Why this Topic
So, I have this friend, (she will recognize herself as soon as she sees the topic of this essay) that I have been ministering to for several years. She is dealing with quite a few personal trials and struggling for a few things. Not the least of which is remaining joyful in the midst of her trials. We communicate nearly every day and sadly I am rarely able to offer much comfort to her. Admittedly, I tend to press on her in many places, not the least of which remaining discerning. The toughest part in all of this is how to communicate to her what it means to be about finding joy in Christ and remaining discerning.
To her credit she looks for and latches on to resources that will comfort her and compel her toward finding joy in Christ. On occasion I will do what I am known for and point out where and why the resource she is leaning on my not be of the most help. Frequently, her justified retort will be to question my desire to critique apparent Christian brethren and ministries. If I am being honest, this tends to tick me off. I am not sure how sinful this response is. But I do know I have to keep it in check in effort to model finding my joy in Christ.
So, this essay is both a confession and an attempt to compel you to model the topic.
Finding Joy in Christ While People Push Back
Here is my confession. I am not good at finding joy in Christ when people push back on me. As much as I am known for spouting off at the mouth (literally and proverbially) I tend to not speak unless I am relatively certain that what I am saying is accurate. Even if I am less than perfect in articulating my thoughts. This is clearly an issue of pride on my part. When people begin to question me, I put up a wall instead of receiving their thoughts in joy and love. No one is subjected to this more than my wife.
What I, and I assume many others, need to learn, is that God intends for others to be a blessing to us just as much in push back as in affirmation. The wise Solomon reminds us in his writing that the kisses of an enemy are sweet but poisonous. But the wounds of a friend are faithful. If I am as wise as I like to think, it would be easy for me to tell you how to go about finding joy in Christ in those moments. But I am not as wise as I like to think. However, even in lacking sufficient wisdom to convey this message, I want to make it clear, we must learn how to do that very thing.
Remaining Discerning Does Not Mean Seeing Everyone as a Heretic
Look, there are plenty of heretics out there. More than I can shake a proverbial stick at. I do not relish having to point them out when they rear their doctrinally ugly heads. And there is even less joy in trying to decapitate those doctrinally ugly heads. All-to-often, as we see with many so-called discernment ministries, everyone who disagrees with us is automatically labeled a heretic. Just think of the Hyper-Calvinist types that insist on doctrinal purity to identify any one as a brother.
In a very close to home example I have been somewhat embroiled in the recently re-exploding argument about biblical father rule. In the course of this argument I have interacted with men and women who are fans of Rachel Green Miller and her book Beyond Submission. Having not read the totality of the book I will not comment directly on its content. However, I have listened to her interactions with several podcast hosts and read many of her statements on this topic. So-much-so, that I can safely say I strongly disagree with her on the issue (See here for measured and loving correction from Mike Myers of RGM’s intentional misrepresentation of esteemed theologians from the past.) Consequently, that disagreement extends to those who have adopted her position.
With this in mind, it would be easy to fall into the trap of labeling RGM and those who agree with her, heretical. But is that what we really want to do? No! I want to be discerning in the Berean way. I want to redirect people away from those I believe hold to problematic views. However, I do not need to label them heretics.
Moreover, when someone counsels us to be wary or cautious of someone for legitimate reasons, we should not throw out, “Well they aren’t heretics so…” When we do this, we are discounting the love that brother or sister just showed.
Does Finding Joy Mean Only Affirming?
Every conversation we have with confessing Christians or mere professing Christians involves discernment. If you aren’t being discerning in a conversation, there are really only two options. The first is that you know this other person so well that you can drop your guard. This is never acceptable. But it is an easy pit to fall into. The second option is that you are just foolishly lax in using discernment.
In previous essays I have mentioned meeting my friends Ezra and Chelsea while open air preaching in Lanesboro Minnesota. The initial meeting saw me tense and a bit guarded as Ezra (a hulking mountain of cornfed Minnesota stock), approached me as I proclaimed the Gospel. In subsequent conversations Ezra admitted that he was as wary about approaching me as I was about his approach of me. Neither of us was ready to jump on the bandwagon of brotherly affirmation straight out of the gate.
Now, on the face of it, this would seem foolish. However, there are many solid reasons why Ezra and Chelsea were justified in being skeptical of me as an open-air preacher. Likewise, I had an equal number of reasons to not rush to calling them brethren as well.
I say all of this to emphasize that just because we are supposed to be about finding our joy in Christ does not mean we are required to lower our defenses. Furthermore, it is as important to watch out for incorrect views in apparent Christians as it is to point out the errors of the known heretics. Simply put, it is not an act of finding joy in Christ to affirm things that sound correct. Especially if the person communicating those things has a track record of being wrong in many places.
A Brief Example of why Discernment is Important and Aids in Finding Joy
I am not being pedantic here so please bear with me as I lay out my argument.
You find yourself sitting with a newcomer to your local church. Another person suggests that you all pray together and beseech God on behalf of one another.
The stranger eagerly agrees and as the time of prayer together ends, they finish with this. “Father God I am so thankful that you chose to willingly die on the cross for us. Amen.”
I am going to let you go back and reread that closing line. I will wait.
Did you see the error and if you did how would you address it? If you didn’t see the error are you willing to hear me out? Good. Because I am going to explain anyway. While the ending may seem sweet enough, it is all wrong and confuses the nature of the Godhead. The Father did not die on the cross. The Son did. I know we all know that. But would we dare to address it? That particular error is a variant of Patripassianism Theopassianism.
While it may seem downright mean to question the sincerity of the stranger who prayed such a sweet prayer, it needs to be addressed. Not to steal joy from that person in that moment. No. Instead to ensure their joy is in the true God, not in doctrinally errant god.
We All Have That Person in Our Lives
I don’t care who that person is, we all have them in our lives. One may lack any discernment and embraces anything and everything that claims to be Christian. The other may be the person that has never met another Christian anywhere ever. No one is good enough.
Sometimes that person that thinks that being Christian means walking around with a fake smile plastered on their face. Because being saved means always being happy. Still another may be the dour old Christian who doesn’t look like they can spell joy much less experience it.
On any given day this may describe any of us. However, finding our joy in Christ and maintaining discernment means a proper balance in all things. It means that we count it all joy brethren and also relinquish the rubbish to cling to the surpassing value that is Christ.
We don’t need to be artificially happy and we certainly don’t need to be always angry. The person that walks around with their bow constantly bent with flaming arrows is dangerous. But then again, so is the person that always tells us that they were only kidding.
In the end, we have the most to be truly joyous about. Not happy mind you. But truly joyful in Christ. I posit to you my dear reader(s?) that the path that leads to finding joy in Christ often travels through the work of discernment. And as I said above, we have to strike the balance.
Now when I figure out what that looks like I will let you know…
Soli Deo Gloria!