We Desperately Need Discernment | Steve Berman

In the Bible story of Samson and Delilah, Judges 16 begins “One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute.” Now in those days (as today), Jews were hated in Gaza, the inhabitants being Philistines, who ruled over the Jews. Samson, however, was a great champion, a Judge of Israel, unmatched in strength, and the Philistines wished above all things to kill him.

In the 2020 election, many American Christian leaders called Donald Trump God’s chosen candidate. They defended his lasciviousness, his plain-spoken lies, and his association with some of the shadiest characters in politics, international relations, media, and business. They did this because they believed God gave Trump the same kind of strength to break their enemies as Samson had.

Even among Pentecostals, who believe in the current day activation and use of the spiritual gifts and prophetic words outlined in 1 Corinthians 14, many uttered what they said they heard from God about Trump, about the 2020 election, and about hidden and secret plots to destroy Christian influence in the public square in America.

The Biblical Samson lacked discernment, but God granted him a tremendous gift (in Christian language, we call it an “anointing”—a covering to perform a particular task in God’s order and His will). As many of us who are familiar with the story know, Samson fell in love with Delilah, a Philistine woman who secretly plotted with her own people to kill him.

We know from the Bible that God gives His anointing to whom He sovereignly chooses, but we also learn that not everyone who appears to have an anointing from God really does. Knowing the difference, for today’s Christian, is by discernment.

David French did a really good job explaining what Pentecostals believe about the gifts of the Spirit in his February newsletter on Paula White. Again (for subscribers to The Dispatch) has written about a group of Pentecostal leaders who wish to restore accountability to the use of prophetic gifts. Writing in The Christian PostDr. Michael Brown outlined “a unified call for prophetic accountability.”

Part of the statement, signed by over 300 individuals, including many Pentecostal leaders, found at propheticstandards.com, reads:

WE BELIEVE that all spiritual leaders, including those serving as prophetic ministers, should be vetted and qualified by their respective churches, networks, or movements based on the standards of leadership set forth by Paul the apostle as found in 1 Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9.

WE BELIEVE that all spiritual leaders, including five-fold ministry prophets, should be above reproach and should live a life worthy of their calling (see Eph. 4:1-3). Consequently, we believe that prophetic leaders whose lives violate the moral and ethical standards of the Word disqualify themselves from the ministry irrespective of how much influence or anointing they have.

Here’s the problem. Samson, by his own calling as a Judge of Israel, given the life he led, should have disqualified himself from his position. But his great strength was not a result of his own holiness (and his fall from the lack thereof): That was a sovereign act of the will of the Almighty. It was Samson’s own lack of discernment of the woman with whom he fell in love that brought him down, and it was his eventual humility at the end of his life that God heard and granted his request to restore his strength one last time.

Today, many of the same leaders who tailored specific messages filled with references to witchcraft, the enemies of Christ, and the enemies of Donald Trump, refuse to recant or modify those calls. Some of them did repent, and reaped a tailwind of hate, as this January tweet from French recalls.

I too repented after supporting Trump in the 2020 election. I never believed that Trump was God’s candidate, but neither did I believe that he was singularly some devil who sold out America. After Trump began pushing to overturn the election results, I opposed him. First, I believed it was a “peaceful putsch” attempt for grandstanding. Then, I realized Republicans were high on the lie, as January 6th approached. After the insurrection, I joined my fellow Racketeers calling for Trump’s resignation.

My discernment failed, though I never invested myself in the gobbledygook that so many Christians have swallowed, that even now keeps Trump’s name high on the list for 2024, and generates so much political concern among politicians who know the right thing but didn’t do it, and still won’t.

American Christians need discernment now more than ever. So many tares have risen up among the wheat, spewing horrendous falsehoods, Biblical heresies, and speaking with pride and false knowledge. Dr. Brown has defended Trump’s presidency in many of his writings and radio programs, but never veered into the “God’s candidate” category. I respect Dr. Brown and have a long history following him; Dr. Brown attended my baptism (along with about 50 others) during the Brownsville revival in Pensacola, where he ran the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry.

He laid hands on me as I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which Pentecostals believe is a wholly separate event in a believer’s spiritual life, and necessary for the exercise of power, gifts, and prophetic ministry. I believe that God can and does bestow gifts on whom He pleases, believers and non-believers. I also believe God speaks directly and prophetically, in dreams, visions, and words of knowledge, to believers and non-believers, or believers who haven’t received (and don’t believe in) the baptism of the Holy Spirit. I know this from personal experience.

One of my friends who prayed diligently for my soul before my salvation at age 34 was a soft-spoken, even-keeled engineer, never flamboyant about his deep faith. I didn’t even know he was a Christian before he told me in my office one day after my own conversion. I later saw him give a talk at a Christian event, consumed with “holy laughter” for 20 minutes before announcing that he didn’t believe in it, but “it’s on me.” God is never shy about messing with our theology.

Importantly, Dr. Brown, in the early 2000s, was asked to accept Assemblies of God credentials as a minister, because he was running an AG school. He refused, saying that the Lord had not given him leave to accept it—which, in fairness to him, meant accepting AG’s doctrines and disciplinary oversight, that Dr. Brown had never agreed to do. AG officials gave Brownsville Assembly’s leadership a choice of keeping Dr. Brown, and not having the school as an AG funded project, or terminating Dr. Brown. They chose to terminate him, leading to an acrimonious, and unnecessary, split in the school’s staff, student body, and leadership.

It’s telling that Dr. Brown’s school formed in the wake of the split, the FIRE School of Ministry, is vibrantly producing ministers of the Gospel and sending missionaries around the world two decades later, while the Brownsville school, like the revival, is a footnote in history.

I attend an Assemblies of God church, and have more-or-less been affiliated with that fellowship since becoming a Christian. But I know that AG has been subject to a lack of discernment on several occasions, and has been pulled into scandal through those failures. Nobody is perfect, and discernment is not perfect, not in this world. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul wrote “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

As my missionary friend, who has devoted a large part of his life studying a religion he does not practice or accept as truth (in order to reach them with the truth), recently wrote, humility is the key.

That is why we need humility. (Somewhere I read this cool phrase, “Spiritual exfoliation through humiliation”) Humility allows us to keep learning. It helps us not to get stuck in a rut. It helps us to realize we are not immortal and indispensable. We do not, cannot, and should not have all the answers. This leads to maturity. Humble people are growing people. Humble people are learning people. They are open to new information, to being wrong; they are teachable, realizing that maturity is not having it all, but having nothing left to prove. Humble people depend on God and walk in gratitude.

American Christians are not acting like humble, teachable disciples. We are acting, especially in the prophetic realm, among Pentecostal, big-name, well-followed preachers, like we heard from the Lord and are speaking with knowledge. Yet many who hear the words of these people act without love. They issue death threats to those who humble themselves and repent.

More from my friend:

And yet, so many Western Christians claim to have access to all the answers. They want to circle the wagons around their imagined security and superior wisdom. They reject the world beyond their own control and explanation. Compulsive certainty and the illusion of safety become an obsessive substitute for an actual divine encounter. Saying pious words about God, but actually believing that nothing ever happens unless I make it happen. But what if we are climbing our whole lives up a self-made ladder, only to find out that it was leaning against the wrong wall?

As David French, who was at one time a deacon at an Assemblies of God church, and is now a believer in spirit-filled Christianity attending a Presbyterian church, wrote, don’t mock Pentecostals.

Lest you mock Pentecostal Christians, I’d remind you that every single Christian believes in a series of miracles, most notably a virgin birth and a divine resurrection. Is it truly silly to believe that God still moves miraculously in the world today?

The core of Christian belief is that God used miracles to effect his redemptive purpose on the Earth. If you believe John 3:15, you must believe in the miraculous and the divine. If you don’t believe in those things, calling yourself “Christian” by any orthodox standard of faith, is questionable. 

A lack of discernment is not a uniquely Pentecostal thing. I note that John McArthur, a cessationist to the core in his belief that any emotional, spirit-led approach to worship or ministry is heresy, claimed that “there is no pandemic” last August. I’ve seen Pentecostal churches filled to the brim with unmasked believers for hours during prayer sessions, with no social distancing, before any vaccines were available. They were conducting super-spreader events. I’ve also seen my own Pentecostal church conduct virtual-only services, and suspend in-person meetings for months. Don’t fall back on blaming denominations for personal failures of discernment.

Church leaders and those who utter prophetic words should not forget the words of the prophet Hosea (Hosea 4:6):

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.

“Because you have rejected knowledge,
    I also reject you as my priests;
because you have ignored the law of your God,
    I also will ignore your children.

American Christians need discernment. We need to, individually, search the Word of God, to decide what is true. Leaders must not casually say “thus sayeth the Lord,” or “God told me…” It is the pride of saying you know the answer, or that your piety, renown, or study is sufficient for you to assume a mantle that was not intended for you, that will bring you down. Without love and all its attendant attributes, as found in 1 Corinthians 13, our prophecy is nothing more than noise.

Remember, how you live your life, and who you associate with is equally important in your ability to discern. Remember the lesson of Ravi Zacharias.

If you’re following people on Twitter or Facebook who regularly engage in flinging hate, insults, personal threats, and falsehoods, your discernment is being degraded by the flood of poison. You won’t be able to judge who is correctly giving a rebuke, or a word of encouragement when you are steeped in such coarseness.

As one of my co-workers likes to say, “pull up.” Get out of that muck and study for yourself. The difference between a preacher, a charlatan, a faithful person who is simply wrong, and a predator is not easy to tell from looking at book covers and skin-deep skimming. Discernment comes from discipline, humility, and faithful study.

Without those things, and truly, without love, the American Christian church is without any hope. We will be led into our own destruction, blind and powerless, forced to perform before foreign gods as pagans celebrate our fall. Only then, when humility is summoned, will God again restore power, because like Samson, our discernment has failed.

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.

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