“Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.” (Hosea 14:9)
If we asked 100 people what they think is the most significant problem or obstacle in American Christianity today, we’d get 100 different answers. Certainly, there are issues, and everyone has their opinion. For my money, the issue that encompasses most of the others is a lack of and, dare I say, disinterest in, spiritual discernment.
Oxford defines discernment, broadly, as “the ability to judge well”. In Christian context, they define it as “perception in the absence of judgment with a view to obtaining spiritual guidance and understanding”.
Far too many American Christians are utterly devoid of correct spiritual discernment. They wouldn’t know how to exercise it even if they wanted to. The causes, no doubt, are myriad. We’ve accepted postmodern culture’s idea that we’re not ever supposed to judge anyone or anything. We don’t regard the Scriptures as sufficient for the basis of our faith and practice.
I’ve read a lot of people quoting Mark 9:40 recently. When Jesus told the disciples, “He who isn’t against us is on our part”, He was telling them not to rebuke someone who was doing the Lord’s work just because he wasn’t necessarily part of their inner circle. He wasn’t giving His followers cart blanche to just accept everyone and everything that claimed association with Him just because it they claimed association with Him. (“Well, you say you’re a minister and you’re trying to do the Lord’s work, so y’all just go right on and build that compound for Jesus down in the jungle! God bless you, brother! And y’all enjoy that Kool-Aid!”)
And yet, that’s exactly what some of the people who have employed this verse recently are saying, either explicitly or implicitly. The Bible tells us repeatedly to test the spirits to see whether they are of God, to examine works and spiritual fruit for evidence of authentic faith, and to search the Scriptures to discern doctrinal truth from error. The believers at Berea were more noble than those at Thessolonica because they searched the Scriptures to confirm that what Paul preached to them was true. Jesus frequently responded to those who questioned His teachings by asking, “Have ye not read…?”
But to suggest today that we do any of these things is to invite accusations of being a cynic, scoffer, and Pharisee. “He that isn’t against us is with us!” What doctrines are they teaching? Is there fruit of genuine repentance and good works in their lives? Is Christ being proclaimed and the gospel being presented? “Well…he that isn’t against us is with us!”
This is the kind of thinking that leads Christians to embrace every celebrity and politician that professes faith, only to be duped and ashamed later. It’s why they lined the pockets of fornicators and drug addicts like Miley Cyrus for years. It’s why they invited adulterers and pedophiles like Josh Duggar to speak at their conferences. It’s why Bible-believing, KJV, fundamental Baptists accepted the story of Donald Trump’s Chrsitian conversion, without a question or second thought, from TBN swindlers like Paula White, Jesse Duplantis, and Kenneth Copeland, because they were so desperate to believe that the celebrity billionaire-turned-President of the United States was “one of us”.
I know, I know. “He who isn’t against us is with us.”
Lack of discernment and failure to accept the sufficiency of Scripture is why we embrace ad campaigns like those “He gets us” commercials, which do a wonderful job at bringing Jesus down to man’s level without ever pointing out that the only reason He came down to where we are was so He could take us to where He is.
It’s why we flock to productions like The Chosen, which is heavily influenced by Catholic and Mormon false doctrine (Remember when Jesus directly quoted the Book of Mormon in an episode and the executive producer said it was completely unintentional, and he was unaware of any deliberate Mormon influence on the show’s scripts, even though he knew he had several Latter Day Saints on his writing staff?). Why do we feel the need to add to the narrative of Scripture by extrapolating additional details out of thin air? Why do we feel that the greatest story ever told needs more “creative liberty” and “artistic license”? Because we don’t actually believe the inspired, preserved, Word of God is enough. Searching the Scriptures and studying to show ourselves approved unto God is time-consuming, mentally-challenging, soul-convicting work, and we just don’t have time for that. It’s much easier to get the instant gratification of a streaming television show that gives us an idea of Jesus that a producer thinks is more relatable for a wider audience. And those who don’t think that Hollywood productions won’t affect how they personally interpret the Scripture are only deceiving themselves.
It’s why we look at a phenomenon like the Asbury revival and immediately declare that it’s a bona fide move of God and above the slightest whiff of scrutiny. My criticism isn’t of the movement going on in Kentucky. From what I’ve read personally from people I’m inclined to trust, there is genuine substance to the revival, most of the Internet criticisms of bad doctrine and shallow emotionalism are unfounded, and many of the people involved are wary of attempts to sensationalize or co-opt it. My criticism is of people who seem to think nothing claiming to be spiritual should ever be examined or scrutinized. Again…what doctrines are being presented through the teaching and music? Is the biblical gospel being shared? Has there been genuine repentance and cultivation of authentic spiritual fruit? What are the testimonies of those who have been involved about what is happening there and how it has affected them?
Apparently, it’s a sin to ask those questions. We have an utter lack of interest in exercising discernment, and as ever, it has led us to strife and chaos.
He who isn’t against us is with us…but only scoffers and Pharisees dare bother to try and categorize.