Nobody wants to be led off a cliff. But that’s a very real possibility for anyone who follows the wrong leaders. Jesus said as much concerning the religious leaders of His time on earth: “They are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14). Following unfit leaders is a sure road to ruin.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the church. Scan the evangelical landscape for all the proof you need of the severe damage that unqualified and untrustworthy leaders can do to their congregations. Biblical discernment is nonnegotiable—it is an essential quality for church leaders and critical for those of us who sit under their teaching. Believers need to follow and emulate those who demonstrate godly discernment, and carefully avoid the leadership of people who are themselves “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14).
Find and follow leaders who display an ability to discern, to analyze and refute error, to teach Scripture clearly and accurately. Read from authors who prove themselves careful handlers of divine truth. Listen to preachers who rightly divide the Word of Truth. Expose yourself to the teaching of people who think critically, analytically, and carefully. Learn from people who understand where error has attacked the church historically. Place yourself under the tutelage of those who serve as watchmen of the church.
I do this myself. There are certain authors who have demonstrated skill in handling the Word and whose judgment I have come to trust. When I encounter a difficult issue—whether it is a theological problem, an area of controversy, a new teaching I have never heard before, or whatever else—I turn to these authors first to see what they have to say. I wouldn’t seek help from an unreliable source or a marginal theologian. I want to know what those who are skilled in exposing error and are gifted in presenting truth have to say.
There have been outstanding men of discernment in virtually every era of church history. Their writings remain invaluable resources for anyone who wishes to cultivate discernment. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and J. Gresham Machen are just two of many in the past century who distinguished themselves in the battle for truth. Charles Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, and scores of other writers from the nineteenth century left a rich legacy of written material to help us discern truth from and error. In the century before that, Thomas Boston, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitefield battled for truth, as did many others. The preceding era was the Puritan age—the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which gave us what is undoubtedly the richest catalog of resources for discernment. Before that, the Reformers fought valiantly for the truth of God’s Word against the traditions of men. Virtually every era before the Reformation also had godly men of discernment who stood against error and defended the truth of God’s Word. Augustine, for example, preceded John Calvin by more than a thousand years, but he fought exactly the same theological battles and proclaimed precisely the same doctrines. Calvin and the Reformers drew heavily on Augustine’s writings as they framed their own arguments against error. In A.D. 325 a contemporary of Augustine, Athanasius, strongly stood against Arianism, the same error that is perpetuated by modern-day Jehovah’s Witnesses. His writings stand today as the definitive response to that error.
Much of the written legacy that these spiritual giants left is still available today. We can all learn from these men of discernment—and we would do well to emulate the clarity with which they spoke the truth and denounced error.
Those who can expose and answer the errors of false teachers are placed in the Body of Christ to help us think critically and clearly. Learn from them.