In today's musings I will simply write out some questions/reflections that we in the discerning community can use when "testing everything." Some of these may be repeat a bit of what I said last week, but I felt I needed to list out some basic questions that the community can use in evaluating everything from a prophetic word, dream or vision to teachings and books, so here goes. Some of these questions are without comment because they are rather obvious.
- What is the fruit of the person's life who is bringing this? In Matthew 7:15-23 where Jesus warns His followers to be on the alert for false prophets, He tells us that false teaching can be detected by looking for false living: "thus by their fruit will you recognize them." I could write a book about this passage, but for now please note that the warning Jesus is issuing here is not just about false teaching but false prophets--the people themselves. And we recognize these people by inspecting the fruit of their lives. This requires that we know something of their lives, of course, and of the effect of their lives on others. Does this person's life bring peace, love, joy, etc. to others? Do they live a life of integrity and healthy transparency--I think you get the picture.
- Do other, honest and godly, people endorse this? Note what I am not saying here: I am not suggesting that every honest and godly person endorse something. Perfect agreement will not happen this side of Heaven! For example, I know of very few people who adhere to Calvinism who would endorse The Shack, but there are many other trustworthy folks who do (including yours truly!). But generally there should be some sense of broad agreement by some who are clearly healthy followers of Jesus, in my opinion.
- Does this _______ promote humility or pride in those who accept it?
- Who is lifted up by this ________, the Lord Jesus or someone else?
- Does this _______ promote a sort of elitism, i.e., assert that only certain special people "in the know" are buying into this teaching or whatever? Does it imply that special revelation has been given to a chosen few? The sense of "being special" or having "special knowledge" is as old as the Church itself, of course. The early Christian heresy known as Gnosticism appealed to people's prideful desire to be part of the elite group composed of those who know special, deeper truth. Note that this call to elitism (the very opposite of the Good News) can be very subtle, but for me it's a dead giveaway that something is awry. Note, however, that something can be new and embraced early by those who are early adopters without it being elitism. The Pentecostal/Charismatic movements are proof that old truth, long hidden, can be unveiled to God's people and not be accepted by all! New understanding is always breaking in upon us as followers of Jesus, but it won't promote elitism nor will it disagree with the basic tenor of Scripture and the character of God as revealed in Scripture (and yes, I know there isn't even agreement on these two things in Christ's body!).
- How does this ______ fit with the whole of Scripture? I touched on this last week, but I bring it up again. The devil knows the Bible and felt free to quote it even to Jesus during His time of testing in the wilderness. But Jesus knew His Abba so well and the general flavor and sense of Scripture well enough to fend off the enemy's deceptive use of Scripture. As a discerning community we will do well to ask Him to empower us to do the same.
Okay, that's enough for now, I think. No one gets everything right, of course, and focus on mere doctrine and teaching will divide us rather than unite us as followers of Jesus, but as a community we can certainly learn to be discerning in the way that Paul described, testing everything and holding fast to the good while discarding the bad. When we do so, deep transformation, an abundance of the fruit of the Spirit, increasingly healthy relationships and the shattering of the kingdom of darkness will certainly be the result.
Learning to discern in love, in community...
Tom, one of Abba's children