Regular readers here know that my mom died on the 10th of October. Today would have been her birthday.
We made the decision to take the funeral ourselves, which meant planning something even while in the middle of our own emotional stressor. I did outsource a great deal of the speaking to people who knew her at different times of her life and ministry, and many of those left the transcript of their remarks on the podium for me to go back to.
Keeping track of those people, six songs that were meaningful to her, and a scripture reading (which I almost forgot entirely), means that I didn’t get to say everything I wanted to say, and one of those was to talk about the gift of discernment, the spiritual gift my mom felt was the greatest — despite Paul’s emphasis on tongues — gift needed in these times.
In the times in which her and my dad’s Christian life was shaped, the problem of what we would call ‘cults’ and what they would have called ‘false cults’ was a huge part of their spiritual environment. Even relatively orthodox people often had some pet doctrine which deviated from the norm. It’s not surprising that this problem has always been with us; the problem of false teachers is at the core of several of the Apostle Paul’s letters.
What’s interesting about her feelings about discernment is that it comes from someone who never directly used the internet. As I just stated, this problem seems to have been pervasive throughout church history, but how much more is it needed now when people — and I’m thinking here especially about new believers or nominal Christians — don’t have a frame of reference to know where a particular podcast, book, song, author, pastor, church, or movement is originating.
We need that online today more than ever.
Here’s the first four of 71 verses on discernment from openBible.info:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (all ESV)
The word discernment has taken on a new meaning lately. Discernment ministries is a term used to apply to watchman or gatekeeper ministries which take the practice of guarding the flock to extremes and are dismissive of anyone whose theology (meaning a compendium of individual doctrines) does not line up 100% with their own. This overboard approach to discernment at times simply fractures and divides the body of Christ unnecessarily. We’re never going to agree 100% on every nuance of faith and practice, but we can agree to disagree on things not central to the gospel. Problem is, some people are convinced that their doctrinal take is central to the gospel.
To read previous discussions here on discernment ministries, click this link, and read the first four or five entries after the repeat of this one.