I can only say that I have observed one significant lack among evangelical Christians which might turn out to be the real cause of most of our spiritual troubles…the great deficiency to which I refer to is the lack of spiritual discernment, especially among our leaders. How there can be so much Bible knowledge and so little insight, so little moral penetration, is one of the enigmas of the religious world today.
— A.W. Tozer, Tozer On Christian Leadership
I truly admire the fact that we do have a culture within Christianity. While some might debate this with me, I love the fact that we have traditions, hymns, confessions, and many other forms of expression, and it is all for the glory of God. Christianity is unique for being a true religion that aspires to glorify our God in everything, and to unite the body for one desire: to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ through deeds, words, and the preaching of the Word. I consider it a great joy and a great blessing to be called a child of God, and to be a member of the body of Christ, along with many of my other brothers and sisters that I have come to know (both personally and on the web) from the United States, Canada, Ukraine, Russia, Spain, Iraq, etc.
However, though I have much joy and wonder that comes with being a member of the body of Christ, a participant of Christian culture, and an adherent to the traditions of Reformed Christianity , I am also very concerned. Like A.W. Tozer, I have a great worry about the modern Evangelicals that comes across as being acceptant to every theological idea, every practice, and every single kind of movement that arises. Christianity has become too inclusive about every single new idea that comes about. Hillsong’s theology and practice is not being questioned, Jesus Calling is not being considered heretical, and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) movement is one of the fastest growing Christian movements among the youth. Groups, bands, songs, books, preachers, authors, speakers, etc. are all going by unquestioned.
The reason for this is because many people mistake love for the fear of man. I must admit that I am the same way. Even after correcting someone’s theology, or steering them into the right doctrine, I have fleshly guilt. I hate offending people, even for the sake of the gospel. Most people think that is a good thing, but in reality that is a carnal mindset, and the Scriptures are straight-forward about making sure we distance ourselves from anything that is not biblical, godly, or healthy to our souls.
The Holy Scriptures in 1 John 4:1 (ESV) say this, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” We are never to put our guard down for a second. As Christians, we are called to a life of discernment. If you consider yourself beloved by God, then you have an obligation to test the spirits, no matter how many people consider it to be from God. We must be cautious of new teachings and new movements, and we must be true to the Word of God, but we need to ask ourselves this question: how do we exercise discernment? What are we to keep ourselves away from, and what is the basis for what is wrong? It is very easy to be discerning according to the flesh, and that leads to legalism. We must test the spirits according to the teachings and commands of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The passage in 1 John 4 continues in its instruction in verses 2-3 (ESV) saying the following, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” This is probably the most difficult thing about understanding discernment. Many people can say, “Well they confess Jesus,” and be misled. Jesus said there will be those who will say “Look, here is where Christ is,” but they are actually deceived into believing that Christ is in the midst of that group, and are actually being taught by false teachers.
Churches like Bethel, IHOP, and Hillsong pay lip service to Jesus, but their idea of Jesus is not the same as the one of biblical Christianity. Jesus is used as a crutch to promote a new, inclusive, and sissified image of Christ and say, “We worship Jesus.” As Jesus warned us, we are not to follow these people. Though they profess Christ, they don’t actually confess the gospel, and they actually live according to the world’s standards. There are also false teachers who do nothing, but prey on people’s emotions and carnality and we must steer clear from them. But how do we know what churches, movements, and preachers are from the world?
1 John 4:4-5 (ESV): “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.” If the world will listen to the speakers without converting, if the world will listen to their music and will not be moved, and if a church is celebrated by non-believers…it’s a bad sign. The Bible actually doesn’t praise the seeker-sensitive churches, the prosperity preachers, and the pop-style worship bands. The Bible actually says not to be of the world, and not to follow after the world.
Now, before you accuse me of being overly traditional and legalistic, I listen to Christian rap…that’s right. I am not concerned with the style of a song and the way that it’s written, until it is completely irreverent to God. Some contemporary Christians don’t understand how I prefer Shai Linne to Hillsong, well…here’s why: one artist writes theologically sound lyrics and composes music in a God-fearing, humble, and reverent manner. The other is Hillsong. It is not about the style as much as it is about the content of the songs, and many of these worship artists don’t deliver on praiseworthy lyrics. In fact, all they do is stimulate the emotion, without having any kind of tendency to honor God and to ponder on His mysteries. They may sing about how beautiful, wonderful, and powerful Jesus is, but they don’t actually provide enough theology in the lyrics that would distinguish from other heretical groups.
It is not just worship groups, but preachers that also do this. There is an abundance of godly preachers who would never preach without a biblical passage as the foundation for their message, rather than having their message be the basis of the passage. Preachers that don’t use the Scriptures, or fail to interpret it in its context are false teachers. That should be plain and simple. I don’t respect people who will listen to preachers like Joel Osteen, Bill Johnson, and Steven Furtick, and then call Dr. John MacArthur, Dr. Steven Lawson, Dr. Voodie Baucham, Paul Washer, and others false teachers. Someone is not a false teacher because he doesn’t teach what you like, but because they against the Word of God and the true gospel.
The final verse that would be good to remember is 1 John 4:6 (ESV): “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” I hope that we, as believers, would take this passage of Scripture to heart and remember that we must test the spirits. Of course, if we begin to test them according to Scripture, we may not like it. I have found many things to be convicting in Scripture, especially when they went against the worldview that the majority of people believed to be right, even in the Christian church. It is important that we test everything according to Scripture, with the love and compassion of Christ, regardless of who we might anger or offend, and despite the popular belief of all kinds of people. May we follow God, test the spirits, and be faithful doing so.
Soli Deo Gloria.