What Discernment Is Not
Some zealous Christians - for example, young Christians who have recent exposure to books on contemporary Christian theology, or even those who have of late been converted to Calvinism and the Reformed faith - are very quick to pronounce judgment on various ministers, teachers, or Christian organizations. We must constantly remind ourselves what true discernment is, and especially, what spiritual discernment is not.
Spiritual discernment is not:
Gossiping about others (Deut 22:13-19)
Tale bearing (Leviticus 19:16; Proverbs 11:13)
False witnessing (Exodus 20:16; Exodus 23:7)
Whisperings (Romans 1:29)
Slandering others (1 Tim 3:11)
Making false accusations (Titus 2:3)
Vain talking (Titus 1:10)
Defaming (Jeremiah 20:10)
Tattling (1 Tim 5:13)
Lying (Proverbs 6:17; Rev 21:8; Rev 22:15)
Deceiving (Rev 12:9)
Backbiting (Psalm 15:3; Romans 1:30)
Gossiping involves discussing intimate details of people’s life for injurious or malicious purposes. Often, the gossiper fails to clarify the facts with the relevant persons involved. The Bible describes such ungodly activity as “tale bearing,” “false witnessing,” slandering,” “tattling,” “lying,” and “backbiting.” The spread of rumours and tales amongst brethren can have drastic repercussions, and can even destroy the entire church. The reputation of many good ministers and elders had been permanently damaged due to such gossiping.
True biblical discernment must not be confused with a cynical attitude, or “Christian” witch-hunting. There are some believers who have a critical attitude about everything. They would challenge the authority of almost every leadership, and criticize every minute detail of the doctrines taught. They would constantly occupy themselves with faultfinding and cavilling. We must not confuse such practices with spiritual discernment.
Spiritual discernment entails the judgment of doctrinal teachings against the Word of God. When a believer proceeds to make a judgment against a false teaching, he must be careful to state only the facts. Such a judgment must corroborate with documented evidence and relevant witnesses. Stating a fact, such as exposing errors or naming false teachers, is not gossiping. On the other hand, we must restrain ourselves from making personal attacks or unfounded claims.
Genuine discernment emanates from a sincere intent to teach others the truth. It is not self-seeking, but stems from a heart of humility and service. Thus, discernment must not be divorced from godly love (Eph 4:15, 1 John 2:5, 5:2-3, 2 John 1:6, John 14:23, Phil 1:9-10).
Likewise, the believer must not confuse spiritual discernment with a lust for attention. Some young Christians like to boast about their theological learning, and they might dress it up with an appearance of being discerning. With the use of theological jargon, terminology of Philosophy, and Latin phraseology, some are attempting to draw attention to themselves, while all the time they are simply hoping for others to realise how learned they are. Such must not be the case for the God-loving believer.
We must not be quick to make judgments against anyone unless the facts are verified. Even so, disciplinary procedures must be carried out in a godly and scriptural manner by the Church (Matt 18:15-17, 2 Cor 2:6-11, Gal 6:1). False doctrines and heresies taught publicly must be exposed in public. This is necessary to warn those who are exposed to dangerous leaven or teachings. The Bible says, “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear” (1 Tim 5:20). Again, “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject” (Titus 3:10).
There are some who believe that the act of naming names is unkind and unloving. False teachers who teach false doctrines openly must also be identified publicly. The Apostles themselves made an effort to name names: Hymenaeus (1 Tim 1:20, 2 Tim 2:17), Philetus (2 Tim 2:17-18), Alexander (1 Tim 1:20, 2 Tim 4:14), Demas (2 Tim 4:10), Diotrephes (3 John 9), Phygellus and Hermogenes (2 Tim 1:15) were promptly identified and dealt with in the epistles. Our Lord Jesus was never sympathetic towards the false teachers of His days, namely, the Pharisees and Sadducees. He openly warned His disciples of their dangerous doctrines (Matt 5:20, 16:6,11, 23:13-15, 23, 25, 27, 29, Mark 8:15, Luke 11:39, 42-44, 12:1).
We will discuss the reasons for the lack of discernment in further posts.