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Discernment

By Jerry C. Brewer

religion, articles, christianity

What you are about to read is eye-opening. It is also mind­boggling. It may cause you to use such expressions as, "I don't believe it! Blow me down! Did you ever! What next!" Joe Beam, at the 1996 Nashville Jubilee, made a claim that, if true, makes him psychic. The dictionary definition of psychic is: "Capable of extraordinary mental processes, such as extrasensory perception and mental telepathy." Brace yourself and ponder this example of Beam's claim to be able to read the thoughts and intents of the heart.

For example, I was dealing with this couple one time, ... and she just discovered they had thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars charged to credit cards she didn't know they had.... As I'm driving over to meet them, not knowing how to handle that, knowing that I just had one shot, I just said, 'God, would you give me the wisdom to know when either of them lies?' I sat in front of them talking to them. The guy says something, I said, 'Pardon me sir, but that's a lie.' He said, 'What makes you think so?' I said, 'Gut feel.' Then I thought, 'No, that's a lie.' I said, 'I may have finally sailed over the edge, but I believe God just told me that you lied.' He said, 'You heard a voice?' I said, 'No, it's just this. I prayed to God to give me wisdom to tell me when you lied and I had this overwhelming sensation that you lied, so I'm believing God answered the prayer and you just lied to me.' He talked for a few more minutes. I said, 'You lied again.' A few more minutes and I said, 'You ...' This went on for an hour. Finally, after an hour, he said, 'Okay. I'll tell you what I did.' He said, 'I've been gambling. I've been getting money against cash ... you know, cash withdrawals, go into these bars and drinking and gambling.' And his wife, of course, it was all news to her. Her jaw fell open. She turned and looked at him. She said, 'If you were in those bars drinking and gambling where there were women. You were with women.' He said, 'No, I swear, no women.' She looked at me and she said, 'Is he lying?' I said, 'No, my sense of it is he's telling you the truth about that' (Speech, The Holy Spirit, Tape 2, Nashville Jubilee, 1996).

What Beam claims differs not in the least from claims made by Pentecostal preachers. He says his ability "to know when either of them lies" is "spiritual wisdom." He claims to possess a miraculous gift surpassing gifts of the apostolic church.

The completion of divine revelation in the first century saw the termination of first century spiritual gifts. Discernment is among those gifts enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12 and its design was to enable people to know if a teacher was speaking the truth. That was a necessary gift in a day when the revelation of God was in the man (1 Cor. 14:29).

Without the miraculous gift of discernment, the church could not have known whether a teacher claiming revelation spoke from God or from himself The reason for John's admonition to "try the spirits" (1 John 4:1) was because of deceivers who claimed to speak the truth (2 John 7). While the New Testament was in a formative stage there was no objective, written documentation by which hearers might know if a purported revelation was from God or was the trick of a false prophet. The gift of discernment enabled the one who possessed it to make that determination-to know if the speaker lied. The message of the prophet was confirmed either by Old Testament scripture, or, if it was a fresh revelation, by one who possessed the supernatural gift of discernment, and by miraculous, observable acts.

The revelation would be given by a prophet. A second person who had the gift of discernment would pronounce it to be true. A third person would give sight to the blind or raise the dead as a demonstration of divine power to show by signs and wonders that this did come from God (John 3:2; Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:4). This arrangement would prevent a single false teacher from misleading the brethren. It would have required collusion among several for the church to be deceived.

God is careful with his Word and always gives abundant proof when a claim of inspired revelation is made. Otherwise, the world might be deceived by charlatans like "a certain man, Simon by name, who beforetime in the city used sorcery, and amazed the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some areas one" (Acts 8:9).

The spiritual gifts of the first century were to cease when the faith was "once for all delivered." Paul wrote: "Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away" (1 Cor. 13:8­10).

Revelation was "in part." It was severally distributed. When the faith was "once for all delivered," revelation ceased, along with the gifts that allowed and supported it. That included the gift of discernment. When the spoken revelation was written, the gifts necessary to its transmission by direct inspiration ceased.

The gift of discernment ceased to have a purpose when the written Word of God was completed. Jude says the faith "was once for all delivered" (Jude 3). It is by and through that body of faith that we "try the spirits" today. One can measure a man's doctrine by the plumb of God's Word and know whether the truth is presented (2 John 9­11).

Asserting God enabled him to "know when either of them lies," Beam contradicts plain New Testament teaching and preaches a false doctrine. Beam's "spiritual wisdom" outruns even the supernatural gifts of the first­century church. They claimed an ability to know if a revelation was from God. Beam claims to know if a person is telling the truth in private conversations-no inspired teacher ever claimed such ability. Spirit­directed men said, "For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him?" (1 Cor. 2:11).

Inspired agents in the beginning of the gospel proved their claims by a demonstration of divine might. How about Beam? Does he raise the dead and shake off poisonous snake bites and drink a deadly thing without harm to himself? What proof does he offer that his "spiritual discernment" is from God?

Beam has an explanation. When elders in Western Oklahoma asked him about this claim, Beam is reported to have said he was able to know the man lied because the man got red in the face. That puts Beam on the horns of a dilemma. If he was able to discern lying by physical phenomena, then he lied when he claimed God gave him the gift of discernment. If God gave him the gift of discernment, he lied to the elders when he told them he could tell by the man's face. It can't be both ways. (Remember how blunt Beam was when he claimed to have said to the man, "Pardon me, Sir, but that's a lie.... You lied again." Surely Beam won't mind if we say to him, "Pardon me, Sir, but you lied.)

Ye shall know them by their fruits," (Matt. 7:16). "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world (1 John 4:1).

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Christ, but their own belly; and by their smooth and fair speech they beguile the hearts of the innocent (Rom 16:17­18).

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Published May 1997