Even if they are correct about one or two of the claims they make, the discernment sites want to keep themselves up there with the viewer and remain, in their own minds, relevant and not seen as old hat in this world of flippant interest and short-term trends. People tend to surface read in this age of tweets, blogs and social media, and have a very short and selective attention span.
It was always the same when books on cults were popular and certain authors would write accurate doctrinal reasons for avoiding obvious cults, but, once that book was read and slotted into its place on the shelf, the authors’ new-found fame urged them on to ‘expose’ other cults or semi-cults or even maybe-cults, to build a library of discernment, which is where these kinds of ministries developed.
They went from being specific to encyclopaedic in their outlook, but did not have the expertise to carry this off. They lost focus. Spiritual myopia set in.
Blogs have made the process even more expansive, and wanna-be discernment sites have opened up everywhere, many piggy-backing those who went before with their books and tapes and national tours exposing the doctrinally challenged, and reproducing their hard-earned investigations alongside ill-researched thought-bubbles.
Then, on the negative side, they are often guilty of spreading the same errors of judgement made popular by lazy critics with itchy fingers on hot browser search buttons, who are more interested in a gotcha than in doing their own research, checking facts, and rather than confining themselves in a disciplined way to bona fide evidence and truth, not heresy or innuendo, blast away at some ministry that some wonderful and godly minister has taken years of hard work to establish with half a dozen words of careless destruction.
These bloggers didn’t even have to engage in the kind of research as the previous generation of authors. They feed off one another, and even employ a comments section where unknown critics with high-sounding pseudonyms such as ‘truth’ and ‘thinker’ and ‘watcher’, coupled with unresolved chips on their shoulders, or singularly dogmatic doctrinal stances, can parade their offences before the universe.
There is obviously a place for discernment. We are Biblically admonished to test every spirit whether it be of God, and to measure against the Word of God everything that is taught in assemblies and via the media – well-grounded understanding of scripture being our quality control. We want to be in the centre of God’s will, and not to lead people away from sound doctrine. Eternal life is to know God the Father and His Son, Jesus – the Word made flesh – and we know Him by the Word and Spirit through faith in Christ.
But when it comes to criticism of ministries, churches, ministers and those engaged in Christian activities we have to be far more circumspect and not allow ourselves to sink into the mire of division and schism for the sake of winning an argument. As Paul said, separating ourselves off into doctrinal clans that argue between one another is immature and divisive.
When discernment ministries (we’ll allow them that epithet for now) attempt to recycle stories they have already covered, or present innuendo, supposition and hearsay as fact, or look for every little quirk or slip of the tongue in the ministries they attempt to judge, they do the Body of Christ a great disservice, and become a greater part of the problem they seek to expose.
Followers and fruit
Sites like the chookwatcher blogs attract a following. Jesus said that we will know them by their fruits. The fruit of the chookwatcher sites is a group of followers who are incredibly offensive and impatient with anyone who challenges their values or methodology. They are, in the main, incapable of holding an adult conversation with anyone who points out their abrasive nature.
Their comments towards detractors are often laced with a disapproving air of contempt. One chookwatcher follower recently told a critic that he had a size eleven head that perfectly fit his size eleven boot. You get the picture. The fruit of judgement can be spite.
When sites are run in such a way that no target group can ever be presented as having any virtue or sound quality, but must always be portrayed in a bad light, you know that the discernment site itself has overstepped the mark and has slipped into error.
It is easy to be a critic. Churches and movements are very open and often large targets. The big thing about churches and ministries is that they are run by human beings. Yes we know that Jesus is the Head and we are the Body, but he has entrusted the ministry to vulnerable and earthen vessels, and we are subject to every temptation known to man, just as much as the unsaved world is, only with the added responsibility of being a target of the adversary, who is delighted when one of us stumbles or falls or fails.
In short we all need Christ as much as ever, even when we are saved.
Rules of discernment
So, if you set yourself up to find fault in a church, or leader, or movement, you are certain to succeed. The faults are everywhere. They are often plain to see. I don’t know a single person, other than Christ, who has a complete angle on doctrine, or lives a life that is totally, perfectly scriptural, or who is able to teach and expound on every facet of theology with absolute accuracy and virtue. Do you?
So of course we could focus an entire blog on that one group or person or ministry, and eventually find something wrong that we can expose as some kind of proof that the one or two things we have found must, therefore, be evidence that every other thing they do or say or believe must be wrong.
If you are going to live like that and produce a blog that relies on that kind of irrational philosophy, as the chookwatchers do, then you will have to abide by the other rules of discernment and judgment, that is – to place yourself under the same microscope first.
Yes, first. Jesus said we have to examine our own doctrine, conduct, attitude and issues before we make the assessment in another person.
Of course, when we do this we will discover that we have at least as many issues in our own lives as in the lives of those we seek to expose publicly.
We are completely undone. We are exposed by the Word of God which is a sharp two-edged sword and very powerful, dividing between the spirit and soul, bone and marrow, and is a discerner of the very thoughts and intentions of the heart. The Word, when it is shone our lives and heart, is incredibly searching and we are naked and exposed before Him.
I have to wonder how the chookwatchers pass the self-analysis by the Word test. Have they ever shone the light on their own intentions, on their own motives, on the lengths to which they are prepared to go to say bad things about good people.
And not just the chookwatchers. This site focuses on them in some ways, but it is also about the discernment camp in general, and even shines a light on itself as a discerner of discerners, because the same principle applies to all of us. None is exempt. The light shines on everyone equally and loses none of its strength or power just because we might think we are right and others are wrong.
In attempting to focus the microscope on minuscule faults of men and women saved by grace, the discernment sites tend to be myopic about the actual great commission given us by Jesus, and the fact that we need each other if we are to complete the task placed before us as the Body of Christ under his Headship.
If discernment ministries start out with a genuine cause (and I am not attributing this to the chookwatchers), but then slip into a pattern of judgment about others so that they can maintain their presence, then they are, I believe, working against the Body of Christ. They become, perhaps unwittingly, antichrist.
They are presenting judgment of their brethren before the world and making the Body of Christ seem to be a schismatic and argumentative group. The chookwatcher sites present a classic example of followers of a certain way of thinking showing themselves to be utterly contentious of anyone who challenges their perspective.
It is shortsighted. It misses the point of what it means to be a follower of Christ in an age of technology and rapid communications progress. They have taken advantage of the advances in social media without taking responsibility for their words and attitude.
They use the fullest power of the reach of the internet to injure their quarry without self-assessing their own shortcomings and failures.
They confirm to the world of unbelievers that the Body of Christ remains disjointed and juvenile in its attitude towards other Christians with views of which they disapprove.
Is there a place for discernment? Yes. Is the internet the best place? No, not on the evidence of sites like the chookwatcher blogs. They do a great disservice to the Body of Christ. They are critics for the sake of being critics. They exhibit no humility, grace, mercy or willingness to build bridges or mend hurts. They encourage the hurt and disaffected to spread rumour and innuendo. They do not seek to mend broken hearts, but to extend the period of offence.
Listen to this, and note it well, all who are offended by men – it is better to allow God to vindicate any wrong than to seek vengeance through exposure. That is a fact. It is also scripture.
There is a place for discernment, but it must be correctly applied or it is a weapon against the witness of the Body of Christ.
It’s time for the Body to come together as one under Christ to win a lost and hurting world rather than make up stories that rip it apart and render it ineffective and impotent.
Jesus is building his Church, not tearing it down.