April 7, 2008

A Global Need: Biblical Discernment

Our brief study on 1 John 4:1-6 has proven fruitful. This series began by recognizing the ever present danger of false teaching. We must all strive to avoid the many falsehoods that surround us in today's world. With this in mind, the Apostle John gives us two truths to remain faithful to our Savior. First, we must examine God’s messengers. Second, we must recognize opposing messages.

We cannot afford to make the mistake that the second-century theologian Tertullian made when he joined Montanism. We must practice biblical discernment!

As followers of Christ, we find ourselves involved in a raging war. Image yourself as a soldier in the front lines of battle. However, your enemies are not wearing military uniforms--they dress just like everybody else. You do not go out to fight at a distinct battleground, away from the civilian population. Your opposition could be anywhere. You have to go from house to house, not knowing if you'll find hostile enemies seeking to kill you or a regular family simply trying to stay out of harm's way. This is the difference between conventional warfare and guerrilla warfare. Whereas World War II was a conventional war, Vietnam was largely a guerrilla war. Obviously, fighting in these two kinds of wars is almost completely different.

What is my point? Practicing biblical discernment is like guerrilla warfare. False teachers do not easily distinguish themselves from your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. They look, talk, and behave just like everybody else. They also do not attack from a distance. They seek to infiltrate from within. As a result, we cannot afford to simply trust anything that people who speak for God tell us. We must examine God’s messengers and recognize opposing messages. This may not be easy, but it is vital.

The Protestant Reformer John Calvin wrote about the need for a double test of doctrine:
[T]here is a double test of doctrine—private and public. The private test is that by which everyone settles his own faith, relying wholly on the doctrine that is known to come from God; for consciences will never find a safe and tranquil haven other than in God. The public test is the common consent and polity of the church; for as there is a danger of fanatics arising who may presume to boast that they are endued with God’s Spirit, it is necessary for the faithful to meet together and seek a way by which they may agree in a holy and godly manner. The old proverb is too true: ‘So many heads, so many opinions’; and it is doubtless God’s unique task to subdue our perverseness and make us think the same thing and agree in a holy unity of faith.
Both we as individuals and as corporate churches have an obligation to practice biblical discernment.

This obligation extends to mission work. Individuals and churches around the world need to practice biblical discernment. Remember, false teaching is not limited to our shores. Today Africa is a prime target for opportunistic preachers and serious error. Let us work together to build Christ's kingdom around the world by defending his truth and equipping His global body to remain faithful in a world of falsehoods.