Many of the newsletters and articles that I’ve written throughout 2007 have been a repetitive reminder to the church that these days call for an upgrade in our discernment. I’m convinced that we must vigorously test the spirits (1 John 4:1-4) to see whether their messages originate in God. We do this both to guard ourselves from swallowing that which is toxic AND to avoid dismissing that which is essential. Sifting for truth enables us to watch for and watch out: we want all that God has for us—we want only what God has for us.
That being said, one of my intercessors alerted me to the distinction between two types of discerning watchers. In prayer, she was shown the vast difference between those whom God has appointed as “watchmen” and those who’ve appointed themselves as “watchdogs.”
watchwomen or watchers, if you like) are especially gifted discerners who, like
Ezekiel, are called by God to see, pray and sometimes speak into what the Holy
Spirit is revealing regarding what’s coming. They deliver warnings and promises
that are meant to prepare God’s people to repent, respond or receive whatever
is being shown. Often their only task is to intercede, effectively welcoming or
averting what the Spirit shows them.
Watchmen are first and foremost called to minister before
Christ’s throne. They are responsive rather than reactive, led by the love of
God. Like Daniel or Jeremiah, they identify fully with those among whom they
minister, even in their failings. They are confessors, rather than accusers, of
the sins of their people and are embedded by relationship within their communities.
Words of correction usually come gently and face-to-face, accompanied by
prayers, tears and a message of hope. At the end of the day, the most exacting
watchman will have a word of good news (e.g. the final chapter in most of the
prophetic books of Scripture).
Watchdogs, by contrast, are often self-appointed,
unaccountable (except to themselves) and point the accusing finger. According
to my intercessor, they are not functioning in true discernment, but rather,
instinctively “bark” at anything they don’t recognize.
My own experience is that they form networks of “watchdog”
websites, feeding off one another in attacking people they haven’t met, warning
about teachings they haven’t heard, and critiquing books they haven’t read…
their information is almost exclusively second-hand, unverified by primary
Compelled to sound the alarm, they instil fear based in the
careless labelling of some of God’s finest servants. And no wonder. Christ
predicted their continued activity (Matt. 5:11-12), recalling how all the true
prophets were maligned in that way. In other words, the true watchmen are known
in part by the scorn they endure from their watchdog counterparts.
Biblical or "Christly"
Now back to discernment. In Can You Hear Me?, I described our most basic criteria for testing
the spirits with the analogy of a three-legged stool. We ask of any alleged
message, (i) do the Scriptures confirm this, (ii) would the Body of Christ
confirm this, and (iii) does the Holy Spirit confirm this. When these three
witnesses are in agreement, we can be reasonably confident that God has spoken.
One of the pitfalls in the evangelical tradition of
discernment has been our tendency to follow our Reformation ancestors in
dismissing the authority of the Church and the voice of the Spirit in favour of
Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). In
other words, we cut off two of the three legs of the confirmation stool. We
reduce our criterion for testing any message, teaching or truth claim to “Is it biblical?” Most evangelical confessions
of faith say as much—“the Bible is our sole and final authority for all matters
of faith and practice.” Sounds good… I often hear teachers and teachings,
prophets and prophecies, being challenged on that single question: “Is it
Of late, as I’ve continued to read the written Word, I’ve
become convinced that this reduction of discernment to sola scriptura is insufficient and, by its own standards, unbiblical.
First, it is insufficient because Scripture never actually
stands on its own. We necessarily read it through an array of personal,
cultural and spiritual lenses. If we really
believed that all Scripture is to be read and obeyed as is (“the Bible says it—I believe it—that settles it”), we would
have to concede that slavery is biblical, polygamy is biblical, and genocide is
biblical. We would all agree that homosexuality is an abomination along with
eating shell-fish. We would see God’s wrath driving every epidemic, earthquake
and violent dictator. That would be biblical… and also either primitive or
But more than that, asking “Is it biblical?” is in an
insufficient test or source for truth because Jesus said so. Especially when it
comes to a revelation of the heart and character of God, Christ pointed not to
the Scriptures but to himself. He said, “All things
have been committed to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son
except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to
whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matt. 11:27).
He warned those who were far more “biblical” than any of us,
“You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:37-39).
In 2 Cor. 3, Paul warns that those who read the Bible
without the help and lens of Jesus have a veil over their eyes and heart. It is
only through the Lord Jesus that the veil is removed and we can see and
understand what God is saying. This is a mystical reality, but only in part. We
must also attend carefully to the way Jesus’ actually interpreted and
reinterpreted the Scriptures.
He showed us that the whole
point of the Scriptures was directed to Jesus (cf. the road to Emmaus). He
showed us how the whole point of the
prophetic is to testify concerning Jesus. As the apostle John later wrote, “The
testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.”
For this reason, if we must boil discernment down to one
question, rather than “Is it biblical?” we ought to ask, “Does it conform to
the life and message and character of Jesus?” (or more briefly, “Is it
Christly?”) We should ask that of teachers and prophets today, but we must even
ask that of any given text of Scripture. We are quite conditioned to describing
the Bible as “God’s Word,” whereas the Bible itself gives Jesus that title.
In a recent conversation, Archbishop Lazar Puhalo stated it this way:
The Old Testament is not so much a history of God’s victories as it is a record of man’s failure in all of his relationships with each other and with God. That story of failure precedes and necessitates the coming of the Messiah. AFTER their failure, God comes down and God speaks.
God finally comes in the flesh, they still don’t get it and they kill him. But
the Incarnation is the point. The incarnation is God’s redemptive response to
To summarize, Jesus is the divine Word and every truth claim
or alleged revelation is subservient to him, whether recorded in holy writ or
not. All Scripture was given by God for a reason (instruction, correction,
training, reproof and even to provide negative examples – 1 Cor. 10:1-10). Not all of it is a revelation of the
character and nature of God. While retaining and deepening the core of Torah
down to “jot and tittle,” His revelation of God required that he abolish the
Mosaic ordinances (which make perfect sense if you read them). Much of the
Bible continues to demonstrate historically our desperate need for a
Messiah—for a living word (Heb. 1:1-2). Jesus brings us that Word and is our
revelation of God. As the Good Book says, “HE is the image of the invisible
God. He is the exact representation of his likeness. In him ALL the fullness of
the Godhead dwelt in bodily form.”
There is One Logos, One Word – his Name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth and every revelation, from the Scripture to our prophetic words, is meant to point to him. So, the question that trumps, “Is it biblical?” is “Is it Christly?” I.e. Does the word I hear and share conform to the life, message and character of Jesus Christ.
In practice, here is what I’m currently doing: I bring together the Jesus that I’ve met in the Gospels with the Jesus that I’ve met in my heart. Wherever they are in alignment, I make HIM my final test of discernment. Wherever they are not in alignment, I need the Father to purify my revelation of Jesus.
Jesus Models How to Prophesy
Jesus models a true prophetic word to the local church seven times in Rev. 2-3. Each word has four elements. The true watchman may want to consider this as a template:
o Who is Jesus? What is he like?
o What pleases him? Excites him? Fills him with joy?
o What grieves his heart? What threatens to distract or draw us away?
o What’s the good news? What’s the promise?