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Discernment on Black Friday

Posted: November 29, 2009 - 17:32 CT

I rarely leave the house on Black Friday, but I’ve now ventured out for the second year in a row.  For those who have been vacationing on another planet for awhile, "Black Friday" refers to the day after Thanksgiving, the busiest shopping day of the year.  Like last year, I used discernment by staying miles away from Walmart and heading over to my favorite Christian store.  This proved to be a wise decision when a lady came in and confirmed that the Walmart checkout lines extended halfway through the store.

Not having to camp out in the parking lot the night before, I arrived about 10am (two hours before the five-hour sale ended), but the store was not crowded at all, not even near the display of the latest in the series of "It’s all about YOU" books from Joel Osteen.  Whenever the store becomes crowded, I can always find solitude in the classics section.  While most shoppers are looking for the latest trend or fad, I can leisurely check out Pilgrim’s Progress, St Augustine’s City of God, or some of the Puritan writers.  I enjoy browsing this section even though I already own many of them.

While surfing GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, I noticed a couple of men looking at Bibles, then one went to get help.  I later moved on to another section and happened by one of the men talking with what appeared to be a store manager or assistant.  The manager (as I’ll refer to him) was in the process of filling the customer full of Biblical errors.  Just to mention a few, he was equating Calvinism with the Freemasons, claiming that Calvin developed his entire theology just to spite the Roman Catholic Church (RCC), and that the accounts of Isaac, Jacob and Esau proved man’s free will.  He then mixed these assertions in with a few other topics, such as the Biblical basis for Arabs and Indians wearing beards (I'll ignore these others for now).

I realize that there are intelligent arguments on both sides of the "election vs free will" issue (no human totally understands it), but the manager was way out in left field.  First, the manager appeared to reduce all of Calvinism to the doctrine of election.  John Calvin himself saw this debate merely as a subset of the doctrine of salvation, that is, to what extent man has the ability to respond to God on his own.

Calvin’s primary purpose for writing his Institutes was to help form the doctrinal foundation (submissive to the Bible) of the Reformed Church.  Martin Luther had spent much of his efforts attempting to reconcile with the RCC, so when it became obvious after many years that the breach was permanent, it fell upon Calvin to write his systematic theology.  While polemic in part, Calvin was actually in agreement with some of the RCC theology.

Regarding the issue of the patriarchs, I didn’t follow the manager’s logic on how God choosing Jacob over Esau before they were born proved the free will of men.  It would be extremely difficult to make critical decisions before one was even born.  Even most proponents of man’s free will for non-Jews agree that God utilized election in regards to Israel.

The last statement that I’ll mention is the manager’s claim that if Calvinism (election) is true, then "Why should we even witness to anyone?"  Displaying an obvious lack of knowledge of Calvinism (and the Bible), he claimed that the Calvinist’s only response to the question is that "We only witness because the Bible says to do it".  First, the doctrine of election is prevalent not only in the OT, but also throughout the NT (ie Jn 6, Eph 1, Rom 9, just to name a few).  Regarding evangelism, a Calvinist is encouraged to witness because he or she knows that some people will respond.  We can trust in God to save us because He is sovereign.  The manager was basically promoting a trust in the sovereignty of man and his ability to save himself, maybe with a little help from God.

Since it's not my purpose to debate the doctrine of election here, we’ll have to leave further discussion to other articles because I’d like to make three points, the first being the necessity of discernment.  As the manager was delivering his bad theology, the customer was eagerly and unquestioningly taking it all in, at one point stating that he wished he’s brought a notepad.  In Acts 17:11, the Apostle Paul commends the Bereans for daily examining the Scripture to see if what he was saying is true.  So, if Paul advised his audience to compare his words with the Holy Scriptures, how much more should we be discerning regarding the words of someone we meet for the first time, even in a Christian store?

The customer obviously had little Bible knowledge or he would have recognized the obvious errors set before him.  He asked the manager to guide him to some books on more information from the manager’s viewpoint on the subject.  The manager then led him off down the aisle and around the corner.  After pondering the situation for a moment, I followed but never saw either of them again the remainder of the time I was in the store.  My intention was to advise the customer to start out with a good study Bible and some basic books on the Christian Faith.  So, my second point is that, we should start by mastering the basic truths of the Bible before attempting to get involved in the disputes of secondary doctrines.  One can’t practice discernment without a solid foundation of the truth.

My third and final point is the responsibility of a teacher.  Those who give doctrinal advice to others will be held to a higher standard (Ja 3:1), so we must do our best with much prayer to hold to and proclaim the truth.  In all probability, the manager probably did not purposely intend to mislead the customer, but great damage can be done nonetheless.  He should have recognized that the customer needed to start with the basics and steered him to a good study Bible, or if the customer insisted, a book on solid basic doctrine (or even a book on discernment).

So, for all Christians, we should always practice discernment on anything we hear or read short of the Bible itself.  In order to recognize claims which are contrary to the Scriptures, we must diligently and consistently read and study the Bible.  Then, we will be in the position to judge all statements according to the truth of the Bible, and that includes any on this website.

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