Saturday, April 6, 2013

Challies, in the crosshairs of discernment bloggers, and whether discernment ministries are any good at all

Pastor, book reviewer and discernment blogger Tim Challies recently wrote an essay titled "In the Crosshairs of the Discernment Bloggers." His post is causing an uproar. The uproar is for a lot of reasons, but I am not here to write about those. I'm writing about the confusion that has resulted for some people.

In his essay, Mr Challies lumped all discernment bloggers, or "watch bloggers" into one category. The irony that he is a discernment blogger himself wasn't lost on many. He wrote, "They are the playground bullies of the Internet, shaking their fists and demanding your lunch money; if you give it to them you go hungry, if you don't give it to them, you get your head shoved in a toilet. Where the Bible calls us to approach conflict with equal parts truth and love, discernment bloggers operate by lies and fear--or half-truths and fear at the very least. It is an intimidating combination if you are the one who may face their wrath."

Subsequent to his essay, I received a query from someone who said they were not in the habit of reading discernment blogs and supposed that there are all kinds out there, some who do right and some who do wrong. That was a wise statement, but it got me wondering about the new Christian and babes in Christ. What are they to think? Is the entire well of the discernment ministry polluted? I believe Mr Challies did much to discredit the ministry, adding his voice to a growing chorus who either overtly or implicitly (as Mr Challies did) discount the ministry altogether. This is dangerous.

The first problem is that the essay did not name the ministry with which he had issue. This does a disservice to him, the other ministry and to the body in general. As I said a moment ago, it added confusion instead of clarity. No one can go to the other blog and discern whether their words were judgmental or discerning. (Credit: The American Judicature Society).

In the book of Timothy, Paul was not shy about naming the names of the false teachers - he named 8 of them. The NT wasn't shy about naming the names of the movements that were perpetuating falsity, either, naming two that come to mind: Judaizers, Nicolaitans.

I consider myself a discernment blogger. I was given by grace through the Holy Spirit, the gift of discerning of spirits, prophecy, and teaching, along with faith. Because He has been so abundant giving His gifts to me, there is a responsibility for me to use them for the edification of the body. That is why I blog every day.

In modern times, the body has widened in every day practical life to extend to the global body. Cell phones, blogs, twitter, Facebook, Skype, and many other media have allowed connection to and discussion among believers across the world. This has certainly impacted missions, as it has impacted the kind of ministries now present on earth. Who would have thought of the blessing and benefit ten years ago of The Shepherd's Conference being live streamed, and being able to watch 3000 men sing hymns to God and listen to astounding preaching at the same time they were receiving it? Or to pray for them while they were receiving it? That is the blessing.

With a widened body connected through media, comes the danger. There are a lot of things to discuss. But there are also conspiracies, mud fights between denominations and individuals, sinful teaching everywhere, and the tendency is to speak on these things carelessly. My personal barometer before blogging is to ask myself two questions, "Does it exalt Jesus?" and "Does it bring clarity or confusion to the situation?"

My e-mailer was right- as with any ministry, people, or organization, there are the good and the bad. I do agree that many watchblogs are gleefully maniacal when it comes to 'discernment.' We need discernment to know which discernment blogs to read!

Dr. John MacArthur wrote on the topic of discernment in March 2013, in Pulpit Magazine. (Note that link has gone dead but here is another). The title is "The formula for Biblical Discernment." I think it applies to what Challies was trying to say
"It is quite true, of course, that exercising real discernment and being merely judgmental are two vastly different things. There are people who seem to take sinful delight in fault-finding, and they do sometimes try to justify their censorious spirit in the name of biblical discernment. But it isn't terribly hard to distinguish true discernment from mere judgmentalism. Watch out for the full-time critic who constantly reproves and rebukes others but rarely offers any edifying instruction or exhortation when he is the one doing the teaching. Beware the self-styled discernment expert who is always hostile, scornful, or angry toward the subjects of his criticism. There is a place for indignation, sternness, and even sanctified sarcasm, but animosity should not be anyone's default mode. Also, be especially cautious when you encounter someone who seems to take delight in uncovering others' sins or constantly publishing shocking exposés. Gossip, guilt by association, mud-slinging, and personal slurs are fleshly weapons. "The anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). Some who fancy themselves skilled in the art of discernment are merely being fleshly and factious."
Of course those are very wise words. The lengthy essay continues in describing what discernment is, why we need it, and how to apply it. I encourage one and all to go to the link and read the piece in full.

I liked how this website described the gift of discerning of spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10): "Discerning of
Spirits=Revelation Gift. Definitions: Recognizing what is of God verses the world, the flesh, and the devil. Example: Paul recognizing that the girl in Philippi had a spirit of divination." They go on-
Discerning of spirits is the supernatural ability given by the Holy Spirit to perceive the source of a spiritual manifestation and determine whether it is of God (Acts 10:30-35), of the devil (Acts 16:16-18), of man (Acts 8:18-23), or of the world. It is not mind reading, psychic phenomena, or the ability to criticize and find fault.

Discerning of spirits must be done by the power of the Holy Spirit; He bears witness with our spirit when something is or is not of God. The gift of discerning of spirits is the supernatural power to detect the realm of the spirits and their activities. It implies the power of spiritual insight - the supernatural revelation of plans and purposes of the enemy and his forces. It is a gift which protects and guards your Christian life.

How to Test a Spirit

You can discern or test whether or not a spirit is of God by the following three ways:
--Observing what a person does. In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus explains that false prophets are known by their fruit - by their conduct and actions.
--Observing whether or not a person exalts Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as Lord and Savior (1 Corinthians 12:3).
--By listening to what a person says (I John 4:1-3). Does their confession line up with the truth of God's Word?
This is not to excuse the Christian to whom the Spirit has not bestowed the specific gift. We are all to display wisdom in our dealings. 1 Thessalonians 5:21 says "but test everything; hold fast what is good." Rely on the Spirit for judicial and correct application of that verse and the others (1 John 4:1, 1 Cor 14:29) which will grow your skill in discernment even if you do not have the gift. However, Christians with the specific gift strive to use it in every area available to them to edify the body (1 Corinthians 14:3-5, 12, 17, 26; Ephesians 4:12). It is not to be carelessly used to gratify the ego, puff up personal pride, or sling mud.

Those with the gift of "discerning of spirits" or discernment do often run into a problem of pride, and/or of entrenched negativity due to the nature of the ministry. I have to watch out for that myself. With the ease of setting up a blog and gaining an audience, these kinds of sites have proliferated. Look at Jeremiah, depressed and petulant with God. Elijah, running away and then demanding fire from heaven instead of a still small voice. One can get pretty angry and negative. It is a tough, tough ministry. (Graphic, Bible Yellow Pages)

I've often said that it's much more nice to be in a helps ministry. You bring cake. Everyone loves you. In a discernment ministry, you point out sin and call people to accountability and repentance. No one likes you. It always involves some sort of conflict. It gets tiring, and when one is tired they don't guard against negativity. I combat that by praying and looking to Jesus. But someday I may start slipping. I pray good people will point it out to me if I slide toward constant negativity in tone or subject.

I give the Holy Spirit credit in Justin Peters' case. He has been a discernment preacher for many years and he is still as gracious and gentle as he was when he started. A hard thing to do for the flesh is weak. Thereby we know it is the Spirit who strengthens Mr Peters. This is to the glory of Jesus.

Some people do not fall into negativity over time, but incorrectly use the concept of discernment as an excuse to bully right off the bat.

But worse, others take the "judge not" verse to the other extreme. That is what Challies is intimating in my opinion. It is what MacArthur was addressing, he said in the same article,
"It is tragic that real discernment is considered out of fashion by so many evangelicals, because the church has never been more desperately in need of sober, discerning hearts and distinct, authoritative voices to call the people of God back to the clarity and authority of His Word. ... An undiscerning church has no defense against false teaching."
Liberals unfortunately piggy-back on the proliferation of negative discernment bullies and use them to make the claim that discernment isn't needed at all. "Judge not!" they say (a stance MacArthur addresses also in his essay." Those 'bullies' are actually doing satan's job for him because the more people pull back on discernment, the more satan infiltrates, and the more the few discerners out there have to do and point out. It is a downward cycle.

Friends, use discernment when reading discernment blogs, including mine. MacArthur's words above are
wise. Is the blog a screed of hateful and gleeful finger pointing? Or is the finger pointing to Jesus in hopes that restoration and repentance can arise from the false teaching or bad situation being written about? It is not hard to detect the difference between judgmentalism and discernment, the Spirit is there to lead you. And if you ever want more wisdom, pray to the spirit and He will give it without reproach.


  1. Dr. David Reagan of Christ in Prophecy Ministries wrote some blog posts about something similar a couple of months ago. I'm really surprised it did not get much reaction from discernment blogs/ministries as he seems to be well respected. I'm not sure if you read them but they are here:

    1. Hi Debbie! Thanks so much for the links.

      I urge discernment when reading Dr Reagan, however. He holds a view that hell is not eternal for the unbeliever, and that your length of time there is conditional upon what kind of sins you perpetrated. This is an attack on a foundation of the faith (as opposed to, say, pre-trib vs mid-trib, or baptism). Here is what he believes,

      "How long will the unrighteous be tormented in Hell? The traditional view holds that Hell is a place of eternal, conscious torment. According to this view, a person who winds up in Hell is doomed to a never-ending existence of excruciating pain and suffering. Hell is a place of no escape and no hope.

      Another point of view — the one I hold — takes the position that immortality is conditional, depending upon one's acceptance of Christ. I believe the Bible teaches the unrighteous will be resurrected, judged, punished in Hell for a period of time proportional to their sins, and then suffer destruction (the death of body and soul)."

      He believes that the immortality of the soul is unbiblical. After reading his essay on the stay in hell is temporary and that the soul is not immortal, I stopped reading him.

    2. Totally agree with you on this, Elizabeth.


    3. What the what?! I had no clue he believed in something like that. I'm so shocked right now because like you said it is an attack on a foundational doctrine. His ministry's magazines, articles and TV shows are usually on point so I'm just confused as to how he has reached this sort of conclusion. He really needs prayer. Anyway, thanks for your reply and God bless you for all the work you continue to do on this blog. I pray God will strengthen and keep you as you continue with it.

  2. A most helpful blog entry! Thank you Elizabeth. I struggle with trying to not be judgmental. There are so many attacks on God's truth today that I find my discernment antennas to be working overtime. I feel like I'm walking a tight rope. I try to be discerning without going too far over into being judgmental. But I also know discernment is necessary and critical in the ministry. It is a difficult thing to stay on the rope without falling.

    For example, my sister just sent me an email about a ministry called "Body 4 Believers". It is a ministry that claims their mission is "to reach as many people as the Lord will allow with this amazing nutritional information." They base the entire ministry on 1 Cor 6:19 (Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,).

    They have taken that verse out of context. Paul was talking about fleeing sexual immorality, not unhealthy food choices. I wanted to immediately email my sister back and point out everything I found wrong with them, but I resisted until I can respond with a more helpful and humble approach.

    Your blog entry helped me to pause and rethink things. Thank you.

    -Brad (Birmingham, AL)

    1. Thank you for your comment, Brad. Blessings to you, and encouragement too. Humble, Grace-filled discerners like you are SO needed now. The people in your sphere are undoubtedly blessed to have you.

  3. Blessings sister!!
    It takes great courage and humility to ask your readers to have discernment while reading your blog along with others. :) May Father bless you for the love you have for Him.

    Balance is needed in all things even in sitting or walking. Everything needs to be balanced and so this also is for the child of God. Because of our humanity and sinfulness, the gifts we have are faulty and we need each other, in Christ, to sharpen and balance each other so we can function perfectly as the body of Christ.

    Correction hurts, but when done lovingly with Scripture to back up our words, then it is a hurt that can grow into something glorifying to God. My husband is pretty firm, judgmental and hard and I am the opposite, we balance each other out nicely, checking and keeping each other in tune so we function together as a very sharp weapon for Christ.

    Your work here is wonderful and I pray for you often, that the Lord will speak to you clearly and that He will send those into your life that will help keep you balanced, so you can be as effective for Father's Kingdom as He has planned you to be.


  4. It is disheartening to read a blog that is held in high regard only to find the author unwilling to field tough questions concerning that day's post. It is as if they are above the frey and are to be believed just because "they" have said it. Being a good Berean is taboo when it comes to requesting further proof of their assertions and heaven forbid that they should be found in error. Some resort to banning comments from some indiviuals that have dared ask questions or speak against a post. This is a very childish reaction and shows the author's ineptness to support their writings, simply dismissing the nay-sayer is much easier. All of such foolishness is damaging to the testimony of the Lord Jesus in who's Name they purport to speak.

    Blogs and bloggers provided as you think best, Elizabeth.

  5. Great post. Still becoming accustomed with the new gift. My strongest areas are within. Secular media, movies, Tv, music, etc.we were babysitting for the neighbors kids and rented movie ice age- continental drift. Sat down and was reading facebook; wasn't really watching, only listening. I caught 4 blatant but subtle lies-mockeries from the enemy-

    1. Main character said he would do anything to get his family back even death. Then says but wait three days I might come back.
    2.character was asking why the lack of concern because the world was ending and why the possum's always have joy. They reply because were stipid.
    3 an attack on family values as the rebellious teens bullied the daughter because she wouldn't accept them as they are.
    4. The main character again mocks the crucifixtion/resurrection by offering to sacrifice himself for his daughter. I was appalled and felt growing rage as I was listening. Just curious if you are aware of any site that would give reviews based on biblical teaching? I'm tired of exposing my family to weapons from the enemy. Still working on the discernment/spiritual battle in person. Wouldn't say I dropped the ball today when the Jehovah's witnesses came to the door, but after the fact felt more could have been said. Really enjoyed this post, e.

    1. Hi tj,

      Thank you so much. Yes, I am also tired of the world's lies. I can't imagine how hard it is to protect children from them in this day and age!

      As for Christian reviews, There is
      "dedicated to redeeming the values of the entertainment industry, according to biblical principles, by influencing industry executives and artists and by informing and educating the public about the influence of the entertainment media and about how to train their families to become media-wise, so they can choose the good and reject the bad."

      I am sure there are others out there, if you google Christian movie review

      As for the JW's that came to your door and your conversation, I often feel that way, that I could have done more or said something better. But, Isaiah 55:11, So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." He will use what you've said, to His glory!

  6. So wonderfully stated. All should read. Thank you! Thank you every day for your posts!


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