishonest gain,
-must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience,
-blameless,
-wives must be dignified,
-wives not slanderers,
-wives sober-minded,
-wives faithful in all things,
-deacons each be the husband of one wife,
-managing their children and their own households well.

Qualifications for older women in general. The false teacher I’m speaking of fails all of these (except the wine).

-must reverent in behavior,
-not slanderers,
-or slaves to much wine,
-teach what is good,
-train the young women to love their husbands and children,
-be self-controlled,
-pure,
-working at home,
-kind,
-submissive to their own husbands,

Takeaway: In employing the discernment gift, the key is to persist!

When I covered government doings as an investigative reporter, it seemed as if the government entity that was doing wrong was entrenched, immovable, never to fall. Like Jericho’s walls. But we kept the pressure on, constant and persistent. Unbeknownst to us, cracks were forming in the foundations that we could not see. But we kept it up on faith that right would conquer might.

And then one day it ALL crumbled. The person resigned, they fled, or they were outed in a raid, or some other excellent resolution happened.

From that I learned to keep the pressure on. I will continue to do so regarding false teachers, especially the one that is causing so much stir in the denomination and heartache among the women I care about. If you are contending in your church, keep it up, gently, persistently, prayerfully, as long as you feel led and your husband leads.

In a recent sermon I heard, it was noted that as Paul wrote Philippians, the epistle of joy, he was actively weeping. (Philippians 3:18–19). It’s the only epistle in which Paul said he wept as he wrote it. Why? His concern over false teachers, “enemies of the cross” that he knew would come in and try to distort the truth and harm his flock. False teachers represent a serious issue to the faithful.

These enemies of truth are people we should weep over all the time. Weep over their lost souls, their hate for Jesus, their judgment day. Weep for their followers, heaping these false teachers up, that they would be delivered in grace and see the truth. Weep that they find solid and credible teachers to follow. Weep for our own souls, inclining toward sin and falsity every day, that the Lord would keep us and protect us from swerving away from His pure center line.

And above all, persist in all you have been called to do, whatever it is, whether it’s discernment, or encouragement, or teaching, or working at home, or raising children, or anything at all. Persevere.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9)

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