Testing All Things (3): The Methods
Written by David Kranendonk
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Reformed Worldviews - Christian Discernment

God’s call to “prove all things” (1 Thess. 5:21) is for our good. Without discernment to know what way we should go, we will go astray to our destruction and God’s dishonour. The path we must go is pointed out in God’s Word. Every belief and practice must be tested by that Word. This article we note a few general lines about how to test all things.

Know What You are Testing

To test any practice or idea we read about, hear, or observe, we must first know what it really involves. This does not mean we need to engage in a practice or know all we can about a given teaching before we can judge it. Sometimes the call to “prove all things” is used to justify experiencing all things. However, as Dr. Klaas Schilder notes, a meat inspector does not taste every cut of meat to discern whether it is good or not. He would get sick if he did so. He has other means of inspecting meat.1 Similarly, we need not experience, see or steep ourselves in something before we make a judgment on it.

At the same time, we do need to know enough about it to make an informed judgment concerning it. For example, if you had to test some music CDs, you only need pick the one up to see that it is wrong because the title of the CD is evil or the picture on the cover reflects the deeds of the flesh rather than the fruit of the Spirit. If the cover is nice, you may need to analyze the lyrics. If the words are sound, you may need to listen to the type of music to which the words are set. In all three cases you are analyzing the music CD to a detail sufficient to make an informed judgment.

This applies to teachings as well. Beware of jumping to conclusions about the truth or error of a teaching without studying what an author or speaker is really seeking to convey. We must take the time to let the sugarcoating on error to dissolve on our tongues and taste its bitterness before we decide whether it is sweet or not. Conversely, we must not set up straw men to attack, who do not represent the true position of those we oppose. We must first understand the nature of the practice or teaching we are judging, lest we come to rash and groundless conclusions. The Synod of Dort is a classic example of how to examine beliefs. It spent the mornings examining the writings of the Arminians and the afternoons searching the Scriptures.

Let Scripture Question The Practice

The exercise of discernment involves applying the standard of all thought and practice, the Word of God, which we considered in the last article, to the specific matter before you. Let Scripture guide the questions you ask. The Lord Jesus summarized God’s requirements as follows: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself ” (Matt. 22:37-39). Does the practice draw you away from God or lead you to God? Is it arival to God for your heart? Does it further the welfare of our neighbour or does it demean, hurt, or tempt others?

The Ten Commandments flesh out what God requires. We hear them every Lord’s Day morning to remind us of what God requires, expose our sin, drive to Christ, and lead in His way. The catechism expounds on the commandments, bringing out both what they forbid and what they require. Since these commands cover all of life, we should be able to relate any practice to at least one of these commands. Ask yourself what command relates especially to the practice at hand and how it applies. Scripture further expounds the law in many different places. Jesus applied the law in the Sermon on the Mount. Many Epistles end with a section of practical instruction. All this instruction must be brought to bear on any practice we do.

Scripture also provides instructive precedents or examples. The fact that even a child of God in Scripture did something does not validate it; however, the Lord often commends, rebukes, punishes and rewards practices in historical accounts.

Let Scripture Question The Belief

Concerning what we are to think and believe, the same principles apply. The basic question concerning every thought and opinion is whether it is according to Scripture. Since the Bible is very large, it is beneficial to make use of the summaries of Scripture we have in our creeds and confessions. Every time we confess the Apostolic Creed on a Lord’s Day service, we are reminded of what is at the heart of God’s Word: The Triune God and His work, as it is revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Do the ideas that we meet agree with the fundamental truths about the Father, the person and work of the Son come in the flesh, and the work of the Holy Spirit? Do these beliefs ignore one of these divine persons or important aspects of their work?

Since the Apostolic Creed is very brief, we may be thankful we have the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. Every confessing member confesses he or she believes the “doctrine of this church, insofar as you have heard, learned and confessed it, to be the true and complete doctrine of salvation in accordance with the Holy Scripture.” Thereby we are confessing that we believe our Three Forms of Unity are summaries of Scripture truth. We may then use them in our evaluation of any teachings we may come across. Does this teaching agree with what the Belgic Confession confesses about God, Scripture, and Christ? Does it further the knowledge of the three things we must know to live and die happily as taught in the Heidelberg Catechism? Does it exalt the fullness, freeness, and sovereignty of grace while at the same time leaving man without excuse for his unbelief and disobedience, as is maintained by the Canons of Dort? Amid the multitude of opinions, let us not only search the Scriptures, but also open our confessions and read what we confess to be true.

2 Corinthians 10:5 speaks of “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” This verse indicates that every thought that arises from man tends to lift up man in pride, whereas the truth of God always humbles man and exalts God alone. Wrong beliefs make people independent, whereas the truth leads to submission to Christ alone. In general, we must ask: does this teaching lead to lower thoughts of myself, greater thoughts of the Triune God, greater sorrow over sin, and greater desire for holiness?

Conclusion

Suppose there was a piece of paper with an arrow drawn on it and the word “north” at the one end. How could you know whether this arrow was truly pointing to the north? All your thinking and feeling could not guarantee its accuracy. You need to lay a compass alongside the arrow to discern whether the arrow and the compass needle both point in the same direction. Spiritual discernment is simply laying the compass of God’s Word beside all the directional arrows of man to discern whether they point in the same direction as God’s Word. One arrow points us to do this and another to believe that, but the issue is whether these arrows align with Scripture, the only reliable and safe guide. Of that guide we sing in Psalter 322:1,

How shall the young direct their way? What light shall be their perfect guide? Thy word, O Lord, will safely lead, If in its wisdom they confide. 

Rev. David Kranendonk is the pastor of the Free Reformed Church of Bornholm, Ontario. This article was published in the FRC Messenger and is republished here with permission.