One of the greatest things crippling the church of Jesus Christ today is the almost complete absence of any biblical discernment. It seems that anything goes today, and very few believers are willing to stand up and say, ‘Yes but, what sayeth the Scriptures?’
It seems that almost any teaching, any activity, any practice, and any leader is allowed in our churches, simply because we are too scared or too unwilling to test all things, and assess everything in the light of the Word of God. We are also afraid of being accused of being intolerant or judgmental or unloving to even raise a few questions.
Yet the Bible is absolutely full of commands for us to do this very thing: to assess all things in terms of how they line up with the clear teachings of Scripture. There would be hundreds of such commands in both Testaments. Yet today the people of God seem to be terrified of engaging in the slightest bit of biblical discernment.
The sad truth is, every cult and heretical group around makes it quite clear that the leaders, their teachings and their practices are never to be questioned and never to be challenged. Believers are just supposed to accept whatever they say and do.
Whenever you find such an attitude on the part of any leadership group, you know you are in the wrong place, and you better get out of there at once. But it is not just in the cults where this is happening. More and more mainstream evangelical and Pentecostal groups are also heading down the same path.
Just today I encountered a good example of this very thing. I had posted a link to a video warning about some decidedly unbiblical goings on in some Christian circles which are clearly more in line with New Age beliefs and practices than with biblical Christianity.
Yet one believer wrote back saying I had better watch out, and I had better not “blaspheme”! This person clearly does not even know what that word means, let alone what Scripture teaches us. To simply ask whether someone’s doctrine or practice lines up with the Bible has nothing to do with blasphemy.
Indeed, it is the very essence of being a follower of Jesus. There are so many clear texts on this. But since I was just reading in Matthew 7 today, let me focus on just one important passage. In Matt. 7:15-23 Jesus gives a powerful warning about false prophets.
They will prophesy in his name and do many miracles and even drive out demons. Yet Jesus says they are ferocious wolves in sheep’s clothing. And in the end of time he will say to them, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” These are strong words, but words which are all but neglected by so many believers today.
It seems anyone can come along with some razzamatazz and wow the crowds, and people just soak it up. No hard questions are asked and no biblical checkups are required. We have become so gullible and undiscerning that we are being taken in by one false prophet after another. This ought not to be.
As Grant Osborne comments, “The point of the whole section is that the saints must at all times be watchful to make certain their leaders fulfil their calling. This does not mean a critical attitude (so 7:1-5) but it does entail loving concern and spiritual vigilance. Too many charlatans have appeared throughout church history for us to be complacent.”
Of course one can always go in the opposite extreme, and be unduly critical and judgmental of everyone all the time. And one does not need to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are genuine gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, but there are false ones as well.
R.T. France puts it this way: “The testing of purportedly divine communications is a prominent and necessary concern of the NT writers; cf. 1 Cor. 14:29, 37-38; 2 Thess 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-6. Such wariness coexists in the NT, however, with a recognition of and welcome for prophecy as a genuine divine gift, and Matthew shares that recognition (10:41; 23:34).”
Or as John Stott puts it, “‘Beware!’ Jesus warns. We must be on our guard, pray for discernment, use our critical faculties and never relax our vigilance. . . . This warning of Jesus gives us no encouragement, however, either to become suspicious of everybody or to take up as our hobby the disreputable sport known as ‘heresy hunting’. Rather it is a solemn reminder that there are false teachers in the church and that we are to be on our guard. Truth matters.”
So many other texts can be appealed to here. But if someone no less than our Lord himself could offer such a strong and clarion call for discernment, biblical judgment, and careful assessment of a person claiming to represent him, then we had better start doing what he has commanded us.
The enemy is doing everything he can to destroy the true church. False prophets, false teachers, false signs and false wonders are all part of his bag of tricks. It is incumbent upon every one of us to carefully and thoroughly discern and test what we are receiving.
No Christian leader is above biblical assessment, and to suggest that one is, is a sure sign that one is dealing with a false prophet. The true man of God will always agree that everything he says and does must square with the revealed Word of God. It is pride and demonic arrogance, not true spirituality, that refuses to allow believers to make such vital fruit inspections.