The last post in the Learn to Discern series asked the question: What is your paradigm? Today we need to ask: Who do you follow?
Once we have established our paradigm, it would seem that we would naturally know who to follow. But what I have discovered is that the loyalty to fallible men (and women) runs so deeply that eventually many find themselves saying with their mouths that they adhere to the Word of God as the ultimate source of truth while their actions actually negate their assertions.
Here are a few examples–
Take the books Jesus Calling and The Shack (I choose these particularly because they are two of the most dangerous and popular books on the “Christian” market today). These books are promoted by Christians, they are sold in Christian bookstores, and they are touted as wonderful Christian books. But when both of these books are carefully examined, we can see that they go completely against critical biblical doctrines. Not sort of. Not kind of. Completely.
And yet, thousands–maybe millions–of Christians who claim to love and honor the Word of God speak highly of these books! Why is this? It is because they have chosen to value a human author’s word more highly than God’s Word.
Another example would be the response of some people when I discuss or post something regarding the compromise of a beloved author or teacher. Instead of thoughtfully considering and comparing what is being taught by them to what the Bible teaches, they immediately grow angry and defensive of this person that they have come to count on for solid, biblical teaching. And, once again, we see that they have placed a man’s word before the Word of God.
A final example is found in churches across the world. Preachers start to twist and change important doctrines, but they are so beloved by most church members that there is a conscious choice to overlook the compromise rather than to remove themselves from false teaching. Loyalty to a man becomes more important than loyalty to God.
People are naturally loyal. They naturally want to trust teachers, authors, preachers. We even find this same dynamic in our business. Most customers are loyal. They choose to trust us. And this is a good thing for business. And, quite honestly, this type of loyalty can sometimes be good in the church, too. It is never wise to leave a church or to choose to stop listening to a preacher or reading the books of an author because of some minor difference of opinion that is not biblical. And even minor differences on secondary biblical doctrines are bound to occur and can be overlooked. The issue here is when major biblical doctrines are compromised. And I am so disheartened that this appears to be happening with popular “Christian” authors and teachers at such an exponential rate that it is almost impossible to comprehend.
I honestly believe that this dynamic of human loyalty is one of Satan’s sharpest tools in his toolbox of devices used to bring false doctrine into the church. Take, for example, something that happened at the church I attended years ago. The youth group started showing videos by Rob Bell. Even in those early years, Bell was saying some very troublesome things. And, yet, if anyone dared to say anything against these videos, they were immediately labeled. They were hyper-critical. They were negative. They were nit-picking. You know–all the labels that you get when you are discerning. Because there was some type of loyalty to Rob Bell and these engaging, very well-done videos.
And yet, only a few short years later, Rob Bell showed his true colors by denying several essential biblical doctrines. At this point, many quickly stopped following him. But the damage had already been done. Impressionable youth listened to him espouse on spiritual things and probably went on to follow him.
Following the wrong person is downright dangerous. It not only puts our own spiritual health at risk, but also those who trust our judgment. A few years ago, there was a link on this blog to a ministry that I believed to be a solid ministry. I found out a year or two later that, while they were teaching many good things, the ministry itself was steeped in mysticism. I removed the link immediately. This ministry was not trustworthy and, although I had grown to love this ministry, I quickly removed it from my website and chose to no longer listen to the sermons. My greatest fear is that I am responsible for leading any of my readers to that ministry and into mysticism.
Loyalty without biblical examination is never wise. And in both of the examples above–the Bell videos and the link on my blog–this didn’t happen. Loyalty came before proper examination and may very well have led some down the wrong path.
I know there are some of you who are inevitably going to ask: Why not just pick through the good stuff of a teacher or author and discard the heresies? I will tell you three important reasons why I choose not to do this and would encourage you to do the same–
1. I do not believe that I am so spiritually mature that I could discern all of the error if I listened to someone who isn’t teaching truth. I just don’t know the Bible that well. If they are blatantly teaching against scripture in one area, what will keep them from doing so in another? And if they are, do I know the Bible well enough to actually spot it?
2. There are so many good things out there, why waste my time on picking through half-truths? If you have the choice between a fresh corn on the cob where every kernel is sweet and delicious and a piece that has hard, chewy kernels dispersed throughout the entire cob, which one would you pick? Not a very hard choice, when you look at it like that, is it? It’s really common sense.
3. And, finally, we generally become like those we follow. It’s just how it is.
I don’t know how many of my favorite pastors, teachers, and authors are going to compromise going forward. It’s a little unnerving, quite frankly. (In fact, I have started to read men like Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, and J.C. Ryle because they have already lived and can’t compromise.) But, whoever I choose to follow, my first and foremost loyalty must be to the Lord and His Word and never to a man.
And I encourage you to do the same. Please do this even with what I write here at Growing 4 Life. I have said it before but I will say it again: My opinions mean nothing. Please, please run all you read here through the grid of the Word. I am honored that you read my posts, but I never want you to value my word over the Word of God.
If we are going to discern properly, we need to stop blindly following those who would lead us over the spiritual cliff. We need to immerse ourselves in the Word of God and examine everything that comes our way for the red flags of compromise. Our spiritual health–and the spiritual health of those we disciple (including our own kids and grandkids!)–is dependent upon this.