Paul told us that schisms and divisions in the Church were a sign of carnality.
He said these things are childish and mere baby talk that needs to be put way.
One of the characteristics of so-called discernment gurus is their tendency to split the Church into isms.
A classic example would be the Pulpit&Pen’s crew’s dependency on categorising churches, ministers and movements as continuationists, montanists, and even inventing new isms such as kenyonism, osteenism, retanism, arianism, and so it goes on.
The chookwatchers repeat this in many of their articles, and so does the Irate Pirate, who has an extensive list of isms in his armoury.
They, of course, even have their own epithet, grouping themselves as cessationists, which means they claim that the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church has stopped. It dribbled away, they say, between the time of the last of Christ’s Apostles and the coming of the canon of scripture, sometime in the fifth century. There is no scripture for this, nor logic to it.
But it is from this position that these ism specialists arrange those who disagree with their particular brand of unbelief into their lists of ists.
However, the Apostle Paul frowned on those who classified other Christians as inferior to themselves.
1 Corinthians 3:1-4 I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal?
Babes in Christ. So Christian, but immature, carnal and infantile in their attitude.
Growing up in the Spirit
Paul is admonishing us, in this passage, to walk in the Spirit and be people of the Spirit. He wants the Church to grow and develop in maturity according to the wisdom of God, and avoid the schisms and division of carnality.
1 Corinthians 2:6-16 However, we speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
But as it is written:
“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard,
Nor have entered into the heart of man
The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.
These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
We cannot grow in maturity if our eyes are fixed on judging and assessing others in an obsessive way. We need our eyes on Christ, not on those we oppose. We wrestle not with flesh and blood.
Walking in the Spirit
We need to be focused on our own walk, and not spending so much time looking at the affairs of others that we miss our own errors. If we are in the Spirit we will exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. We will be walking in love.
Colossians 3:1-4 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
If our attention is on Christ, and on heavenly things, we will not have time for continually discerning others. Discernment, we are told, is for the mature, not for babes.
I do believe in discernment, on two levels. Discerning of spirits, which is one of the manifestations of the Spirit, as He wills, and then there is discerning of what is right and wrong.
However, I don’t see the latter as a dedicated ministry whereby we spend all of our time digging and searching for the possible errors of people of whom we do not approve. What if we find error? The Bible says we should avoid them if they are in error, not pursue them. When we avoid them we can focus on our walk with Christ.
Paul’s teaching is more of an admonition to be mature through diligent study and application of the Word so that when we are confronted with error we are easily able to discern it and have the ability to dismiss it or show others how to avoid it, not as a permanent ‘ministry’, but as part of the ability we have in Christ to deal with matters as they arise and move on.
Yes, there are times when we are in a places or positions where we need to be able to discern what is taking place and measure it against the Word of God, but we are not called to spend all of our time seeking out and pouring over those in error.
We are to test every spirit whether it is of God. But this isn’t a license to be ghost busters. We have enough to do with working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
Snakes in the grass
Some levels of so-called discernment blogging are no better than the ministers who have literal snakes in their assemblies to ‘prove’ Mark 16.
Mark 16:17-18 “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Well, nowhere does scripture say that we have to have serpents in the church to prove we are protected from them. Nor do we have to take deadly poison, any more than we have to go out searching for demonised people.
These verses mean that if we are in the field and we need protection from these things, God will give it, as we saw with Paul on one of his journeys.
So, yes, we are to be discerning of right and wrong by growing in the Word, but this isn’t an invitation to scroll through google searches seeking errors in people’s ministries, or rip apart tweets like post-modern high schoolers.
So how do we deal with those who are in error?
Romans 16:17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.
Note them and avoid them. Which part of avoid them are the so-called discernment sites misunderstanding?
The Greek word means to turn away from them, to shun them, to avoid them.
Contending or contention?
Can you imagine how much constant work and effort goes into sustaining full-on ‘discernment’ blogs like the chookwatcher sites, or Pulpit&Pen, or the Irate Pirate? They are a continual bombardment against those they should note and avoid – that is, supposing they are correct in their assessment, which is subject to scrutiny.
Yes, we are called to warn others about those who teach wrong doctrine, and that includes those who write and speak from the position of stating the Holy Spirit has ceased to operate as He did in the Book of Acts, which is clearly an error, or those who teach the exclusive doctrines of Reformed theology.
And we are to contend for the faith. This means we teach and live by what is right according to scripture rather than seek out and find those who are in error so that we can spend our lifetime contending with their perspective.
Contending for the faith isn’t a license to seek out and contend with those who are against the faith, but rather to mark them and avoid them so that we can focus on what is right. If we preach the truth that is contending.
But there is no ministry of continual opposition to selected churches, movements, or ministries.
For instance, I see JWs everywhere, but there is no necessity to contend with them every time I see them just because I know they are in error. If they knock on my door I will share the truth with them until they choose to change or leave, but otherwise I am admonished to mark and avoid them.
Even if I engage them, it is not for an argument over doctrine. They are blinded. I only need to show them the truth. If they cannot see it, that is not my problem. I used to argue with them for hours, and get nowhere. That is a waste of time. It is merely contention, not contending for the faith. There is a difference.
The constant assault on the Body of Christ by obsessive bloggers is merely divisive. Many argue from their own position of error. They are carnal. They are what Paul called babes, and not able to endure spiritual food.
Time to grow up.