I would like Signposts02 to go in a new direction. May I be more accountable to the things I say and the way I respond to people (except Facelift). The following articles are a fascinating read. Dan Kimball writes:
I am on a book writing retreat and need to get back to that. So please excuse any grammar as I am typing fast. But had a couple things I wanted to express as someone I know has been hurt from a recent series of inaccurate things reported on Christian “discernment” web sites and in the comments on those web sites. In fact, many people get hurt from these web sites all the time. So often from misrepresentation and those posting not having facts correct about people. I wish I would have said something earlier, but I have tried to generally not pay too much attention to them because many of them (not all) are not accurate in what they generally report. When something is true, we totally need these web sites to help us learn. But when they aren’t credible, then they aren’t helpful and in fact hurt people and lead people in incorrect ways.
For those that don’t know, a “discernment” web site is when a ministry focuses on looking out for what is wrong (in their opinions) in the Christian world and if false teaching happens. We do need to be careful about what is being taught and out there today. As local church leaders, I fully believe we need to be constantly and lovingly holding each other to the teachings of Scripture such as in 1 Timothy 4:16 where it says “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” As a local church leader, I know in our church we try our best to ensure that all those serving in leadership roles are on the same page with historic orthodox doctrines of faith. As a local church we can have differing opinions on such things as end times beliefs (whether one is premillennial or amillennial etc.) And that is healthy thing to have differences on things like this. But then on historic doctrines of the church (Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed and even further developed statements such as the Lausanne Covenant) it is necessary to unite people around doctrines. Doctrines do shape our churches. Doctrines shape what we focus on and our living day to day values and ethics. Doctrines even define who we think Jesus is or isn’t based out of Scripture. So they are very important.
I do believe that discernment and guarding doctrines is very important and biblical. But one of the saddest things I have experienced in the Christian world, is when Christian discernment web sites go overboard and take it upon themselves to discern the whole world and guard the planet (is what it feels like). And as some do, it is often done in the harshest and meanest non-Jesus like ways. Jesus had hard words to say to people and it was generally the very people making inaccurate judgments against others. Again, I know as a local church leader, we need to guard doctrine and teaching. We need to be discerning. We need to carefully make sure that those in leadership understand core doctrines and theology. As I teach in our church, I am always open to correction and have people all around me on staff and in the church whom I believe will ask questions or challenge something I say if not making sense or inaccurate. I believe in the church, we even need to judge each other. I preached a few weeks ago about the importance of actually “judging” each other as a local church in the way Scripture guides us to. We walked through what it looks like to be holding each other accountable in the church as taught in Matthew 18 and also Galatians 6: 1-2. But the Scriptures also teach how the church should NOT judge the world and those outside the church (1 Corinthians 5:12). There is guidance given in how to do that as we need it.
I can’t repeat the whole sermon here, but I shared an important point of how Jesus never said not to judge each other (those who follow Him). But He said to “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24). It is far too easy to judge by mere appearances than to actually know what is happening inside someone or inside a church. It is far too easy for people to make judgments, so incredibly often it is by those who have not even read the books by the very authors they judge. Or taken the time to look at the accuracy of web sites who may quote a sentence or two but never look at the context it was written from.
I think that some (not all, but several) of these Christian discernment web sites and the people who comment on them and follow them don’t take these words of Jesus seriously. They judge by mere appearance. Not just the people who run the web sites, but also the people who make comments on them or link to them etc. They judge by appearance. They judge by guilt-by-association. They judge by taking sentences out of context to build a case for what they already pre-believe to prove their point. Almost cult-like actually, in how things can be twisted to make a point. They judge by not actually taking the time to ask the person if what they are seeing as “appearance” may be true. And even if some are proven wrong, I have experienced that some (not all) even refuse to even admit they are wrong. It is the strangest thing. I just was told that one discernment web site was using a page from a web site that I had closed down 4 or 5 years ago. Some of the links on the links page were web sites I no longer could endorse or agree with from the time I initially posted them.
I truly think there is a total need for discernment web sites. We need people to help look at the broader church and teachings that develop which may stray from historic doctrines of the church. I loved Walter Martin’s writings and turn to discernment and apologetics ministries that are trustworthy. But the internet has allowed people to have voices whom didn’t build credibility over years and have trust. Their might be a developed inward trust with other discernment folks – but the credibility of their reporting would never make it to be trusted in the scrutiny of larger examination. There are trusted ministries like a Walter Martin. Or like Greg Koukl and Stand To Reason whom I frequently go on their web site and trust Greg. Or like a Josh McDowell or Lee Strobel. These are leaders and apologists you can trust as they have shown over time they do their homework and aren’t judging by mere appearance.
I have recently met with Chris Rosebrough from a discernment ministry called Pirate Christian Radio. I was in Indiana and contacted Chris since he lives there and we met up and he saw me preach in a chapel at a university. And then we hung out and went to James Dean sites in James Dean’s hometown. Chris seems to be searching for truth and instead of just drawing conclusion against me, he took the time to ask me specific questions and explore our ministry and my beliefs. We disagreed on methodology issues and what it meant to be on mission as a missionary and about church growth issues. But we both agreed on the core doctrines of historical Christian faith. Chris then posts he hung out with me and called me a “Christian brother” and then some (not all, but a vocal few) in the Christian discernment camp and on comments by people on his own Facebook page turned on him like piranhas in a frenzy feeding. It is the strangest thing. It is heartbreaking reading things like that. And as Chris and I have corresponded since, he is experiencing what it is like on the other end of things now! A discerner is experiencing improper discernment from his own people. It’s funny and sad at the same time.
Jesus says we will be held accountable to our words (Matthew 12:36). And that out of the overflow of our heart our mouths speak (or our fingers type) – (Matthew 12:34). So what is in us and our hearts, comes spewing out easy through our fingers as we type. So what we read on blogs and in comments – the tone, the love or lack of love, the manner and truthfulness of what is written – is a reflection of our hearts and what is inside us.
What I am trying to say is that I really feel that discernment web sites need to start discerning each other. If their ministry is 100% focused on that very thing (pointing out wrongs and inaccuracies) then it seems like they should be doing it on each other more. Perhaps some health would happen in the discernment camp if they spent more time researching and evaluating the truthfulness and accuracy of what they report on. And also be evaluating each other out on how loving (or not) each of their approaches they take are. what each of them writes is. Jesus said to first take the log out of your own eye, then you can make a healthy judgment on another. So what if these discernment web sites started to look at each other with the same intensity and scrutiny they do at other people. What would they find if they really did start checking sources and going deeper than “mere appearance”? I understand that some do actually do their research properly and do talk to individuals and seek out the actual truth. But not all of them do.
This goes for those who are the fans of discernment web sites and write comments and say these types of things too. So many commenters can quickly type of fierce words about people they don’t know and never even read their books nor talked to them. Perhaps it is time, like seen in 1 Corinthians 5 for Christian discernment folks and commenters on these sites to look inward and turn the lens they use on others on each other to probe themselves deeply for truth and accuracy. To see if they tolerate inaccuracy or are guilt-by-association and even conspiracy theories. To see how loving or not they are. I know by writing this, they may not change at all and may never change. But I am horribly saddened by seeing when Christians devour each other….. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”(Galatians 5:15).
For those who read these web sites, remember on the internet, anyone can post anything. You wouldn’t have something like is written on some of these sites ever seriously published (it can be self-published like some are) or reported and taken seriously in recognized credible magazines or books. Without screening people can wrongfully hurt and those who read these things seriously misled. We need to check sources and do research if we really care about those we are discerning.
And again, don’t misunderstand me. I need discernment web sites to help me. I want to be guarding doctrine. But I want to turn to sources I can trust. Ones that report accurately. One that may call out things, but do not slander. Ones that are still loving, and not ones that do not show love. If you are someone who likes going to these discernment web sites, please check their credibility. Don’t just read a sentence pull-quote but go to the source and read the whole thing. I would suggest even asking yourself why you find yourself wanting to keep going to them. What about them draws you into that world? As often as you go to these web sites, please ask yourself when is the last time your life has intersected with someone in need of knowing the love and grace of Jesus? Do you spend more time feeding on reading bad things about people on these web sites or do you spend more time heartbroken and spending time with those in need of a Savior? Some of these web sites are like the National Enquirer for Christians. Not all, but some! And some can even people into false beliefs about other Christians. Jesus said that some will “strain out a a gnat but swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). We have to be careful in what we post about other people and how we lead others.We need discernment. We need to be carefully guarding doctrine. We need to judge each other like Jesus told us too. But from my experience in looking at some of what happens out there, it is not following the direction of the New Testament in how it is done.
I just think it is time for Christian discernment web sites to turn their focus on each other for a while. Like they do for “false teachers” in examining them, maybe they need to look out for “false discerners”. Figure out which ones are credible and which ones aren’t. Discernment web sites need to be discerning each other. I wish they would develop some sort of screening system or a code of discernment tools to hold each other accountable to that.
Use your discerning skills and truly discern each other for a change to weed out the false discerners from the true discerners. Don’t be in a piranha feeding frenzy, which often seems the case from observing the tones of comments and interaction and how quick people are to judge. But discern with broken hearts and winsomeness and accuracy. Follow biblical direction of Matthew 18, Galatians 6 if you truly care about someone’s teaching. Otherwise, it comes close to gossip and slander if you don’t. Call out sin and false teaching if you find it. But check with the people and do research to see if what you even suspect is true. There are always two sides to stories and especially in missional churches you may not understand the why’s of what happens from the outside.
And above all, as you do discern anything or anyone, love others including fellow discerners. Jesus said we are to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44). And no matter what type of ministry we are in, we need to love. As Paul said “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (I Corinthians 13:1). Jesus said by our love people will know if we are His followers. By our love. (John 13:35). Love. Truth and love.
A probably even better article on discernment can be found here: http://blog.betterthansacrifice.org/2010/11/19/what-is-the-activity-we-call-discernment-really-all-about/