If you have been learning to discern, you are learning some pretty important things. You are learning to look below the surface of the appealing messages that mainstream Christianity promotes to see the anti-biblical messages that are really being taught. You are learning to compare all you hear, read, and see to what the Bible says. And you are learning that not everyone who claims Christ is a true believer and that just because it is labeled “Christian” does not necessarily mean it is representing Christ. In fact, many speakers and authors are downright false teachers, coming as “angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14) to trick and deceive God’s people.
So now what? Do we share what we are learning with others? Or do we just stay quiet?
I think it is clear in scripture that our job is to share the truth with others (Ephesians 4:14-15; Jude 3-4). This includes telling others about the love and grace of Jesus, as well as the not-so-popular topics of God’s wrath, sin, and hell. And, yes, it also includes warning others of false teachers (Ephesians 5:11; Romans 16:17-18).
Recently, several of you have asked me just how you go about doing this. Do we wait for God to open a door or do we barge right through and speak up, even when we aren’t asked? These are hard questions to answer, as each situation is so different. But I hope that this post will give you some helpful principles and insight as you start seeking to share the truths you are learning with others. Keep in mind that our conversations about discernment should stay focused on God’s Word and be done with a humble heart.
Principles for a Public Setting
First, let’s take a look at the two different settings of Public vs. Private. How we bring up touchy topics in a private setting is going to be very different than how we do so in a public setting. Let’s look at a few principles for a public platform when someone is praising a false teacher. How do you know if you should say something and, if you do feel compelled to do so, what is the best way to do so?
1. Gravely consider your responsibility in the situation. Are you the teacher or leader of a Bible Study, a teacher or leader in a church, or a leader in an organization? In other words, are you responsible for the adherence to the truth of God’s Word in the setting where the false teacher is being praised? If so, then you will be accountable to God for what is being taught. Say something but do so using the Bible to confirm what you are saying and speak with a soft voice and much grace. If someone has an issue or wants to argue, kindly ask them to discuss it with you privately afterwards.
If you are simply participating in the group or setting, it is often best to approach the teacher or leader with some factual information or articles and ask them to investigate. Each situation is different and each group is different, so judge these situations on a case by case basis.
2. Never belittle or scoff at the person you are talking to or about. If we feel compelled to speak up, we must never, ever belittle or minimize anyone personally. We must keep to the facts. And we must do all that’s in our power to speak with great love, continually pointing people to God’s Word, demonstrating how the teacher or movement does not agree with it. It is important to not get caught up in our own personal opinions, puffing ourselves up, acting like we have some special information that they just aren’t smart enough to have. (I say this because I’ve seen it. And I’ve probably done it. And it is downright sinful to do this, plain and simple.)
Now, this can be hard because sometimes people perceive us to be belittling someone when we really aren’t. When we speak the truth, people often automatically feel criticized. And, in this current culture, disagreement has become synonymous with belittling and intolerance. We can’t control this, but if we stick to the facts of someone’s false ministry, comparing them to scripture, we are handling it correctly.
3. Use great discretion when posting and discussing on social media. Be sure to evaluate anything you share or post to be sure it is factual, scriptural, and loving and respectful in its tone. If someone wants to debate, end it quickly, indicating your willingness to discuss it privately, if they would so desire. If a friend or family member has posted something positive about a false teacher, consider talking to them privately rather than commenting publicly. Facebook and Twitter have made this an ugly, ugly world when it comes to debates and disagreements. We do not want to be any part of that, practicing Romans 12:18 instead. While it is okay to use social media to share truth, don’t ever let it get out of hand or become a place where you are viciously and pridefully stating the “truth” with no care about how you are hurting and crushing people in the process.
4. What about at my church? If there is a false teacher or a worldly system invading your church, first bathe the situation in prayer. Ask the Lord for wisdom and to open your pastor or elder’s eyes. And then go respectfully to talk with leadership about what you see. Do not make a big public to-do over it and do not grab people to take your side. These responses are extremely damaging to the church.
The next inevitable question is: But what if they don’t listen? What if nothing changes? It pains me to say this, but I have heard about, and personally heard from, so many who have been completely belittled and scorned by their pastors and leaders in their beloved churches for holding to the truth of God’s Word. When they go to their leadership with a grave and valid concern that is backed by what scripture clearly teaches–perhaps about a false teacher that is being used for a Bible Study or a worldly, deceitful movement that is worming its way into the leadership’s vision of the church–they are immediately shut down. They are told that this is what “leadership has decided” and that if they don’t like it, they must move on. This is the way most churches are doing ministry now. It truly is a travesty and totally opposed to what scripture teaches. So, that being said, there may come a time that you may have to leave your church. Do not do this lightly. Dedicate much prayer and study the scriptures diligently to see if this issue (or issues) warrants leaving. Seek wise, godly counsel. You can read more about making this decision here.
Principles for a Private Setting
You will actually find that most of your interactions with people regarding discernment will be at a private level. They will take place in the halls of your church, over e-mail or the phone, or at dinner with friends. How do we handle these conversations?
First we need to determine if the person is–
an Open, Humble, and Interested Person
a Closed, Proud Person
an Apathetic, Disinterested Person
What kind of person are you talking to? There are a few questions you can ask yourself to quickly make this determination even as you are speaking to them–
1. Are they asking thoughtful questions?
2. Is their body language tense?
3. Are they listening to you as you speak?
4. Do they keep going back to their own opinions without any scripture?
5. Do they look bored?
If they are asking thoughtful questions, listening to your responses, and speaking kindly (even if you don’t agree with their conclusions), then this is probably an open, humble, and interested person. You can at least hold a conversation with them.
If they are not really giving consideration to what you are saying but are simply giving their own opinions without scripture to back them up; if they are speaking with anger and agitation; if they aren’t listening at all; well, then they are closed, proud, and uninterested.
If they seem bored with the conversation; if they look away and seem to be distracted; if they keep checking their phone, then you are dealing with someone who is apathetic and disinterested in really knowing what is going on. There are many people who just would rather not know.
Almost everyone falls into one of these three groups. And you can quickly figure it out as you learn to understand the cues that people give. How we deal with the first group is very different than how we deal with the second two groups. So let’s look at principles for both groups.
Principles for Open, Humble, and Interested Individuals
1. Don’t overload them with information. If someone shows interest, our natural response is to gather all kinds of websites, articles, and videos to confirm what we are saying. However, an overwhelmed person is likely to grow discouraged and give up. Carefully choose one or two of your best resources to share and let them know you are willing to talk more if they are interested.
2. Encourage them to study scripture for themselves. When it comes right down to it, the insight and discernment to spot and recognize false teachers and false teaching comes from our study of the Word. We are helpless and must lean on others if we are biblically illiterate. The MOST important thing, by far, that we can do is encourage them to study the Word!
3. Speak with a kind and level voice as you discuss these hard and ugly truths about the mainstream church and modern-day Christianity. These things–as we find them out–can (rightly so) make us angry. Those of us who tend to be more expressive can sound angry or aggressive without even realizing it. Practice talking about these things without being harsh, unkind, or loud.
4. Remember that it is God who works in the heart. Respect their space and submit to God’s sovereignty in their lives as they sort through things. Sometimes all of this (as you may remember when you started learning the truth of what is going on) can be extremely overwhelming and they simply need to take a step back. Give them the time they need to process. Life may have given them a curveball they weren’t expecting and they just don’t have time to think about it right now. Don’t grow discouraged if they seem disinterested after that initial contact. Instead, recognize that you have been given the privilege to plant a seed of truth and that God will use it however He sees fit. He might bring someone else along to water that seed or they may eventually come back to ask you a question. Some will never show any further interest. It is critical to recognize that we are simply soldiers for Christ, doing His bidding as He gives us opportunities. That is all that is required of us. We can count on Him to take care of the rest.
5. Pray for them. If someone seems really interested, pray and ask the Lord to open their eyes and give them insight from His Word. If you are concerned because you see someone continuing in false teaching–even after you have had some wonderful conversations with them and they seem to moving in the right direction, pray for them, as well. I can honestly say there are few things more discouraging than this but there is little else we can do, since harping or nagging them about it generally produces the opposite result of what we hope for, while also putting great strain on the relationship. God is faithful and He answers prayers like this. Remember, He doesn’t need us! He blesses us by using us but He doesn’t need us to open someone’s eyes.
Principles for the Closed, Proud, and Disinterested
1. Don’t push. Someone who doesn’t want to know doesn’t want to know. You are not going to change them. Only God can do that.
2. Know when to stop talking. The Bible says that we shouldn’t cast our pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6). I think this same principle applies when speaking the truth of God’s Word in this area of discernment. If the person you are talking to is disinterested or even hostile towards what you are saying, then it is time to stop talking. Sometimes we just need to discern that it’s time to end the conversation.
3. Don’t grow bitter or angry towards that person. This is easy to do. These conversations can quickly turn ugly and can fill us with a deep and abiding grudge if we don’t go to the Lord, asking Him to help us forgive. These situations can become even more trying when the person, frustrated with our biblical message, spreads lies about us or does everything possible to hinder our ministry. It is in these times that we must make a choice to forgive and move on. If not, our ministry most certainly will be hindered!
3. Pray. Pray. And then pray some more. No heart is too hard. We know this from scripture (Paul is a great example of this!) So let’s pray like we believe God can change a heart.
So there are a few principles that I hope you will find helpful as you navigate this unpopular path of Christian discernment. I wish I could say that I have always followed these myself, but, alas, I am still learning, just like you! But let’s keep having the conversations. It is critically important that we keep shining a light into the darkness of the worldly church. If you mess up, evaluate what you could have done or said differently and keep going. Don’t let your failures keep you from speaking up.
Unfortunately, there will often be fall-out. There are some who just don’t want to listen and just the fact that you have said something has turned them into your enemy. We can’t control this. But we can control how we treat people after a conversation that is less than what we hoped for. And again, I mention Romans 12:18–
If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.
This verse tells us that it is not always possible to live peaceably with everyone, but it also makes it clear that we must do whatever we can to do so. This means forgiveness, no grudges, and treating someone kindly and lovingly, no matter how a conversation went.
Thankfully, you will also find that there are a few who will “get it”. They are the ones who grasp what is going on and the grave significance of it. You will find that talking with them and encouraging them is a great joy.
I have been thinking a great deal recently about how we really are now on a rescue mission. As I mentioned in this post the fire has started and the sky has turned orange. The current situation is an inferno on a massive scale and we are not stopping it. But we can turn people to God’s Word and share what we have learned as God gives us opportunity. Let’s not be swayed by a church and culture that tells us that speaking truth is an unloving thing to do. It is, in fact, one of the most loving things we can do.
God bless you as you share His truth with those He puts in your path.