What About All Those Discernment Ministries?

John ArmstrongAmerican Evangelicalism

The number of Christian “discernment” ministries seems to abound. No one knows for sure how many there really are but there have to be hundreds, maybe thousands. I have not spent much time tracking these kinds of things down, since I think most of them serve little or no good purpose. The people who post on these sites often oppose “catholic” Christianity. (Some are Protestants, while others are Orthodox or Roman Catholic, who also buy into this kind of stuff.) Almost all have some kind of narrow agenda at stake, what we once called " a dog in the fight." They thrive on looking under theological rocks and then making simplistic charges. They often find unsubstantiated facts about ministries that they target for opposition. The truth does not much matter so long as you can "warn" people about how bad someone else is in their service of Christ.


The word discernment means to be in the state of perceiving or recognizing something for what it really is. The term connotes the idea of separating or dividing, which is sometimes necessary. Good discernment is a truly Christian quality. And not all Christians have it. Proper discernment calls for acumen, clear insight and good judgment. It seems that the Holy Spirit clearly gives this gift for a good reason: namely, to protect the church from false teaching that will destroy faith. Generally such a ministry can be exercised properly by a few Christians who are well taught and very wise.

But the “discernment” ministries I am speaking about major on discovering faults and errors that are often not as critical to the church as these ministries let on. In the world of fundamentalism these ministries thrive best because they possess a great deal of certitude about everything they believe or teach. This is why these ministries spend so much time attacking other Christians, often orthodox Christians. This sells whether it is on the Web, television, radio or in print. Several popular discernment ministries have published books that have gained rather large followings for the authors. These authors have then created huge mailing lists and with these send a barrage of “attack” pieces to the untrained multitudes who often eat it up and send money to the discernment ministry.

Heresy is a serious problem! One has referred to this problem as “the cruelty of heresy.” I concur with that description. Heresy perennially wrecks the faith of Christians and churches. But I believe there is real cruelty in many of the “discernment” ministries that pop up all over the place. The way these ministries seek to correct other Christian teachers and movements they do not like is positively wicked in some cases.

Question: To whom do these discernment ministries answer?

Answer: No one but themselves.

The Internet has allowed these kinds of ministries to flourish. Anyone can say about anything they desire and no one can stop them. I have discovered this personally. As a result I simply refuse to read what these kinds of ministries say about me or my work.

When my book, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church (Zondervan), finally appears early next year I expect that it will get some positive and negative reviews. I will read both kinds with great interest. Negative reviews, especially if they are well-written, will only help me think more clearly and love the truth in the right way. I welcome this process. I need to learn and grow.

But I consistently refuse to read comments that come from these discernment ministries that represent anti-catholicism and fundamentalist rant. This kind of rhetoric does me, or serious readers, no real Christian service. It feeds fear and uses ad hominem argumentation to tell people who is dangerous and who is right. Those who are right are often a very small list of folks with these discernment ministries.

One way to respond to this type of writing is to use humor, sarcasm, and plain ole’ goofiness. This method can be over the top, for sure, but it also exposes these so called apologists and discernment ministries for what they are. And it underscores what I might never write in a way I would not say it. I recently discovered one such site at The Online Discernment Mafia. There is some rather funny stuff that was written about me on this site.

After I responded (in private) the author wrote the following to me a few days ago: “These short concise 'articles' allow me to make a point without too much detail but try to spin a bit of humor into it. I think a lot of people have been burned by discernment ministries & online discernment ministries (ODMs) in their zeal to honor Jesus, they run roughshod over others, often have a superficial understanding of another point of view, and not willing to climb into others minds to attempt to see how they think through a theology, or wrongly misinterpret information and spin it into 'heresy.' There is a long list of 'heretical' Christians via these ODMs.”

You might not like everything that you see on this site but you will likely laugh out loud, unless of course you are committed to protecting and advancing a discernment ministry.