We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Call For Discernment

Thirteen years ago I picked up this book by Jay E. Adams and found it to be an excellent thought-provoking read.  The ten chapters are titled, “The Lack of Spiritual Discernment,” “What Caused This Lack?” “What Is Spiritual Discernment?” “The Basic Problem,” “Concern to Discern,” “Learn to Discern,” “A Program,” “Discernment in Giving,” “Some Trial Materials,” and the “Conclusion.”

I have used it off and on over the years for some of Adams’ quotes, but my book shelves are filling to the point where I need to keep only those items which are used most often for research.  So, I have a friend to whom I am passing this 139-page jewel, but before I do so, I want to share with you a few of the excellent thoughts on discernment by Dr. Adams.

Today the church is confused. Siren voices call to her from every side.  False teaching and heresy abound.  Many Christians fall prey, because they simply do not know how to distinguish truth from error.  Slogans are bandied about: ‘All truth is God’s truth.’  Naturally, if it is truth it is God’s.  No one in his right mind would deny that.  But it is also a fact that ‘all error is the devil’s error.’  Now where are we?  Back to square one.  We must still distinguish God’s truth from the devil’s error; sloganizing won’t do that for us.”  Introduction

Many people leave the thinking to others.  They do not learn to discern. ‘After all, why bother? My church will take care of those matters.’  Where are the Bereans today, those believers who diligently examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul and Silas taught was true (Acts 17:11).” p.16,17

While speaking of abortion, it is sad to notice how in their desire to thwart the abortion movement many well-meaning Christians unintentionally exalt man by declaring him to be of infinite worth.  Abortion should not be fought on the basis that killing a human being is wrong because he or she is so valuable, but on the basis that, when a child bearing God’s image is slaughtered, it is God who is attacked because that child bears His image.  If you tear up a picture of my wife, you’ll have me to answer to — not because of the intrinsic worth or value of the paper and print that you destroyed, but because you have insulted my wife.  And attack on the image of God is serious, not because of man’s supposed great worth, but because of the One whose image he reflects.”  p.18-19

There are those Christians who laud Alcoholics Anonymous because ‘their method works’ or because ‘they are doing so much good.’  Little do they realize that AA insults the true God in its 12 steps by allowing participants to acknowledge any ‘power greater than myself’ as god.  Nor is there any discernment of the fact that AA’s help is far different from the help offered to drunkards in the Bible.  It takes spiritual discernment to understand the great difference between AA telling members that they will always be alcoholics who must fight against drunkenness every day the rest of their lives and the apostle Paul writing of those who in Christ have put off drunkenness once and for all (1 Corinthians 6:9ff.)”  p.19

Listening to Christians talk, watching them purchase materials in Christian bookstores, and hearing their comments about sermons and radio broadcasts is like observing a color-blind painter trying to distinguish chips on a color chart.  The effect of their lack of discernment is often like that of a tone-deaf singer in a congregation whose singing throws everyone around him off key.  The sheer quantity and variety of religious output today, to say nothing of non-Christian offerings from untold sources, fairly screams for Christians to develop sharper powers of discernment.  So much chaff must be removed in order to get at the wheat!”  p.21

Perhaps the most obvious difficulty, once you become aware of it, is the collapse of church discipline.  When the church is actively at work caring for its members, as it should by applying the healing balm of church discipline, discernment grows.  It grows both among those who are disciplined and those who administer the discipline.

“Discipline, by its very nature, requires discernment.  Discipline calls for discrimination — distinguishing between those who are right and those who are wrong (and in what ways) in particular cases.  Ultimately, in church discipline, you determine who must be retained and who must be put out of the church.  Such activities, when properly pursued, cannot be carried out in a sloppy, unthinking way.  Equally, in all that it does, the disciplining body must show concern for the honor of God’s name, the welfare of the congregation, and the reclamation of the offender.  It must be neither soft nor harsh.  Such balance calls for spiritual discernment of the highest sort.  So-called ‘petty’ issues are seen in their try light as rebellion against Christ’s authority vested in His church when they come under the focus of church discipline. … Decisions of momentous import must be made. So . . . the very process of church discipline is largely a process of discernment.

“. . . lack of discernment and lack of church discipline walk side by side. Not only does the same mentality lead to both lacks, but by rejecting discipline one naturally downplays the very concerns that make him discerning.  When churches overreacted to the abuse of discipline that was all too common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by virtually eliminating church discipline, the broken dike cleared the way for the liberal takeover of the church and allowed the ways of the world to flood in.

“Church discipline erects a barrier between the church and the world; when it is removed, it becomes impossible to distinguish the two.  With the removal of this barrier, the church was inundated by persons who's profession of faith was at best suspect.  These marginal persons brought new concerns, perspectives, and attitudes into the church and directed her into different pathways.  The church, to a great extent, began to think and act like the world.  As the church became secularized, interest in spiritual discernment waned.”  p.27-28

Perhaps you have wondered about the principle underlying the clean/unclean distinctions of the Old Testament.  Various rationales have been given for some of these distinctions, yet many seem to be purely arbitrary.  May I suggest that all problems of arbitrariness are resolved when you see the clean/unclean system as a means of alerting the Jew to the fact that all day long, every day, in whatever he does, he must consciously choose God’s way.  Choices about food, clothing, farming techniques, justice, health care, holidays, and methods of worship were made either God’s way or some other way.  In other words, the clean/unclean system was designed to develop in God’s people an antithetical mentality.  Forbidding the mixing of materials in clothing, for example, doesn’t seem so arbitrary after all when considered in the light of the biblical concern to create an antithetical posture toward life.”   p.32

On p.37, Adams cites Jack Gordon, the editor of Training magazine, in an article titled “On Giving Offense,” in the Sep. 1986 issue:  “. . . at some point in the past several years we crossed an invisible line between self-assertion and self-righteousness, and turned into a society of perpetually indignant prigs.  . . . I submit that people are entirely too horrified by the possibility of offending someone. . . .  I’m talking about the remarkable degree to which we’ve bought into the premise that the offender is always right.

Discernment, the capacity to separate truth from error, is vitally important.  The church cannot do without it.  Apart from spiritual discernment it is impossible to determine and follow Romans 12:2…”  p.51-52

It is not general experience that produces godly discernment, but only experience in using God’s Word to determine God’s will.”  p.64

On p.69 Adams cites an unnamed professor:  “Open minds are like open windows; you have to put in screens to keep the bugs out.

Coming to the Scriptures for any purpose other than to discover and believe truth is contrary to and utterly defeats the discernment process.  Through discernment, error is detected in order to enable a person to distinguish it from truth so that he may learn and live by the truth.”  p.72

To ‘prove’ or ‘test’ (literally, to approve by testing) in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 means to assay content as a metallurgist does.  It means to determine the genuineness of a preachers’ or writer’s coin.  There is plenty of spiritual currency abroad, some genuine but much counterfeit.  Every Christian, therefore, must so familiarize himself with the truth that he may readily distinguish between the spurious and the true. … The Scriptures are the touchstone against which all coins must be struck.” p.74,75

Well, I could go on but this post has been a bit long!  Adams continues with teaching how one learns to discern, and even a chapter of example statements one needs to discern for problems.

Pick up a copy.  It will be worth your while.


Eric Beagles said...

Invest in a Kindle.
I resisted for quite awhile, but it was the best thing I did for my overloaded bookshelves.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Nope, never.

I like hard copies. No worries about dead batteries, broken machines, etc. I like to write notes in them also.

And my computer will just be a computer on my desk, and a laptop to take when traveling (only used in motels). Just like my cell phone is only a cell phone - I don't need a constant companion computer. And guess what - my camera is just a camera (SLR)!

I'm just not a gadget guy.