(Edited Sept 2015)
For those of you who participate in the Christian Internet community, and particularly the Protestant-Evangelical-Fundamentalist side, you are familiar with the category of blogs or websites referred to as “discernment blogs”. Amazingly people have opinions about this (tongue in cheek of course).
There are two general kinds of concerns about discernment blogs, namely that (1) they exist in the first place and are treated as valid Theological/Ecclesiastical/Spiritual (TES) exercises or (2) that as a valid genre of TES exercise, they sometimes contain unfair, unjust and inaccurate presentations. My concerns about discernment blogging fall into the second category and I hope yours do, too. I believe they are valid TES exercises and necessary but can, in their pursuit of concerns, permit imprecise language all the way to blatantly false assertions (i.e. lies).
The reason I am writing this is because of a blog post by Tim Challies, a Neo-Reformed blogger and co-founder of a relatively new publishing company, Cruciform Press which publishes Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan books as mainstay so far. The article was published in March of this year entitled, In the Crosshairs of the Discernment Bloggers.
In his article he vacillates between discernment bloggers in general and the sub-category of bad ones but eventually lumps them all together for the most part without distinction. He does acknowledge there are “times for bloggers to comment on pressing issues” thus not completely abandoning the need for warnings and he does go so far as to say, “more urgently, there are false leaders and ministries that need to be exposed”. So Mr. Challies is not against the concept altogether but he certainly seems to believe that a significant portion of the work of discernment or watchblogs is not worthy of your time by concluding that he will “not read any more shocking exposes built on nothing more than one side’s accusations and conjectures”.
Okay, the above seems obvious, to me. It seems that most mature minded people know how to distinguish conjecture from facts on the whole. But overall, that still leaves the reader with insufficient direction as to discernment blogging. Is it really fundamentally good or bad?
What Does the Apostle Paul Have to Say About This?
Well, according to the Apostle Paul, warning believers is a mainstay of good shepherding. Look what Paul is recorded as saying in the book of Acts, chapter 20, regarding how he ministered in Ephesus:
28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.Now think about this, he recounts in Acts 20:31, that for three years straight he did not stop warning them about wolves that would come in two fashions; (1) from the outside and (2) from the inside. It was of such concern, even during Paul’s authoritative apostolic ministry that men (we can include women as well) would seek to “draw disciples after them” right after he departed Ephesus that Paul made it a highlight of his teaching for three years!
The word used here for warn is noutheteó (νουθετῶν) and it has in view far more than simply generic warnings but refers to an ongoing and explicit revealing of truth to and reasoning with someone, accompanied by an exertion of pressure that they handle this discovery as a matter of urgency where they then must make a choice. It is a form of corrective counsel by way of revealing what is wrong and not simply leaving it there but with the expectation that a choice be made on the matter.
Look Again Why Wolves Arise and How to Spot Them
Pay close attention to the detail above. Paul identifies a very central reason (but not the only reason) why wolves come to a congregation either from the outside bearing gifts or from the inside, as one of their own but genuinely with bad motives. These teachers and leaders seek to “draw disciples after them”.
This is a classic case of seeing humans as commodity. When you have disciples you have human commodity. The good shepherd sees this commodity as God’s and the wolf or the bad shepherd sees their disciples as just that, theirs. They won’t claim they are theirs, most of the time when pressed and clearly they will shout out from the roof tops that these are God’s little lambs. You certainly should not expect a wolf to announce what they are and how they truly see the sheep.
But there are ways you can know a wolf. Its instincts cannot be completely cloaked by its disguise as a shepherd. Paul knew that too often the sheep would learn this, albeit far too late after far too much damage, thus he did not cease, day and night, to warn the sheep under his apostolic care. So what is a wolf, how do they act? Some things I will state will be obvious and some, possibly, will be new considerations for you but considerations I urge you to apply.
Theological/Ecclesiastical/Spiritual (TES) Wolves
- They seek notoriety. Notice, it is not that they have notoriety because good teachers sometimes have this but dangerous or unhealthy ones seek it. Do they complain because they are not given enough credit by the other so-called big names? Warning!
- A wolf is on the prowl. Do they like to drop names when ever they are finally included? Warning!
- A wolf is seeking to enlarge his territory. They do not respect boundaries of divine institutions. Is your Bible Teacher/Pastor interfering with your marriage, your career, and your family relationships and so on? Warning! Such men (and again women if involved) are predators, not protectors as a good shepherd is. The divine institutions of self, marriage, family, government and the church all have formal and specific officers with divinely commissioned authority. A marriage, for example, has but two officers, a husband and wife. Involving yourself in the affairs of another's marriage without the direct consent of its officers is a violation of divine boundaries, Pastor or no Pastor, Bible Teacher or no Bible Teacher. When someone calling themselves your Pastor or Elder begins such an exercise in your life, warning!
- They do not seek to make the weak strong and independent but instead they feed off of the weakness of their disciples seeing that it enlarges their person. Hence, the dangerous shepherd keeps his followers dependent. Warning!
- They normally have a very rigid and overreaching system of discipline for members. They, again, do not see themselves as protectors, though they will say such words, rather as owners of you, a commodity. Such discipline usually inserts itself where it does not belong, in your private life, your marriage, family and your civic duties. Warning!
- When the weak become strong bad Teachers and errant shepherds seek to destroy them because they are afraid. The wolf knows he or she has been found out when one of their weak become strong. In becoming strong a former weak follower realizes just what is going on and has been going on to keep him or her weak. He or she may enliven other sheep and strengthen them. Thus, this danger must be neutralized. Warning!
- They are unable to withstand scrutiny by peers or those stronger than themselves. When confronted by such power they either ignore the people confronting them or create a narrative that such criticisms come from people with bad motives. The fact is, criticism does not need a good or bad motive, or at least it should not, if we are interested in the truth. When you hear or see someone unwilling and unable to endure confrontation and scrutiny in the body of Christ who claims to be a Teacher, you are viewing a dangerous Teacher of the Word and at best an unhealthy one. Warning!
- They create systems of profiteering within the church. They will sell their teaching, they will sell their speaking and they will sell their name or ministry for money through which men or women who either give substantially or represent a great monetary gain to the ministry in some manner, are vaulted. Warning!
- There is an over-emphasis on identifying and maintaining dominant and submissive groups. The majority of disciples are usually placed in the submissive category in one form of another. Now, it is true that in a church members are subordinate to the governmental authority which involves Pastors and others (depending on your form of government) but in the diseased and wolf-controlled environment, the pastoral and/or elder authority will have extended itself in many inappropriate ways and to many places where they not only have no authority but are as well, usurping another authority. Warning!
Do not be mistaken, most wolves do not operate alone, they operate in a pack. They have a clear internal and organized hierarchy and system of authority among themselves. Hence, they operate together to both offend and defend. And they do not involve their prey, in the least, in their system of government. It is for them and their perpetuity, the sheep are for their consumption.
The True Flock
What is a real flock with a real shepherd like? It would do a few Pastors some good to discover that shepherds do not have to micro-manage sheep. What they (the sheep) really need, simply, is to be guarded from threats most of the time and fed the other part of the time. The good shepherd knows that among the sheep the older and more mature ones will follow the shepherd as they have learned to do and the younger ones will follow the mature sheep.
If someone genuinely loves God’s sheep they will understand that by all means in this world are men (and women) who just as well would take those sheep and use them for their own benefit under the guise of the good shepherd’s name and work. People are sinful and selfish and very early on in life learn what a commodity people are. And what better a place than a captive audience which meets regularly than to infiltrate or pollute from within and draw away for one’s self, a group to be disciples. So the good shepherd warns and guards any time and every time necessary.
It is not a good thing, being a disciple in and of itself. You may be a disciple of a wolf. You must be a disciple of Jesus. And because of this those that love God and his sheep warn, like Paul, without ceasing, night and day.