Over the last while, I have been visiting various church services in the neighbourhood. There was a few goals in mind as I left my home church and my position of service with the full intention to return. These goals were:
1. To open-eye, see and experience the different services, observe teachings, and rituals and the such.
2. More importantly, try to understand questions like: What does being a ‘Christian’ mean? What is a church? What does it mean when we call something a denomination, or when do we call it a cult? What does it mean to have discernment? When does that becomes judgment? Or are we just to bless every ministry trusting that God is greater than the human differences?
These questions seem to be quite circular, so from my understanding, if I can sufficiently answer one of them, the rest of the answers will follow naturally.
While I do not claim to know everything, nor do I claim to be the authority on this issue, I feel like I have come to a sufficient answer on the issue of discernment.
Firstly, we must refute the claim that we (as Christians) are just to bless every ministry. Not every Jesus in every ministry is of God (Psalm 130:20). We are called to discern every spirit (1 John 4:1) in light of the Scripture and the Holy Spirit. Right off the bat I’ve come across some objections to this notion! Including: The bible is not clear on so-and-so issue, we can’t really trust the bible, “We operate on the Holy Spirit, which the early church did have, and not the scripture, which the early church did not have,” (this statement is historically wrong, btw) or even “we believe in the Holy Spirit, not the Holy Scripture”.
I’m not deifying the Scripture, but if we actually believe in God, then we must also believe in the Scripture, as it is stated that all scripture is God breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and that God cannot and does not change (James 1:17) and that He alone remains faithful (Romans 3:3). God does not mumble, when you think that God is not clear on issues, it is not that He is not clear, but rather, it is that we refuse to trust what He says (Romans 1:28). Hot issues that the more modern church ministry keeps bringing up would include homosexuality, hell, marriage, abortion, divorce, morality… Quit deceiving yourselves, issues are clear, stop making a fool of yourselves (Romans 1:22).
So now that we see we need to discern, but what does discerning actually mean? The following from an article that I think summarizes this whole issue quite well. (emphasis added)
In regards to the question “Are Catholics saved?”, this is a more difficult question to answer. It is impossible to give a universal statement on the salvation of all members of any denomination of Christianity. Not ALL Baptists are saved. Not ALL Presbyterians are saved. Not ALL Lutherans are saved. Salvation is determined by personal faith in Jesus alone for salvation, not by titles or denominational identification. Despite the unbiblical beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, there are genuine believers who attend Roman Catholic churches. There are many Roman Catholics who have genuinely placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. However, these Catholic Christians are believers despite what the Catholic Church teaches, not because of what it teaches. To varying degrees, the Catholic Church teaches from the Bible and points people to Jesus Christ as the Savior. As a result, people are sometimes saved in Catholic churches. The Bible has an impact whenever it is proclaimed (Isaiah 55:11). Catholic Christians remain in the Catholic Church out of ignorance of what the Catholic Church truly stands for, out of family tradition and peer pressure, or out of a desire to reach other Catholics for Christ.
At the same time, the Catholic Church also leads many people away from a genuine faith relationship with Christ. The unbiblical beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church have often given the enemies of Christ opportunity to blaspheme. The Roman Catholic Church is not the church that Jesus Christ established. It is not a church that is based on the teachings of the Apostles (as described in the Book of Acts and the New Testament epistles). While Jesus’ words in Mark 7:9 were directed towards the Pharisees, they accurately describe the Roman Catholic Church, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”
I would like to generalize this idea to the various other ministries as well. I would say that the other end of the spectrum would be what some people would call emergent churches. Their service/theology tend to be more humanistic in tone. The emergent church tend to be the ‘hip’ and ‘in’ thing to do in this generation, and there tend to be much fruit and rapid growth. But such growth is, IMHO, unhealthy, as outlined in my previous note (about half way down, under the bolded Love).
Discernment must come from the Scripture, just judging by fruits is insufficient because of 2 ideas.
1. We don’t actually KNOW! Only God knows for sure if this person or that person have that relationship with Him or not. We don’t.
2. Fruits can come out of ministry even if the ministry itself is heresy, because God’s power is not bound by the ministry. I use my own example here. God had spoken to me through a Chinese pop song, but that does not validate Chinese pop songs as the place to go to find God, nor will I ever recommend Chinese pop songs as a way to seek God.
To conclude, discernment is about the doctrine, and it is healthy (and we are called to) discern every spirit and doctrine you enter into. Judgment is when it becomes to be about the people involved, which we CANNOT do, as only God can judge that. (But we can, and should, talk to the people involved to understand more about the doctrine). We also MUST begin any discernment with humility to say that we might be the one that is wrong, but pray and seek God’s guiding Truth.
A Christian, following what I’ve thought through above, is one who follows God’s Truth. ie. facing the right direction (God) and moving forward. And church, then, is a group of Christians that are working together toward that same direction. HOWEVER, I do think it is healthy for Christians to understand the underlying church statement of faith of the specific church they are in. As it is not always clear from services, it would be beneficial if a Christian could take the initiative to understand the underlying theology and discern that; and the only way to do so is to read the Scripture to know more about God’s truth.
So I bid you with a blessing, as you seek and follow the Lord, from Romans 15:5-6
May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.