Recover doctrine of discernment, Brunson tells SBTS students

Communications Staff — September 14, 2006

Many Southern Baptists have lost the ability to discern God’s truth, and a failure to recover the doctrine of discernment will have disastrous consequences for the Kingdom of God, said Mac Brunson, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Jacksonville, Fla., during the Sept. 12 chapel service at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We have lost this ability to discern, and it is destroying the church,” said Brunson, who pastored First Baptist Church Dallas, Texas, since 1999 before succeeding Jerry Vines in Jacksonville earlier this year.

“I worry about our denomination. I feel like if there is not a radical turn, we are going to be like Sherman standing on banks of the Chautauqua looking at the smoke from South Carolina when we look at our denomination in the years ahead—if we don’t begin to use some godly discernment.”

Preaching from 1 Thessalonians 5, Brunson gave three reasons why many believers have lost the ability to discern.

First, he argued that Christians have depreciated doctrine in exchange for shallow emotionalism. It is often difficult to distinguish between Christians and non-Christians today because their beliefs and lifestyles are virtually identical, Brunson said,

“We’ve got all kinds of mess that’s going on in the church today,” he said. “The gap is so small between the believer and the unbeliever that you can hardly distinguish between the two.”

Many Christians have even bought into the popular but deadly notion that truth is relative, Brunson said.

“By claiming the authority to determine right from wrong, we crown ourselves the kings and queens of reality, yet we have no authority,” he said. “We constantly pay the price for the arrogance of believing and acting like we are in control of our destiny and experience. What an affront it is to God for us to claim His name and protection but to resist His moral truths on the basis of human feelings.”

Second, Christians have abandoned the absolutes of God’s Word and seek to gain approval from the world, he said. Scripture pictures the Christian holding the Word of God with one hand and holding back the world with the other hand, Brunson said.

“[The world has] No discernment whatsoever,” he said. “We have abandoned absolute truth. We don’t adhere to ancient texts. We do what we feel led to do.”

Third, Brunson said many Christians have become infatuated with influence and are preoccupied with prestige. This trend should be of particular concern to the Southern Baptist Convention because many in the denomination are excessively concerned with growing big churches and gaining notoriety, Brunson said. Such attitudes differ greatly from Jesus’ teachings in Scripture, he said.

“We want a crowd, but you go and find me in the Gospels where Jesus’ bottom line was a crowd,” Brunson said.

Every believer must be on guard against a lack of discernment because even those who routinely hear sound preaching can drift into disobedience, he warned, drawing on the example of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century American theologian and preacher who was fired by an undiscerning congregation after 23 years of biblical preaching.

“Don’t think that because we sit under the great teaching of great, godly leaders, if we don’t have discernment, we won’t drift,” Brunson said. “We desperately need discernment.”

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