Sunday, February 2, 2014

Rethinking Discernment: Toward Greater Understanding

One of my pet peeves, grievances or judgments (see my prior post: “Stop NOT Judging”) is the prevailing lack of discernment used by Christians today. I'm not claiming I get this perfect, or do this discerning thing well for that matter, but I think there is great need to rethink this important concept.

This discernment deficit takes on many different shapes and sizes. It gets expressed in different ways, is often rooted in fear and frequently occurs due to laziness to fact check. Too often it is shaped by a political position. To many FB posts, to many blogs, to many articles today in our social-media crazed world, and even some initiatives coming from Christians, lack discernment. That is how I discern it anyway. 

Maybe it’s time we stop and rethink discernment? The causes for this lack can be easily remedied if we do. It just takes thinking about things, not just reacting to them. 

Newton’s 3rd law of physics, an action causing a reaction, need not be relevant to our thinking. Our thinking need not be controlled by the things we see happening around us or the information we receive. Rather we should be controlled by the power of God working in us. His power, at minimum, should say to us, “stop and think about this a moment.” But in our furious paced, instant communication, tell it like we perceive it world, we don’t see a lot of such thinking happening. 

What am I talking about? Well for starters, you’ve seen the emails, the facebook posts, the tweets that spark an emotive response. They get spread around, go viral and even tend to repeat themselves, sometimes slightly altered. I can’t tell you the number I’ve seen over the years. All the hoaxes, urban legends, half-truths (which means fully false) claims about an impending change of law, political action, or other encroaching doomsday catastrophe, that when examined turn out to be false. 

Of course, it’s just not Christians but sadly American Christians can be among the most misinformed people. The world looks at us, and it is an “us” collectively, scratching their heads wondering, “how can they be so foolish?” Too often they are right in their perception, because too many react without discernment. The result is, or so they claim, Christianity promotes ignorance.

Ignorance is not a sin as it simply means there is a lack of knowledge. That is unless no effort is made to educate one’s self. We have a choice to make when we receive new information – react or research. We can also choose not to respond. Reacting though often reveals our ignorance and lack of emotional intelligence. It’s a not good choice. Reactions often flow from a place of fear, fear breeds ignorance and ignorance creates fear. It’s a vicious cycle. But there is a more noble way. 

 “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11

‘Noble’ is rarely a word used any more, except perhaps in relation to the prize given out in Oslo, Norway. Perhaps a better word is ‘principled,’ with respect to ethics and justice. The word “eagerness” in this verse speaks not to a reaction but rather to receptivity, a readiness of mind. The Bereans were ready to receive new information but their response was that they “examined” thoroughly what they received – they did their research. 

It’s lacks discernment to simply except ideas at face value, as legitimate as they may seem. That was the Berean’s position. It especially shows no discernment to react to those ideas. We need to “examine” what we receive before responding. We need to control our emotions as we do. And it usually doesn’t take much time to do a bit of research. Just Google it. 

What is worse however is when we allow our political agenda to get in the way of principled response to information we receive. This is what really got me started on this post.  

As you know my ministry focus is on immigrants, “New Americans,” the Unreached peoples of our cities – the “strangers” among us. This naturally intersects with the complex issue of “illegal immigration.” I’ve blogged about this previously here and also recommend this extensive well balanced article on the subject: Illegal Immigration: Seeking a Christian Perspective. 

Recently, I came across a group calling themselves ‘Evangelicals for Biblical Immigration’ (EBI). We should all be concerned for a principled Biblical approach to illegal immigration, so I thought how excellent. That is until I visited their Facebook page and found this post. 

I also happen to know of the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), so this troubled me. I stopped what I was doing and did some research. I visited the EBI website to learn what they were about. And then I did some further research to find out what I could about this post. According to a Christian Post article concerning the facts of this issue, I sadly had to discern that the EBI, for political, not Biblical reasons, is bearing false witness against the EIT. (The USAToday ad being questioned can be viewed here.)

Why share this on a post about rethinking discernment? For one, those 7 little “likes.” They represent, at minimum, 7 people who lack discernment, at least on this issue, and are wrongly judging a broad based Christian initiative, represented by over 200 prominent Christian leaders, focused on an important issue of the day. Upon rechecking the EBI's Facebook page, to their credit they removed this post. But it lacks discernment to make such statements to begin with, without doing the proper research. 

What then is discernment? It is another Christian concept that we don’t hear discussed frequently enough in the Church today. Discernment means: 

Maybe one reason we don’t hear about much discernment these days is because of that first definition of “the ability to judge well.” It’s politically incorrect to "judge," right? I also get a kick out of the distinction between No. 1 and No. 2 in the above. It is as if the “absence of judgment” allows for an improved perception because it comes from a Christian. My argument, alas, is that many Christians do not do what is necessary to “judge well.” 

Do we think simply because we are Christians we have some superior ability to perceive truth?
The good news is - we do! 

Note that “discernment” is a noun, something we have possession of or at least we can. Discernment is in fact a spiritual gift but we must learn to use it well. We must use our God-given, Holy Spirit led, discernment, if we are going to offer a response, before we forward that email,  ‘share’ that Facebook post or disparage another Christian group or individual. That requires we do the research, with a principled approach to discovering truth, or we end up misinformed, worse misleading others, bearing false witness or simply being harshly judgmental. We need greater discernment for confronting our culture today. 

One popular pastor gives us this understanding of discernment to consider: 

 “The spiritual gift of discernment is the ability to quickly perceive whether such things as people, events, or beliefs are from God or Satan. People with the gift of discernment know that Satan and his demons disguise themselves as holy (1 Cor. 11:14-15). They also know that Satan empowers counterfeit miracles (Ex. 7:11-22; 8:7; Matt. 7:21-23; 2 Tim. 3:8) to deceive people (2 Thess. 2:9), and that he empowers false teachers (2 Pet. 2:1), false prophets (Matt. 7:15), false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13), and false doctrines (1 Tim. 1:3; 6:3).” 
I have two challenges with this thinking: First, not everything is easily divisible into God’s stuff and Satan’s stuff. Sincere faithful Christians can and often do differ on important matters, such as immigration as only one example. Our discernment should tell us in this case to extend grace to those who have a different view. Second, is the word “quickly.” What we see today is too often a quick reaction, leading to the prevalent lack of discernment. We must not quickly assume that because an idea doesn’t line up with our beliefs it is evil. We need to examine our position against the Scriptures, just as the Berean’s did, and explore other sources of information. What we may discover is that there is no clear-cut judgment to offer, in which case we extend grace. And any judgment we do offer must come from a place of love, as I wrote about last time. 

James 1:19 tells us to “take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” When we react quickly to information that comes our way, out of anger or fear, we lack discernment. Our quick response should be to stop and think, to examine the issue. 

Perhaps the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, who certainly had great discernment even though he too made mistakes, instructs, “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (Proverbs 1:5).  We would do well to pursue greater understanding of this gift by adding to our learning and seeking guidance, with all humility. In other words, do your research for Living Sent Today.

No comments:

Post a Comment