Developing a Christian Mind – part 7: Discernment
7. The Christian mind exercises discernment in recognising false teaching
I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I rejoice because of you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. (Romans 16:17-19)
As Paul reaches the conclusion of Romans, he reminds the Christians in Rome about the danger of division due to false teachings. He warns them that naïve people have minds that are readily deceived by false ideas and encourages them to be wise about what is good. Developing a Christian mind is necessary so that we can recognise false teachings. This is the responsibility of all Christians, not only those in leadership or with theological education.
It seems that there is little talk among Christians today about false teachers and false prophets, which is odd given the prominence they are given in the New Testament, both in the teaching of Jesus and in the epistles. In fairness, we are likely to recognise extreme heresies, such as those taught by Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, but are we not also to be alert to false teachings within the Church? The false teaching Paul is concerned about seems to consist in adding to the gospel things that are stumbling blocks for sincere Christians (unnecessary burdens or restrictions) and that create division. Denial of the core of the gospel is not the only kind of harmful false teaching. Often the problem is with elevating secondary ideas to the same, or a higher, level as the core, so that the core recedes into the background. Our teaching must centre on Christ and must be biblically based. We should not enforce uniformity of belief or practice on matters that Scripture does not speak clearly on.
To be wise about what is good and innocent about what is evil (a clear echo of Jesus’ words about being as wise as serpents and innocent as doves, Matthew 10:16) is Paul’s goal for the believers in Rome. This ought to be our goal as well. Only by developing a Christian mind can we tell the difference and jettison what is unhelpful while retaining a firm grasp on what is essential.
Developing a Christian mind means being able to discern what is evil and what it good.