Jordan Hall of Pulpit & Pen, qualifying his need to judge ministries that are not of the Reformed kind, tells us that he has the gift of discerning of spirits and that this gift is actually discernment of doctrine.

Here’s what he claims:

Now discernment is a spiritual gift. The discerning of spirits, and I think I can demonstrate from the Epistles of John that when he says that, he doesn’t mean ‘demon radar’. He means discerning of doctrine. And when we ‘test the spirits’, we’re testing what is being taught.

He ‘thinks’ he can show this from 1 John? Not sure then?

What John is actually discussing isn’t entirely the same as what Paul is teaching. Paul is listing the manifestations of the Spirit to be used in the assembly.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.

But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills.

In this list of nine manifestations of the Spirit, Paul includes the gift of discernment of spirits. Notice that: it is the gift of discerning of spirits.

His gifts, not ours

These manifestations, phanerosis, are a showing forth, a demonstration of the charis of the Spirit. It is ‘making apparent’, ‘making visible’ the extraordinary power of the Spirit in the assembly. His gifts. His manifestations. Not Jordan Hall’s gifts at all.

The only thing Jordan Hall could hope for when it comes to the manifestations of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 is to be considered a worthy vessel for the manifestations, but not at Jordan’s will. It is all at the will of the Spirit. He decides who He uses, who He chooses, and through whom the manifestation will operate at any given time.

These are not gifts given as a measure faith as in Romans 12. These are the manifestations of the Spirit administered as He wills by whosoever He choses in His timing for the benefit of the assembly. It has nothing to do with discerning of doctrine.

John is also telling his readers that they can determine which spirit is behind the teaching they hear. Neither is talking specifically about doctrine, but both are discussing the spirit that is addressing the believer – the spirit behind the doctrine, perhaps, but nevertheless the spirit. There is a subtle difference, but it bears no resemblance to Hall’s claims that he has the gift of discernment of doctrine as if it is a special spiritual endowment.

Diakrisis means ‘to separate, make a distinction, to discriminate, to prefer,’ and the emphasis is on spirits – pneuma. This word, pneuma, never means doctrine. In this context it means either a demon or a messenger spirit from God. It can refer to the Holy Spirit. It can refer to the regenerated spirit of a believer. It doesn’t refer to doctrine. Hall is incorrect, and has chosen for himself a gift that God doesn’t offer.

The manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all. When God the Holy Spirit shows Himself forth through the gifts He is doing it for the profit of everyone in the assembly.

Biblical discernment

There is discernment of doctrine, but it is not by the discerning of spirits, although there may be an association if the spirit behind a false teaching is exposed, and, along with it, the doctrine itself is shown to be error. There was an example in the Book of Acts.

Acts 16:16-19 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days. 

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

This phrase, ‘greatly annoyed’ is given as ‘grieved’ that she had a spirit of divination in the AV. He was inwardly troubled. He knew something was wrong with the girl and it was spiritual. She was possessed of a demon who caused her to speak. Then he knew by the leading of the Spirit to rebuke that spirit and command it to come out of her. This is the gift of discerning of spirits in action.

This wasn’t discerning doctrine. It was discerning of spirits. There is a clear difference.

Discerning of doctrine is a matter of studying and living out the Word of God and being able to discern what is right or wrong about a doctrine. That is what I am doing now with Jordan Hall’s misrepresentation of 1 Corinthians 12:10. I am measuring what he says against what the Word of God says. That is Biblical discernment and comes with maturity in the Lord and in the Word.

Hebrews 5:12-14 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Biblical discernment is valid and necessary, but it should not be confused with the Holy Spirit’s manifestation of the discerning of spirits.

Test every spirit

So to John’s epistles. Is he saying that testing every spirit is a gift of discernment of doctrine?

1 John 4:1-6 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

This is more akin to Hebrews 5 than 1 Corinthians 12. This is trying every spirit to ensure it is of God. It comes, we are told, because we are of God and have the Greater One within. He is the One who discerns within us what is truth and what is error.

We are discerning the spirit of antichrist. This can only be spiritually discerned. It is not a manifestation of the Spirit, however, but rather the presence of the Greater One within us, coupled with our understanding of the Word of Christ. It is not so much about discerning doctrine as discerning, again, the spirit behind the doctrine.

Often we know a false prophet by his or her spirit before we discern the error in their doctrine. There’s just something about them. Well it is the Holy Spirit within guarding us from the spirit of error.

We know that the devil himself can quote scripture. We knew at Christ’s temptation that the devil used scripture to tempt Jesus. Satan used the law to deceive the very elect. He misused what God the Creator said to deceive Eve and tempt Adam.

We discern by the Word and the Spirit. The difference for us is that we have the Greater One in us. We overcome the spirit of the world by Him. Sometimes we know that there is something wrong about what is being said before we know exactly what it is that is wrong. That is the Holy Spirit at work with our regenerated spirit leading us out of error. Or, on a more positive note, He may lead us into truth in a similar way.

So we test every spirit by the Word and by the Spirit. It is important to discern doctrine, but we have to understand what scripture is actually saying before running off into a ministry that doesn’t reflect the truth.

Jordan is a cessationist, which makes me curious. Why, when he denies the other manifestations of the Spirit, such as prophecy, tongues and interpretation, does he claim discerning of spirits as a personal gift from God.

A question for another day perhaps.