Or Anything Goes?
"Hey…whatever works for you…"
"Just love em…"
"Don't make waves, man…"
How many of us have received answers like those when we ask someone about their salvation, or about their plans to evangelize others, or about the relevance of faith in their lives?
How many have received these answers when they have confronted Christians with materialism, carnality, or failure to weed-out false from true teachings? Do we hear these answers when we try to confront sloppy theology and loose ethics?
Yes, we do. It is all too common.
Luring Worshippers With Feel-Good Christianity
Let's start with a quote from a newspaper article several years ago about the Reverend Schuller at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California:
"Schuller called himself a 'possibility thinker' and exhorted his followers to take control of their destinies with God's help and a positive outlook. …The elder Schuller also did something few other pastors had done so successfully: He studied marketing tactics to lure worshippers from other congregations and built an enormous ministry focused on a generic, feel-good Christianity. That approach, now known as the 'church seeker movement,' heavily influenced today's most famous pastors, including Bill Hybels, Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, McIntosh said." (Skagit Valley Herald, "CHANGE AT THE TOP," by Gillian Flaccus, Sat., Feb. 25, 2006).
A Diluted Gospel
This story particularly caught my eye because I used to perform with the Hour of Power Orchestra at Crystal Cathedral. This is the same musical group whose talented conductor tragically shot himself to death in his church office a few years ago. I know firsthand the effects of watering down the gospel of a Savior who died for our sins and rose from the dead.
Money, Fame&Almighty Self-Esteem
What our family saw at the cathedral was a diluted gospel manifested by less offensive and altered words in their hymn books and in the "Get to know my friend Jesus" gospel.
At cathedral services Jesus was not usually portrayed as Judge of all the earth who shed His blood for us on a cross. Jesus was your friend who wants you to be successful, rich, and popular.
Added to that the pastor's well-meaning wife had even changed the words of Amazing Grace from "Amazing grace how sweet the sound, who saved a wretch like me," to "who saved a 'soul' like me." Words and phrases such as "He shed His blood for me," "repent of your sins," or "crucified" were changed to positive, "uplifting," catchy feel-good words.
Forget sin. It doesn't exist. Forget salvation. It's irrelevant. What matters is ME and my self-esteem. What matters is how much money I can rake-in with my positive mental outlook and by my hobnobbing with the rich and famous in church services.
Networking. That's what counts. That's what the church is good for - Use the church to broaden your business contacts. What matters is my sense of self-worth and the psychological theories to support it. "Turn your SCARS to STARS" is the catchy, feel-good refrain of Crystal Cathedral's senior pastor.
Isn't it telling that the Crystal Cathedral is now bankrupt? It was sold to the Catholic Church.
This is what we face, people. This is what we get in "feel-good" churches with their palatable, diluted gospels. It is sloppy, satanic, and destructive to the souls who are ensnared by it. Take a minute to contrast 1 Timothy 6:9-10 with a feel-good, be-successful theology:
"But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs" (1 Timothy 6:9-10, ESV).
Speak Pleasant Words&Prophesy Illusions
One is reminded of the rebellious Israelites "who say to the seers, 'You must not see visions' and to the prophets, 'You must not prophesy to us what is right. Speak to us pleasant words. Prophesy illusions." (Isaiah 30:10, NASB)
Where did we get the idea that we should hear "positive affirmations," but never negative, convicting warnings? Where did we get the idea that we are entitled to a sanitized gospel, worldly riches, fancy homes, good-paying jobs, benefits, paid vacations, expensive cars, and perfect health? Where do we find that in the Bible?
What do we do with verses such as,
"Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance" (James 1:2, NASB).
Or, what about this verse?
"In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold, which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7, NASB).
What do we do with these verses listed above? How do we reconcile these verses with "Tinkerbell Theology:" Think happy thoughts and clap your hands?"
- We don't want to hear it! None of it! That's what we do with these verses.
Just Say Nice Things
We say, "Just speak pleasant words to us." We don't want to hear any negatives. We don't want to fear anything, either. So don't "prophesy to us what is right." Just "prophesy illusions" (Isa. 30:10). Here is how the New Living Translation says it in modern English:
Shut up! Just Give Nice Reports
"Shut up! We don't want any more of your reports. Don't tell us the truth. Tell us nice things. Tell us lies. Forget all this gloom" (Isa. 30:10, NLT).
(editors' note: We didn't say that. That's from the New Living Translation in modern English).
How do we justify our search for a positive mental outlook with heightened self-esteem when the Bible plainly tells us:
"Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11).
"If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Peter 4:14).
Holy - Not Happy
The Lord tells us that He will chisel or sharpen us into becoming a "holy" people. He does not promise that we will be "happy" people drenched with golden fairy dust and silver sparklies. But, in the process of becoming holy we may suffer greatly. We are to become conformed into the image of His Son. "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Romans 8:29, ESV).
Desperate For Discernment
That is in direct opposition to a "feel-good" message in a rich, prosperous church! Discernment, friends… we desperately need discernment.
John MacArthur says that radio programs no longer want him to preach messages that are not "loving." Stations want no dissension or quarrels, debate or conflict.
Hal Lindsey states that he was censored against preaching the truth about Islam on his popular show, "The International Intelligence Briefing." While another T.V. producer eagerly embraced his show, his former employers of about 30 years gave in to the dictates of a non-discriminating culture. One can no longer say anything negative about Islam even if it is the truth.
Where does the preaching of repentance from sin and acceptance of Christ's substitutionary death fit in? How can the church thrive in a free-for-all milieu?
Capable Of Discernment
Are we capable of discernment? Many believers we talk to feel they are not capable of discernment. They think it takes too much effort. Or they feel you must have a college degree with superior reading skills to have discernment.
Some feel that to "study" the Bible means to limit the workings of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, many of these Christians work hard to speak in "tongues," or to experience other manifestations of the Spirit apart from a diligent effort to read and understand their Bibles. Too often they reject God's Word as their final authority.
Be Diligent - "Study to Show yourself Approved to God"
We maintain that most believers have the skills to become discerning Christians who should "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV).
Cut It Straight
MacArthur notes that this verse means we should be zealously persistent in countering the disastrous effects of false teaching. We need to "cut it straight," in handling God's Word. "Rightly dividing the word of truth," or "cutting it straight" references the exactness demanded in trades such as carpentry, masonry, and Paul's trade of leather working and tent making. In the same way, precision and accuracy are required in biblical interpretation. "Anything else is shameful"
(MacArthur Study Bible1997, 1877)
The King James Version translates 2 Timothy 2:15 as, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly DIVIDING the word of truth." Even the simple, modern English of the New Living Translation states, "Work hard so God can approve you. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth."
Don't Be Ashamed
It is clear that God will judge what kind of workers we are. The Life Application notes say that "we should build our life on his Word and build his Word into our life. It alone tells us how to live for him and serve him. Believers who ignore the Bible will certainly be ashamed at the judgment." (Life Application Study Bible 1996).
Our Discernment Experiences
Do we know how to "cut it straight," or discern among things in our lives?
We stipulate that we do.
Wheaties Or Bran?
For example, how many people do you know who read the ingredients in their breakfast cereals, and who then choose one cereal over another due to its healthful ingredients? That takes discernment.
How many times have you seen Christian brothers and sisters pick a diet to lose weight over several other plans? What about medications? Do you ever study medications to see what they are and how they could affect you?
How about exercise plans? Do you compare health gyms to discern which offer the best value for your money? This takes discernment.
Or how about grocery shopping? How many folks study the prices to discern which grocery store offers the best values? Then you stand in the aisle and figure-out which price is best among twenty others for a can of beans. That takes discernment, people.
Yes, We Have Discernment Skills
Therefore, we insist that most believers truly have the skills to become discerning Christians. You choose political candidates. You vote. You choose one car over another. You read "Consumer Reports" to find the best. You ask around about doctors and medical care. You show meticulous care over the things you put in your body and things you parade on your body.
If Christians can show this kind of discernment in so many areas, we can surely cultivate discernment in our beliefs, choice of pastors, preference in churches, and theological beliefs. Surely.
Don't "Date" Churches&Study Groups
However, this does not mean we should "date" many churches and many Bible Study groups just like we dated many partners before marriage. Jesus emphasized that we are "One," one body with many members and different gifts. God honors loyalty and faithfulness. Hence, we should carefully "discern" among churches and study groups, and then commit ourselves to those authorities established by God (Romans 12:4-8, 13:1-7).
In other words, how can God speak to us if we "split" every time things don't go our way in church or Bible Study? We are supposed to "hang in there" for the long haul, folks. No "fickle-faith" games.
There are no "turf" wars in God's Kingdom, people. There are no "cliques" in heaven.
(Read that again).
If a pastor tells us to read our Bibles more, maybe God wants us to read our Bibles more. If a Bible Study leader teaches that doctrine in accordance with the "sound words of our Lord Jesus" is something you should consider, then maybe God wants you to consider it (1 Timothy 6:3). Don't engage in a fickle faith!
"If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain" (1 Timothy 6:3-5, NASB).
Don't Mess With God's Word
Is it possible that the above verse is telling us not to "mess around" with Scripture? Is it possible that God is speaking to us through pastors and teachers who carefully study the mind of God?
Causes Of Discernment Deficiencies
OK. So what causes lack of discernment? And what exactly is "discernment" anyway?
First, it is important to understand that the church has become intolerant of discernment. It wants everyone to be accepting and loving, promoting unity and non divisive attitudes.
Feelings More Important Than Biblical Truth
In seeking acceptance and non divisiveness, church members and Bible Study groups seek to "intuit" what is right or wrong. In other words, what I "feel" is more important than what God's Word "says." This is blasphemous and idolatrous. It elevates man above God.
Touch Not My Anointed
Pastor John MacArthur notes that a commonly used Scripture against discernment is "Touch not My anointed ones and do My prophets no harm" (1 Chron. 16 and Psalm 105). However, "touch not my anointed" has to do with kings. David referred to this when he declined from hurting or killing King Saul (1 Sam. 26:11).
Do My Prophets No Harm
"Do my prophets no harm" has to do with physically harming any of God's true prophets such as Isaiah or Jeremiah or any other clearly designated prophets. "That is a far cry from evaluating the theology of a heretic who is not a true prophet, nor a king. Softness on false teachers has poisoned the spring of the church" (MacArthur, A Call for Discernment).
TBN Forums For Aberrations
MacArthur points out that the TBN network "gives a forum to every theological aberration in existence. And you can watch and see everything from the good and the righteous to the worst of what is out there. But, they never make a value judgment on anything, never. This has softened the church's ability to discern. Everything is tolerated. Everything is accepted. Every viewpoint is okay. Everybody's whim is fine as long as we don't say anything negative about anybody else, as long as we maintain the love and unity in Christ" (Tape GC 52-53).
Why Lack of Discernment?
MacArthur lists six reasons why there is lack of discernment in our churches:
1. A weakening of doctrinal clarity and conviction
2. A failure to be antithetical (to think in absolutes, black-and-white)
3. A preoccupation with image and influence as key to evangelism
4. A failure to properly interpret Scripture
5. A failure to discipline in the church
6. Spiritual immaturity
What Is Spiritual Discernment?
"Discernment is the skill in separating divine truth from error and half truth" (MacArthur, tape GC 52-34). 1 Timothy 6:3 says "If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing" (ESV). Verse 20 tells Timothy to "guard the deposit entrusted to you." What is the "deposit?" It is God's Word, the truth!
Cutting, Separating, Dividing
"So spiritual discernment is the ability to separate God's person, God's work, God's will, God's truth from everything else that wants to encroach upon it. It is the ability to know that perfect and good and acceptable will of God that Paul talked about in Romans 12:2, which comes through "renewing your mind." It is that ability of which the Apostle Paul wrote in Colossians 1:9 when he said "I want you to be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding so you can walk worthy. I want you to know God's will, to discern the truth of everything. That's the key. To make a judgment. To make a separation. To make a distinction." (MacArthur, tape GC 52-34).
How To Get Discernment
MacArthur lists six things that are crucial to the development of discernment. They are:
Desire: First, if you desire wealth, fame, comfort, and to share your "feelings," you won't develop discernment. True discernment comes from humility which admits our judgment is faulty. We must rely on God's Word for truth. Proverbs 2:3 says, "If you cry for discernment, if you lift your voice for understanding, if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." This is discernment.
Prayer: Second, in 1 Kings 3:9 Solomon says, "So give Thy servant an understanding heart to judge Thy people to discern between good and evil." Verse 10 tells us that God was pleased with Solomon's request.
Today, church members seek wealth in prosperity cults, health in health cults, and anything else they want in name-it-and-claim-it groups. This is a far-cry from asking God for discernment.
James 1:5 states, "If any man lacks wisdom, let him ask of God who gives to all men liberally and holds back nothing." This is what church members should be asking of God.
Learn From Gifted Believers
Learn from gifted people: Third, in 1 Corinthians 12:10, one of the listed gifts is the ability to discern among spirits. 1 John 4:1 states, "Beloved, believe not every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are of God."
The early church did not have the New Testament texts yet because it was in the process of being written. Therefore, God appears to have given them special insight as to whether something was of God or not.
This is clearly seen in Acts 16 when a woman said, "These men are the servants of the Most High God who show unto us the way of salvation." While her statement was correct, Paul knew her cries were coming from a demon spirit. This was an ability to discern between a false and true spirit.
MacArthur believes this gift still exists today.
Be Discipled By Mature Christians
Follow mature Christians. Fourth, Hebrews 5:11-14 says "for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."
Ephsesians 4 tells us not to "be children tossed to and fro, carried about by every wind of doctrine." 1 Peter 2:2 says, "like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation."
Rely On Holy Spirit
Depend on the Holy Spirit: Fifth, in John 16:13 John says that the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth.
1 Corinthians 2:16 says the Spirit of God knows the mind of God.
1 John 2:20 and 2:27 informs us that "You have an anointing from God so you don't need any man to teach you." "But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything - and is true and is no lie, just as it has taught you - abide in him."
Diligently study the Scripture: Sixth, no matter how much you desire it, no matter how much you pray about it, no matter how often you follow a mature, discerning Christian, no matter how much you rely upon the Holy Spirit, you will NOT become a discerning Christian unless you diligently study God's Word!
Acts 17:11 tells us that the Bereans searched the scriptures diligently to see these things, whether they were so. "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica. They received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so."
Paul warned in Acts 20 that "I know after I leave wolves are going to come in here, perverse wolves not sparing the flock. And from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:29).
A Key Verse: Study Your Bible!
2 Timothy 2:15 says to "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
We must learn to discern between the word of truth and empty, idle chatter that leads to ungodliness. The Bible is our standard. We rely upon it alone. It allows us to develop discernment and to "see" into the mind of God. Without God's Word we have no standard upon which to base our lives.
Work To Please God
MacArthur states that "if I'm standing alongside God and say I'm worthy of Your company, Lord, because You and I believe the same thing, it's going to take a lot of effort and work if I am going to be approved by God as a workman who doesn't need to be ashamed." We want to be able to say "Lord, I preached exactly what You wrote in the Word. I was faithful to it. I diligently pursued it. I diligently studied it so I could faithfully represent it."
Don't Make God Ashamed
We don't want to stand before God and hear Him say, "I'm ashamed of the shabby, shoddy way in which you dealt with My truth. I'm ashamed of your inability to distinguish the truth from worldly and empty chatter that leads to ungodliness and spreads like gangrene. I'm ashamed of your inability to identify false leaders and teachers who have gone astray from the truth and upset the faith of other people. I'm ashamed of the way you handled My truth."
Away With Discernment?
Let's not be guilty of saying, "away with discernment…off with her head."
No, after all is said and done, discernment can be summed up in one Scripture passage:
"Test everything. Hold fast what is good" (1 Thess. 5:21).
It is a plea to our churches to return to careful discernment.
MacArthur, John. A call for discernment. (Tape). GC 52-34. Parts 1-3. Transcripts available from:http://www.biblebb.com/files/MAC/52-34, HTM.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. 2004. Wheaton, Ill. Crossway.
Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation. 1996. Wheaton, Ill: Tyndale.
The MacArthur Study Bible, NKJV. 1997. Nashville, TN: Nelson.
Zondervan KJV Study Bible. 2002. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan.