By Elizabeth Prata
Part 1 here: Why are there so many false pastors?
In these biblically illiterate days, many people focus their anger on the person calling out false teachers. They become angry with those who are warning against false doctrines or movements. Discernment is important! But, is there a scriptural basis for discernment activity, such as calling out false teachers, or warning the brethren of faddish leaven-soaked movements?
The fact of the Spiritual gift: Some in the faith have been given the spiritual gift of “discerning of spirits.” Some translations say “distinguishing of spirits.” This is embedded in the list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.
The purpose of the spiritual gift: The reason some have been given this spiritual gift is to be a smoke alarm for the local body, an early warning system as it were. ALL spiritual gifts are to be employed for the good of the church and the glory of God. Discerners are to use their gift of discernment to warn others so that false doctrine does not creep in. False doctrine is deadly. It’s “leaven” that pollutes the whole loaf.
Did you know that every New Testament book except Philemon warns of false doctrine or false teachers and outlines the impact falsity has on the church? It is a HUGE issue. It is something the NT does not ignore, and we should not either. So the Spirit installed discerners to help keep His church pure.
Discerners do not have extra sensory perception, nor direct revelations from God. It’s not a mystical activity. They just know the Word so well, they can spot a counterfeit at 100 paces. It would insult the Spirit to have been given the gift of discernment by Him but to remain silent and not use it. Jesus rebuked the church at Thyatira in Revelation 2, for knowing the metaphorical Jezebel was teaching falsely, but did nothing about it.
Discernment for the layman: Though some do not possess the specific spiritual gift of discernment, ALL people in the faith are to work at honing their discernment. Hebrews 5:13-14 expects the believer to train in discernment. Acts 17:11 tells us all to be like the noble Bereans who consulted the word to compare whether what they were hearing was true or false. 1 John 4:1 tells us to test the spirits to see if they are from God.
So even if a person does not have the gift, they are to be working at being discerning themselves through constantly being in the Word and by training and practice of discernment.
Calling out the false: The folks that feel they possess the gift, or are pastors or teachers in charge of the sheep, have a DUTY to warn. Jude speaks to this, in just one of many examples. Jude 1:22 speaks of snatching some from the fire. Matthew 7:15 says to “beware” of false prophets that come in like hungry wolves. Beware is an action, we must be on guard. And many other verses…
So if one person who is more mature than another (Hebrews 5:14) sees that their friend is about to be devoured by a wolf, or led astray, or headed to a shipwreck (all allusions in the NT for what happens to the undiscerning), is it loving to look away, go home, and pray? Yes, prayer is effective (James 5:16). But paired with a gentle but direct warning, it is even more effective.
Discernment Police: The person who chides the discerner is usually one who likes their idols. They should be concerned with their own walk and its purity and holiness. Though I rarely receive this kind of reply, the reply I’d love to see is this:
“Oh no, you say So and So is false? Please tell me more. I want to honor Jesus with all my might, and would be crushed to think I’m polluting my faith by being unwary. Help me understand.”
THAT is the answer we all hope to get, SHOULD get, because Jesus is more important than anything.
People have too soft of an attitude toward false teachers and false doctrine. The serpent deceived Eve with one question. He tried to bamboozle JESUS of all people, tempting THE Word with the word of God. The concern for all of us should be holiness and purity of our walk, training in discernment, and being so knowledgeable of the word that we are immersed in truth as our armor.
Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; 2 Timothy 3:5; 2 John 10 in some form or fashion tell us to mark and avoid the false teachers. These are commands. We cannot mark nor avoid if we do not know who they are. We should thank discerners for helping us to do this.
WHY are there so many warnings about false doctrine in the New Testament? Because it’s important! And because we are all easily deceived: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12
Balance: Now it is true that some people get so consumed with discernment that they wind up looking for the dirt rather than focusing on Jesus. They are imbalanced, spending too much time on discernment and not enough in the word and other spiritual disciplines. Discerners like that give the spiritual gift a bad name. Balance and moderation is key.
Resource: Balance in our theology is important
Grace: If someone is charging you dear reader, with being too active in discernment, is it because they’re concerned for your balance? Do they think you call out TOO much? On the other hand, are your naysayers uninformed of the verses on discernment, or uninterested in battling against the false in themselves or in their sphere? Are they misunderstanding the importance, given the time and space the NT gives to it? In that case, give them grace and help them learn why it’s important.
Proverbs 11:30, The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.
Part 1 here: Why are there so many false pastors?
John MacArthur, “Defining Discernment”
Ligonier (Sinclair Ferguson) “What is Discernment?”
Republished with permission from Blogs.crossmap.com, featuring inspiring Bible verses about Is there a scriptural basis for discernment? Part 2.