Regarding Tim Challies And Online Discernment Ministries
Posted by Job on April 14, 2009
Christian blogger and author Tim Challies has a couple of posts on up discernment ministries, Fighting Fire with Fire and Evil as Entertainment. I have to say that I disagree with his basic stance, “the basic encouragement was to avoid reading watchblogs.” Instead, my stance is that spiritually mature Christians will by definition do good work because they are following God’s Spirit and not themselves. So, if you are going to follow online discernment ministries, make sure that the ministry is operated by someone who is born again, spiritually mature, has the proper motivations, and a good reputation. Of course, the same goes for any ministry or minister that you lend yourself to.
That said, Challies’ articles caused me to think about the online discernment ministry phenomenon a bit more, particularly as to their existence and the nature thereof. A few points – or more accurately a series of thoughts related to the same point – came to mind.
1. Challies – and many others – voiced the concern that a lot of the online discernment ministries are unbalanced, in that they offer only negative, only positive. I have noticed this myself, and further have noted that for some of these bloggers, the “original content” is negative, while their attempts to provide positive content comes from elsewhere. For instance, when they are speaking against some movement or pastor, it is their own words, but when it is a devotional or sermonette, it is the words of MacArthur or Spurgeon.
The reason for this appears to be that many of these bloggers feel that they are qualified to expose error but unqualified to teach. This is actually backwards. First, edifying activities like teaching takes priority over everything else, and scripture is clear on this. Second, the threshold of knowledge and maturity for exposing and contending against error should be HIGHER than it is for giving truth. If you want to give truth, all you have to do is talk about what a Bible verse means. What a Bible verse means to you. Post a song, poem, or devotional that you have written. Do an online prayer/meditation journal. Talk about your testimony and the testimony of other Christians that you know. Relate what your pastor preached about on Sunday,or what was discussed in your Bible study. Things like that. Sound boring? Good. To be a bit crude and somewhat misleading on purpose, the more boring the better. Those are spiritual things, and only people who are truly interested in spiritual things and being edified will read them. The point is that any born again believer that is determined to edify the body of Jesus Christ over the Internet will find a way of doing so, and it requires no special theological or seminary training, no specific gift, no ordination, etc.
By contrast, say you want to denounce a doctrine or a pastor.
A) Are you absolutely certain that what you are saying is true? You have to back up your charges with evidence.
B) What is the basis of your disagreement with this doctrine/pastor? You have to provide ironclad evidence from a literal interpretation of scripture that is supported by the rule of faith and is supported by the opinions of other born again believers, meaning that you are not going after another professed Christian based on some innovation or private interpretation of scripture.
C) You cannot simply undermine the other pastor or doctrine. You have to provide the alternative, the truth, and justify it with scripture.
D) What is your motivation? Is it to defend Jesus Christ and His gospel? Or is it merely to oppose a denomination, movement, or doctrinal system that you are not a member of and have some grievance against? Are you judging by appearances or external standards, or by spiritual ones?
E) Are you accountable? Do you give scripturally based opposing views a fair hearing, and do you admit mistakes?
F) Are you prudent? By that I mean do you know which battles to fight and which to leave alone? Do you know when to leave a battlefield and move on?
G) Are you contentious? This means are you in the business of provoking fights, or fighting for fighting’s sake?
H) Is it bearing fruit? Are you changing not only minds, but hearts? Are you not only correcting the errors of Christians, but reaching the lost? Or is it merely an echo chamber of people who agree with you?
The main point is that exposing and opposing error is a more difficult job requiring more maturity, more knowledge, purer motives, and a higher standard than teaching. Bottom line: if you are not qualified to teach, then you have no business being a heresy hunter or discernment minister. More to the point: if your desire to combat and expose heresies is greater than your desire to teach and edify, then you have no business being a heresy hunter or discernment minister.
Now some sites use the falsehoods that they encounter as jumping off points to provide some good teaching and edifying. While that is better, it is still wanting. Truth is not so only in the context of or when measured against a lie. Take all the lies away, and the truth is still the truth, because Jesus Christ is truth. The irony of Pontius Pilate asking Jesus Christ “What is truth?” was that the Truth incarnate was standing before Pilate’s very eyes, and Pilate because of the hardness of his heart would not recognize or submit to it and bow before and serve it!
John 1:5 says “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” So put the truth out there, whether it be teaching, preaching, exhortation, comfort, worship, praise, prayers, meditations and ruminations on the Bible, testimonies etc. and it will overcome the lies in the hearts and minds of those who are after the truth. Above all, it is faith. You have to have faith that if you keep giving the truth of Jesus Christ, God will use it to help someone somewhere somehow. Believe Isaiah 55:11 when it says regarding the word of God, dabar, which John translated into logos in John 1:1 and elsewhere: “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.”
Of course, the same applies to heresy hunting. If you expound truth in the course of heresy hunting, then Isaiah 55:11 and John 1:5 applies to that truth as well. However, the truth given by teaching and edification will do a greater good than the truth given by heresy hunting in the same way that there is more edification in interpretation and prophesying than there is in tongues. As 1 Corinthians 14 says, earnestly seek the best gifts. Also, there is a higher bar to clear in giving truth in heresy hunting than there is in teaching. It requires more spiritual maturity, a better command of scripture, more accountability, more research, and it also exposes the person to more temptation. The exposer of heresies and heretics must constantly examine himself for pride, bitterness and purity of motive. Again, if you are not qualified to teach, and by this I mean teach in the absence of needing some lie or liar as your sounding board, then you are not qualified to be a discernment minister or a heresy hunter.
Evidence of this, again, is in scripture. In the gospels, the apostles, in their attempts to combat falsehoods, did nothing but make mistakes. They wanted Jesus Christ to rain down fire from heaven on the Samaritans. They tried to prevent children from coming to Jesus Christ. When various people came to Jesus Christ to be healed, they tried to drive them off. They tried to stop the ministry of a man who was doing works in the Name of Jesus Christ because the man refused to follow them (which some point to as an early manifestation of denominationalism). So when it came to combating error, they were hopeless, more likely to be a cause of error than a cure for it. But when it came to giving truth, bearing witness to Jesus Christ and bringing others to Him, THAT they could do, and they did so even before Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
So, again, I am not saying that we should not patronize the heresy hunters and discernment ministers. I am only saying that we should be judicious, to test and try them in our hearts. Ask yourself “would I accept this person as a teacher of righteousness and truth?” If not, move on to someone else who DOES propagate the Truth of Jesus Christ for Jesus Christ’s sake, and if that person happens to expose a movement, heresy, or false preacher in the process, so be it.