Is it Slander or is it Discernment?

by Mike Ratliff

But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12 ESV)

This discernment ministry stuff is not for everyone. I often wonder if I am cut out for it at all. I do not like conflict. On the other hand, God gifted me with the makeup that loves the truth and seeks justice because it is His truth and I am compelled, quite often, to speak out when false prophets besmirch His truth and the Gospel is treated as optional by certain “evangelicals.” However, there is a fine line between exposing that which is false and slander. That fine line has to do with intent and evidence.

If we are obeying our Lord in this then we will not “go after” someone and expose him or her as false with any intent other than bringing glory to God. We will expose them by showing how their own words and actions, which is their ministry, are not biblical. We use God’s Word as the benchmark or plumb line. We do not use the teachings of men. We do not use innuendo. We do not make fantastic leaps of logic by showing how certain words used in the ministry in focus are “proof” that they are most assuredly “Purpose Driven” or “Emergent,” et cetera. No, we look at the evidence, their doctrine, what they teach, and most importantly, how they handle doctrine. Are they teaching sound doctrine or are they compromising? This is vital we do this for it is very easy to accuse some of being “Purpose Driven” for instance if they happen to use some of the same words that have become markers of compromise. That is not enough evidence my brethren. How do they handle the Gospel? How do they handle sound doctrine? How do they teach God’s Word? Do they embrace the world or are they obeying their Lord in drawing people out of it? In other words, to be discerning correctly requires much more than just looking for “buzz words.”

When I go to the grocery store, I am always amazed at the tabloid magazines or newspapers that are displayed at the checkout area. The type of journalism that is employed in those “newspapers” is based on sensationalism. They have screaming headlines and promise the reader that all sorts of cutting edge information awaits anyone who buys it and reads those stupid articles. As a journalism major in college, I had it drilled into me by my professors that we could not write that way and be legitimate journalists. No “facts” could be written about without irrefutable proof and if we used quotes, we had better have permission to use them along with a tape of their very words. In this Christian discernment stuff, I believe the standards should be even higher.

Therefore, when I am approached with “irrefutable proof” of apostasy by a well-known Christian leader or ministry I must take a very close look at it. Does the “proof” really lead us to the same conclusions that the one with the evidence is attempting to promote? Often, the best that could be said of these “links” is that they require other assumptions that may or may not be valid. If that is the case, then we must not jump on that bandwagon yet. Instead, we had better go ask the persons involved. We had better make sure that the conclusions being made by the one making the charges are valid. What do we do when the ones under attack easily refute each argument by showing that, yes those “facts” are true, but here is all we said or all that is really going on here. How do we handle that? What do we have in that case? Wouldn’t it be one persons word against another’s? There is no “irrefutable proof” in these cases unless it could be shown that the one under investigation is deliberately falsifying stuff. This is why we must pray for wisdom and discernment daily and never follow our emotions in these things. This is when it is a very good idea to seek wise counsel. In fact, after prayer, this is where we should start before we take these things and run with it.

What does God’s Word tell us about slander? After all, if we present “facts” about someone who is an easy target in the truth war that are based on innuendo or gossip aren’t we really guilty of being a judge of another? Isn’t this slander? Let’s take a look at a slice of the wisdom book of the New Testament, James, where the brother of our Lord Jesus lays out for us how we are to handle ourselves in the truth war and in our daily walk amongst our brethren.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:1-4 ESV)

When we have disagreements with other professing Christians and things get out of hand and devolve into arguing with attempts by one or both sides to “force” the other to agree with them and do what they demand, what has actually happened? Is this godly discernment in action? No! James tells us that these things are rooted in our passions. This is the flesh my brethren. It is not of the Spirit. It is not of God. If we find ourselves in the middle of one of these things then we have left the only place in which our Lord wants us to be. Where is that? That place is being our Lord’s humble servant and the servant (διακονος) of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ all around us (Matthew 23:11). This is a different word than the one I usually translate as “slave” (δουλος). The word διακονος describes a minister, servant, or deacon. It is one who labors for another while a δουλος is a bond slave of a master or κυριου. In any case, a διακονος attitude about ministering will be centered in being humble and relate to everyone from that relationship. If this is so, then will we be in fleshly quarrels and threaten each other in attempts to get them to agree with us and act accordingly? James tells us that if that is how we “minister” then we are revealing that we are in friendship with the world and this is enmity with God.

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:5-10 ESV)

This is the illumination of how we humble ourselves in repentance of being fleshly. It starts with God drawing us to this by His grace. Then we submit ourselves to God. This is how we resist the Devil who is actually behind the slandering that has been going on in those quarrels. We confess our sins to God and turn from them. We mourn for our prideful display which was the engine behind our arguing. We mourn and grieve over that as we humble ourselves to the will of God. It must start here.

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:11-12 ESV)

11μη καταλαλειτε αλληλων αδελφοι ο καταλαλων αδελφου η κρινων τον αδελφον αυτου καταλαλει νομου και κρινει νομον ει δε νομον κρινεις ουκ ει ποιητης νομου αλλα κριτης  12εις εστιν νομοθετης και κριτης ο δυναμενος σωσαι και απολεσαι συ δε τις ει ο κρινων τον πλησιον (James 4:11-12 WHNU)

I want to concentrate on that phrase, “Do not speak evil against one another brothers” or, “μη καταλαλειτε αλληλων αδελφοι.” Literally, word for word, this says, “Not talk against one another, brothers.” However, the word καταλαλειτε carries with it the emphasis of speaking against, allowing thoughtless words to be spoken. It is also used in 1 Peter 2:12 and 3:16.

Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12 ESV)

having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:16 ESV)

In other words, when we are καταλαλειτε other Christians, we are past the point of wisdom and discernment and are in the realm of slander. This happens when we are under the control of our flesh and are not walking in submission to our Lord in humility. James tells us that if we do this then we have moved God over and taken His seat as judge according to the Law. Yes, there is a time to expose heresy and apostasy, but we must do so humbly and let God be the judge.

Therefore, we must approach this discernment ministry stuff very seriously and in humble service to our Lord. We do not simply take another’s word as the unvarnished truth. No, we must pray for wisdom and discernment and do our own investigation. It’s pretty easy to excise heretical statements by some, however, when it comes to an attack on a person or ministry that is actually feeding the flock and has a reputation for rock-solid orthodoxy in the teaching of sound doctrine and not altering the Gospel and using proper expositional preaching of God’s Word, then we had better spend some serious time at the throne of Grace and seek wise counsel from those God has given to us for that purpose. If the allegations are true then we do a disservice to the Body of Christ to sweep them under the rug. However, if they are based solely on innuendo and guilt by association (as described above) then it would be best to approach the accused in a humble seeking of the truth. To unite with the accuser and lob cannon shells at the accused is what our enemy wants us to do. He is a slanderer, a liar, and a murderer.

Soli Deo Gloria!

7 thoughts on “Is it Slander or is it Discernment?

  1. This is dead-on because if our proofs come with a barrage of speculative verbage that’s extremely light on facts, then are we not co-accusers of the brethren, while knowing who ultimately holds that title?

    Witch hunts are what happened years ago, and the word tells us that we are to let the wheat grow with the tares(weeds), so my question is are we the harvesters or is that the job of the angels? (rhetorical).

    “Therefore, we must approach this discernment ministry stuff very seriously and in humble service to our Lord.”

    Good word, and like a kid running with scissors we have to be very careful when we think we stand, when in actuality we may be falling without our [k(no)w]ledge.

  2. Thank you Mike for this “subtle” reminder. I say subtle, because you say it oh-so-gently, yet the Holy Spirit can still manage to make it into the equivalent of getting hit over the head with a baseball bat. Sometimes I need the ‘bat’. I pray that you have a blessed Thanksgiving with your family as we give thanks and praise Him for all that the He has done for us.

  3. Hi Mike. I have often thought about this topic as well, but have never seen anyone try to articulate it or even to introduce it.

    From a sheep’s perspective, the reason why it is a topic that has come to mind often is because I have seen many newer or untrained Christians join a church where they eventually become wounded by the doctrine and ecclesiology.
    Within the wider presbytery body there is a sort of “unspoken knowing” amongst long timers about a particular church, but it is never confronted or spoken of, out of fear of being charged with gossip, slander or similar backlash. For instance, to interview people who have come out the church for “evidence” you speak of, could be percieved as promoting gossip.

    I know I’m being very generic here. My point is, that I have recently felt a bit angry that church people won’t speak up about something like this, because they fear a charge of slander. Meanwhile, more babes in the faith become walking wounded spiritually by falling into a style of teaching and ecclesiology that, while perhaps not completely heretical, is definitely tilted in such a way that uses, manipulates and intimidates them while they remain members.

    Again, I know such a charge can be very serious, even though there is almost a concensus among the leaders in the presbytery about the effects of this particular ministry. Most are too afraid to confront due to the influence of the pastor, etc.

    So, in your opinion, would confrontation cause more trouble than it is worth or would this be something that person with great discernment might want to consider (if the evidence was adequate, ie, examples of sermons, letters to the congregation, etc.)?

  4. Anon,

    This is exactly why this subject must be breeched. There is something terribly wrong in the visible church right now and your generic examples are rooted in it. I am one of those walking wounded and I have been a Christian since 1986. Is it wrong to be part of local Church? NO! It is not, but the societal examples of what your are talking about are full of hypocrites who are the ones in the know and look down on those who are only wanting to obey their Lord.

    Now to answer your question. Conflict is not good, but we should confront error and there is nothing wrong with asking questions. I have had Pastors who were very good about discipling their sheep and I have had others who resented it. If you have one of those then it is only going to cause conflict to confront them even with good evidence. This usually results in a Pastor moving on unless he has all the power in a Church. In that case we should go somewhere else. Conflict for the sake of conflict is wrong. Conflict caused by being obedient to God is never wrong. Does that make sense? More to come…

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

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