Discernment, Now

12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Hebrews 5:12-14

This past week I was over at Sola Sisters reading a blog on their commendable site when I saw a video post of Paul Washer’s 10 Indictments sermon, that also included the transcript, which by the way is an outstanding truth filled video highlighting many of the fundamental problems within today’s evangelical church.  One commenter on the video noted another video of Washer’s in which he talks at length about “spiritual disciplines” namely prayer and spending time studying God’s Word.  The commenter had pointed out that several times during the sermon Washer had made reference to encouraging “meditation” and “practicing the presence of God” and had included a website link in which questions were raised regarding Paul Washer’s joining the fast growing movement of “Contemplative Prayer or Meditation” also known as “Centering Prayer” (see working definition below) that is invading the evangelical church and is being promoted by Emerging Church leaders such as Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, et.al.  and following in the pattern of contemplative monk and mystic Brother Lawrence. 

After viewing the video I came away feeling relieved that Washer wasn’t promoting the kind of eastern religious meditation that is becoming so popular, but instead a biblical meditation (see Psalm 1:2, et.al ) and was countering the well known mystical term to “Practice the Presence of God.”  While Paul Washer would be the first to admit he is a fallible man, this shows the importance of discernment that we must continue to use when listening to sermons, reading books, or having conversations.  This issue raised a few thoughts though, can we be too discerning, perhaps “hyper-discerning”, becoming doctrine police or is a more balanced approach required?  Why is discernment necessary and subsequently why is it so lacking within the Church today? 

In Acts 17:10-12 we read of a prime example of Biblical discernment, “10 The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11 Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men.”  The Bereans received the word, that Paul and Silas brought, with all eagerness, but as the passage says they examined the Scriptures daily to see if what they were hearing was true.  Now these two men, Paul and Silas were not like the false teachers of today, Paul had seen the risen Christ on the road to Damascus and was commissioned as an apostle.  Silas was his missionary partner and later was the scribe of Peter’s first epistle.  They were still men, but if ever there were trustworthy sources from which to listen it was Paul and Silas.  Note that the Bereans were excited to hear the word, but they no doubt thought seriously about it and then compared it to the only infallible source, the Scriptures (See Sola Scriptura and Experience or Truth).  This is far from “hyper-discernment”, but is instead Biblical discernment exercised properly.  Many people within the Church today might have questioned the Bereans’ level of discernment, after all to question any pastor/preacher/teacher these days is considered to be divisive, intolerant, or stirring up trouble.

Which brings us to our subject passage from Hebrews 5:12-14, “12For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  14But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Here we see a contrast between those who should be teachers, but are instead reduced to milk consumption and those that have the power of discernment who feed on solid food.  The former group is in said condition due to negligence, idleness and, ignorance of “oracles of God”, i.e. the Scriptures (in context the OT).  The latter group is skilled in the word of righteousness, feeding on solid food, i.e. the difficult and complex doctrines as revealed by the Holy Spirit, and have their powers of discernment trained through practice to distinguish good from evil.  This is really where we are in the church today.  There are those who may know the Bible, but don’t feed on it.  They are content to feed milk.  As commentator Matthew Poole states, “these Hebrews had so greatly forgotten these first principles, that they were become mere babes and infants in knowledge, they needed the first and weakest spiritual food, metaphorically styled with milk; the most plain and easy truths of the gospel, such as they may understand and give light to others.”  As another commentary stresses, “God’s order is that every believer should be mature to the point where he can teach others.” 

In Ephesians Paul encourages believers “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” Ephesians 4:13-14  Nevertheless, this is the predominant case with the majority of congregants today, and yes church leaders too, being “tossed to and fro” and lacking the discernment necessary to “distinguish good from evil.”  We need look no further than the popularity of word faith televangelists, prosperity gospel peddlers, church growth modelers and such preachers as Joel Osteen and Rick Warren, the Emergent Church Conversation, i.e. Emerging Church, led by the aforementioned McLaren, Campolo, Rob Bell, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt, and many, many others.  After apologizing if stepping on toes, J.Vernon McGee offers the following insight into verse 13 of the Hebrew passage:

“You cannot grow apart from the word of God.  I don’t care how active you are in the church.  You may be an officer.  You may be on every committee in the church.  You may be a leading deacon or elder: I don’t care who you are, or what you are; if you are not studying the Word of God, and if you don’t know how to handle it, you are a little baby.  It is tragic to occupy a church office when you are just a little baby.  You ought to come on and grow up.  It is tragic that there are people who have been members of the church and have been saved for years, and they are still going around saying, ‘Goo, Goo, Goo.’  They have nothing to contribute but little baby talk.  All they want is to be burped periodically.”      

The exhortation from this passage is clear, mature to the point of consuming solid food that is the Word of God and train, literally like an athlete or wrestler, the senses of discernment through the power of the Holy Spirit so that one’s Biblical knowledge is such that distinguishing the fruits of false prophets is possible (Matthew 7:15-17).  Matthew Poole concludes his commentary on Hebrews 5:14 with the following statement, “the grown Christian is improved by the exercise of his spiritual senses, that can by his enlightened mind discern higher gospel doctrines, and by his renewed will relish the sublime mysteries of Christ as they are revealed to him.  Such the Christian Hebrews ought to have been, so able proficients in the school of Christ.”  Discernment has never been more necessary than now.

“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ.  I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh.” I Corinthians 3:1-3a

*Contemplative meditation is a belief system that uses ancient mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness (the silence) and is often wrapped in Christian terminology; the premise of contemplative spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all).

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