We’ve been examining the principle of discernment in Ephesians 4:14—That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. This brings us to the question: what is the key to discernment?
There is only a single principle: what does the Word of God say? It doesn’t matter if some new idea or teaching “sounds good,” but whether or not it’s right according to Scripture, and that alone. At the very heart of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura, that it is “Scripture Alone,” which dictates all we believe and practice, not Church Tradition, human opinion, or anything else. For centuries the church has added its traditions, teachings, methods, and ministries to Scripture, sometimes even incorporating pagan practices (and even gods). How we need a new Reformation today!
Let’s perform a few tests on how to discern truth from error. One speaker I heard, for example, reflects one of the most common attitudes today about church ministry when he says: “You have a guy sitting in church and he’s figuring out, ‘Okay, how am I going to make payroll? how am I going to finance my lifestyle? I’ve got these two kids that are rebellious; they’re caught up in this lack of authority thing. My emotional connection with my wife is really running dry. I’m sitting with three strangers next to me listening to this sermon. I need some help for my life right now.’ I believe that’s the way Jesus taught. I mean Jesus started at the point of the real and felt need that a person would have.”
That certainly sounds good, noble, and caring, but is it right according to Scripture? No, it is not. The Lord Jesus simply did not start with a person’s “felt need,” a term on which many churches are built today. In His dealing with the woman at the well (Jn. 4:1-26), He very specifically confronted her with her sin and then even taught her some doctrine on worship. He most certainly did not start with a “felt need,” rather real sin.
Here is another quote, which is, in fact, another of the most common teachings of our day: “The unity of the faith is more important than doctrinal opinion.” In other words, unity is supreme, doctrine is irrelevant. Again, this sounds loving, but is it right? No, it is not. As Paul told Titus (a pastor of a local church), the pastor has been entrusted with God’s word and is, therefore, required—not requested or given an option—but required to, “[Hold] fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers [i.e., refute those who oppose that doctrine]” (Tit. 1:7a, 9). Unity is most certainly not more important than correct doctrine, no matter who says anything to the contrary. Every pastor is required by God to teach the Truth and refute error.
Another teacher characterizes God this way: “God is a God of grace. You can curse Him and disobey Him and spit in His face and reject Him, and you can do it over and over and over again, and He keeps coming back for more.” Is such a characterization of God Biblical? Of course not. It flies in the face of the Truth that “the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man” (Gen. 3:6) and that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18; also read Hebrews 10:26-31). Does that sound like a God Who just “keeps coming back for more?”