1Th 5:21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.
Contrary to being "irenic", Scripture calls us to be black and white, engaged in spiritual warfare, where we know our enemy and fight to the death for Truth against error.
Below are excerpts taken from John MacArthur's sermon series on 2 Thes. 5:21-22
A Call To Discernment by John MacArthur from 1991:
The Weakening of Doctrinal Clarity and Conviction
There are, I believe, some identifiable causes as to why there is such a terrible lack of discernment in the church today. The main one I'll give you first, the weakening of doctrinal clarity and conviction...the weakening of doctrinal clarity and conviction. That's number one. There were much better times in the history of the church when Christians were encouraged to think biblically, to think theologically, to test everything, to search the scriptures thoroughly, to distinguish carefully its truths. And when discovering what was true, to take a stand and be immovable. Today, those who take firm stands on biblical doctrine are very frequently criticized for splitting hairs and being unloving because the norm today is to gaze lazily at the surface of scriptural truth and then even justify such cavalier shallowness as the desirable generosity of spirit toward those who differ. This is rampant in the church. You sort of just scan Scripture and you don't want to be too dogmatic because if you're dogmatic that's unloving to someone else who has a different opinion. And after all, we certainly don't want to split hairs. Jay Adams writes, "Nowhere is this tendency more apparent than in Christian counseling." He also writes, quote: "Self-styled experts in psychology, sociology and education who hold Ph.Ds in their fields and Sunday-school degrees in Bible pontificate on Christian teaching and life setting themselves up as spokesmen for God."
What he is basically saying...end quote...what he is saying is that the matter of biblical interpretation has been invaded by people who are ill-equipped to do that work. There is a lack of discernment, however, not only in the arena of counseling but there is a lack of doctrine and conviction in the ministry in general, it seems to me. Sharing has replaced preaching.
It is not an accident that the church in the name of unity, love and relationships has moved away from clarity and conviction and doctrine and has begun to favor openness, rejecting narrowness and dogmatism. This has been the prevailing climate in the culture around us. In fact, there's a war on standards. The war on standards is wholesale, isn't it? I mean, if you had a conviction about something it would have to be utterly arbitrary because there isn't any standard.
If I can kind of give you a perspective on all of this, I'm sure Satan knew we Christian evangelicals would not buy the theology of liberalism so he sold us the hermeneutics. What do you mean by that? Satan knew we wouldn't buy their theology so he sold us their principles of interpretation so sooner or later we would arrive at their theology...a kind of Christianity where doctrine and conviction are scorned. You go into the typical town, find the pulpit where the man of God clearly and deeply and profoundly and faithfully articulates doctrine and I'll show you a small group of faithful folk.
The other day I was doing a radio interview, a two-hour interview and the host of the program said to me, this is on a Christian station, the host of the program said to me, "Well how does a person become a Christian?" I said, "First of all to recognize your sinfulness, it is necessary to recognize that I am a sinner and to be willing to turn and repent from my sin and then to recognize that I cannot save myself, that I have no resources within me to redeem myself and cast myself on the mercy of God and to believe in Jesus Christ as God's Son who came into the world and died and paid the price for my sin and rose again for my justification." The host said, "You don't believe that everyone who gets saved has to believe all that, do you?" I said, "YES...yes." That host said to me, "I certainly didn't...didn't deal with any of my sins when I got saved." I said, "How did you get saved?" This was the reply, "I was in drugs, alcohol, living with my boyfriend in Science of Mind for six years and one day I just got Jesus' phone number." I said, "You just got Jesus' phone number?" "I just got Jesus' phone number and I just knew where He was."
What in the world are these people experiencing? When you don't even lay down clear doctrine at the level of the gospel, where you going to go from there? And the cry is, as one man said to me when my book on The Gospel According to Jesus came out, he said, "Your book is divisive. Your book is divisive." You want to know something? He's right. He's right. What to know something else? Doctrine divides. People say, "Oh doctrine divides...doctrine divides." I say, "Amen, preach it, doctrine divides." You know what it does? It confronts error. It separates true from false. It makes judgments. Today's climate, however, of unity in the priority of relationships, that's not tolerable.
You know, I believe...I believe that when evangelicals are willing to depreciate doctrine and when they're willing to set aside unpopular convictions, and when they're willing to stay silent on biblical teaching that offends people in error and sin, opposition will disappear and we could all get together. I believe that. I could start a unity movement...eliminate doctrine, set aside unpopular convictions, don't say anything that offends and we'll all get together. That isn't any surprise. But you know some other things are going to disappear too along with doctrine, like truth, conviction, discernment, righteousness, holiness, discipline, true love and spiritual maturity. They're all gone too and then God will disappear, Ichabod. That price is too high. That will produce a church victimized by hell's deceptions.
What do you think Paul had in mind when he said, "Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth?" It is a shame not to rightly divide the truth from error.
So the main contributor to this lack of discernment has been the weakening of doctrinal clarity and conviction in the name of unity, in the name of mystical experience, and so forth. And as I said, the liberals couldn't sell us their theology so they sold us their hermeneutics, relationships, love, unity, mystical experience and we buy in to that and we'll end up with the same chaos. Everybody talking about heaven ain't going there. And everybody talking about Jesus, Charismatics, neo-orthodox, Roman Catholics and everybody else, don't necessarily know Him.
A failure to be antithetical: be black and white
There's a second contributor, and I at least have to get two of these this morning. And this builds on it, and I want you to follow this. I don't want to get too philosophical for you here. The second is this, a failure to be antithetical, a failure to be antithetical. You say, "What do you mean by that?" I mean to be black and white. In debate, in argument, in theology, we talk about thesis and antithesis, a thesis is some truth that's laid down or some idea that's laid down or some concept that's laid down, and here is the opposing concept...black and white, thesis, antithesis. We have to think antithetically. We live in a culture that some say thinks on what you could call a continuum. In other words, there's no black/white. There's no right/ wrong, true/false, good/bad, there's just this long continuum of relative shades of gray. And everybody sort of is on their on there somewhere. Religion is subjective, spiritual experience is subjective. But listen, biblical preaching is not relative, it is not subjective, it is absolute, it is sharply black and white, it is pointedly antithetical to error. And I'm not trying to defend myself, I'm just dealing with the text here. But I tell you, the criticism that comes back to me all the time is, "You are so strong on doctrine." I don't know what else to be because that is the nature of truth, the truth divides and sets itself against error. We must think antithetically. You hear a thesis, and you must look at an antithesis, the opposite and test it. And it's absolute, truth is absolute, therefore it rubs people the wrong way. It hits them with conviction.
Since worldly thinking pollutes the minds of most church goers, and worldly thinking is this big gray area, nothing is really black and white, nothing is really right and wrong...
How the Bible is antithetical
So we have a culture growing up with continuum kind of thinking, that things are not black and white they're just different shades of gray. Black and white preaching, teaching from Scripture is seen as offensive and fanatical. But in the Bible, antithesis is crucial, discernment is essential. And the Bible just lays things down black and white. I mean, just follow this thought. From the Garden of Eden with its two trees, one allowed and one forbidden, to the eternal destiny of the human being, in heaven or hell, the Bible sets forth two and only two ways, God's way and all other ways. People are said to be saved or lost. They belong to God's people or Satan's people. There is the mount of blessing and the mount of cursing. There is the narrow way and the broad way. There is eternal life and eternal destruction. There are those who are against us and those who are with us. There are those within the Kingdom, those without the Kingdom. There is life and death, truth and falsehood, good and bad, light and darkness, kingdom of God, kingdom of Satan, love, hatred, spiritual wisdom, wisdom of the world. Christ is said to be the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by Him, He is the only name under the sky by which one may be saved. Everything in Scripture is absolute. It is basic to divine revelation.
[Quoting Jay Adams here]In other words, the clean/unclean system was designed to develop in God's people an antithetical mentality. Forbidding the mixing of materials in clothing, for example, doesn't seem to arbitrary after all when considered in the light of the biblical concern to create a antithetical posture toward life. But with pastors and people alike growing up in an environment that stresses continual thinking, antithesis is dulled as more and more people attempt to integrate sociology, psychology, business management principles with the Scripture. Teachers in Christian colleges now consider it one of the key tasks of Christian higher education to seek to integrate the professor's faith with his learning. The key task, you see, is no longer to distinguish God's ways from others, but to find places of agreement."
That's a dangerous thing. The psalmist, listen to this, Psalm 1, "How blessed is the man who doesn't walk in the council of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night." There's a clear line drawn. They're over here, we're over here. But this kind of continuum thinking has contributed to the climate where discernment is unnecessary, unthinkable and to pursue it is foolish, to pursue it is divisive...are you ready for this?...to pursue it is evil. You're an evil person if you draw lines. You're an evil person if you think in absolutes. You're an evil person if you have convictions. Discernment can only thrive in an environment of doctrinal absolutes.
Listen to Titus 1:9, "Holding fast...there's that same term about holding to what is good...holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, the doctrine, holding fast your doctrine so that you can exhort with sound doctrine and refute those who contradict." We're in the refutation business as well as the affirmation business. When elders were to be selected, they were to have the ability to refute error.
A preoccupation with image and influence as the key to evangelization
The third one, the third cause in this lack of discernment is a preoccupation, listen carefully, a preoccupation with image and influence as the key to evangelization. A preoccupation with image and influence as the key to evangelization.
In other words, you hear this all the time, that if we are going to win the world we have to win their favor. The church has got to become a beloved agency. They've got to like us. So we don't want to fight for truth. We don't want to be too doctrinal. We don't want to offend anybody because image and influence is the key to evangelization.
Now what we're supposed to do is market ourselves so that we become a friendly place. Well, we certainly want to be loving and gracious but one sermon would convince most people that we're not all about just being friendly, we're all about preaching truth. The man who once took his stand for truth and preached it is now asked to take his seat. He's a problem. We don't fight for truth, we don't boldly proclaim truth because we're afraid we might offend an unbeliever. And after all, if anybody is going to get evangelized, it's going to be because they find us a friendly place, a nice place. We want to be popular with the world because we believe that's the key to evangelization. Imagine that. We are in to this whole deal that the image of the church and its non-threatening structure is the key to evangelization. This kind of movement believes that the church will offend unbelievers if it preaches sin or hell or repentance or the cross and it will lose its prestige. So the new trend is for the church to build an image of love and care and being very nice and make everybody comfortable and make everybody happy and entertain the unbeliever and make sure they're never offended and make sure they are very very comfortable. And the bottom line is, if they like us they'll like Jesus. That's the bottom line.
And when the church began to say we're going to have to have influence, and we're going to have to have prestige, and we're going to have to have popularity, we're going to have to be intellectually accepted, and we're going to have to embrace these people and show that we really like them and they're going to have to like us a lot if they're ever going to like our Jesus, it made a major turn...a major turn. Paul the Apostle said we are the scum, we are the dregs, we are the off-scouring of the world. Jesus said they hated Me, they'll hate you. But we've gotten sophisticated. This view believes that our prestige, our influence and our popularity is what gets people to the place where they'll believe the gospel. How absolutely wrong that is. How absolutely wrong. Real spiritual men fight and real spiritual men pay the price for bold clear loving proclamation of the truth. What I'm seeing happen I could call the feminization of the church...so soft.
We are an offense to all in error. We are an offense to all in rejection of the truth. We are an offense to all those who refuse Jesus Christ. We are an offense to all those who live in sin and to mitigate that offense is ridiculous because it is precisely what the Holy Spirit is intending to produce. He wants to convict because conviction and confrontation in conviction leads to salvation. Those offended should be offended.