Friday, September 30, 2016

The Unreal Things the Real-thing is Like

Over the years, my distaste for self-proclaimed discernment ministries has grown from mild irritation to extreme disappointment.

The primary reason?

That they regularly follow a pattern of pendulum-swinging extremes that create unnecessary division while congratulating themselves for only promoting that good kind of division where the right people have nothing to do with the wrong people.[1]

Do I agree with the apostle Paul that, “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized”?[2] Absolutely! However, I simply contend that too many of those self-ordained discernment ministries are so unaware of their own impurity of understanding (both their targets and the truth) that they are not so genuine as they imagine.

Let me clarify that I am not endorsing everyone the discernment ministries target, nor condemning everyone who claims to speak for a discernment ministry. I am only addressing this one thing, that too many of these discernment ministries have arsenic in their salad dressing, if you will, and I do not want any of their brand of discernment on my salad, metaphorically speaking.

One of the common lines of reasoning in their burning-strawmen-at-the-stake is the mistaken belief that a genuine Christian will never look “like” a heretic. The belief is that genuine Christianity is so unlike any of its opponents, that anyone who seems “like” they are doing what the bad guys do is clearly of the same substance.

So, let us reason this out.

Satan is a masquerader,[3] a deceiver,[4] the father of lies.[5] He loves to create counterfeit versions of what is good in order to lead people astray. He comes, trying to look like a shepherd, while his real interest is to steal, kill, and destroy.[6]

Now, what happens when, along with Satan’s blatant expressions of unrestricted evil, he also creates counterfeit religious activities, and congregations, and experiences that he purposely designs to be “like” the real thing. As Jesus said, there would be deceivers who would do things so convincing, “so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.”[7]

In other words, if the elect weren’t elect, even they would be led astray by how much Satan’s activity appears to be “like” the Holy Spirit’s activity.

Now, if Satan is so unrelenting in creating counterfeit religious and spiritual experiences that are as much “like” the real thing without being the real thing, what will it look like when people seek to be as devoted to the real thing as is possible this side of heaven?

Answer (drum roll please): won’t the people seeking the real thing also look “like” the counterfeits?

Think of it this way: is the reason that, “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect”,[8] because God is not in the business of using miracles, signs, and wonders to validate the ministry of the Holy Spirit?

Or is it that, because God has used miracles, signs, and wonders to validate the gospel message, Satan will use means that are so “like” God’s work that only the elect, because they are elect, will be saved from the deception? And, doesn’t this mean that, if Satan and his emissaries are so busily trying to duplicate God’s work in counterfeit facsimiles, those still doing the real thing will often appear “like” the counterfeiters?

We all know that, when counterfeit money is in circulation, criminals are obviously making great effort to produce something that looks “like” real money. The reason for their success is because real money also looks “like” the counterfeit. It works both ways.

Now, imagine the police deciding that, because there are so many problems with counterfeit money looking “like” the real thing, they are going to tell people to avoid any money that looks “like” the counterfeit. What would happen? People would be deceived into giving up all their real money because it looks so much “like” the pretend money!

I am all for the church testing everything, throwing off what is clearly evil, and holding on to that which is good.[9] However, when these discernment ministries are tested for their integrity to sound judgment, and it is discovered that they are using slanderous misrepresentation to come to their conclusions, and creating this false belief that genuine Christian living will never look “like” the deceptive counterfeits of the mastermind of evil, then we must remove the baby from the bathtub and throw out the filthy bathwater on ALL sides of the pendulum-extremes.

Since I can’t give the time to argue who is right or wrong on every issue, I simply present this challenge: when someone says that someone else is wrong, whether they speak of your favorite preacher and teacher of the word, or the infamous figures you already think are false teachers, listen for what they give as their evidence. Are you shown clear and indisputable firsthand expressions of the person under attack, what they really teach and promote in their own words? Or, are you just being told that, to the attacker, it looks “like” such-and-such ”appears” to be what this person “could be” doing.

Also, are you being shown evidence that this target is irrefutably teaching something contrary to the plain and clear teaching of Scripture, or is the target teaching something from Scripture that simply disagrees with the personal interpretation of the discernment mininistry?

Of course, we now have a problem. What do we do when our discernment reveals that specific discernment ministries are not only lacking discernment, but judging others in the slanderous way God forbids?[10] Are we just as prepared to “have nothing to do with them”[11] for the unrighteous aspects of their ministries as we were told to have nothing to do with those they have judged unfairly?

Since God requires that we do nothing from partiality,[12] or prejudging,[13] we must be clear in our own motives, that we are seeking the truth in love,[14] not promoting favorites amongst ministries no matter what they are doing to harm the church. Between the pendulum-swinging discernment ministries, and their pendulum-swinging targets, there is a plumbline of truth that calls us to be just as earnest to avoid false witnesses as to judge teachers without partiality.[15]

There is no doubt that the church is to guard against false teaching and false teachers. However, we must be just as quick to test the so-called discernment ministries as those they condemn. In the end, don’t take someone’s word for what you should think of someone else. Make sure you test each person for their own words, actions, and teachings, and then act as the “truth in love” instructions of God’s word leads you to act.

In fact, if we followed all the truth and love God’s word teaches, perhaps we would discover that God has called us to take a few more steps of obedient and loving faith before we go public regarding what we think of another person’s ministry.

© 2016 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] I agree with those who say that proclaiming the truth in love creates necessary division with those who deny the truth in love. I simply contend that people are not necessarily promoting the truth in love just because they claim to do so. Until their claims are tested by the plumbline of God’s word to match the whole counsel of God in both truth and love, their claims are just as open to scrutiny as those they claim to so fairly and publicly condemn.
[2] I Corinthians 11:19
[3] II Corinthians 11:14-15. ESV translates “disguise”, while NIV translates “masquerade”. Both identify Satan’s efforts to deceive with disguises, to masquerade as something different than he is.
[4] Revelation 12:9
[5] John 8:44
[6] John 10:10
[7] Matthew 24:24
[8] Matthew 24:24
[9] I Thessalonians 5:19-22
[10] The church is to judge fairly and righteously (John 7:24), continuing to require two or three witnesses to validate that some sin indeed took place (Deuteronomy 17:6; Matthew 18:16; II Corinthians 13:1; I Timothy 5:19), but we are forbidden to judge unrighteously or hypocritically (Matthew 7:1-5; James 4:11).
[11] II Thessalonians 3:14; I Timothy 4:7; II Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:10
[12] James 2:1, 9
[13] I Timothy 5:21
[14] Ephesians 4:15-16
[15] Again, I am not claiming that all discernment ministries are a pendulum-extreme, or that the people they target are all unfairly judged. My contention is that God does not allow us to play favorites with either a favorite discernment ministry, or a favorite teacher, nor to falsely judge people and ministries we just don’t like. 

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