It’s amazing and saddening to see the amount of literature that has been produced in recent decades by Christians that is aimed at judging other churches or ministries and even going to the extreme of labelling them “heretical” or “of the devil.”
Yes, it is important to “contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) and stand for truth. However, we must focus on the fundamentals of Scripture and the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, not on minor controversial issues. We should also do everything in the spirit of Christ, which requires a loving and sensitive approach when speaking about other Christian ministries.
The Bible does tell us to test all things and to hold on to the good and let the bad go (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). 1 John 4:1-3 also tells us to test the spirits and to not believe everything we hear. We should test churches and ministries by what they say about Jesus – who He is and what he has done. We should, however, place final judgement on nothing before its time (1 Corinthians 4:5. James 4:10-12). God is the true judge, and each person will stand before Him (not us) and give account for all they have done.
Christian love requires us to avoid a critical attitude that is quick to pull down and point out flaws in other people and their ministries (Matthew 7:1-5). Instead of judging, Jesus tells us to examine the fruit or results of a person or ministry.
Bible teacher, Derek Prince, recommends five key things that we should look for when discerning whether any church, ministry or so-called “move of God” is genuine or not (from his booklet Uproar in the Church published by Derek Prince Ministries). Here they are:
- The fruit of repentance. Are people turning from sin to God?
- Respect for the Scriptures. Is God’s Word being respected, valued and taught?
- Exaltation of Jesus. Is Jesus being lifted up and magnified?
- Love for other Christians. Is there a growing love for other believers?
- Loving concern for the unreached. Is there a focus on reaching people for Christ?
A tree is known by its fruit. We may not always recognise or understand how the Spirit moves, but we can know the evidence of the Spirit’s work. Is the fruit something that looks like the Holy Spirit?
Derek Prince goes on to say, “If a significant number of Christians in the current move (or church or ministry) successfully passes all, or most, of the five tests, then it is safe to conclude that this is, essentially, a move of God. However, this does not mean that everyone or everything in it is faultless. God has no faultless people to work with, but it is amazing what He can do with those totally surrendered to Him, though weak and fallible.” (Please also note that the devil does not want these five things to happen!)
We see this gracious attitude portrayed so beautifully in the advice that Gamaliel gave to the Pharisees when they were considering persecuting the early church. In Acts 5:33-39, he tells them that, if this ministry is not of God, it will die down and come to nothing. However, if it is of God, they should leave it alone lest they be seen as fighting against God.
We would be wise to take his advice today as we observe other ministries and churches.
Yes, truth is important but none of us have the corner on all of it. Truth is found in a person, Jesus Christ, not in my particular perspective on any matter or issue. When in doubt, dialogue. Enter the conversation, with a desire to grow and learn more as we pursue Christ together. Learn how to disagree … agreeably. You can be right in your doctrine and wrong in your attitude and you are wrong. Knowledge can tend puff people up in pride up while love always seeks to build up.
Let’s get on with loving one another as Christ loves us (something Jesus said would be THE apologetic that we are truly his followers) and reaching out to a world that desperately needs to see and hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
Mark is the Chair of the River of Life Oversight team and will be acting as one of the MCs at the conference.