Imagine one group of people huddled together, who spend a lot of their time worrying about what another huddled mass of people is up to. Even though there is no overlap between the groups, except their common humanity and a smattering of superficial interests, the first group just cannot stop worrying about the second. Meanwhile, the second group is completely oblivious to the first, perfectly satisfied with its own existence. It couldn’t care less what the first group thought, and it long since stopped listening to criticism. As far as they are concerned, the first group should mind its own business and worry about someone else.
I sometimes wonder if that isn’t what’s going on in the world of Christian discernment. The first group is faithful Christians who obey the scriptures and respect their authority. (I’ll say “we” from here on because I like to think I’m in that group!) With all the humility we can muster, we call out false teachers wherever we see them…and occasionally even when we don’t. Group two is all the people who sit at the feet of false teachers, and they could care less what the “orthodox” Christians have to say. As far as they’re concerned, they’re perfectly orthodox…whatever that word means. If you don’t believe them, just ask them! Their teacher assures them week after week that he is preaching out of the Bible. Sometimes he even has one in his hands.
Imagine this same scenerio playing itself out in the marketplace. HEB (that’s the world’s best grocery store for those of you not from south Texas) loyalists look at Kroger-ites with pity. “If only they knew the truth! The produce! The weekly ads! THAT GREEN SAUCE!” (And if you’ve never had HEB’s That Green Sauce, it is insanely tasty.) Meanwhile, the Kroger fans are like, “What’s they’re problem? My grocery store is awesome. The produce is fresh and the Rewards card saves me money on my gas!” Pretty silly, right? It’s silly because they, other than being human, are not in the same group, and the criticism from one to the other is irrelevant.
Now, here’s a totally different scenario to consider: some of the HEB crazies, er, loyalists begin to offer criticism of HEB. “The prices have inched too high…the live lobsters look a little lethargic…the boutique organic section has shrunk…but That Green Sauce is still the bomb!” Now, that internal criticism stings. It matters. It will need to be listened to by the higher-ups at HEB.
We orthodox Christians believe that when we do discernment and call out false teaching, we are effectively acting as HEB loyalists with in-house criticisms other HEBers need to hear. But what if we’re actually in a different group entirely and just not aware of it? What if we we’re not actually offering discernment to the Body of Christ because the people we’re critiquing aren’t in the Body of Christ?
This thought occurred to me the other day while I was listening to Chris Rosebrough, who I have enormous respect for, to be clear. He suggested that false teachers like TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch, Benny Hinn, Mike Murdock and many more have “siphoned” off billions of dollars from the body of Christ to support their devious and unbiblical teachings. Initially, I thought that statement was a no-brainer. These false teachers are twisting the Bible, profiting hugely, and taking money from people who want to believe that what they are teaching is true. They are making a killing by taking in money from Christians who otherwise could be supporting legitimate ministries.
But as I thought about it, I had to stop and ask, “What if the people supporting these ministries, though, are not part of the body of Christ? What if they are, in fact, part of a totally separate group, and the support they’ll give to Crouch, Hinn and Murdock, would never have gone to build up the Body of Christ anyway?” Now, I immediately suppressed that thought for what it said about all the people who are giving money to false teacher. At that point, aren’t I kicking folks when they’re down? Isn’t it bad enough that they have a false teacher in their life? Should I also be accusing them of being outside of the Body of Christ when surely many of them would at least make a confession of Christ as Lord?
Consider what Jesus said, though, about his body. To mix metaphors (between the body of Christ and the sheep of the Good Shepherd), he said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” If people are funding false teachers who teach in opposition to Christ, why should we give them the benefit of the doubt of being in the Body/sheepfold? We are pretty good at spotting false teachers. But why shouldn’t we let them and their followers have their fun and hate the scriptures together? We don’t involve ourselves in every other market transaction that either ignores or teaches falsely about Jesus. Why should we care about these? Why should we let them shop at Kroger in peace? They’re perfectly happy there.
In the end, I don’t think I would never go that far. I would hope that sitting at the feet of these false teachers are true Christians who have simply been lied to. They are victims more than perpetrators of false teaching by their support. I would like to think that some simply do not know better. And discernment also helps build up the body because it offers true teaching in contrast to false. Joel Osteen is a wonderful foil if you want to teach on the sovereignty of God, for example.
But the more I think about it, the more I think that the true Body of Christ represents a very small minority within the ministries of Crouch, Hinn and Co. In their heart of hearts, it seems to me they know they are believing in a false god, but they prefer that darkness to the light of Christ. The false teachers are offering them the world with a false religious veneer, and they’ll pay for the privilege of the religious pretense.
So should we do discernment? Or let ‘em rot? Sure, let’s do some discernment from time to time. Let’s test the spirits. Let’s be Bereans. But not at the expense of feeding the sheep, for that is what Jesus taught his under-shepherds to do primarily. I’m happy there are discernment ministries out there like Fighting for the Faith. I’m just starting to wonder if a little goes a long way. Because it may just be the case that those being bamboozled and fleeced are all too happy to be, and that means they were never in the Body of Christ to begin with.
I understand the anger and frustration when God’s Word is twisted and abused. I understand the desire to respond. I understand the desire to correct false teaching. But if we believe that atheists know that God exists but suppress the truth in unrighteousness, isn’t the same true for those who send money to Benny Hinn? And if that’s true, why would we assume they are the body of Christ anymore than a gathering of atheists?