My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. (Proverbs 3:21 NLT)
Today, I was reminded of why I rarely browse social media these days. No, it wasn’t anything horrifying that I saw. But it was a bit unsettling. It was a post by a Christian, supposedly warning others about Christian music and using discernment, and included a link to a website. And like a sucker, I clicked.
What followed was a blog post; a diatribe disguised as Christian caring; vicious gossip in the guise of “discernment” and many “should” and “should not’s” juxtaposed with the blogger’s reluctant “duty” to inform us that these particular songs, bands, churches, and Bible teachers are heretical. She doggedly insisted that we, as well as our churches, should have nothing to do with them. She then provided a list of “approved” music, teachers, and pastors.
My Early Days as a Christian
In my early days as a Christian, and desperate to learn and do God’s will, I remember being a regular on two of these types of sites. One of which I stopped visiting after reading posts about the horrors of some of the most beloved old hymns, with instructions not to sing or listen to them, simply because they were written by Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, etc. The blogger unashamedly branded them all as heretics and helpfully provided a list of “approved” hymns.
The other was a site put out by an association of brethren who believed it to be their sacred duty to brand as heretics pretty much every Christian song and artist out there, along with virtually every pastor and Bible teacher you’ve ever heard of. Their “approved” list was very short.
I am eternally grateful to God for waking me up to this chicanery and showing me my lack of discernment.
Does this mean I believe we should embrace every teacher, preacher, and song labeled as Christian, trusting that what is being said or sung is biblically sound? Of course not. Such haphazard following is the opposite of discernment and will quickly get us into trouble. I don’t care who it is or what they’re writing, saying, or singing – if it’s unbiblical in its context, the safe thing to do is to toss it.
By “in its context” I mean this: if I were a Bible teacher and was teaching, say, on Peter’s impromptu sermon on the Day of Pentecost, I’d need to quote Acts 2:22 through 36, which begins, “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.“ (NIV)
Now, if someone wanted to call me a false teacher or a heretic, he or she might write something on their website about how, in one of my Bible lessons I wrote, “Jesus of Nazareth was a man,” and then proceed to accuse me of claiming that Jesus was a man only, and not God. And they would be taking it totally out of context!
Warning and Discernment in the Bible
That said, I don’t have a problem with Bible-literate believers legitimately warning others about heresies, false doctrines, and the like. The apostle Paul did this often, and with no qualms about naming the guilty parties, such as Alexander the coppersmith and fellow believers Phygelus, Hermogenes, and Demas. (2 Tim. Ch. 1 & 4) Even Peter and Barnabas didn’t escape Paul’s righteous indignation, as he names them and calls out their hypocrisy in Galatians 2:11-13. And John? Well, in 3 John 1:9-11, good old Pastor Diotrephes was criticized by John for his evil ways. Even John the Baptist, and Jesus himself called the scribes and Pharisees “broods of vipers.”
By these and many other such verses, we see that warning others about legitimate threats is fine, and often necessary. And of course, anyone who has been victimized by someone at church should be able to report the abuse and receive help, without being further victimized by verbal bludgeoning and other such vindictive behavior.
But nowhere in these books do we see Paul, John, or anyone else, writing out a long list of subjective grievances about other apostles/evangelists/pastors based on personal opinion or worse, taking the words of others completely out of context and then cherry-picking Bible verses to “prove” some invented heresies. And accusing those who don’t toe the line as having a lack of discernment.
To do so is to viciously tear others down, under the saccharine guise of “cautioning our dear brothers and sisters.”
What should we do? Ignore everyone and every website that claims to be warning us, plowing ahead, wearing blinders and earplugs? That would be folly because, although there are many godly and biblically accurate folks in ministry, the sad truth is that there are some false teachers, false prophets, and other assorted wolves in sheep’s clothing out there. And yes, the Christian music industry has produced some bad apples.
Our Diligent Study of the Word
So, how about we read and study our Bibles very carefully, with help from the Holy Spirit? How about we do word studies of the Hebrew and Greek meanings? And, let’s not forget the context. Not only do we need to read a verse in context with the verses before and after it, but we need to take in the context of the entire chapter, and book. Then we need to read it all in context with the entire new or old testament, and finally the context of the entire Bible.
When we hear someone preach, prophesy, or sing, we can pay close attention to the words, then compare them with scripture (in context!). At church, there are moments where I probably look like I’m paying more attention to my phone than the teaching, but I’m not. What I’m doing is the modern version of what the Bereans did in Acts 17:11 – examining the scriptures to see if what is being said is so – and unlike the Bereans, doing quick Greek and Hebrew word searches as well. My pastor does a great job, but like everyone else, he’s not infallible. That’s not being mean, that’s being realistic and logical. Using discernment.
When it comes to music, a quick internet search will turn up the lyrics of not only one song done by a certain artist or band, but all of them. If you’re unsure, check it out.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus instructed the apostles he sent out to, “… be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.”
Good advice, don’t you think?