Where has all the discernment gone? Asking for a friend

April 29, 2017

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15–20, ESV)

1. How do we determine a false prophet/false teacher and how do we label them such?

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.” (James 4:11, ESV)

Statements like "Such and such teaches false doctrine, such and such is a false teacher and a heretic" seem to abound in this digital age. After that you will probably hear "here are some links to a website and a booklet wrote by a no-name good guy (who has absolutely no motive, and who goes to a good church and/or denomination) so it must be true. Then the group momentum kicks in and it is like: "Everyone repeat after me, such and such is a heretic of the first degree, a false teacher, a destroyer of biblical fidelity of every degree." So I guess our option is that we better get a rope (figuratively) and take care of it.

The person who is recipient of the guilty assumption is probably popular or being used by the Lord in a public way. But, please pay no attention to the fact that he is in a bible believing church, in good standing, which belongs to a bible believing denomination in which he (and his church) also is in good standing. Not only that, he is a pastor/elder/teacher at that church and has hundreds of public writings in which to examine and allow us to form at least an idea of his teaching/preaching ministry to be considered.

And as if that isn't enough, he also belongs to a very public organization that wants to see the gospel spread to corners of the earth and he advocates for pastors across the globe to have resources (without charge) in their hands to equip them for even more fruitful gospel ministry. Also, he is not alone in this organization but has many other prominent pastors/teachers/elders joining him in this endeavor.  But, of course, they all must lack discernment, be tolerant of false doctrine, liberal in every way, ecumenical and maybe, just maybe even are secret Marxist. So the battle cry:

ATTACK! ATTACK! ATTACK!

2. It is the enemies of God who mock His servants - not other servants 

“Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, with which your enemies mock, O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed.” (Psalm 89:50–51, ESV) and “But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord rose against his people, until there was no remedy.” (2 Chronicles 36:16, ESV)

Mocking and using derogatory words should never be used to speak of another human being because the Lord has commanded it. Remember that it is the blessed man of Psalm 1 that doesn't walk, stand nor sit with them “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;” (Psalm 1:1, ESV).  Scoffing should never be used by Christians about other Christians and especially pastors about other pastors.

It is God's enemies that mock His servants not other servants of the Lord. And, just because someone is a "public figure" does not release us of the responsibility not to mock. This includes the very public ones such as Tim Keller, John Piper, Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, Don Carson, Ligon Duncan, David Platt, Russell Moore and the like. Not because these men are infallible, but because they are very fallible and they do screw up, (usually when they do, they apologize and move on) and all of this is done in a very public view.

They are sinners (like me and you) who are called to the public ministry of the gospel and they do it with everything they have (as far as I can see) and therefore they deserve the honor due them - “Pay to all what is owed to them...respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” (Romans 13:7, ESV)

3. Bible Pastor or False Teacher - Where is the Fruit?

With the popularity aside, the words heretic & false teacher should never come out of a pastors mouth without solid evidence and at least some sort of concensus within the visible kingdom. Our Lord Jesus has warned us that false teachers will come and when they do, they bear fruit - bad fruit. Bad fruit means that they don't have strong gospel ministries, with many conversions, many people drawing near to the Savior and many digging into the Scriptures to see if these things are so.

False teachers have bad fruit and that fruit destroys the hope of the gospel, turns people away from the true and living God, leads people astray in any and every way. “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15–20, ESV)

4. Public elders, universal access, how in the digital age do we remain biblical? 

“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19, ESV)

What is the procedure for bringing charges against an elder? The bible speaks of having witnesses of two or three and if we have this then what? Who do we take them to? Who has the authority to bring them? Who has the authority to receive them? How is a hearing conducted that is both fair and just? These are more questions that must be addressed when we look at the issue of accusation of an elder.

Therefore, if someone is a suspect, we should all ask ourselves first "what is my motive?" If my motive is right and it is good, then we should want to represent the men faithfully (no straw-man) and to publically engage their actual teachings (most big names have volumes of books and sermons that are published). By doing so we allow them to speak for themselves. We should always use primary sources and engage those primary sources like the venerable John Gill did in his day - with a duty to know a man and represent him rightly.

This means that we are not just flippantly throwing around accusations, putting up a few links and declaring someone guilty (because this is way and the very work of our enemy). Unfortunately, what you see in social media these days is just the opposite - instead of engaging the person in question and their actual works, the group mentality will turn things into a "heresy hunt" and a character assassination as well as guilt by association. These are things which for Christian men, and especially pastors, should never, ever, engage in as we are to be examples to the flock.

Websters defines character assassination as "(n) the slandering of a person usually with the intention of destroying public confidence in that person; the act of deliberately attempting to destroy a person’s reputation by defamatory remarks." We know that Slander defiles the person speaking it - “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:19–20, ESV) also as pastors we have a moral and ethical responsibility to avoid it even more (as if there was such a thing).

DSE defines it such: "Slander is a sin of speech that involves reporting information about someone else in order to discredit that person. The information usually is false or distorted, or it could possibly have a shade of truth. Motivated by jealousy, quest for power, money, job advancement, or personal dislike, the slanderer desires to sway public opinion against a rival. As Ezek. 22:9 describes them, slanderers “shed blood,” and Jas. 4:2 likens slander to “murder.” Slander is lying with sinister intention. By its inclusion as the ninth of the Ten Commandments, slander is immortalized as one of humanity’s worst sins not just against others, but against God as well (Exod. 20:16)" [Baker, William R. “Slander.” Ed. Joel B. Green. Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics 2011 : 735. Print.]

5. Slander & Gossip are very great sins and they should never be named among us

Scripture has a whole lot to say about what we say and how we say it, so much, that every idle word we will be accountable for. What about slander, gossip and the such?

“For I fear that perhaps when I come I may find you not as I wish, and that you may find me not as you wish—that perhaps there may be quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder. I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.” (2 Corinthians 12:20–21, ESV)

“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,” (Romans 1:29, ESV)

“Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.” (1 Timothy 5:13, ESV)

Therefore, gossip is a great sin and destroys both the person speaking it and who it is about as well as others who hear it - be careful what you say.

6. What we say and how we say it - where is our responsibility?

What is our personal responsibility for our own speech and the conduct we have as elders? Scripture shows us that we can grow wiser and learn and grow in every area, including the way we interact on social media: “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” (Proverbs 9:7–9, ESV) Please Consider:

1. Sinful speech comes from sinners in a way to hurt and inflict injury:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.” (Matthew 12:33–35, ESV)

“And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”” (Matthew 15:10–11, ESV)

“And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”” (Mark 7:14–15, ESV)

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:43–45, ESV)

2. God hates people who sow discord in the kingdom:

“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him...and one who sows discord among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:16–19, ESV)

3. Ridicule and insults are a work of the enemy and liable:

“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22, ESV)

4. When we speak against our brother we become his judge (no longer his brother), rather than the Lord.

“Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:11–12, ESV)

7. So what is the solution and what do you propose? 

Instead of trying to make someone guilty (or innocent) in light of disagreement we need a reasonable system which we all can agree on and use accordingly to discern.

1. Standard of judgement: “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7:2, ESV)

Is someone inside of Christian orthodoxy or outside? What standard will you use to determine their innocence or guilt? - I propose we use "Theological Triage" to determine the process.

2. How would you want others to treat you? “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, ESV)

Can we not allow a person the the benefit of the doubt and make sure we are keeping them "Innocent until proven guilty" at least until credible proof is presented and a guilty verdict rendered?

3. What would the process look like and how will it proceed?

I imagine it would be like any other civil/criminal trial.

1. Accusations - legitimate (or not) concerns are brought forward
2. Trial - the system in which the accused will have his teachings tested under
3. Conviction - absolute guilt/innocence under the system
4. Punishment - When guilty - the severity equals the crime

8. Next Step - Build the System

Now that I have said all of this, what are you thoughts? How do we perform a "trial" on a person whom the Lord Jesus has entrusted with an enormous ministry and responsibility but one we have disagreements about?

I am interested in hearing from you - what do you say?

my email is jeff at jeffbrown dot com

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