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Divisiveness vs. Discernment

Monday, April 07, 2014 | Comments (8)

by John MacArthur

Do discernment and divisiveness go hand in hand? Is it true that the term discernment is often employed as a cover for a contentious or critical spirit?

Let’s acknowledge that there are unscrupulous people who, under the guise of “biblical discernment,” engage in unbrotherly criticism. Their tactics often include innuendo, character assassination, guilt by association, and other dishonest methods. They weave conspiracy theories, sensationalize their attacks against others, and favor personal slurs over substantive doctrinal analysis. Militant fundamentalism has made this type of criticism its specialty. As a consequence, that movement has steadily lost its influence, forfeited its credibility, and fragmented into tiny, warring factions. My appeal for discernment is not a call to that sort of factious attitude.

Undoubtedly the prevalence of hypercritical attitudes among some fundamentalists has caused a backlash that has only accelerated the decline of discernment in the church. We rightfully deplore a pugnacious spirit. No true Christian wants to be contentious. No one who has the mind of Christ enjoys conflict. Obviously, harmony is preferable to discord. But when some crucial truth is at stake, how do we display the mind of Christ? Certainly not by allowing the error to go unchallenged. If we truly are to be like our Savior, we must both proclaim truth and condemn error in unambiguous language (see Matthew 23).

That means we must learn to discriminate. In modern usage, the word discrimination carries powerful negative connotations. But the word itself is not negative. Discriminate simply means “to make a clear distinction.” We used to call someone “a discriminating person” if he exercised keen judgment. “Discrimination” signified a positive ability to draw the line between good and evil, true and false, right and wrong. In the heyday of the American civil-rights movement, the word was widely applied to racial bigotry. And, indeed, people who make unfair distinctions between races are guilty of an evil form of discrimination.

Unfortunately, the word itself took on that negative connotation, and the sinister implication is often transferred to anyone who tries to discriminate in any way. To view homosexuality as immoral (1 Corinthians 6:9–10; 1 Timothy 1:9–10) is condemned now by the politically correct as an unacceptable form of discrimination. To suggest that wives ought to submit to their own husbands (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18) is now classified as unfair discrimination. To suggest that children ought to obey their parents (Ephesians 6:1) is also labeled unjust discrimination by some. We see more and more that anyone who “discriminates” these days risks becoming a target of boycotts, protests, and lawsuits. We are not supposed to draw lines. That is the spirit of this age, and unfortunately, it has crept into the church.

If we are going to be discerning people, we must develop the skill of discriminating between truth and error, good and bad. The original languages of Scripture convey this very idea. The main Hebrew word for “discernment” is bin. That word and its variants are used hundreds of times in the Old Testament. It is often translated “discernment,” “understanding,” “skill,” or “carefulness.” But in the original language it conveys the same idea as our word discrimination. It entails the idea of making distinctions. Jay Adams points out that the word bin “is related to the noun bayin, which means ‘interval’ or ‘space between,’ and the preposition ben, ‘between.’ In essence it means to separate things from one another at their points of difference in order to distinguish them.” Discernment, then, is a synonym for discrimination. In fact, the Greek verb translated “discern” in the New Testament is diakrinō. It means “to make a distinction” and is translated that way in Acts 15:9.

So discernment is the process of making careful distinctions in our thinking about truth. The discerning person is the one who draws a clear contrast between truth and error. Discernment is black-and-white thinking—the conscious refusal to color every issue in shades of gray. No one can be truly discerning without developing skill in separating divine truth from error.

Does Scripture tell us how to be discerning? It certainly does. Paul sums up the process in 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22: “Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” There, in three straightforward commands, he spells out the requirements of a discerning mind.

And that’s where we’ll pick it up next time.

(Adapted from Reckless Faith.)


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#1  Posted by Anil Gudivada  |  Monday, April 07, 2014at 11:33 AM

Dear Pastor, Thank You So much for this.

#7  Posted by John Mwebeiha  |  Tuesday, April 08, 2014at 11:44 PM

Dear pastor you may know us personal but in this new age of modern we are also our pastor.

I live in UK and thank you for standing for truth and defending the gospel I stand with you on this .May not be a master oratory like but will keep supporting you.

#2  Posted by Manuel Jr. Reyes  |  Monday, April 07, 2014at 8:21 PM

Discernment is what is lacking among many Christian churches, particularly the Charismatic movement and now with the Catholic Renewed Charismatic movement. Seemingly, history is repeating itself to the days of the Reformation, where many believers decided to get out of the Roman Catholic church and thus (as a proof of discernment) the Reformation adherents drew a line against heretic teachings and one of those lines is Sola Scriptura.

Try to watch this clip and see how the cycle of history repeats itself and to see for yourself if you would practice discernment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehFpeVGLyxs

Thanks Pastor John! God bless you and your ministry!

#3  Posted by Todd Farr  |  Monday, April 07, 2014at 8:54 PM

Pastor John,

I don't know you personally but you have never given me the impression through your ministry that you are a divisive person. Biblical truth can certainly be divisive and you take a stand for that truth as well or better than any pastor I've encountered. Anyone who takes such a stand for Christ's sake is going to feel the weight of his/her own cross. Matthew 16:24-25

I just want to thank you and your entire staff at Grace to You. This ministry is such a blessing and encouragement to me over 1,000 miles away, just outside St. Louis. I don't typically thank the Lord for the internet but this ministry is a good occasion for that, ha. I know there are many people who are appreciative of the work you all are doing for His Kingdom but I just wanted to drop a quick line to hopefully give back a fraction of the encouragement that you have given me through your service. Thank you and all praise and honor to our wonderful Savior.

#4  Posted by Manuel Jr. Reyes  |  Monday, April 07, 2014at 9:58 PM

Discernment will be evident when a saved person studies the Scripture, the historicity of Christianity, and the Orthodoxy of Doctrines, among others. Antithetical to discernment is when the teachers say, “throw your doctrines…”, or “it is the glory of God that glues us together and not doctrine”; which in turn is diabolical.

With this link, many must be able to practice discernment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehFpeVGLyxs

#5  Posted by George Canady  |  Tuesday, April 08, 2014at 5:00 AM

Might I suggest that while critiquing some ones (Lloyd-Jones, Hodge, Piper...etc.) that we have a difference with in an unbalance way, "confused", is an unhealthy form of divisiveness.

#6  Posted by David Simkins  |  Tuesday, April 08, 2014at 8:31 AM

I have no profound comment to add. I just wanted to thank all of you for your ministry. Your love for truth is so encouraging. I don't know if you are aware (you probably are) of how difficult it is for the average christian to find a church that not only teaches truth but can even discern truth. It sometimes seems like a spiritual wasteland out here. My husband and I have experienced first hand the backlash from fellow believers by respectfully questioning the doctrinal soundness of some of the most popular evangelical books marketed to christians (i.e. Jesus Calling, Heaven is for Real, etc.). We have found out if you want to be part of the club, relationships trump truth every time. Your ministry maybe only one of a few to which we can turn for encouragement to discern and discriminate. We will keep you in our prayers and again thank you so much John and all the Grace to You staff for you faithful service.

Susan (David's Wife)

#8  Posted by Robert Cress  |  Friday, April 11, 2014at 5:16 AM

It is such a sad thing the enemy has the populas deceived so thoroughly that the majority won't even try to listen to sound doctrine. They scream "don't judge " while refusing to read GODS WORD for themselves, only placing there faith in what a man (or at times a woman) preaches to them. My whole family is in that phony charismatic sinking boat. I pray the scales be removed from there eyes. Thank you GTY, for refusing to comprise