“Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” — Charles Spurgeon
There’s a whole lot of almost right out there. And, boy, is it frustrating.
The only thing more frustrating is the number of professing Christians who line up to support it with little or no thought.
The quasi-truths everywhere — politics, social debates, business — but they’re particularly maddening in churches. This is especially important and dire for Christians because, in a spiritual context, being almost right is often the same as being all the way wrong.
But knowing almost right can be tricky.
You see, almost right sounds really good. It sounds so close to the truth that it can be easy to mistake it for the truth. It might even come packaged with Bible verses and sincere sermons/speeches from the pulpit. It tickles ears because it sounds Christian. And when it comes from a person in authority, such as a pastor or professor, it’s not questioned because, “Hey, he studies the Bible a lot more than I do.”
Friends, I’ll be blunt: There are a lot of bad churches, places that are houses of worship in name only.
I’ll be more blunt: Bad churches don’t care about the Bible. Sure, they all say they care, but really they only care about the parts that make them feel good, or that make them feel successful, or that make them feel superior to others. Actual study of the whole Bible is nonexistent. These churches preach love without truth and they preach truth without love. In either case, it’s ultimately a man-centered gospel, not the Christ-centered, actual Gospel.
And that’s bad news for people seeking truth.
As Christians, we must acknowledge that Scripture is the only source of absolute truth. That truth may clash with our feelings. It may clash with our friends. It may clash with our upbringing. It may even clash with what you hear from the pulpit every Sunday.
What does almost right look like in practice? It can take various forms. Here are a few examples you might find in churches today:
“Salvation comes through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and then doing your best to live out Christ’s teachings.” Almost right. (But actually: Ephesians 2:8-9)
“God blesses those He loves and wants us to be happy.” Almost right. (But actually: Matthew 5:10-12)
See? They sure sound nice, but ultimately they’re spiritually dangerous half-truths.
Some questions to ask yourself when pondering discernment at church:
— Does your church de-emphasize the sinful nature of man and the need for repentance and salvation? If so, that’s a bad church.
— Does your church preach salvation through works? If so, that’s a bad church.
— Does your church preach salvation through a combination of faith and works? If so, that’s a bad church.
— Does your church preach salvation at all? If not, that’s a bad church.
— Does your church focus more on the social gospel than the actual Gospel? If so, your church is focused on the wrong thing.
— Does your pastor open the Bible during sermons? If not, he’s a bad pastor.
— Are your pastor’s sermons mostly personal stories and motivational speeches, with just a sprinkling of the Bible? If so, he’s not actually proclaiming the Gospel.
— Does your church use secular music during worship services? If so, it’s not really worship.
That’s not an all-inclusive list, which is part of the reason why discernment is so important.
But discernment doesn’t end when we leave church. We must keep it at the ready all day, every day. This extends to our dealings with friends and family. It also extends to the political candidates, issues and causes we support. There’s really nowhere it doesn’t exist for a Christian.
So the lesson here is simple: Be careful about from whom and from where you seek advice or guidance on spiritual matters. Be careful whose words you trust. Pastors, friends and family members are all fallible. The Bible teaches that there are many false gospels out there. They aren’t always obvious because many of them are, yes, almost right.
So what do we do? We test every claim about God, about salvation, about the Christian life through the lens of the entire Bible with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is not meant to be selectively read. This can’t be overstated. It shouldn’t matter whether we otherwise trust someone, or whether they’ve been right in the past. Test everything, always.
Don’t seek out verses to confirm a particular viewpoint, but consider everything God has revealed about the matter. Sometimes this requires more than a cursory perusal of Scripture.
We can’t be lazy in our study. As the old saying goes: Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades and slow dancing.
Theologically speaking, an inch from the truth might as well be a million miles.