I have to admit to being captivated by the writings of the Apostle Paul. In his letters he deals with timeless issues which impact the church and the individual true believer. Spiritual discernment which is the skill of separating divine truth from error is an important element in the Apostle’s letters. Writing to the church at Thessalonika, he encourages the believers to, ‘examine everything carefully’ and this skill of spiritual discernment is as important today as it was in the Apostle Paul’s time.
Many Christians find that spiritual discernment is hard: they are constantly fighting their own sinful desires; they are confused and confounded by an adversary whose primary tactics are doubt and deception, and they are inundated with unholy influences from a corrupt media.
Large parts of the so-called ‘Christian’ media broadcast via satellite from the USA has had a corrupting influence on some areas of the church with its emphasis on the gospel of prosperity. As on writer has said, ‘Christianity began as a personal relationship with Jesus. When it went to Athens, it became philosophy. When it went to Rome it became an organisation. When it went to Europe it became a culture. When it came to America, it became a business’.
Individuals such as the late Paul Crouch became fabulously wealthy through his ‘business’, the Trinity Broadcasting Network. Crouch’s organisation appealed annually to Christians for funds, promising that God would in turn bless the donors with wealth. Upwards of $90 million dollars was donated annually, mainly by the poor and elderly, much of which funded the ostentatiously tacky lifestyle of Paul and Jan Crouch.
Similar methods are employed by Scotland’s newest independent evangelical church brand. Based in Glasgow, and describing itself as a social enterprise, it has branches springing up across the country.
Essentially based on dubious experience and image, these churches attract the young and spiritually immature who are apt to swallow wrong teaching because they’ve not been taught to discern between spiritual truth and error.
Writing to the church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul made the argument for sound teaching in the church: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
An in-depth understanding of God’s word is the key to spiritual maturity. The writer to the Hebrews highlighted the effect that neglect of sound teaching can have on the church: “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern between good and evil.”
Most of us are discerning in the everyday affairs of life. We read dietary guidance and take exercise because we want to be healthy. We read the fine print before signing legal/financial documents. However are all Scotland’s born again Christians confident that they can discern between spiritual truth and error, given what they are subjected to via the internet, conference headlining spiritual ‘gurus’, and TV?