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by Marius Benec

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Discernment in the Church

Updated: Dec 3, 2021


“But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Hebrews 5:14 NKJV

Why discernment? I find it appropriate to begin this series with this topic as I believe this to be the invisible mechanism that sets the tone for the subjects to follow. Whether we try to define worship, determine how to relate to the sacraments, church ordinances or simply set the parameters of how ‘we do church’, we need to be able to discern God’s will. The writer to the Hebrews could not have put it more bluntly. It is a matter of good and evil, black and white, holy and profane. This of course starts from the main doctrinal issues and slides into what is called the “secondary theological issues”. But in order to have our senses exercised we need to feed on solid food. To have accurate discernment we must first realise who God is, and when we reach an understanding of God and His holiness, we will soon have a better understanding of who and where we are in relation to God. This is a crucial and fundamental aspect that will be reflected in every church activity. Unfortunately, we are living the times when we do not hear sermons about discernment anymore. 5 books of the Bible are under the category of wisdom. James 1:5 says: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” Who can claim to have enough wisdom? We see today the church being ravished by so much lack of spiritual discrimination, so many bad decisions based on faulty reasoning, superficial understanding of Scripture, widespread ignorance, doctrinal confusion, and even Biblical infidelity[1]. These are no doubt caused by false teachers in the church. However, errors could be avoided if only the true leaders of the church would seek the true wisdom. We are now in so much lack of people who have understanding of the times (1 Chronicles 12:32), to know what we ought to do. How profoundly it is put in Proverbs 1:20-23 - “Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.” And then before in verse 7 the Word says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Here are a few problems and consequences of the false doctrinal teaching in the church that inevitably overlap. Suppression of The Truth. It is very difficult to hold on to a Biblical conviction when the authority of the Biblical truth is being questioned. If there is no fundamental and absolute truth, then every biblical doctrine is debatable and open for any personal interpretation to suit one’s preference through bad hermeneutics. Therefore, statements can be made, and Bible verses taken out of context can be used to justify one’s own sinful actions. How many times have we heard people quoting Bible verses such as: “David danced before the Lord” (2 Samuel 6:14) to justify the adoption of secular music and dances in the church; “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” (Luke 6:37) to discourage discernment between holiness and sin; “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone…” (John 8:7), again to discourage discipline in the church; “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare…” (Jeremiah 29:11) to promote the prosperity gospel; “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” (Isaiah 43:19) to justify the implementation of any new form or attempt to worship and even heresies in the church as a new Godly thing; “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) to essentially justify any course of action in the name of Jesus. These are clear effects of the lack of trained and skilled leaders, together with the superficial understanding of Scripture and ignorance as a result of no solid teaching and Bible study. Here is a great description by John MacArthur of how many churches are actively and increasingly abandoning the truth: “The visible church in our generation has become astonishingly tolerant of aberrant teaching and outlandish ideas-and frighteningly intolerant of sound teaching. The popular evangelical conception of “truth” has become almost completely subjective. Truth is viewed as fluid, always relative, never absolute. To suggest that any objective criterion might be used to distinguish truth from error is to be egregiously out of step with the spirit of the age. In some circles, Scripture itself has been ruled out as a reliable test of truth. After all, the Bible can be interpreted in so many different ways who can say which interpretation is right? And many believe there is truth beyond the Bible.[2]

People’s personal fulfilment. During the sexual revolution of the 1960s, a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States said it was impossible to define character.[3] That led to the moral derail that changed generations since. “Around the turn of the 20th century, educators in the United States and the British Commonwealth began rejecting the idea that laws of morality are eternal and unchanging. As the evolutionary hypothesis took root in the public conscience, people came to believe that what was right in the past may not be right today. Commandments like “honour your father and mother” and “thou shalt not commit adultery” began to sound old-fashioned. People abandoned the absolute morality of Moses and Jesus Christ. They embraced the evolving morality of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud.[4] Why is it that sermons on sin, repentance, suffering, God’s wrath and judgment are so rare or non-existent in the church today? Because they upset people. They make the church unpopular and undesirable. This, however, should not surprise us. We read in 2 Timothy 3:2-5 that ‘… people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.’ How many times have we heard someone say that they want to be encouraged and affirmed during a Sunday service rather than being convicted of their sins? ‘For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions’, 2 Timothy 4:3. The sinful nature will always lead us away from God and His moral standards. A research from 2019 done by Ipsos MORI and the Policy Institute at King’s College London shows that the British public has become significantly more liberal on moral issues over the last 30 years.[5] Hence, the proportion of the British public who think homosexual relationships are morally wrong has fallen from 40% to 13%.[6] When we hear a sermon on the attributes of God, it almost goes without saying that the topic is going to be ‘God is love’. “This is the only attribute that some will ever choose to believe about God. Albeit, it is an altered one, where our Creator looking down upon His planet earth with an unconditional affection towards everyone. It sounds so good, so non-threatening, and so peace-loving, so why poke at it? Because the endearing expression has been hijacked from the Bible and bubble-wrapped to make the Almighty not so mighty. As the mantra goes, ‘God loves me just as I am.’ We need to see this interpretation for what it really is: smugness; a self-centred, individualistic view which disregards the fall of man, and dilutes God’s constitution into something unbiblical and ineffectual. It has become a form of philosophy that perverts the nature of God for the sake of one’s own personal pleasure.[7] The mistakes that many churches make is to eliminate the unpopular doctrine and to stay silent on what offends the sinner in order to reduce the opposition. The English Puritan Richard Baxter once said: “I hate that preaching which tendeth to make hearers laugh. You cannot break men's hearts by jesting with them.”To quote John Stott: “Tolerance is not a spiritual gift; it is the distinguishing mark of postmodernism; and sadly, it has permeated the very fibre of Christianity.” By reducing the truth, we reduce discernment and the number of those being saved together with sanctification and the power of the church to minister to the world[8]. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: "The Church has been trying to preach morality and ethics without the Gospel as a basis; it has been preaching morality without godliness; and it simply does not work. It never has worked, and it never will." Christians must be prepared to be marginalised and even persecuted for speaking the truth. If the church leaders can escape by eliminating the offensive truth, they will not escape divine judgement. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” - Romans 1:18 Disunity. One of the most harming concepts of the modernist world that also infiltrated the church is the unwillingness to think antithetically. The elimination of the black and white and the more conformable thought that everything is a shade of grey results in reducing the once known facts to relative truths or personal opinions only. Before we can even start to study the Biblical doctrines, we must rectify the attitude that we have about the clarity of the Scripture. We will never be able to achieve unity and determine the doctrines if our philosophy is to “agree to disagree”. As a church and community of fellow believers we must not agree to disagree. Instead we must agree to study the Scripture until we reach the knowledge of the truth. The Bible says the same thing to everyone, it’s not subjective to the person reading it. We cannot hide behind the statement “this is how I understand it at this stage in my journey”. It means the same thing to everyone at any stage. “One part of the great heritage of the Protestant Reformation, to which we owe so much, is its doctrine of Scripture. Not only did the Reformation return the Scriptures to the church, but the Reformers laid down fundamental principles of biblical interpretation which the church has followed to the present.[9] Doctrinal disunity is when people look for what the Bible says for them personally or what they interpret to be the truth, rather than accepting what the Bible really means. This takes us to existentialism and the concept of “truth that is true for me” by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.[10] Disapproval of polemics in the church is a serious matter. People put love first and treat arguments over doctrines as unchristian. That attitude is responsible for the removal of the authority from the pulpit, the charge of dogmatism and dislike of reproof and correction. The church lost its will to disturb the world and the sinner. Christians are concerned on how to merge the kingdom of darkness with the kingdom of God from a perspective that will draw in a sinner[11]. The Bible and the Christian values advocated in the Scripture are inevitably becoming more and more offensive, unpopular and even politically incorrect. That should not influence what we preach. Church leaders who defend women in ecclesiastical office, evolutionism, homosexuality, etc. admit that Scripture is opposed to these notions; but they insist that Scripture must be interpreted in the light of our modern times,[12] undermining as such, the fundamental principle of sola scriptura — by Scripture alone. The biblical truth cannot be watered down. The unity in the church must be based on the Biblical truth and mustn’t be mistaken with conformity that agrees to accept error and goes beyond the teaching of the Scriptures. I believe that now, more than ever, we need to be re-acquainted “with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:15-17



Bibliography

[1] Grace to You, 2019. Session 11: God’s Demand for Discernment (John MacArthur). YouTube. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCi2yWeP5qA> [Accessed 15 July 2020]. [2] MacArthur, J., 1994. Reckless Faith. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, pp.19-20. [3] Miiller, A., 2017. MORAL DECLINE IN BRITAIN AND AMERICA. [online] theTrumpet.com. Available at: <https://www.thetrumpet.com/15704-moral-decline-in-britain-and-america> [Accessed 13 August 2020]. [4] Ibid. [5] Ipsos MORI. 2019. British Attitudes To Moral And Social Issues Have Become Significantly More Liberal In The Last 30 Years. [online] Available at: <https://www.ipsos.com/ipsos-mori/en-uk/british-attitudes-moral-and-social-issues-have-become-significantly-more-liberal-last-30-years> [Accessed 13 August 2020]. [6] Ibid. [7] Michaels, F. and Johnson, P., 2018. Five Half-Truths. Glasgow: Bell & Bain, p.71. [8] Grace to You, 2019. Session 11: God’s Demand for Discernment (John MacArthur). YouTube. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCi2yWeP5qA> [Accessed 15 July 2020]. [9] Hanko, H., 1993. The Reformation And Biblical Interpretation. [online] Prca.org. Available at: <http://www.prca.org/resources/publications/articles/item/4920-the-reformation-and-biblical-interpretation> [Accessed 15 July 2020]. [10] MacArthur, J., 1994. Reckless Faith. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, p.26 [11] Grace to You, 2019. Session 11: God’s Demand for Discernment (John MacArthur). YouTube. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CCi2yWeP5qA> [Accessed 15 July 2020]. [12] Hanko, H., 1993. The Reformation And Biblical Interpretation. [online] Prca.org. Available at: <http://www.prca.org/resources/publications/articles/item/4920-the-reformation-and-biblical-interpretation> [Accessed 15 July 2020].

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