If you know anything about discernment, you know it can have a bad name. While discernment can definitely be done well and with grace and love, often times it is done rudely and poorly.
Discernment is known as the ministry is which a person warns others of false teachers and their teachings. They point out their errors and direct us back to Scripture where the truth is proclaimed. This has the possibility is being a gracious gift to the church. However it can, by means of sinful man, become something monstrous when it is based on conscience issues, facts are founded on lies, rudeness is prominent, and God’s glory is not the goal.
Problem # 1 | Discernment is Based on Conscience Issues and not Biblical Issues
When calling someone out as a false teacher, we must be careful that the issues we are raising with their teachings are actually unbiblical and not simply preference or a conscience issue for you. Paul discusses the issue of convictions versus command in Romans 14. These are the grey areas in which the Bible gives no specific command and we are free to choose by means of our conscience and our understanding of what the Bible does command.
Some examples of personal convictions (not direct commands from God) are:
Homeschooling vs. public school
Public school vs. Christian school
Working mom vs. stay at home mom
Not listening to secular music
These are all issues of the conscience, not law. Two Christians can disagree on issues such as these and both still be in obedience to God if their conscience is clear before Him.
Because these are conscience issues and not law issues, we cannot condemn someone as a false teacher because they do not agree with you on this topic. Otherwise, you are putting people under a law that God does not, just like the Pharisees did.
How do we make sure we are not doing this in our discernment? We test ourselves by Scripture. What you are calling sin, does the Bible also clearly call sin? Test your claims thoroughly before making them public.
Problem # 2 | Discernment is Based on Lies and/or Rumours
Many people discredit themselves as speakers of truth by using information that is wrong. This happens in a number of ways:
They use false information they read/heard from someone else
They did not do their own thorough research
They take phrases and sentences out of context
They made claims that could not be backed up
They based their claims on rumours rather than proven facts
Discernment writers slip up in these ways constantly. And though the person they are trying to warn people about is actually a false teacher, they discredit themselves with lazy research that provided false information. God warns people against such slander. One of the Ten Commandments is to not bear false witness, and yet we do it often through restating false rumours we have heard about false teachers.
Prayerfully consider each claim made against them. Do your research before making claims you can’t back up. And if you don’t have time or the effort to do thorough and proper research, then you are not qualified to speak out against those false teachers. They are humans created in the image of God, and God commands you to speak truthfully about them.
Problem # 3 | Discernment is Spoken with Angry, Mean Words
Jesus called out the Pharisees in a way in which we would classify as harsh. He spoke to them truthfully as those who were in rebellion against God. He spoke truth about them, and He did so publically.
But what He didn’t do is make fun of them. He didn’t unleash unrighteous anger upon them. He spoke with righteous anger that was concerned for God’s glory and the spiritual welfare of the people under their lies. If you are calling out false teachers in an angry, hateful way, do not qualify yourself by saying, “Jesus did it too.” Jesus, being the perfect Son of God, did so without sin, unlike you.
Furthermore, how many people do you think you are changing with your cruel and sarcastic words? Do you truly believe that the false teachers are going to be changed by your mean words? Consider the people who are entranced in their false ministries and love them. Do you truly believe your cynicism and mocking will open their eyes to the truth? Or will it simply make them more likely to run back to their false teacher for comfort?
Friend, how were you won over to the truth? Through unkind words? Through name-calling? How did God change your hardened heart? “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NASB). Remember the love that was shown to you while you were in rebellion against God, and let that love control the way you act towards these false teachings.
Problem # 4 | Discernment is Rooted in Pride and Anger Instead of Love and God’s Glory
The ultimate reason any of these problems are arising is due to our own sinful pride and anger. We care more about looking smart and witty than helping the people burning up in the lies. We care more about our voice being heard and having people agree with us than God being honoured.
If our goal and desire was to see people transformed for God’s glory, then we wouldn’t be fighting over silly myths and issues. If we were rooted in love for fellow believers, we wouldn’t speak rudely and ruthlessly. If we cared about God’s glory, we would take the time to do proper research. True, biblical discernment must start in the heart with a love for God’s people and His glory. Without that, your ministry is in vain.
As Jesus has already called us, let us examine ourselves first.
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5 NASB
Check yourself. Begin with asking why you are attempting to speak out against this false teacher. Once your motives are in place, do your research and find out if they are actually a false teacher—determine if they are speaking against biblical doctrine, and find out if the claims made against them are accurate. Then speak, and do so in love.
If you have made a disaster of discernment in the past, don’t let it discourage you. Remember God is abundant in grace and will forgive His children. So repent and seek to mend the wrongs you have done, and rely on God’s grace throughout it all—because you will need it.