I recently read a post by a pastor who, with a broad brush, condemned all “discernment ministries” as being unloving and promoting disunity in the church.
The concern is that such statements could be construed as saying that it is wrong to exercise discernment. Are we to take the position that anyone who claims his teaching is Biblical and can cite a few verses to support their teaching should be accepted? Are we to remove all theological boundaries as to what is in accord with Scripture?
I think the answer to both these questions is an emphatic “No!”. Note what the Apostle Paul tells his Philippian readers:
“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV) (Emphasis Added)
How is it that we are encouraged by Paul to be discerning yet discernment is wrong and promotes disunity? The fact that we are to approve what is excellent implies that we need to reject what is not.
There are other instances of Scripture encouraging us to seek out the truth and reject teachings that do not align with Scripture. It is the responsibility of elders to fulfill this function and thus protect the church from error.
For example, Paul gives this instruction to Timothy:
“As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.”1 Timothy 1:3-5 (ESV)
I think it would be difficult to build a case that it is acceptable for Timothy to confront wrong teaching but it is not acceptable for leaders today. If it is the right thing for Timothy to do, it is also the right thing for us to do.
I am not writing this as an endorsement of all that is on the internet with regard to discernment or “calling out” of church leaders. Too often statements are taken out of context and sensationalized to mean something that the original speaker did not intend.
Another error of “discernment ministries” is that they often use guilt by association. It is not right to condemn someone solely on the basis of who they hang out with. A cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that this was a favorite tactic of the Pharisees, who were rightly condemned for using it.
The third error of some discernment ministries is that they resort to ad hominem attacks rather than appropriately detailing how a particular teaching is contrary to Scripture. There is nothing wrong with challenging an idea but we should do it in a loving way and not attack the person.
While we should be careful before condemning anyone, when there is someone promoting error in the church, it needs to be addressed.
The confrontation should be done in a way that seeks restoration of the one who is in error. It should be done without contempt toward the person who is in error. But if bad theology is being taught, it is important to show why it is wrong. Such teaching needs to be addressed.
My last point is that true, Biblical, discernment seeks the best for everyone, even the one in error.