Wednesday, February 7, 2018

When the Discernment Level is Not Plumb

When the Discernment Level is Not Plumb

Over the course of my ministry, I have become weary of the extra work required to explain things because of self-appointed “discernment ministries” that give their opinion on both teachings and teachers who are circulating in the church. For some reason, simply because they claim to be discernment ministries, they are treated as if they are without error.

As a result, if anyone can find any discernment ministry at all that claims to have assessed any particular man’s teachings and ministry, it is assumed that they have tested this man and ministry without prejudice and given the most accurate assessment of life and living that is possible this side of heaven. And all because they use the word “discernment” to describe what they do!

What people don’t seem to realize is that the discernment ministries themselves need to be assessed with discernment because they are just as prone to false teachings, misinterpretations of Scripture, and fleshly (sarky[1]) responses to things they simply don’t understand.

In many cases, their sarky response to something they have not heard of before causes them to fall into the devil’s trap of resisting the Spirit’s work in someone’s gifting, or standing against some application of God’s work to a contemporary issue that the discernment-brokers have never faced themselves.[2] They dishonestly claim they have superior discernment when they are both ignorant of the ways God can work through his body to minister to every need people bring to his church, and prideful in their belief that the way they see church life and ministry is the only way it could exist.

Jesus described the devil’s work as involving stealing, killing, and destroying.[3] While discernment-brokers claim superior understanding of Scripture over any man or ministry, their false reports about teachings and teachers become sadly similar to “stealing” hope and faith from broken people who long for freedom in Jesus Christ, “killing” opportunities for their people to receive the freedom ministry Jesus so wonderfully offers through his body, the church, and “destroying” reputations of Jesus’ servants, and relationships between these servants and those they are helping (or could help).

The result is that the servants are now hindered by the church they serve; the glory of Christ is diminished because so many will not praise and glorify him for the people he is setting free through these ministries, and those who are weary and burdened are not coming to Jesus for rest from their messed-up soul-conditions because their churches and discernment-brokers won’t let them.

I often use the imagery of a plumbline to illustrate how God’s word measures everything with precision. A plumbline is a string with a weight at the end of it that will, thanks to gravity, hang plumb, or true.

With that in mind, plumb can refer to true or exact vertical position, or the true vertical alignment of an object. What is called a plumbline was used prior to the invention of the carpenter’s level to determine the exact vertical alignment of a wall. Now that we have carpenter’s levels to show us both true vertical (plumb) and true horizontal (level) alignment, plumblines are not as common as in the past.

The problem with levels is that the bubble-tube that indicates the plumb or level alignment must be accurately placed in the case so that what it reads is what is real. If the bubble-tube is misaligned in the case, it will still show when the bubble is between the lines, but that will no longer be the plumb or level measure.

I once bought a carpenter’s square at a discount tool sale only to discover that the measurements imprinted along the edges in standard and metric units were both wrong! The convenience of being able to both square and measure at the same time was lost because the measurements, although looking as pristine and proportioned as any other square, were false.

My point is that ministries that claim to be “on the level” if you will, are sometimes found to be clearly “off plumb” because of skewed understandings of Scriptural revelation, and fleshly limits on how God is free to apply the truth of his word to contemporary circumstances and experiences.

One principle of Scripture that is regularly ignored by so many is Paul’s instruction, “I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.”[4]It is far too common for ministries and churches to go beyond what is written in what they teach, and in how they assess the teachings of others. The result is that some become “puffed up” in their opinions of others, and followers are forced to state that they are “in favor of one against another,” instead of welcoming the full variety  of gifts Jesus has given his church.

Yes, there are times when discernment is required to assess that some teachers and teachings are so beyond what is written that they must be exposed for their falsehood. When Jesus wrote to the church in Pergamum, he commended them for holding fast to his name, even when one of their own number was put to death for his faith. However, he also rebuked them for allowing false teachers to influence their church.[5] Such rebukes are still in order since it is what is written![6]

However, we must be just as quick to rebuke discernment ministries that falsely report what people teach, and go beyond what is written in Scripture in order to judge the ministries by personal opinion and sarky conjecture, [7] pridefully claiming that this is biblical discernment when it is often ignorance at best, or a deliberate deception at worst.[8]

To avoid triggering debate on names or ministries we may have already settled as good or bad, my encouragement is to ask God to show you any ways you have unfairly judged a ministry on the say-so of a discernment-broker rather than measuring the objective teachings of a man by the objective teachings of Scripture.[9] You may also want to ask God to show you any ways you have elevated any teacher or ministry above the need for discernment, or as the final authority on what anyone else thinks and believes.

The issue is not whether discernment ministries are sometimes right and the ministries they assess are sometimes wrong. The issue is whether our level is true and our plumbline plumb. The wrong measure is wrong no matter how right it looks. The right measure is right even when it is our favorite discernment ministry that needs reproof for slandering someone who is serving the church in Jesus’ name.

When the apostle Paul was preparing the church for his impending death, he told them, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.”[10] No one could accuse Paul of failing to tell them the truth about anything. We know that he even rebuked Peter publicly to his face when Peter had fallen out of line with the life of grace.[11]

If we need to address the failings of our favorite discernment-brokers, let’s be fair and do so. If everyone who teaches is judged by the same measure, the whole counsel of God, there will be a lot more unity among those who are serving the church in Jesus’ name, and clearer divisions from the wolves who are seeking to destroy the church (sometimes in the form of pseudo-discernment).

Just don’t let a discernment-broker tell you someone is a wolf in sheep’s clothing until you have pulled the fleece to make sure it isn’t a genuine sheep the discernment-broker doesn’t recognize because of his limited knowledge of discernment, spiritual truth, and real life.[12] As Paul said, do “test everything” (including both discernment-brokers and those they assess), and do “hold fast what is good”[13] no matter who it is who lines up best with the whole counsel of God.

© 2018 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)

[1] The Greek word translated “flesh” is “sarx”, transliterated as sarx, or sark, and this has become a favorite way of reminding one another in our home church to watch for things of the sark/flesh that pull us away from relating to one another in the Spirit from our new hearts.
[2] This is often because the churches and ministries the discernment-brokers belong to do such a thorough job of communicating that certain kinds of people and problems are not welcome, or would come under attack if they admitted to any particular problem, that people either sit quietly in the pews in silent hopelessness, or they leave and go to churches or ministries that will apply the gospel freedom of Christ to their situations.
[3] John 10:10
[4] I Corinthians 4:6
[5] Revelation 2:14-15 within the context of Revelation 2:12-17.
[6] In II Corinthians Paul is very clear in his defense of his apostolic ministry and his denial of the “super apostles” who were leading Christians astray. In Galatians he stated clearly and precisely that anyone who taught a different gospel than the one given through the apostles was under a curse. Dealing with discernment is both good and necessary. I am only addressing the problem of discernment ministries that lack discernment and end up being dishonest in reporting about both themselves and others.
[7] “Sarky” (as per footnote 1) refers to the “flesh”, and “sarky conjecture” refers to opinions and imaginings that come from fleshly/sarky thinking rather than measurement by the Scriptures.
[8] I once did a huge expose of an article someone had posted on his website in which there was one false claim after another against one of Jesus’ servants. Very soon after I presented my response, my ongoing thread of dialogue with the presenter suddenly disappeared from the website while the original document of false-discernment remained. When I asked the presenter what happened he said there were problems with the website when they were converting things over in some way and that’s why only my thread of conversation was gone while the original article was still standing. Thankfully I have my original document exposing the false report, but so many Christians have made up their minds about things on the say-so of some discernment ministry that people are not applying discernment to their dishonesty. As I expressed at the beginning of this blog post, it literally becomes wearisome dealing with the deliberate falsehood of discernment-brokers and their disciples who hinder the work of God by demanding such precise statements on everything so they can then tear statements apart by reading in things that aren’t even said, and going beyond what is written in claiming what Scripture says and means on anything at all, usually while accusing other ministries for doing that very thing!
[9] By the way, I have a simple test for anyone who is interested in emailing me with your story of where you’re at in discerning both discernment ministries and those they assess. I am quite sure it will prove helpful in knowing one’s own heart on the matter.
[10] Acts 20:26-27, in context of Paul’s farewell speech to the Ephesian elders from Acts 20:13-38
[11] Galatians 2:11-14, in the context of Paul’s teaching and testimony in Galatians 2:1-21.
[12] By “real life” I mean that there are many things Christians go through in the present time that are not directly described in Scripture and so some discernment-brokers say that such things can’t happen to real Christians and no real Christian would minister to such a person. All through Scripture God dealt with the real-life experiences of his people as though they were really taking place. We must not fall into the trap of failing to minister to broken and wounded children of God just because a discernment-broker insists their problem doesn’t exist. I have MUCH more I could say about this, but suffice it to say that everyone who came to Jesus was treated on the basis of what they brought to him without any argument that their condition wasn’t described in the Scriptures we now call the Old Testament. Let us not turn people away just because some professional hustler of discernment tells us to do so. No matter what problem is NOT described in Scripture, the redemptive, transforming, liberating, sight-giving, prison-opening, demon-delivering,
[13] I Thessalonians 5:21

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