In running a web site with over 900+ articles, thousands of hits per month from all over the world, and hundreds of e-mails per week, I have come to realize, with time, that there is a terrible problem in Christendom today. The problem stems from an existential subjective view of the world that has filtered into the church from secular society, but also from the teachings of heretical wolves who have taught an entire generation of churchgoers completely unbiblical methods of discernment or to get rid of any discernment altogether.
Let me start out this chapter by telling you what methods are being used for “discernment” today that don’t have biblical support, then I will move on to the ways in which the Bible does tell us to test teaching, prophecy and actions.
The following criteria are what many people who call themselves Christians are using to test reality and truth today:
(1) Experiences, manifestations
(2) Feelings, emotions
(3) Numbers of followers
(4) Numbers of people who claim to be saved
(5) The size of a church or movement
(6) Signs and wonders, purported miracles (whether real or false)
(7) Subjective testimonies
(8) Hearsay and rumors
(9) How successful and rich a teacher is
(10) If a person speaks with authority
(11) The atmosphere of a meeting
None of the above criteria being used by many churchgoers today are cited in the Bible as ways we are to test, discern and judge rightly.
Experiences and manifestations can be from many sources; physical, emotional, mental, paranormal/demonic, or from the Lord. ALL experiences need to be tested against the testimony and teachings of the tried and true written word of God. “Slain in the spirit” is an occult technique imported into Christianity, and has nothing to do with what we are taught in the Scriptures. The prophets, Apostles and Jesus Christ did not do it or teach it as something that should be done. If you have an experience, you had better check the source. Think twice before you submit to people laying hands on you for whatever reason.
Mormons made the “burning in the breast” standard fare for their followers, but now a large cross section of Christendom has been taught to judge everything by similar criteria. Modern Christians are, for the most part, not being taught to submit to the Word of God — but rather to the way they feel emotionally. The phrase “I think” has been replace by the phrase “I feel”. This is partially due to influences from the New Age through movies like Star Wars. But in the last twenty years teachers in the Church have taught a whole generation to rely on their feelings.
Emotions are a part of the realm of the flesh and the mind (soul). Emotions can be used by God, but often they are a way for the enemy to get Christians away from the truths of the Bible and gain a foothold in their lives.
Numbers Of Followers
Many leaders have large numbers of followers, including cultists and other religious “gurus”. In fact some of the most popular leaders, who have the most followers, are not Christian. Numbers of followers is not a good test of the authenticity of a leader or his ministry.
Numbers Claiming Salvation
Ultimately, only God knows who is saved. Believers can certainly tell if people are false prophets and heretics and must be rejected, but we are not the ultimate judge of their salvation. One fact is certain. When someone claims to be saved they will evidence the fruit of the Spirit, believe in and teach sound doctrine, and not make false prophesies.
Church size means nothing in the realm of discernment. God looks for quality over quantity, regardless of what “apostles” like C. Peter Wagner claim:
“… we ought to see clearly that the end DOES justify the means. What else possible could justify the means? If the method I am using accomplishes the goal I am aiming at, it is for that reason a good method. If, on the other hand, my method is not accomplishing the goal, how can I be justified in continuing to use it?” (C. Peter Wagner, “Your Church Can Grow – Seven Vital Signs Of A Healthy Church”, 1976, pg. 137. – emphasis in original)
Quantitative judgments are of men. The size of a church could be due to God blessing a ministry and people being truly saved or due to the oratorical skills of a preacher. Big clubs are not necessarily good clubs. Church size is no way to test a ministry.
Signs And Wonders
Signs and wonders are a dime a dozen today and have just as many evidences in false churches the occult as they do in biblical Christianity. Jesus did state that those who saw him perform miracles should have believed, though for the most part they did not. They couldn’t even tell the signs of the times (Matt. 16;1-4). People today love to be able to claim they saw or experienced a wonder or miracle from God. Perhaps this is because they want to feel like they have been touched by God personally, are holy, or simply want to be accepted by their peers. If you are going to claim you have seen or experienced a miracle from God, then that miracle must be held up to biblical criteria to prove it is a biblical Divine healing as opposed to many other forms of healing. I cover this subject later on in the chapter called “Test Everything”. True believers are careful not to use deceptive methods, to lie about experiences and signs, in order to gain converts.
2 Corinthians 4:2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.
Testimonies are nice and can even be an inspiration (if they are true), but they are also inherently subjective. In other words, they are hard, if not impossible, to prove objectively, unless incontrovertible proof exists. Don’t allow testimonies, uplifting as they may be, to get in the way of biblical methods of testing. Don’t rely on testimonies to shape your belief system. Just as you would test a cake to see if it is done by manually inserting a toothpick, instead of relying on the good smell of the cake and the feelings you get from it’s aroma, don’t use subjective methods to test stories–use the objective Word of God.
Most stories are being passed along today as hearsay. They often gain a little here and there until they have been blown all the way out of proportion from the original account. Don’t pass along rumors, gossip and stories unless you check them out thoroughly. In this day and age of the Internet, that has become a much easier task, so there is no excuse to avoid researching claims from all angles. Don’t just take people’s word for it. Do the math yourself.
Success Of A Teacher
Anyone can be successful given the tools, the gifts, the right connections and the right circumstances. Some of the most godly men and women in the church have been dirt poor. Don’t be swayed by rich televangelists. They have often raised their money off the backs of the less fortunate, the naïve, the hopeless, the poor, the fatherless, the widows. True success is not measured by money, power, number of followers, or any of the criteria of the “American Dream”. Man looks on the outside, but God looks on the heart. We can get a pretty clear picture of the heart of a person if we test what they say and what they do against the Scriptures.
Many men and women are capable of speaking with authority. It can be a natural gift, a demonic gift or a gift from God. But it is no way to test whether a person is a true or false teacher. Authority can be put on, learned, acted. True authority from God is accompanied by true teaching, true prophecy and the fruit of the Spirit.
Benny Hinn claims he needs an “atmosphere” to do his “miracles”.
Interviewer: If Benny Hinn is real, he’ll go into the hospitals and cure everyone there.
Benny Hinn: “I’ve been told that many times. What I tell them is quite simple. Healing most times needs an atmosphere of faith. I have gone to hospitals. I’ve done it actually many times or people’s homes and pray for them. Most times, they cannot get healed. … God’s people make it happen; bring this atmosphere of faith …” (Benny Hinn, interview by Marla Weech, of WFTV , “Inside Central Florida”)
When did the Apostles need an atmosphere to heal?
Beware of testing meetings by the atmosphere created there. Like and Amway meeting or halftime at a football game, an atmosphere can be manipulated. God does not need an stadium full of screaming Benny Hinn fans burning with fleshly passion to move. What He requires is simple obedience to His Word.
There are three important biblical ways in which we are to use discernment.
(1) Test all teaching for sound doctrine, and especially against the core doctrines of the Faith as laid down in the sixty six books of the Bible (see the chapter “Know What You Believe”).
(2) Test all prophesies to see if they are biblical and if the predictions of a prophet all come true.
(3) Test their lives, words and actions for the fruit of the Spirit.
TEST THEIR TEACHINGS
The Church and individual Christians, are commanded by the Lord to reject false teachers — heretics.
“A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject,” (Titus 3:10)
A heretic is defined by Peter as one who lays error alongside of truth, secretly introducing destructive heresies.
“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them– bringing swift destruction on themselves.” (2 Peter 2:1)
Christians are to reject those who preach a false gospel because they are condemned by the Lord..
“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” (Galatians 1:8-9)
Even Paul, a foundational Apostle, encouraged his listeners to test his teaching against the written Word of God, and he stated that those who teach must not “go beyond what is written.”.
“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, 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)
”Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” (Acts 17:11)
Believers are to be discerning.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ– to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1:9-11)
“The discerning heart seeks knowledge, but the mouth of a fool feeds on folly.” (Phil 1:9-11)
“A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth.” (Phil. 1:9-11)
“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” (Proverbs 18:15 )
“He who keeps the law is a discerning son, but a companion of gluttons disgraces his father.” (Proverbs 28:7 )
“My son, preserve sound judgment and discernment, do not let them out of your sight;” (Proverbs 3:21 )
Why do we test teaching against the Scriptures? Because we are commanded to remain in sound doctrine, to keep the faith, to follow the teachings of the prophets, Apostles and Jesus Christ.
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3 )
“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9)
“You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)
False teachers are liars and do not remain in sound doctrine.
“…for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers — and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. (1 Timothy 1:10)
TEST THE SPIRITS
We are warned by the Lord to test every spirit because many false prophets have gone out.
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)
How do we test the spirits? By comparing what they are teaching and prophesying to the Scriptures, and if they are living in the fruit of the Spirit. How do we do that? First we must be a believer in Christ to test anything rightly.
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is— his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 )
“Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you– unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Then we test our own words and actions to be sure we are in the Faith and in sound doctrine.
“Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else,” (Galatians 6:4)
How much are we supposed to test? Everything.
“Test everything. Hold on to the good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
Are we to judge? Certainly. We are not to judge hypercritically (Matt. 7:1) — in other words, judging someone while doing the same thing ourselves. We are not the final judge of anyone’s salvation. But we are to judge what people teach and prophesy. Paul commanded those who listened to him to judge what he was saying.
“I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say.” (1 Corinthians 10:15 )
We must learn to judge rightly, now, because someday we will judge the earth and the angels with Christ.
“Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!” (1 Corinthians 6:3 )
We are told by the Lord to judge those inside the Church because God judges those outside. We are to reject heretics and expel wicked men from the assembly of believers because if they are allowed to remain they will leaven the whole lump.
“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)
TEST THEIR PROPHECY
We are to test prophecy to see if it comes true and is biblical. A true prophet is 100% accurate because he worships God in Spirit and in truth and speaks the truth. We must reject false prophets and remove them from the assembly of believers.
“If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him. That prophet or dreamer must be put to death, because he preached rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from the land of slavery; he has tried to turn you from the way the LORD your God commanded you to follow. You must purge the evil from among you.” (Deut 13:1-5 )
False prophets may have a good track record, but they are never 100% accurate. However, they may be able to fool people into thinking they do. That’s where the teaching test comes in, and why it is listed as the first test of discernment. Some prophets can look really good, but if they are teaching heresy you can be sure it is a test from God to see if you will “love Him with all your heart”. John tells us that if we love the Lord we will obey His commands (John 14:21, 15:10; 1 John 5:2-3; 2 John 1:6). The Bible commands us over and over again to test, discern and judge teaching, prophecy and fruit. We must reject heretics who are unrepentant. If we do not obey the Lord in this, we are proving that we do not really love Him.
“But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, must be put to death.” (Deut 18:20 )
We don’t put false prophets to death today, but we are to remove ourselves from their presence.
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” (Deuteronomy 18:22)
The Lord is against those who give false prophesies.
“Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,” declares the LORD. “They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:32)
“I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.'” (Jeremiah 27:15)
Those who follow false prophets will share in their judgment.
“The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (Jeremiah 5:31)
“Yes,” declares the LORD, “I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares.” (Jeremiah 23:31)
‘I have not sent them,’ declares the LORD. ‘They are prophesying lies in my name. Therefore, I will banish you and you will perish, both you and the prophets who prophesy to you.'” (Jeremiah 27:15)
“My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezekiel 13:9)
We are not to even listen to false prophecy.
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD.” (Jeremiah 23:16)
False prophets are often those who claim they had a dream or a vision of the Lord or from the Lord.
“I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ (Jeremiah 23:25 )
False prophets are actually using divination and the delusion of their own minds instead of communicating with God.
“Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds.” (Jeremiah 14:14)
“Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says’– when the LORD has not spoken.” (Ezekiel 22:28)
TEST THEIR FRUIT
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus,by their fruit you will recognize them.”(Matt. 7:15-20)
The final test is to compare the words and actions of any teacher or prophet with the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:18-25. Notice that the passage above comes right after the passage most “Christians” quote today to try to make a case that we are not to judge at all, namely Matt. 7:1. If you read on you realize that “judge not” is not to be applied to every situation. The Bible has specific criteria on how to judge and how not to judge. In judging fruit, it is also helpful to look at the list of things in Galatians 5:18-25 that are the opposite of the fruit of the Spirit.
If a person falsely prophesies, even once, they are likely using divination and false visions. Are they trying to build a following and promote themselves, gaining fame? Then they likely have “selfish ambition”. Do they promote “drunk in the Spirit”? That’s the sin of “drunkenness”. If they are stripping the poor of their money with crooked money-raising schemes, that’s not the fruit of kindness. If their meetings are marked by wild manifestations, they do not have the fruit of peace or self-control. If they are cocky mockers they do not have the fruit of gentleness.
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:18-25)
The Lord will cut off anyone who does not bear fruit. This means anyone who does not have the fruit of the Spirit and has not been doing the will of the Father.
“He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” (John 15:2)
Finally, we must understand that those who are false teachers, false prophets, without the fruit of the Spirit are a blight on true Christianity. We must separate ourselves from them.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Rom. 16:17)
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Eph. 5:11)
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh DISORDERLY, and not after the tradition which ye received of us 2 Tim. 3:5,7 Concerning the last days, he says that some will have “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof. From such turn away” for such people are “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Thess. 3:6)
“If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds “ (2 John 10:11)
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch no the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” (2 Cor. 6:17)
“These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm– shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted– twice dead.” (Jude 1:12)
We all were once in darkness. Now that we are in the light we must walk in the light, rejecting darkness.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Eph. 5:8)
by Sandy Simpson, 7/30/02