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10 Principles of Biblical Discernment – Part I7 min read

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This post is part of a series.

Since I recently laid into Slice of Laodicea for being uncareful about condemning rock music out of hand, I found a couple of excellent critiques of “watchblog” sites, and their limits and foibles (Jim of SOL, this is for you, since SOL instigated the following chain of response articles).

After reading the anti-clown (I don’t like clowns either ;) SOL post, and the chain of response posts, including Guilt By Association, Regarding Guilt by Association (HT challies), and Diss Isn’t Discernment (great title, HT prosthesis), I have collated and distilled the following principles around the deeds and misdeeds of watchblogs.

1. Watch out for abuse of Guilt by Association

The post that started this whole chain was blaming the Willow Creek Association (and by association, Bill Hybels) for a church that had someone in a clown suit leading worship.  The problem?  This action was never sanctioned (or condemned) by the association, and Bill Hybels’ mega church has, by the claim below (Thinklings), never had such a worship service:

Except there are no clown services at Willow Creek. Thatss just what the blogger wants you to think, and sure enough, people were glad to accept the insinuation as actual information….The post is even titled ‘Clown-led Worship Courtesy of Willow Creek Association.‘ Except the WCA has no control over what individual churches do. They can’t patrol every church or dictate to every church how not to be ridiculous. There’s no way for the WCA to even know what every one of the hundreds of association member churches are doing week to week.

So what did this watchblog do wrong?  They assumed tacit approval where there was none.  They also assumed a relationship that did not exist.  They assumed common values based on their loose association.

Pyromaniac has a nice summary of when GBA, however, is valid.

Sometimes people do incur actual guilt by association. We’re not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly or have any fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, and pastors in particular have a duty to guard the flock.

Ministers of the gospel are not free associate with anyone and everyone in whatever context or to whatever degree they please. Any pastor, author, or church leader whose affiliations reflect a deliberate, gospel-compromising ecumenical agenda deserves criticism for that….

Let’s not forget that Jesus’ critics’ chief complaint against Him was a GBA accusation (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 15:2; 19:7). By the standards of some of today’s self-styled discernment “experts,” that might have seemed a credible charge against Him. It was, in fact, an ungodly accusation.

In other words, if I decide to evangelize and even (gasp) befriend prostitutes and <assorted sinners> by being with them in their environment, there’s no problem at all.

A great example is XXXChurch, who have a ministry to the porn industry.  While what they are doing is risky, they are loving the people while attempting to maintain their own purity.  No problem.  But as soon as someone starts advocating Xian porn, well, I’d say the watchdogs can jump on them.

2. Make sure you have sufficient, credible, PERSONAL knowledge of those you criticize

It is easy to criticize from a distance.  Heck, I do it.  But probably, we should, as much as possible, develop a servant’s heart AND relationship with those we criticize before publicly denouncing them, especially if they are our Xian “brothers.”  Watchblog sites ought to privately approach those Xian organizations or ministers think are in error, following Jesus’ instruction for church discipline as closely as possible (Matthew 18:15-17)

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Of course, if we are only interested in warning others (perhaps a valid pastime), we don’t really have any motivation to personally approach or serve those whom we are criticizing.  But perhaps we ought to think about wanting to serve them, at least by notifying them that we have a concern, before we go public.

3. Don’t be eager to “expose” those you think are erring

As pyromaniac discusses in the example in his post, those who are eager to expose others are not only NOT being Christian, they are probably motivated by evil motives, that is, to tear down people rather than just tear down bad ideologies (which the Apostle Paul encourages in 2 Corinthians 10:5)

But let’s not be so eager to “expose” evil that we start to fit the description of Proverbs 16:27-28: “An ungodly man digs up evil, And it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends.”

4. Don’t lump people you critique together if they are not very similar

It’s OK to criticize others, I’m not saying we should not.  However, one common mistake on many Watchblogs I’ve seen is that they lump all of the people they criticize into one group of “apostates.”  But are Billy Graham, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen really all the same?  Only if you take an “us v. them” mentality and want to exclude everyone outside of your little circle.  And even if you do, it is intellectually lazy or irresponsible to group everyone who disagrees with you into one pile.

5. Just because someone quotes someone you don’t like doesn’t mean the quote is invalid

Warning to all public speakers and authors – if you quote content from someone else whose other ideas you don’t agree with, make that clear.  Otherwise, many watchdogs will accuse you of affirming everything else you did NOT quote by that source.

But watchblogs, if you want to be effective with integrity, don’t accuse an author of apostasy if they quote someone who is an apostate.  As jmb says:

God’s grace and truth are active throughout creation, which means that not only do we get lies from truthtellers, but we also get the truth from liars.

More to come in Part II.