Friday, October 26, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 4

(A few friends and I are reading this book together. Each week we are reading one chapter. On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well. If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)
Chapter 4
In this chapter, the author discusses how discernment touches judging.  He explained what we are not to judge and what we are to judge.  He explained what it means to "prove all things" and gave examples of areas we must prove.  Here are some things that stood out to me:

- "We live in a culture that values autonomy to the point of irrationality."  He pegged it!

- He pointed out that if God is the author of the Bible, and if God only speaks truth, then the Bible never truly contradicts itself.  Just because I may not be able to understand something does not make it a contradiction.

- "We may judge doctrine and behavior by the objective standards of right and wrong that are given to us in Scripture."  I think most people would agree with this statement.  However, because people interpret things different and apply principles differently, it can be frustrating.  For instance, there are plenty of principles I would use to come to the conclusion that going to a PG-13 movie (just picking a rating) would be wrong.  However, I know many believers who would not see it as a problem.  We both would say we can judge by what the Bible says.  I would say Bible principles forbid it.  They would say the Bible does not condemn it.  My point: I agree with his statement, but people will often only listen if it is explicitly stated in Scripture, and will not if it is a principle applied to a situation/decision.  Do you guys agree?

- Maybe another way to say what I was trying to express above is this: there are things that, if we apply principles, we see as clearly wrong.  However, others think they are simply matters of "Conscience" (the 2nd area he gave in which we aren't supposed to judge) and get upset if we speak against those things- again because we have applied clear principles to things not specifically stated in Scripture.

- I liked his illustration of an individual's responsibility once they have accepted a counterfeit bill and once they have accepted false doctrine.  

- The idea of testing things resonated with me.  In my short life, I have come to really dislike when a preacher will blast something but will not give his Biblical reasoning.  When they do that, I am left only with man's opinion as to why it is wrong.  I want to know why an idea/person does not line up with Scripture.  If we just immediately reject an idea and don't test it by Scripture, we are asking others to follow our opinion.  If I test it long enough to see where it deviates from Scripture, then I can give others a Scriptural reason to avoid it.

- He said that it is the right and responsibility of both churches and individuals to test all things.  I would submit that a church will test things to the extent the members of the church are testing things individually. 

- "To some extent, everything relates to life and faith!"  Amen!

- I appreciated his illustration with his son, showing that we are to test everything, but not necessarily try everything once.  However it did make me wonder: How can I accurately test things?  To be able to test it, I need information about it.  How do I go about getting that information?  For instance, I have never been to a movie theater.  If I am going to preach against going to a movie theater, how can I gather accurate information about it in order to compare it to God's Word?  I do not want to preach against something just because someone else has preached against it.  I think in areas like this we can be creative in our information gathering (visit the theater and ask manager questions, as an example).  We can test without trying.  Any other thoughts/suggestions on how to information gather without trying?

- [Another Lord of the Rings reference will always bring a smile to my face!]

- [Personal pet peeve: the people commended for their searching the Scriptures in Acts 17:11 were not Christians. They were unbelieving Jews. If you don't believe me, check it out. Verse 12 says that they believed. Maybe it is just me, but I think belief comes before salvation.  I know they are still commended as "more noble" for searching the Scriptures, and we can still apply the passage to others who search (whether believers or unbelievers).  It doesn't make a ton of difference, but since I have noticed this, it bothers me when people explain it incorrectly.  It is like after you learn there is an arrow in the Fed-Ex logo, you always see it after that.] - He said we are to test leaders.  It got me thinking: Paul told Titus that he was to ordain elders that had the qualities that Paul then laid out.  They were not only to live up to that standard, but also to be meeting it already.  If that is the case, are these qualities just for preachers, or are they truly for every man in a church?  I would say they are for every man. - He gave Al Mohler's three levels of issues.  Many evangelicals would say that we should just focus on the Gospel and not bring up the "third-level" issues.  I would slightly change that.  I think we should bring those up, but too often we become so consumed with the "third-level" issues that we completely ignore the "first-level" issues.  That is when I think we are out of balance.
I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Chapter 3
Discussion on Chapter 5


  1. Another great chapter. I wasn't expecting a chapter devoted to what we should and should not judge, but it proved to fit well and have excellent points.

    While Challes includes a short whisper of Calvinistic theology in this chapter, I was relieved that it was not “over-the-top” nor a main focus in his book.

    I liked that he specifically delineated between what we must not judge and what we must judge. This section was very clear and concise with biblical support. His section on “What We Must Not Judge,” was quite convicting. Life constantly brings us opportunities to ponder the “why” behind people’s actions. I think in many cases, we do this in order to justify ourselves. We already have a pretense against a person and then making conclusions and judgments about a person give us a “justified” reason to dislike or criticize the individual. Challes states on page 78 that “humans are incapable of accurate judgments about matters of the heart and conscience.”

    What I found not so much as convicting as much as challenging (or even confusing) is his second area in which we are not to judge, matters of conscience. Jacob, I saw that you also had similar thoughts on this. Much discourse has been expended in today’s Christianity of this in regards to standards and personal convictions. The friction is not so much over the Scriptural principles but as to how those are applied to our lives. Music, dress, alcohol, films, etc., are scattered along the spectrum between personal preference and biblical mandates. While discernment would be the key to concluding on standards for Christians (which this book concerns), I wonder if he will delve into this area later on in the book.

    “But once I accept that doctrine I am responsible for it. If the doctrine is false and I choose to believe it, I can expect God to hold me accountable for believing something that is false.” (pg.80) This puts some weight into the need to run all things through the filter of God’s Word.

    “We are to test, not sample.” (pg.84) “There should be no belief, no teaching, no action in the life of the Christian or in the church that has not been thoroughly tested or scrutinized.” (pg.84) - I thought this was very good, too. I believe the internet is a great resource for gathering information without sampling or experiencing things. For example, if a parent wants to go to a certain concert, the parent can look into the music, person, etc. of the concert without actually purchasing a ticket and participating in it. As with anything, going back to first-source information is best, rather than 3rd party info. I recently did this with regards to Peter Ruckman. I had heard a lot about him and his school but when someone I know was considering going to PBI, I was able to read about what he believes, listen to some of his sermons, and have enough information to run through the Bible and declare the guy unbiblical and one to steer clear of.

    “There are no insignificant doctrines revealed in the Bible, but there is an essential foundation of truth that undergirds the entire system of biblical truth…. We must ensure that we do not become distracted by smaller issues when foundational matters are being disputed and are under attack.” (pg.88) I appreciate his acknowledgement that all doctrine is important, unlike the ecumenicals that deem things “essential” and “non-essential.” I do believe that all doctrine/faith is worth fighting for, regardless of how we prioritize doctrine. Truth is truth. Ideally, we should contend for the faith across the board without leaving the foundational nor the smaller issues untouched.

    P.S. Jacob, I will now forever see the arrow. Lived in Memphis, of all places, and never noticed it.

    1. I don't consider myself Calvinistic at all...but I missed the whisper. Please do tell.

    2. "The same God who claims to predestine some to eternal life calls all to turn and to make a decision to accept him."

      Challies, Tim (2008-03-31). The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (p. 75). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

  2. Here are my comments on Chapter 4 (Part A)...

    Jacob, your comments tab is limited to a certain number of characters which, since I exceeded, caused me to have to break this entry up into 2 parts. Hopefully no one else posts between my Part A and Part B. :-)

    - "We may judge doctrine and behavior by the objective standards of right and wrong that are given to us in Scripture." Jacob, you brought up a good point in your opening statements of this thread when you referenced the illustration of differing viewpoints (both seemingly founded on Scriptural principles) with polar opposite conclusions. I think the foundation of this all too common situation we see today lies in our personal attitude towards personal holiness. By that, I mean, I have met many Christians who are trying to JUSTIFY what THEY want to do by claiming that there is no direct Scriptural prohibition against it rather than searching the Scripture to find out what GOD wants THEM to do and being obedient to it. Our human nature and pride wants to walk our way along a line as close to sin as possible, but God has called us to be "conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). We then take this attitude of trying to walk the line to our search of Scripture and allow the pride of our own thoughts to drive our behavior until we are proven wrong rather than asking God to lay out the steps for our life and striving to walk in them. (Ps. 37:23) The issue lies not with the interpretation of Scripture, but rather with the perspective and attitude from which we are evaluation and assessing these situations. This is the difference between the carnal and the spiritual man.

    - "We do not turn to another human authority to discern for us, but we look prayerfully to Scripture, trusting the Holy Spirit to fill us and guide us." Several key thoughts in this sentence:
    1. "We do not turn to another human authority to discern for us..." As preachers we preach against being led by peer pressure yet how many times have we seen preachers get tied into a "camp" so tightly that they would overlook Scriptural principles in lieu of what the rest of the group is doing. No one else will answer for us to God for the decisions we made in our life so we must be careful to be sure we are following GOD and His Word not another human authority. The flip side of that coin, though, is that God has allowed authorities in our lives (pastors, parents, spouses, etc.) who can also discern what God's Word teaches and then convey those truths with others. We then have a responsibility to discern the validity of this teaching in light of the Word of God and act upon it accordingly.
    2. "...but we look prayerfully to Scripture..." This is a key element in discernment - LOOKING to SCRIPTURE for the answer! Man's opinions are cheap, but God's Word is to be the final authority in the life of the child of God. God gave us His Word for the purpose that we might know how He would have us to live our life. Many Christians today, though, neglect giving themselves to God's Word and yet complain that they do not feel God leading in their life.
    3. "...trusting the Holy Spirit to fill us and to guide us." This brings me back to John 16:13 and the fact that the Holy Spirit has been given to guide us. Even in this matter of discernment, as we search the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will GUIDE us into what is truth that we might be able to make right decisions and live a life that is pleasing to God.

  3. Here are my comments on Chapter 4 (Part B)...

    - "Because there is no area in which we have perfect understanding, there is no area of life that is beyond our need or ability to be discerning." I wish I had a dime for every time that I have heard someone say that they HAVE victory over a certain area in their lives. The Bible tells us in 1 Cor. 10:12 that he that thinks he is standing should take heed lest he fall. Satan's devices are very tricky and that is why 1 Peter 5:8 admonishes us to be sober and vigilant of the devices of Satan. Part of being sober and vigilant is maintaining a spirit of humility and being discerning of all of these areas of our life.

    - "Discernment depends on knowing that Christianity is both belief and action. It is action based on belief." This is clearly shown in James 2 where James explains how faith and works go together. James said in verse 18 that he would show his faith by his works and goes on to say in verse 20 that faith without works is dead being alone. Our Christian lives are to be just that...action (works) based on belief (faith) and our faith MUST BE based on the Word of God.

    Another good chapter...looking forward to Chapter 5.

    P.S. Jacob, you have opened my eyes to the FedEx arrow as well. Did you discover that on a Friday while you were eating ice cream and staring at a FedEx truck. :-)

    1. I wish my discovery were that ... interesting. Instead, we just had a man at our church who worked at FedEx tell us about it.

  4. I just found out why Thad had two 20 minutes of typing...poof! Will post in another hour or so.

  5. Part A
    *Did anyone else notice the version difference in I Cor. 4:3-7? In the KJV, the phrase is not “beyond what is written”, but “not to think of men above that which is written.” It appears that Paul was saying not to hold men above Scripture. The author’s translation understands this phrase differently. For complete disclosure, I did not search out my Greek Text. Perhaps the grammar of this phrase is not clear regarding what word(s) it modifies.
    *I am so thankful that people did make a final judgment regarding me about 8 years ago. I was a selfish mess wrapped up in sin. I’ve heard people say, “So and So will never make it in the ministry” or “there is no hope for him”. Without the grace of God, there is no hope. However God’s grace is not dead. (“BUT GOD…”) Let us not pre-judge the future before God has a chance to work!
    *The final judgment of Christ will be both refreshing and scary. It will be refreshing when the truth will come out. The times when our motives or actions have been misinterpreted will fade as our Savior sets the record straight. However, He will also declare the true condition of our hearts and lives. Thus…scary. (Sidenote…will we appear before the Lord alone, or will others “watch”?)
    *Regarding the three levels of Scriptural truth…I understand what he means. It is important to notice, however, that level one pertains to either salvation or orthodoxy. Those who do not accept these truths are not saved. Our battles/discernment/interaction must have a different approach for the Spiritless lost man.
    *All Scripture is important and there will be consequences for misunderstanding or ignoring any portion thereof. Having stated this, we must discern which areas deserve labeling/separation/preaching against, etc. Separation should come over false gospels, disobedience, and false doctrine. I do not include varying interpretations. How can I separate from or label a man who uses the exact same hermeneutics I do? He has the Holy Spirit and the same Bible. I will give some examples and risk being labeled “weak” or compromising. [The reason I do this is I am very tired of hearing over-obvious examples used…such as “We should not separate over the color of the carpet, but we should separate over the substitutionary atonement…] I see people employ the same hermeneutics as me and come to differing conclusions in the following areas: Divorce—fornication exception or none, Majority Text vs. Textus Receptus, Close communion vs. closed communion, Reformed sanctification vs. Finney Sanctification. It is not that these areas do not matter (for they matter greatly!), or that one can simply choose. God has spoken and we must know His will and do it! However, I don’t label those who disagree as heretics, disobedient, or worthy of shunning.

  6. *Also, regarding the three levels, it is important to note that Satan attacks different doctrines in different ways at different times. In the early 1900’s, the Bible’s inspiration was heavily attacked. I have never preached a message solely on the inspiration of Scripture. It is not under attack today. People regard the Bible as from God. Liberals do not…but then again…they aren’t saved. Why should I focus on the people NOT in my church? We preach the entire Bible, but we must also emphasize what is under attack at present.

    *Since I learned about Fedex (I looked up the logo, and I can’t believe how blind I WAS) and about Lord of the Rings (which I know nothing about), I figured I could say a word about inflation. The author said, “Today our coins are typically worth far less than their component pats but have a value assigned to them.” He is somewhat right. Pre-1982 pennies are worth two cents each and nickels are worth anywhere from 4.5 to 5.5 cents each. The amount of metal in these coins is worth more than their assigned value. (You watch…the U.S. will either remove nickels from circulation or they will unveil a new nickel.) The concept of assigning value to a currency is an interesting thought. The inherent value of a paper with green ink on it is negligible, but when the U.S. gov’t (really, the Federal Reserve) says it is worth 100 dollars, then it is! The point is…without the outside entity giving it value…it has none! (What a picture this is of people w/wo Christ!) However, when the credibility of the outside source begins to wane, the value of said paper will wane as well. The author’s illustration of skimming gold coins has the same principle. If the skimming is so small as to be unnoticed, anyone will accept the coin. However, when it is noticed, people would reject is as inferior. Our Gov’t has been “skimming” the value of the dollar little by little. No one has paid it much notice. However, any time the skimming becomes sizeable, value will fall, even to the point of rejection. According to the Scriptures, God hates an unjust balance (i.e. skimming the gold coin). Therefore, God hates the Government’s inflationary actions too! P.S. Did you know that you used to be able to buy something with just one penny?