The ability of this generation to exercise Godly judgment, the discerning of spirits, is the key factor in their responsibility to “keep the faith.”
One could make the argument that the elements needed for revival and new growth are in hand. This generation of Apostolics has exceeded expectations. They are rich in talent, financially comfortable and are fueled with the enthusiasm of possibility. Modern Pentecost as a movement has transcended its primitive roots. Our churches are full of trained, educated laborers, gifted and committed lay leaders. We operate with measurable professional ability and a fresh confidence in an established global network. What once was a fringe network of unorthodox believers has become a mainstream force. Fellowships, organizations and independents combine to represent a global presence. Today, there are seasoned pastors, dynamic and prosperous churches, and a growing, vibrant and motivated number of youth dedicated to taking the Apostolic faith into the great revival of the end time — all this at a time when we are experiencing unfathomable means of worldwide communication and travel never known in the history of humanity. The future is seemingly very bright and our leaders are rightly calling for us to break up the fallow ground and sow the seed. It is a grand and glorious moment, like no time or age ever upon this earth.
But with great opportunity for success also comes great potential for error. Let us examine the warning John gave the burgeoning church during his time. “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). This warning demands Godly judgment and discerning of spirits. It was a life and death matter for the Apostles and the early church and so it is for us today.
I’ll skip the temptation to outline a Bible study on the “discerning of spirits” in respect to our knowledgeable readers and hasten to the point. However, consider this clear admonition from Timothy, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron” (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
Wise and observant people today know well that we face a time of strange and powerful spiritual forces. Even secular sociologists and psychologists are trying to address the growing evil, darkness, and loss of civility, manners and social graces that are ravaging our society. It seems as a culture we’ve chosen to ignore the deconstruction of our values and morality by modern media and the liberal indoctrination that has replaced traditional Judeo/Christian-centered education systems. Western civilization has turned its children against the religious foundations that built great countries and democracies. This massive social experiment has no assured conclusion, but it is pushed ahead regardless, and I fear chaos looms ahead.
Similarly, the church faces the temptation to experiment with its foundations as well. Comfort, affluence, the desire for change, for results, for numbers, and perhaps an aspiration for a “seat at the table” that we have long been rejected from lures us to a dangerous, climacteric moment. Failure isn’t always the result of evil intention. Sometimes, it’s just simply misdirection, carelessness, preoccupation, neglect or distraction. We must awaken ourselves to be vigilant. We must be mindful to “try the spirits,” to “know them which labour among” us, to guard our hearts and our spirits against false doctrines and false teachers. These are no insignificant tasks and to accomplish them will require complete reliance upon the Holy Ghost working through us — there is no substitute.
What troubles me deeply is that it seems the discerning of spirits has been lost, or at least severely diminished. We are indeed facing powerful spiritual forces (Ephesians 6:12), but have we become so spiritually dull that we no longer discern good from evil, right from wrong, heavenly from worldly? Do we know what’s going on? Can we the sense the seeds of destruction that so easily entwine themselves into our thinking? Can we recognize carnality? Have our spirits been so weakened that we no longer feel the clash of Holy Ghost-filled worship and fleshly offerings? Have we come to believe that the loss of holiness is without consequences?
Imagine for a moment the strain in battling against “doctrines of devils” from Paul’s admonition. These doctrines were presented, preached and taught by men whose consciences had been seared, or hardened. They completely were devoid of feeling. Further, consider Jude’s warning against “certain men” who creep in and edge themselves among the righteous unawares. These ungodly men work privately, secretly. Jude describes them as “filthy dreamers” who “defile the flesh, despise dominion and speak evil of dignities.”
Such Apostolic admonitions are bold and make clear that this is not a matter for children or the spiritually immature. Jude felt a need to write, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 1:3).
Jude left no room for misunderstanding. He identified the problem clearly: certain men, forces, ideas, false doctrines were ordained of old to a certain condemnation. Further, he warned that these ideas and reckless lifestyles left unchecked would destroy the foundational principles of the Apostles’ doctrine. He stated that a deep-seated attack was taking place, “ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:4). This one point alone speaks to a profound conflict within the church that cannot be underestimated or accommodated.
While working alongside my father in our one and a half acre family garden, he often lectured me. “Paulie,” he would say, “there’s more to just planting and waiting for the crop. We’ve got to kill the bugs, cultivate the soil, and pull the weeds.” Therein lies the vital task for the Church, at which it must not fail.
I used to hear quite often from other ministers and even lay people in the church, “Pastor, that didn’t feel right” or “there is something not quite right about this or that.” It was not a critical spirit but a discerning of ego, fleshly ideology or false teaching. Today, there is growing tolerance of things that are not of good seed or related to good doctrine. There is a loss of judgment in matters such as the doctrinal violations in many of our worship songs and the overwhelming worldly references in our programs. We wrestle against obsessive interest in sports, movies, rock culture and worldliness in general. And sadly, worldliness is a matter that we scarcely define for our youth at all, as if nothing has spiritual or moral consequences. We must ask the question, “What is worldliness?” It must be something. Because whatever it is, we know that the love of “it” separates us from the love of the Father (1 John 2:4). “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15).
This is indeed a great day for revival, but unless we fully submit to the Holy Spirit to help us discern and expose the evil influences in our culture, I fear that our relationship with the truth will be destroyed, and God will find someone else to deliver the Apostles’ doctrine to this world.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears” (2 Timothy 4:3).