A recent radio segment by Beth Moore called “A Word with Beth Moore” was entirely dedicated to an ad hominem attack on discernment ministries. She began with a caveat of, “now spiritual discernment is important but…” and then she launched into her diatribe that people cloak their critical and judgmental spirits behind discernment and that it just makes her sick to her stomach. She didn’t differentiate between the sin of being mean and the practice of discernment. She ended her segment demanding that everyone should be loving leaving the trailing implication that discernment (broad stroke) is the opposite of love.
More recently, I was accused of being “too critical” and “judgmental” myself for bringing up questionable memes taken as memes in a Facebook forum I created specifically to practice discussing matters Biblically. It is interesting to me how long and hard some will fight to defend an unbiblical statement/meme/concept as “maybe having some value to someone” without ever opening up the Scriptures to see what God has to say in His Word. That’s the result of our post-modern society influencing the church, being conformed to this world’s rationale and philosophy. So let’s talk about this “critical spirit” thing, shall we?
There is no “critical spirit” in the sense of a particular demon whose job it is to make people mean and overly critical. What makes us mean and overly critical is sin. Don’t look to blame demons for sin, we do that all on our own. Demons practice deception, false teaching, temptation, and pose as angels of light. We sin when we follow our own fleshly desires. Sometimes the enemy tempts us, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we sin plenty on our own.
Galatians 5:16-26 (ESV) | Keep in Step with the Spirit
16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Discernment and Sin
The major problem with Moore’s ad hominem is the conflation of discernment with sin. Discernment is differentiating between Truth and error. It can (and should) be done in love. Is it possible to sin while practicing discernment? Yes. We are all sinful creatures in need of a Savior. Does that mean that we should avoid practicing discernment? That’s ridiculous. It simply means we need to be humble in our approach and ready to confess and repent from sin. We repent from the sin, not the Truth of the discernment. For example, the Apostle Paul issued the following command to exercise discernment in love without compromising the truth:
Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV) | No Other Gospel
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Those are strong, direct, and harsh words… and they are spoken in love, and there is no sin in this. Paul did not have to repent of these words. The church would be out of line to rebuke Paul for disguising a “critical spirit” behind discernment. Later in the same letter, Paul also makes the following statement:
Galatians 5:7-12 (ESV)
7 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!
The context of Galatians is that they were being told that in order to be a true Christian, Gentiles had to become Jews (circumcision). Therefore, Paul is saying that in this case he wishes the individual who is forcing them to be circumcised would just go ahead and remove his own member. Very harsh words… because the error is so great. The error here hindered the Galatians from obeying the Truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is loving, and the rebuke was warranted and ordained by God the Holy Spirit. Ms Moore may not like it, but discernment isn’t just avoiding pitfalls, but calling out the charlatans.
Now, having established that discernment can be simultaneously harsh and loving (hence discipline), where men are involved there is always room for sin. We’ll be looking at the Sermon on the Mount later this week, but let’s look at how Jesus taught on Anger (since it can burn both the one practicing discernment and the one being rebuked).
Matthew 5:21-26 (ESV) | Anger
21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
So, you see, if the motive is wrong in the one pointing out error, there is sin in his heart. That sin is separate from whether or not the error is in-fact an error. If what he is speaking is Truth, the sin in his heart has no bearing on the Truthfulness of God’s Word. He needs to repent and be reconciled to his brother, but the Truth remains the Truth. Similarly, if in being offended one chooses to reject the Truth of God’s word and refuses to repent from wrong doing or false teaching, their guilt remains on their heads. It’s not like you get a bye on your false teaching simply because you found the other person “offensive”. Ms Moore twists scripture and has been joining with many a popular false teacher of late, as she enjoys much notoriety, fame, and honor of women in the public square. While it remains our duty to speak in the Truth in love at all times, it is also incumbent upon ourselves to remain humble and receive rebuke and correction as noble Bereans.
Stop Straining at Gnats and Focus on Essentials
This is one of those times when I really want to open up the scripture and point out how someone is misusing a passage. The average evangelical would probably not know where to find this reference, and would most likely assert that the problem of the Pharisees is that they were too busy fussing about unimportant things… just like some Discernment bloggers myopically focus on the unimportant things in order to disparage their favorite “anointed” ones. This comes from Jesus’s 7 Woes to the Pharisees, recorded in Matthew 23. I’ll make a quick list and then point out what this passage is really about.
- But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
- Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. 22 And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
- Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.
So, is this passage about fussing over inconsequential matters? No. It’s about hypocrisy. Notice in the 23rd verse the clause, without neglecting the others. All of the Law is important, and the sin of the Pharisee was his hypocrisy and rejection of Jesus Christ.
Discernment in the Little Things
In closing, I’d like to address the notion that there is such a thing as discernment wasted on “the little things”. The idea that one should wait until something is important to speak up and exercise Biblical discernment. Rather than spell out my objection to this thought, let’s look to one of Jesus’ teachings as He closes out one of the tougher parables and expounds upon it to call out the Pharisees.
Luke 16:10-17 (ESV)
10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. 15 And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.
16 “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.
Is this only about money? I don’t think it is limited to money.
Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present youblameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
May the Lord bless and keep you,