Discernment and Heresy ‘Hunting’

The intent of this post is to merely ask the following question:

“Is heresy ‘hunting’ a proper use of the gift of discernment?”

It is not the intent of this post to demonstrate subject matter expertise, nor is it to point out specific heresies, heretics, or heresy ‘hunters’. There is however a connection between Biblical discernment and heresy hunting. The obvious connection is that without discernment there no ‘hunting’ to be done. That would be like going duck hunting and leaving the shotgun shells in the closet.

Having placed the caveats up front and calmed the reader’s fears, we will present definitions of both discernment and heresy hunting to frame the question and peer briefly into the pages of the New Testament for help in finding an answer to our question.

First of all, for the purpose of this discussion let’s define discernment simply as ‘assessing and judging truth from error’. Now hold that thought.

Next, again for the purpose of discussion, let’s define heresy hunting as heading into the fields of Christianity with the specific intent of finding all the heresy that might be out there and maybe even ‘bagging’ a few heretics. Think duck hunting again.

So much for definitions. It’s time to find out what the Bible tells us about our two well defined topics. First we’ll tackle the topic of discernment, in its common definition that applies to every believer, but not specifically as a supernatural or ministry gift. R.C. Sproul is very helpful in this regard:

“In the New Testament, the word that is translated “discernment” is derived from the decision of a judge adjudicating between conflicting claims. It is seen as necessary to be able to distinguish between what is good and bad, true and false, and between evil spirits and good spirits. Christian discernment is the careful process of sorting through truth claims to arrive at the clearest possible decision concerning their trustworthiness and value as it relates to Christian orthodoxy. Such discernment reveals, clarifies, and proclaims truth and exposes, examines, and rejects error. This involves the Christian fully, as it is a personal commitment to the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:21–22 as a necessary part of Christian growth in grace (or as verse 23 points out, sanctification). The word “discern” appears in Matthew 16:3, Hebrews 5:14, and in Ezekiel 44:23. The clear sense of the term is that discernment necessarily involves making value judgments between differing claims as needed so as to reveal by examination what is right or wrong, or somewhere in the middle. To make such judgments involves the process of examining the claims by an objective standard, and for the orthodox Christian, such a standard exists only in the Word of God..”

Now let’s see what the Bible says about dealing with false doctrine in the church and the proper response to it.

First of all, we read in such passages as Acts chapter 20, and 2 Peter chapter 2, that false teachers will arise, bringing with them destructive heresies, distorting the truth and destroying the faith of some. Moreover, it is clear that these teachers will come not only from outside the church, but also from within the body of Christ as well.

We are also told that not only can the Bible be used for preaching, teaching and encouragement, but, it is equally valuable for correcting and rebuking (2 Tim. 4:2). As a matter of fact, we as Christians are held accountable for proclaiming the whole will of God, warning others of false teachings. (Acts 20:26-28).

We are told that if heresies are coming from teachers within the church, we ought to try and approach them first with our concerns. Should that fail to resolve the problem, we are told in Matthew 18 to expose their errors to the church; and if need be, divulge their names. (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 2:17-18; 4:14-15; 3 John 9-10).

We might be able to summarize all that with a few bullets:

  • As believers we need to be able to discern between Biblical truth and falsehood.
  • False doctrine and false teaching have always been problems for individual believers and the church.
  • When false teaching/teachers arise there are Biblical ways of dealing with it, both individually and corporately that might even mean naming specific offenders.

Now back to our original question:

“Is heresy ‘hunting’ a proper use of the gift of discernment?”

If you’re waiting with bated breath for this blogger to jump up with THE answer, relax and exhale. I’m not going to answer it. Do I have an opinion? Yes, but it’s not important to the discussion, nor is it the point of this blog post. All I have for you right now is this:

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” – (1 Peter 4:10-11)

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4 responses to “Discernment and Heresy ‘Hunting’

  1. I think the problem is nailed right here in this statement:

    “Such discernment reveals, clarifies, and proclaims truth and exposes, examines, and rejects error.”

    If I could explain what I am thinking here: over the years, I have been a frequenter of many many MANY “discernment” sites. For a time, I would call it an addiction really. As time goes on, what I see is NOT discernment because while error is pointed out…either 1. the truth of the matter is not addressed OR 2. The said truth is just as false as the one that is being exposed. 3. A good discernment site is very difficult to find 4. When I spend too much time reading what is wrong, I spend less time in the scripture since there are only so many hours in a day.

    What I have noticed is that one lie is exchanged for yet another lie. Sometimes another blatant lie, though sometimes a more subtle lie. I no longer visit very many sites at all…not even to see what is going on in the world. I am VERY BEHIND on what is going on out there in the world of religion. What I found is that they (discernment sites) were not good for my soul. I was finding myself becoming more and more distrusting and angry, and even falling into the trap of thinking that if I just knew more, or could give a better argument of why something was wrong, that I could persuade others of the error. But that’s just not how it works. I am not the Holy Spirit and have come to the conclusion that I need to focus on myself more, take the stick out of my own eye and THEN, if God gives the opportunity to share what I have learned with someone who genuinely wants to know…then fine, I will speak at that point. That’s not to say I will never point out error, because as is stated in the post above, we are to point it out if we see it…but it’s not my focus anymore. I will leave that up to someone who has that gift, and it just ain’t me. Anyhow…just my thoughts based on experience with the discernment world.

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  2. I could have replied to myself almost word for word!

    Well, there certainly isn’t a biblical mandate for heresy ‘hunting’. I appreciate Paul’s intense focus on the gospel more and more.

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  3. No…not a mandate to go looking for trouble, rather one to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Until I can be gentle as a dove, I need to keep my mouth shut. Definitely an area God is working on with me as we speak. From what I gather, I am to know the truth so well that when deception comes along, I can spot it and run, but no longer do I feel the need to go find trouble myself. It’s a fine line sometimes.

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    • I’ve found that the best way to deal with ‘suspect’ teaching that creeps in where I ‘live’ is to ask questions about whatever it is that will people into scripture so the Holy Spirit living in my brothers and sisters can do the ‘teaching’, so to speak. It take time but it’s well worth the effort.

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