A ‘Pirate Gang’ conversation about good vs. bad discernment.

When Ps. Chris Rosebrough critiques false teachers on his program ‘Fighting For The Faith’, he consistently asks his listeners to uphold the following biblical standard:

“Don’t take my word for it, I need you to listen to me with an open bible and if you haven’t figured it out, the segments that I choose, I choose them because it gives me an excuse to teach the Bible. Learning discernment requires you to be in the Scriptures so that at the end of the day, you know when somebody is twisting God’s Word. There’s so many different ways in which to twist it, the focus of my program for the most part is, they’re saying ‘this, and this’ is what they’re doing with the biblical text but when you look at the text it’s not saying ‘that’. The idea here is that I can’t review everybody, there’s so many different false teachers out there – what I’m looking for are ‘archetypal’ ways in which people are twisting texts, which then gives me an excuse to get into the Bible so that people can hear how amazing the Bible is. That’s the idea then, that once you’re hooked on the Scriptures rightly taught, you know how to look for whether or not it’s being rightly taught – then what happens is that you’re inoculated against the false teacher, whoever it might be.”

With the above quote included in the latest YouTube episode of ‘Fighting For The Faith’, Pirate Gang Ps. Chris Rosebrough, Steven Kozar and Amy Spreeman have a conversation about good vs. bad discernment:

Pirate Gang vs. Dirty Smear Merchants.

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 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. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.” Acts 17:10-12

Source: Pirate Christian Media, ‘Fighting For The Faith’ Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QOy52t7pWGE&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR2haefHU9pEC5M5USQHONJUxcm8IkAnvDMf7R2EPzE8mh62hdmMi–FVFI. Premiered November 8, 2019. (Accessed November 8, 2019.)

Podcast available here.

Included in the episode is a discussion about an article ‘Discernment Tips’ (linked below) from Steven Kozar’s ‘Messed Up Church’ Blog – helpful tools for the Berean believer:

Steven Kozar writes:

When Christians begin the process of leaving the Messed Up (Apostate) Church, they encounter a whole new batch of difficult issues. Going too quickly to the next thing is a common problem. Let’s call this being too “reactionary.” In the search for certainty, one can often latch onto a teacher or teaching too quickly because the uncertainty appears to be unbearable. People often react against one thing and then grab onto something else that appears to be the opposite. This is understandable, but it’s still a bad direction to go. The Pop Evangelical Church has been telling you for a long time that theology is unnecessary, but now you’re confronted with the truth that your lack of theological training has left you confused and unsure of what to believe.

You are not alone.

This anti-doctrine “doctrine” has been a very harmful component of Pop Evangelicalism for a long time, and many layers of bad teaching have been stacking up on top of it. You will need to peel back the many layers of half-truths and bad ideas if you’re ever going to make real progress. Take your time because these issues are incredibly important!

Here are some common categories of bad discernment:

    1. “Discernment is a mystical process where you ‘feel what is true.’”

      No, it’s not! Discernment means digging into God’s Word and being lead by the Holy Spirit to understand what it says. The Holy Spirit does not give you a version of truth that is different from everyone else’s version of truth (no matter how you feel about it). Here’s a really helpful article on this issue: Jennifer LeClaire Gets Discernment 100% WRONG!

    2. “Discernment starts with abandoning all previous theological systems and avoiding all previous teachings from church history.”

      It might sound exciting in a “DaVinci Code” sort of way, but this is a really bad way to think. God has given us His Word and we’ve had almost two thousand years of teachers to help us understand it, so why would you want to throw that all away and start from scratch? Here’s an article to help you think through this issue: The Gigantic Problem Beneath the Really Big Problem.

    3. “Discernment means latching onto the teacher who is the most extreme ‘smear merchant.’”

      Yes, there are some really bad things going on in the Christian Church, but some people just enjoy driving by the scene of the accident too much. If everybody is a raving heretic (except you and your tiny little group) you probably need a more balanced perspective. This will be hard, but do your homework anyway. Sweeping generalizations can only go so far.

    4. “Discernment means ignoring proper categories and using ‘guilt by association.’”

      Now we’re getting to the problem of a number of discernment ministries: they tend to take the easy way out and make assumptions about a pastor, teacher or ministry based on things they never believed or taught. Common example: “Pastor X is a guest speaker at this one conference, and another speaker there is Pastor Y-and everyone knows that Pastor Y is a false teacher! Therefore, Pastor X is also a false teacher.” There are lots of different conferences on many different topics organized for lots of different purposes; sometimes a speaker is invited without knowing exactly who the other speakers will be, or even exactly what the topic will be. Now if a pastor is invited to speak at the “World Dominion Prophecy Awakening Apostolic Signs & Wonders Miracle Event” they know what they’re getting into, obviously. But sometimes we need to get more information-directly from the person in question-before making assumptions about their beliefs. We live in a pretty dumbed-down culture that promotes easy and overly-simplistic answers. Our Christian faith is way too important to take that approach, and our Christian brothers and sisters are way too valuable to treat with such disregard.

    5. “Discernment means reacting against the your previous belief so strongly that you now believe the exact opposite.”

      Here’s an example: “I grew up Roman Catholic but now I don’t believe that way, so if I see a pastor with a clerical collar I know he’s a heretic!!” It is much better to base your beliefs on scripture alone. When you’re coming out of a really bad church, it’s understandable to be a reactionary for a while, but you need to move on and develop a more thoughtful, careful, and biblical approach to what you believe. In the real world, there are people all over the place, theologically, and it’s best to deal with their own exact beliefs, instead of just lumping them into a category based on outward appearances or unproven assumptions.

    6. “Discernment means throwing the word HERETIC around like a wrecking ball.”

      The term heretic is very specific, and too many people use it without really knowing what it means. Here’s the definition from Webster’s: Heretic. Here’s the definition of heresy from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Heresy. There is another term that isn’t used very much called “heterodoxy,” and a lot of times people should use this word instead of heresy. Here’s a definition from Webster’s: Heterodox. Here’s a definition from Theopedia: Heterodox. Basically, it’s a step before heresy. It means that an idea is not biblical, but it’s not so extreme that it’s heresy. Lastly, there is a term called “adiaphora” that is really useful to understand. It’s a term that describes something that isn’t specifically promoted in Scripture, but neither is it be condemned by Scripture.

Here’s a helpful article with more links: Heresy at Theopedia. Here’s a useful definition from the Christian Cyclopedia: Heresy.

Here’s the podcast that Amy Spreeman mentioned in the above video: https://awordfitlyspoken.life/podcast/doing-discernment/

Robert Bowman Jr. has written a succinct little book entitled: “Orthodoxy and Heresy-A Biblical Guide to Doctrinal Discernment” and it is available as an online article here. From Bowman’s book, here are his “10 Commandments of Discernment:”

1.) Learn to exercise discernment while growing as a Christian in faith, love, and holiness. I would like to assume this is obvious to everyone, but it bears emphasizing and even placing first on the list. The Christian life is not an intellectual game in which the object is to prove that you are right and to ferret out everyone who is wrong. Discerning orthodox from heretical teaching is only one aspect of the Christian life, though it is an important one. Moreover, doctrinal discernment itself should involve prayer, fellowship with other Christians, ministry to other Christians and to the lost, as well as doctrinal study. May I also say that I am preaching to myself here more than to anyone else! As one whose lifetime ministry and career is concentrated in the practice and communication of doctrinal discernment, I (and my colleagues in discernment ministry, as well) am more apt to forget this than other Christians. On the other hand, let me also emphasize the word “growing” in the above statement. There is not some minimum standard of spiritual achievement that must be reached before one may begin exercising discernment. Rather, the exercise of discernment is one function in the Christian life in which all believers should be growing throughout their Christian experience.

2.) Develop a thorough and sound grasp of Scripture. Other things being equal, the better one understands the Bible, the better one will be able to discern truth from error. Not every Christian can be a Bible scholar, but virtually every Christian can study the Bible in depth and gain a profound understanding of its teachings.

There are various ways in which one can study the Bible, and all of them are important. Read the Bible itself — read whole books of the Bible, and read the whole Bible (though not necessarily in any particular order). Commit portions of Scripture to memory. Study the Bible topically, searching through Scripture and reading what it says on particular subjects (see Acts 17:11). Use study aids, theological textbooks, and the like (though discernment will be needed in choosing and using such works). Study the Bible by yourself and in groups. Find competent teachers and learn as much as you can from them. The point is to use every resource possible to increase your understanding of Scripture.

3.) Study Christian doctrine from a variety of traditions within orthodox Christianity. As you become fairly clear on the essentials of the faith, you should seek to become familiar with some of the different perspectives on Christian doctrine within the household of faith. You will want to acquaint yourself with different views held by Christians on such controversial doctrinal matters as baptism, the Millennium, spiritual gifts, predestination, and the like. Understanding the different perspectives held by orthodox Christians on these doctrinal matters will enable you to appreciate better the difference between essentials and nonessentials of the faith, as well as to gain a more mature and biblical position on them.

4.) Learn as much relevant information as possible about a questionable teaching or religious group before making any judgment. Scripture says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov. 18:13). It is sin for Christians to judge someone’s beliefs as heretical on the basis of less than adequate information.

There are a variety of strategies you can use to gain information about a group. You can inquire about religious affiliations — the denomination or religion of a teacher or group — though in some cases certain organizations or persons may deny their controversial religious affiliations. You can ask for information about their history or leaders, as sometimes this is illuminating. You can consult standard reference works, dictionaries, or encyclopedias that list religious groups and organizations and describe their beliefs. In most cases, except with very new or small groups or teachings, these strategies will give you adequate information.

5.) Base your understanding of a questionable doctrine on what those who espouse it say about it themselves. This follows directly from the above principle and from the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12). Just as we would not want someone to label us heretics or accuse us of other evils (Matt. 5:11) on the basis of what others say about us, so we should not criticize others’ views without being sure that we have heard them firsthand. This does not mean that every Christian must personally read the primary literature of a heretical group before concluding that it is indeed heretical. Rather, a Christian critique of a supposedly heretical group should be considered less than adequate to the extent that the accusations made are not backed up with accurate quotations from the authoritative leaders of the group.

In questionable cases where no adequate Christian analysis or evaluation has yet been done, it is very important to gain primary source information about the group’s doctrines. One approach that is often helpful is to ask for a doctrinal statement. However, keep in mind the following two observations: (1) Some groups that have no doctrinal statement are nevertheless orthodox. (2) Doctrinal statements of heretical groups are often kept as orthodox-sounding as possible to avoid easy criticism. Other publications may be more revealing of the group’s true colors.

6.) Do not assume that the use of orthodox language guarantees orthodox beliefs. As I have just suggested, unorthodox and aberrant groups are often not straightforward and honest about the true nature of their beliefs. They will frequently use biblical language and sound very evangelical in order to avoid criticism. This is exactly what the New Testament warns us about (e.g., 2 Cor. 11:4).

In the case of groups that are dishonest about their true beliefs, gather as much information about their beliefs as possible and compare what they say to the public with what they say to one another. This may involve attending their meetings and asking questions without seeming critical (see Matt. 10:16) or obtaining in-house literature normally available only to members. Generally, such investigations should be carried out by those with some experience and training in doctrinal discernment, such as those involved in discernment ministries. In some cases, ex-members may be the best source of such information and materials.

7.) Treat the information supplied by ex-members with respect but due caution as well. Every heretical group eventually begins generating ex-members in greater or lesser quantities, and these persons can be invaluable resources. Often their most important contribution is their access to publications and recordings unavailable to the general public. Their personal testimonies can also be very informative and helpful.

One of the marks of a heretical or aberrant group is that its ex-members are all dismissed as disgruntled or envious or immoral persons with an axe to grind. Of course, this may be true of some ex-members. Yet, if a religious group loses a large number of people, and these ex-members consistently tell the same story, their testimony should be given due credence. If an ex-member can back up his (or her) story with documentation or corroborative testimony from other ex-members, that will serve to reinforce his testimony.

Occasionally, certain individuals will present themselves as ex-members of a group and tell sensational stories about their involvement. Great caution must be exercised in such cases, as increasingly there are instances of persons doing this who either were never part of the group in question, or were never as deeply involved as they claim. Whether such individuals perpetuate such deceptions for financial gain, media attention, personal antagonism toward the group, or for more subtle reasons, may not always be clear. In any case it is important that sensationalistic accusations against a group not be accepted on the basis of the testimony of one person or couple apart from corroborative evidence.

8.) In uncertain or borderline cases, give the benefit of the doubt to the person or group in question. The principle of “innocent until proven guilty” applies here. Some Christians involved in discernment ministries raise “red flags” or, to change the metaphor, “cry wolf” whenever there is the slightest hint of possible heresy. Such a practice brings reproach upon discernment ministries and divides Christians.

9.) Begin with foundational matters. In inquiring into the orthodoxy of a religious group, much time and energy can be saved and mistakes prevented by asking foundational questions about the group’s attitude toward the Bible and religious authority. Do they regard the Bible as the absolutely infallible, unerring Word of God? Do they regard the Bible as the final authority in religious matters, or do they look to something else (their leaders, a modern prophet, another book, etc.) as an indispensable authority by which the Bible is interpreted? If their answers to these questions are satisfactory, then in most cases they will be orthodox; if not, they will usually be heretical. Keep in mind that some heretical groups profess complete confidence in the Bible and appear to have no other doctrinal authorities; thus, this guideline should be treated only as a rule of thumb.

10.) Consult with reputable discernment ministries who honor biblical principles of discernment. No human being is infallible, nor is any organization, including Christian discernment ministries. Nevertheless, if you agree that the principles discussed in this article are biblical, then you should consult with discernment ministries who seek to base their work on these principles.

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:20-21

Source: Steven Kozar, ‘Messed Up Church’ blog, https://www.themessedupchurch.com/blog/discernment-tips. Published November 7, 2019. (Accessed November 8, 2019.)

Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” Galatians 4:16

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