Editor’s Note: This article was written several months ago but was never published until this week. It is not in response to any recent events.
It seems that error is everywhere around us. The heretics are all over the television hawking their snake oil “Christianity” to anyone who will listen. They fill coliseums, they build mega-mega churches, they dominate the airwaves, and they have taken over the mainline Christian publishers. People are being sucked in at record rates. The list we could make of those about whom we speak could fill pages with their names.
With this problem comes the need for a word that often we do not hear enough, Discernment. Every man of God worth his salt must be aware of the false teachings as well as the charlatans who perpetrate those teachings on sincere and hungry souls. We must expose their error and we must warn our people. Ministries actually have risen up in this day which dedicate themselves to this ministry of discernment and have become known as “Discernment Ministries.” These are good and needed. Every pastor should equip himself with weapons with which to teach the truth to his people. That said there is an inherent danger to discernment.
Often those who become involved in “exposing” error lose sight of the real purpose of ministry which is to win the lost by preaching the truth of the Gospel. Does that mean we should ignore error? Absolutely not. What is does mean, however is that we must seek wisdom so that we do not err on the side of being right.
1. Looking for error under every rock
Discernment begins when error sticks up its ugly head from behind the rock. Discerning men see the error and expose it as they should. However, as they get applauded for their fight they begin to look under every rock for error. Hey, if you look at someone close enough you will find something different about them and even something that may not line up completely with you. Men who have wider scopes of ministry have many more people who can and WILL scrutinize their every word. Men become trackers of error looking for one slip up to use against someone.
There are times when being an unknown country preacher sounds mighty good. Every sermon is not sent out for all to hear. Critics of your methods are not able to scrutinize your message in an effort to discredit you and your work. Discernment ministries must be led of the Spirit not their curiosity. It is not my job to look for error. It IS my job to react when I hear or see it. Even then I must do so with great wisdom.
2. Attacking good men because of minor discrepancies
Good men who are on our side on the main issues of the Bible differ on some things. At times the difference is more semantics than it is belief. At other times it is merely a different shade of the same truth. If your wife sends you to the paint store to get green paint, you will find yourself in a mess. There are hundreds of shades of green. None of them are exact and in fact the difference in some are barely to the naked eye. You must almost uses a magnifying glass to see the difference.
As long as there are Benny Hinns who are corrupting the Gospel why would we spend so much time examining the differences of others who are almost exactly like us? I will tell you why. It is because we want everyone to be just like us. We want one shade of fundamentalism, one shade of independent Baptists and we want that shade to match us. BE CAREFUL. Men who follow great men often make the mistake of comparing every other preacher to their hero.
Before Dr. Hyles died he tried to warn of this very thing. Many of his “followers were separating over an inch of skirt or a quarter inch of hair. He was and still is being blamed. Yet, if you study the ministry of Dr. Hyles you will discover that he loved diversity and allowed differences. If we do not get back to that we are going to win a few skirmishes with our own at the expense of losing the battle to the enemy.
3. Failing to do a positive work for God
We are told to go into all the world and preach the Gospel, good news, to every creature. MANY men get sidetracked by the fight against error and forget to deliver truth. They are so busy exposing error that they forget to expose Christ. Be careful discerner. Yours is a slippery slope that you must navigate carefully. One false step and you will become a divider only, a fighter only, an attacker only, a destroyer only. You are to be all those things but we are to take on the other side as well. We are to divide and we are to unite. We are to fight and we are to make peace. We are to attack and defend. We are to destroy and to mend. Be careful that yours does not become a negative and biting ministry.
Throughout history we have had fighters in every generation. Men like Sam Jones, John R Rice, Lester Roloff, J Frank Norris, Jack Hyles were some who knew how to fight for right. However, if you look at the scope of their ministry you will see that in each case they build positive soul winning ministries. Their legacy for Christ was the thousands of people they helped and reached with the Gospel. Beware of a man who cuts down trees but never plants new ones that are bearing good fruit.
4. Exposing error in a manner that is not scriptural
This again is a slippery slope. Dr. Hyles used to say, “It is never right to do wrong in an attempt to do right.” Hear me carefully. When you see an obvious heretic of the truth you must take a strong and open stand. I did not say when you see something that differs from you. When you hear a Benny Hinn, call him out for what he is. However, when a brother errs go to him and follow every Biblical mandate to deal with the issue privately. By the way, if it is not your business, stay out of it. A man who would call himself a fundamentalist has made it his cause to attack Dr. Hyles at every turn even after a decade has passed since his death. He has even called him a heretic. When confronted it was discovered that he never met Dr. Hyles, never spoke to Dr. Hyles and never heard Dr. Hyles preach. How can anyone trust this man? That is simple. He has built a following by appeasing those who are already critics of Dr. Hyles.
I have a preacher friend who was so right in his position, but so wrong in his method of exposing another national pastor for gross doctrinal error. It hurt his ability to influence others and actually strengthened the one in error. In fact, it hurt his church and his own reputation. I love the man and I applaud his discernment, but I regret his course of action.
5. Becoming hateful
I heard Dr. Hyles say over and over again, “I must always guard my spirit.” A man who stood on a different side of an issue approached Mrs. Hyles several years after Dr. Hyles went to Heaven. He introduced himself and said to her, “Your husband hated me.” He went on to say, “He and I did not agree with each other on an issue (which he named) and I am sure he hated me.”
Mrs. Hyles, already in her eighties said to the man, “Sir, my husband may have disagreed with you, but there was no one my husband hated in the entire world and for any reason.” The man was shocked, but what she said was true.
Discernment can hurt us because of the attitude we begin to take towards the one in error. We are to love the ones with whom we disagree and even expose our love. Again, I will share a story about Dr. Hyles. In the Hammond area there was a second huge church whose pastor was a young man who grew up nearby and used to visit First Baptist when he was a boy. This church is charismatic to an extreme. The heresy preached there was abundant. Dr. Hyles never hesitated to expose the errors, but when he heard the pastor had a heartache he came to his side to help him. When Dr. Hyles went to Heaven that pastor wrote one of the most kindest letters to Mrs. Hyles and in it he said that Dr. Hyles was always kind to him. He told her that his life was one of the godliest he had ever seen.
Brethren, be careful that your defense of truth does not become a vendetta against another person. Love them. Do good to them.
6. Becoming consumed with ones in error
This can destroy a preacher. In an effort to expose truth we can get on a horse and never get off of it. Many a preacher has lost his balance in ministry by becoming consumed with exposing and destroying someone who is error. Dr. Hyles fought for issues but did not get consumed with fighting against the ones in error. When he took a stand against some of the practices of the Southern baptist Convention he did not make it personal. It was never a matter of personality with him. It was a matter of principle.
There is a pastor who became so consumed with the teachings of the Masons that he became ineffective as a pastor. Be careful that you are more consumed with Christ and His truth than you are a false teacher and their heresy.
7. Getting haughty or proud
Being right is dangerous because if we are not careful we become proud of being right and almost begin to think that we are right because of ourselves rather than because of the truth. I have seen men become haughty and judgmental as they expose everyone else’s error. Their spirit eventually brings them down.
8. Spawning little judges
Some churches are just hateful. Most of the time and perhaps all of the time it is because the pastor has exhibited an intolerant attitude towards others in error. We can, if we are not careful begin to affect our members with an attitude of superiority and pride. That will destroy your church. That is what happened to Westboro Baptist Church. A man became consumed with his “discernment” that he created a church of pharisees.
9. Negating your own good
I remember something Dr. Hyles taught in one of the last Pastor Schools before he died. He named Christian organizations that had left some of the truth they once taught and believed. He called them by name and told us how they had changed. He then said that he believed that they still had people saved, so he wanted to be careful not to waste his time fighting them. He told the truth, but he feared that he may negate his own work by trying to be a destroyer of another. How sad that men who hate other men put themselves up as superior and in some cases they are negating any good they have done with their attacks.
10. Forgetting the main thing
Someone said that in life it we must make sure that we remember, “The main things is to keep the main things as the main thing.” The main thing is the souls of men not being the cop of Independent Baptists or the CIA of truth. We are defenders of truth. We are exposers of error but most of all we are ambassadors for Christ.
In a day of gross and mass error, we must more than ever be discerners. We must warn the sheep in our care. Yet we must also remember that if we are not careful we will fall prey to one or more of these dangers that face us as discerners.