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Test Everything: The role of discernment when the church gathers

Posted by on Nov 7, 2011 in edification, gathering | 8 comments

Test Everything: The role of discernment when the church gathers

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul begins a long (3 chapters) section of the letter addressing spiritual gifts. In the first part (chapter 12), Paul focuses mainly on the variety types of gifts and the importance of all the gifts working together for the benefit of the whole church. In the next part (chapter 13), he tells his readers that demonstrating love is more important than exercising any kind of gift. (In a rhetorical exclamation, he announced that even exercising great faith is nothing if the person is not showing the love of God to others.)

Finally, in the last section of this teaching about spiritual gifts, Paul turns more toward the use and exercise of the various gifts when the church gathers together. Since he primarily discusses the gifts of prophecy and tongues, some believe that the Corinthian church struggled with those two gifts. This is possible; perhaps probable.

But, while correcting the way that the Corinthians were practicing or emphasizing spiritual gifts, Paul gives them (and us) a key principle: everything that is said or done when we are gathered with other Christians should edify those others. In fact, the only reason (according to Paul) that prophecy is preferred to tongues (uninterpreted) when the church is gathered together is that prophecy directly edifies the church while speaking in tongues does not.

When Paul comes around to laying down some general guidelines for speaking when gathered with other believers (1 Corinthians 14:26-40), he again divides his instructions into two parts: one set of instructions for speaking in tongues and another set of instructions for prophesying. Among the instructions for prophesying, Paul adds the importance of “discernment”: Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV)

So, while Paul believes that prophesy directly edifies the church, he also says that prophesy should be weighed. He says something similar when writing to the church in Thessalonica: “Do not despise(AD) prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-22 ESV)

This discernment (or judging/weighing) becomes even more important when we think about other forms of speaking when the church gathers together. For example, I would think that teaching is directly edifying also (like prophesying). Thus, teaching would fall under the same guidelines as prophecy, and any type of instruction should be judged also. The same would be true of other types of speaking such as encouragement or even admonishment.

But, what does it mean to “weigh” what someone says? What is discernment? Who should judge what is said and for what reason? What examples of discernment do we find in Scripture? I hope to examine each of these questions in the next few posts.

But, let’s be honest. For the majority of Christians who gather together (at least in the Western world), discernment is not and cannot be part of their gatherings. Usually, only one person speaks. If someone else speaks, that person must first be given permission to speak. Then, if someone has a question about what is said, or if someone disagrees, there are few avenues of asking questions, much less discernment. (Yes, I understand that some “preachers” or teachers allow for questions and disagreements. But, for most Christians in America and the west, this is not allowed or encouraged.)

In spite of this, discernment was important to Paul. Plus, this is a topic that I have not studied much. So, I’m looking forward to looking at various passages of Scripture that I think are related to this topic.

What passages would you study in order to understand discernment? Do you think everything said among the church should be “judged”? Why or why not? When something is spoken, what about that should be “weighed” by others?

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Series on Discernment

Prelude: Let the Others Weigh what is Said…
1. Test Everything: The role of discernment when the church gathers (Introduction)
2. Discernment: A gift of the Spirit and the work of all
3. Discernment: Part of the edifying process of the church gathering
4. Discernment, the Bereans, and Scripture
5. Discernment when Scripture doesn’t Answer our Questions


8 Comments

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  1. 11-11-2011

    Alan, I enjoyed your musings. Though I can relate to the principles behind them, I can’t relate to the context. It’s my opinion that the “church” you’re referring to is an organization of man & not the ekklesia herself. Very little of all that Paul shared with the churches can be adopted/adapted/lived-by the institution. The members of His Body that are trapped in that machine are choked and hand-cuffed. Now, in a “model of ekklesia” envisioned by Paul, your observations and ‘reminders’ are very pertinent and needed and can be experienced.
    Even saints who find themselves in a more organic expression of our Lord, at first, have difficulty with this area because of the fact they’ve been muzzled for so long. Participating in the expression of the Lord often takes some time. But like Godfrey Birtill sings: “Just one touch from the King changes everything”
    All the best to you!

  2. 11-11-2011

    Ron,

    Thanks for the comment. Looking back through this post and the series, I didn’t notice anything that relied on man-made organizations. But, I’m always willing to learn from others. What part of this post or series refers to organizations of man and not the ekklesia herself?

    -Alan

  3. 11-12-2011

    Alan, I read too much into the 3rd from last paragraph. I find we sometimes refer to or allude to the ‘institutional church’ in terms that suggest that if certain things were changed that model would survive or be a valid expression of Christ. I don’t think there is anything we could have done or can do that will preserve something man-made. It will go down… That is the way of everything that is earthly. It’s my own issue, I suppose, but I can’t find anything good or lasting in it… No matter how good it may appear. I’m not saying God isn’t working in the midst of it all, or in the lives of the brethren in that system. Most of it is initiated in the mind of man, and little by the Spirit Himself, IMHO. With that mindset I currently have, I can’t, like you suggested, see discernment having any practicality. It would remain with the one who had the discernment but who was restrained by the system to keep silent. Besides, there is nothing about that system that even comes close to a community of believers properly knit together in love.
    All the best to you!

  4. 11-12-2011

    Ron,

    We started meeting together in a more institutional church organizational structure. Currently, we’re closer to what most people consider the manner of organic church. As long as believers are gathering together, they are church, even if they are not meeting in a way that helps them mature in Christ (i.e., a way that is edifying). My goal is to write in a way to help any believers, both those who are part of organic church, those who are part of institutional churches, and those who don’t care what they call it… :)

    -Alan

  5. 11-19-2011

    Ron’s first comment ended with the quote, “Just one touch from the King changes everything.” One touch from the King changes our life forever and one touch per week or even better per day keeps us fresh. This reminds me of a recent reading that included Acts 4. Peter and John were being examined by the Jewish leaders. Acts 4:13 “And as they beheld the boldness of Peter and John and perceived that they were uneducated men and laymen, they marveled and they recognized them, that they had been with Jesus.” Special education is not required for speaking in an edifying way but being with Jesus is a necessity.

  6. 11-19-2011

    Don,

    Thanks for the comment. I definitely agree that begin with Jesus is a necessity, as is loving and seeking to edify others.

    -Alan

  7. 11-20-2011

    1 Corinthians 13 is in the middle of the section on exercising the gifts for edification, so love plays a big role. I believe love plays a role also in discerning. In 1 Timothy 1:3-5 Paul tells Timothy to charge certain people not to speak in a way that results in questionings/speculations/doubts. Rather, their speaking should be the furthering of God’s administration/dispensing/economy/edification. Then Paul says that the end of this charge is love. All speaking among Christians should increase our love for the Lord, for the Bible, for prayer, for the brothers, for the gospel, etc. Or, the speaking should convict us of our lack in these areas. This increase or conviction might not happen during the speaking, it might be later that day or the next morning. So, this might not be exactly what Paul meant in 1 Cor 14 where it seems (but is not definite) that he means discernment during the speaking. In any case, speaking by a Christian that decreases our love for the Lord, etc is not edifying and should be avoided.

  8. 11-21-2011

    Don,

    Yes, love is incredibly important in the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. I like the idea that edification/discernment results in an increase in love for God and for others.

    -Alan