The Pen

Getting Cut On The Double-Edged Blade Of “Discernment”

But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food,  for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. Hebrews 5:11-14

“Discerners” have a problem.

While these individuals have a hunger and passion for knowledge of God, for truth, for the scriptures and a desire to care for and protect the flock and Church, they can often find themselves to be embroiled in personal hypocrisy through a lack of introspection regarding the full range and meaning of what it means to be “discerning.”

For believers who have acquired and self-identified with the coveted “discerning” label, the tendency is to take a pastor or teacher and pick and parse every word they say. The discerners analyze Tweets, blogs and sermons with a fine-tooth comb. They read status updates and retweets with a critical eye,  filing it away in their compendium of knowledge about a given well-known leader, with the conclusion that if these other Christian leaders [or especially friends and family members] say something that they don’t like, or quote someone they know is a heretic, or mentions that they likes certain authors with less-than-stellar ecclesiology and theological acumen, the instinct is to label this man or woman as “UNDISCERNING. ”

This subset of Christians who are active on social media, love podcasts, and are active in the combox of one or more Online Discernment Ministries, have the tendency to look at their Christian brothers or sisters lauding and praising certain sketchy Pastors and teachers, and the propensity is to think things like “How could they not know “Person X”  is a false teacher? Can’t they recognize the terrible exegesis? Haven’t they noticed that he’s 29 minutes into his sermon and has not quoted one Bible verse? Have they not read her blogpost from three years ago where she said so and so? How can they not see the error of their ways? Don’t they read the Bible? Do they even know what a Bible is? Man these people probably read the Message Bible and the NLT.  How could this Christian be so undiscerning?

I’m not denying anyone the right to say and think these things- not in the least. The visible Christian Church has essentially descended into treachery and stupidity for the very reasons that I listed above. We’re engulfed in a downgrade. “We are going down hill at breakneck speed” and we need more Bereans sounding the clarion call. I’ll never try to take that away from anyone. What I am suggesting though is that sometimes in our righteous zeal, thinking ourselves qualified to cast judgment because we feel we are gifted in discernment, we do ourselves and each other a disservice when we try to compartmentalize an intellectually assenting discernment from a practical, personal discernment.

Specifically, just because someone has a weakness and a blind spot in one area, does not necessarily mean they can be written off whole-cloth and unqualifiedly as “undiscerning.” Rather, what is often true is that the same people judging and calling out the immature theology in others are often beset with their own immaturity and blind spots on a personal level.

That associate pastor of yours may not have the discernment to recognize that someone like Steven Furtick is an habitual Scripture twister , but neither do you have the discernment to stop looking at pornography and see it for the unquestionably devastating and far reaching sin that it is, and they do.

That writer may not have the discernment to recognize who the Church should exists for [hint, it’s not for the “Unchurched”] , but neither do you have the discernment to stop screaming at your children and husband and provoking them to wrath, and they do.

Your friend may not have the discernment to stop gushing over the theological poison that such books like “Heaven is for Real”, “The Circle Maker” or “Your Best Life Now” offer, but neither do you have the discernment to stop gossiping about and slandering your neighbors and co-workers”, and they do.

Our personal vices are ultimately theological at their root, and so when you brand someone as “undiscerning” who just may not have the  interest, knowledge or desire that you do for theological precision in one arena of life, while attempting to separate that from the conflict and struggles that you have with personal discernment in your own life,  it fosters and fuels a sinful and proud nature.

To put it succinctly: They don’t have discernment in area “A”, but you don’t have discernment in area “B”. One just makes him/her ignorant, the other makes you a hypocrite. They may think Joyce Meyer is a fantastic Bible teacher, much to your chagrin and head-shaking,  but then again they also don’t revel in sexual sins as you do and have far more success at guarding their heart and keeping it pure, so who is the undiscerning one now?

In the end , having a clear and humbling knowledge of our own lack of discernment in our personal struggles with sanctification ought to give us reason to pause with our finger on the trigger, let us linger on our words a little longer, swallow back our ire a little more, and meditate on our own weakness and sins and lack of discernment before we drop that label on one of our brothers or sisters. You don’t have to be perfect before you make these calls, but you do need to have a greater awareness of your own imperfections and failings, and that ought to fuel your grace and precision when speaking of these things.