Whither Biblical Discernment?

I believe it is not amiss to suggest that biblical discernment may be at an all-time low in the contemporary church. Our ability to think biblically about what is taking place in our world and in our culture seems to have largely disappeared. Instead, tragically many believers think pretty much just as the world thinks.

We have basically adopted the values of the world, the mindset of the world, the beliefs of the world, and the worldview of the world. Instead of offering a counter-cultural critique of the world and its ways based on the Word of God, we have for the most part capitulated to the world.

discernment 4We are not able to offer any prophetic words to challenge the current secular culture because we have for the most part absorbed and embraced that culture. Instead of being salt and light, we have become a poor reflection of everything found in the world.

Jesus of course was the most counter-cultural man to walk the earth. So too were the prophets, and the disciples. But where are such counter-cultural voices today? Where are the prophets who boldly stand against the tide and proclaim biblical truth?

Our inability to offer such a voice is because of our lack of biblical discernment. And this in turn is a result of the paucity of a Christian mind and a Christian worldview. Indeed, it is even worse than that: we seldom demonstrate biblical discernment today because we are so very biblically illiterate.

We do not really know the Word of God, or have a basic grasp of Christian doctrine and fundamental theology. Our biblical illiteracy means we have a hard time thinking biblically, and offering true biblical discernment. Thus we just go along with what the world offers, assuming that going to church once a week somehow makes us great Christians.

Thus biblical discernment has taken a nosedive. The examples of this are legion. I encounter it all the time, and it grieves me mightily. So many people who have been believers all their life, been to church all their life, and may even have parents who were pastors or church leaders, seem to be devoid of a basic understanding of what Christianity is all about.

The obvious examples include things like capitulating to the radical homosexual agenda, and caving in on God’s design for human sexuality, marriage and family. But plenty of lesser indicators can be cited here. As one example, I will often be told by other believers that they support noted individuals or organisations which are involved in helping others, especially overseas.

Yet when I point out to them that the same individuals and organisations are in fact a very mixed bag, promoting things like abortion and other anti-life policies, they will not only admit to not knowing this, but go on to say they will still support such people and groups!

I even had one couple once tell me they prayed about this, and felt God wanted them to continue financially supporting one such organisation! I was tempted to reply, “OK, so let me get this straight: you prayed, and God said to you: ‘Yep, that is just fine; keep on supporting the murder of new life which I have created. I am quite alright with all that’.”

We have here a clear case of subjective feelings trumping the plain teachings of Scripture. They “feel good” about continuing with this support, even though they now know they are contributing to the death of many unborn babies. So what will they say to God when they stand before him one day? “Well, we felt good about it”?

Biblical discernment in such cases is altogether missing. And it does not get much better by those who claim to be good students of Scripture. The other day I encountered two examples of those who do not seem to have a clue about what Christianity is all about, even though they proclaim their great biblical knowledge.

The first one insisted that C.S. Lewis was an “unsaved Modernist” because he actually smoked a pipe, and did other related evil things! There you have it folks: one of the world’s greatest Christian apologists is seen as an infidel because this person managed to find pipe-smoking in a Bible that nowhere ever mentions such matters.

The truth is, millions of people have been saved and discipled by the likes of Lewis, yet this guy wants to start a war over pipes! Go figure! What did Jesus say about ‘straining at gnats and swallowing camels’? It is so tragic really.

Adding man-made rules and regulations to the Word of God is not a sign of biblical purity, but a sure and certain sign of a demonic cult. Such extra-Biblical legalism is a clear indication of a cult which thinks it knows better than God and his Word.

The other case involved a person insisting with absolute certainty that the great commission of Matthew 28 is not for believers today, and that that sort of work is only the business of “called ministers of the Gospel”! Yes he actually said that. Oh foolish me. And there I thought I had an obligation to share my faith and help grow new believers.

I obviously must be out of the will of God here. I actually thought I had a Biblical obligation to evangelise, share my faith, build others up, be involved in discipleship, and work with God to help build and extend the Kingdom. But now I learn only a few professionals are allowed to do this! Obviously Luther was quite wrong about the priesthood of all believers as well!

So not only do we have plenty of believers who know very little about the Bible and their own Christian faith, but we have those who think they know their stuff, but are in fact steeped in extra-biblical and anti-biblical ideas and beliefs. No wonder the church is in such a bad way.

With all this biblical illiteracy we are thus unable to offer any clear biblical discernment. So we just soak up what the world has to offer. This my friends is not a good place to be in. The Bible everywhere speaks of the need to have godly discernment.

God blessed Solomon wonderfully because that is the very thing he asked for: Godly wisdom and biblical discernment. Jesus rebuked the crowds saying, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time? Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:54-57)

They could discern the weather but not current events. Paul said we must “test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22), while John wrote that we are to “believe not every spirit, but try the spirits” (John 4:1,2). The Bible is full of such admonitions to discern, assess, judge, test, evaluate and think carefully.

We are not to be tossed about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14), and we are not to be conformed to the world and its standards (Romans 12:2). Instead we are to have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). Having the mind of Christ comes from knowing His Word. We must get back to basics here. For too long we have allowed biblical ignorance to rule. This must stop. As Wayne Grudem once said,

“I am convinced that there is an urgent need in the church today for much greater understanding of Christian doctrine, or systematic theology. Not only pastors and teachers need to understand theology in greater depth — the WHOLE CHURCH does as well. One day by God’s grace we may have churches full of Christians who can discuss, apply and LIVE the doctrinal teachings of the Bible as readily as they can discuss the details of their own jobs or hobbies – or the fortunes of their favorite sports team or television program.”

Or as J. Gresham Machen said in Christianity and Liberalism “But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine. There should certainly be no debate with regard to Paul himself. Paul was not indifferent to doctrine. On the contrary, doctrine was the very basis of his life.”

Only a rediscovery of God’s Word and a new love of his truth can get us out of the spiritual morass we find ourselves in today. At a time when spiritual discernment is needed more than ever, we seem to have less of it than ever.

[1510 words]

14 Replies to “Whither Biblical Discernment?”

  1. Interestingly on this topic, I’ve been reading about, and involved in discussion regarding the authority of current biblical texts. While I know that Jehovah will call those to him that he has chosen using whatever means he chooses, including incorrect biblical texts, I think that there is so much incorrect doctrine being sprouted from pulpits, seminaries and bible colleges around that the fruit of flawed biblical texts is apparent.


    As such so much confusion has been created, and our God is not a god of confusion. I know you have written about this in older articles.

    Garth Penglase

  2. Bill. Very good post and so accurate a description of how the collective church appears to have abandoned the biblical injunction that we are to love God with all our soul…strength… and MIND!

    In a superb critique of the ideology of ‘post-modernism’, that there are no absolutes and truth is what one ‘feels’ & etc. Douglas Groothuis wrote his book “Truth Decay” or, Defending Christianity against the Challenges of Postmodernism. This is a wonderfully positive re-statement for the need for a Christian world-view, and he too does not mince his words! Speaking of Scripture as propositional truth he affirms:

    “Since the Bible is God’s word, every truth claim it makes is factually accurate. . . .Scripture is informative and correct on every matter it addresses. It discloses knowledge about the nature of God, humanity, salvation, ethics, history, and events to come. This revelation came through a variety of cultures and individuals, but it is no less propositional for that”

    I strongly recommend a reading of this book – it should be required reading for all Christians – especially for those with woolly hazy views about the nature of truth, and its application to the world we live in today.

    Graham Wood, UK

  3. That believer that was so against Lewis smoking pipes sounds like the modern day Leftist that demonises tobacco smoke and yet ignores far greater evils like abortion, Islamofascism, and socialism.

    Goodness me I consider the odd cigar I have a fabulous middle finger to political correctness.

    Damien Spillane

  4. Which aid organisations are OK to support? I’d hate to be donating to the ones promoting abortion etc.

    Jo Deller

  5. It is not only discernment we need but unwavering courage to continue to speak in the face of people over the top of you demonstrating they didn’t listen to one thing you said. In the end it is discernment combined with courage that will draw people to truth. C.S. Lewis is still highly esteemed by many non Christians today. And the fact he smoked a pipe to me just shows the amazing grace of God he serves 🙂 Yes, I read the introduction to “A Weight of Glory” and it made me like the man even more though the first miracle God did in my life was to deliver me from cigarette smoking, because I asked Him to and I was serious about it. But I have since learnt that there are certainly weightier matters of the law to be concerned about and that smoking is but a gnat at which one can strain if one is foolish enough to insist doing so.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  6. Perhaps someone will have to put me in my place and give me a lecture about correct doctrine, but I am somewhat smug that I don’t have a problem with all this.

    The reason for this is that I have abandoned the apostate church and am now involved in the real one. It doesn’t have Sunday morning bless me clubs. It doesn’t have paid theological experts. It doesn’t have a book of rules and regulations as to what is expected of me if I am to be accepted and it doesn’t have all sorts of entertainment get togethers.

    What it does have is a desire to get out there and get your hands dirty rescuing a world that is its own worse enemy.

    ATM I am learning how to help those who find themselves with an unwanted pregnancy and have come to our pregnancy support centre for help.

    It is a hard road and it means I don’t have time to be entertained by professional clowns (pastors) every Sunday morning.

    The situation I am working in isn’t good for the shallow “bless you” that you get Sunday morning. In fact sometimes it is quite disheartening and requires commitment and a willingness to keep on keeping on.

    I am doing this because I have this strange notion that the words “well done thou good and faithful servant” are more important to me than “Welcome brother, you have fulfilled the conditions necessary to become a member of our church.”

    You won’t see me in “a church” on Sunday morning but you will see me in “the church” mending broken hearts and sharing the good news of Jesus crucified.

    As you will have probably worked out by this rant is that I am a “standing on the promises” sort of person, not a “sitting on the premises” type.

    You are all welcome to join me in getting your hands dirty. The pay is lousy but the rewards are out of this world.

    Bill, you can ignore all this as you must have the dirtiest hands in the country.

    Roger Marks

  7. I stopped supporting a Christian Aid agency because one of the workers was saying virtually that they gave aid but did not preach.
    Wayne Pelling

  8. Sadly dumped Amnesty international when they began supporting abortion.
    Anna Cook

  9. Good on you, Roger, wish there were more like you. But surely there are places where church meets in a way that pleases its head and master? We are not islands and need the support and encouragement from those who are likewise on the same pilgrims’ journey. Though it is better to have Jesus and no earthly friend, it can’t be bad to have Jesus and earthly friends who are true because they have Him as well.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  10. Hi Roger,
    I am interested in what you say. Can you provide other information please?
    Links – contacts etc
    (hope that’s ok Bill)

    Thanks and God Bless

    Dameon McManus

  11. Ursula, we are new branch of the ministry and all the people involved are Christians so we are all going in the same direction and committed to the same goal. That means we are there for each other and for the success of the ministry. We all do what we can to build the ministry so there are no pew warmers.

    Our co-ordinator is highly qualified medically, but she does not dominate as she wants everyone involved as much as possible. Whatever we do, we are ALL invited to be involved.

    It is what I call the church in action and as I am a doer, that appeals to me. In the past I have been pew fodder for 12 months and by that time I have bowed out as I am TOTALLY BORED.

    Dameon, I suggest you look up the website of the parent organisation known as Real Choices. We work under their direction and support.

    Roger Marks

  12. Another incisive article Bill. The modern church not only lacks the ‘prophets’ and the ‘prophetic word’, but also that other gift of the Holy Spirit which is coupled with it – the discernings of spirits – Holy Spirit empowered clarification, which ALWAYS agrees with the written word. Saddened to hear about C.S.Lewis on his way to hell for pipe smoking. My old pastor used to say (correctly) that smoking wouldn’t send you to hell, but you’d sure smell like you’d been there. Another case of straining at gnats and SMOKING CAMELS I would suggest. Blessings – Mark C.

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