Why Aren’t Christian Leaders More Discerning?

 by John MacArthur

Pastor/Teacher John MacArthur Jr.I’ve been all over the world, as you know, and have had lots of discussions with lots of Christian leaders and I’ve read lots of things about the church and the history of the church and the theology of the church. I’ve been all over everywhere and I can just tell you this. Right now in this day, and it’s been this way for a long time through this twentieth century, THE biggest problem in the church is its inability and unwillingness to distinguish true Christians from false. It’s…it’s literally killing the church.

You go all over the world, and you see people who claim to be Christians. I’ve been in the eastern Europe and I’ve seen the orthodox church which is by its own definition a Christian church. They believe they’re the only true Christians in eastern Europe. And then you go into western Europe, and earlier this year in France and then in the last couple of weeks in Italy and there is this massive monolithic system called Roman Catholicism which believes itself to be the only true Christian Church on the planet. It’s one thing for them to believe it, it’s something else for Billy Graham to say the Pope is a fine, outstanding Christian. Something else for him to hold an evangelistic meeting and invite all the Catholics to cooperate. It’s something else for Bill Bright to say that the Pope is a fine, outstanding Christian. It’s something else for people in the ECT, the people who are in Christian leadership in America to embrace the Roman Catholics and say we all love the same Christ, we all serve the same God in the same way. And these are all our Christian brothers and sisters. It’s one thing for these institutions to exist, it’s something else for those people who are Christians to embrace them as if they’re all true Christians. This obliterates the line of clarity and invites the enemy into the camp and just devastates the church.

You can turn on your television and watch TBN. Everybody that comes on is embraced as a Christian, even though it’s just…just filled with false teachers and people who obviously haven’t been delivered…It’s the idea that anybody who believes in Jesus is a Christian. And if you want to push the point beyond that, you’re somehow a problem and you’re divisive and schismatic…Liberal Anglicanism in England back in the 60′s was in its heyday and there were some evangelicals in the Anglican church and they thought…Well, we need to move in to the Anglican church and get a hold of this thing and partner up with these brothers, they’re our brothers. We can’t let things divide us, we’re all one church.

And it was David Martyn Lloyd-Jones who stood up and said this is wrong. You’ve got to separate. And he was vilified and he was marginalized and he was pushed out, but he was right as time has proven because whatever evangelicalism was there has succumb to the power of liberalism and the pollution of the church.

You can look at the American denominations…the historic denominations of the Presbyterians, and the Methodists and the Episcopalians and even largely the Lutherans and others and you can see the tremendous slide. And it goes back. They invited people into their schools, in their seminaries to teach. They said they were Christians but they were wrong and they came in and they stole the institutions and sent them right down the drain. This is deadly stuff. And now you even have evangelical churches that are designing their churches to make unbelievers comfortable.

This is frightening stuff. And I guess I feel at this point, I’ve got nothing to lose anyway, I need to…I have to be accountable to the Lord, it’s just time to stand up and say this…this has got to be brought to the test of Scripture. You can have a thing called Amsterdam 2000, you can have 5,000 so-called evangelists and celebrate all this unity, but who’s finding out whether these people are Christians? They come from Catholicism and orthodox groups and fringe groups and all kinds of strange groups and even some cults. I talked to a man even this week who said he thinks there’s going to be many Mormons in heaven. This is continuing to escalate.

And I guess it’s time to just stand up and say there has to be a line drawn. The issue of who is truly a Christian is at the very center of the church’s life and ministry. This has to be protected. There isn’t any fellowship between light and darkness, is there, 2 Corinthians 6? There isn’t any concord between Christ and Satan. Two can’t walk together unless they be…what?…agreed. You have to come out from among them and be ye separate and touch not the unclean thing.

And here is the church absorbing all of this. And now it’s so confusing that the church itself doesn’t even know who’s a Christian and frankly I don’t think they particularly care as long as you say you believe in Jesus. A friend, Iain Murray who is a gifted theologian and a great biographer, [who] wrote the massive two-volume biography of Martyn Lloyd-Jones has also written on Jonathan Edwards and many others. He is a very esteemed Englishman and has been here many times, we’ve spent many hours together, has written a new book called Evangelicalism Divided in which I read it, just devoured it over the last few weeks while I was in Italy in the plane, in the back of the bus, in the room, everywhere because it just consumed me. Murray is tracking the twentieth century decline of evangelicalism and it’s a book of history that is very, very revealing. And Murray says, and I think he’s absolutely right, he says, the inability of the evangelical church to distinguish between a Christian and a non-Christian is quote: “The greatest failure of professing Christianity in the English-speaking world in the twentieth century,” end quote.

He understands the implications. If you redefine non-Christians as Christians you obliterate the distinctiveness of the church and you therefore create an environment in which you have to tolerate error because these people represent error. He further writes, this is very important and insightful, “The health of the church,” and he’s speaking as a historian here, having tracked it very carefully, “the health of the church has always been in proportion to the extent to which the difference between Christian and non-Christian has been kept sharp and clear.” Absolutely right. The starting point for the church is to be absolutely clear about who is saved and who is not. If we’re not clear about that, then we don’t know who’s on our side and we don’t know who we really need to reach.

From the time that God began to form a people for Himself, Satan endeavored to intrude. From the time that the demons cohabitated with the…with the daughters of men in Genesis 6, Satan has been trying to pollute and mix…all the way down to sowing tares among the wheat. And it’s really true. Murray says, “The most insidious opposition to the gospel has come from within worldly churches.”

I’ll say this as simply as I can. The gospel is more often attacked on TBN than it is on NBC. This has been the legacy of liberalism which has been embraced by quote/unquote “evangelicals.” This has been the legacy of Charismaticism where theology and…I’m not speaking about all the people but for the most part where the Movement tolerates anybody’s view. This has been the legacy of the seeker-friendly pragmatic movement. This has been the legacy of evangelical ecumenism which wants to re-embrace orthodoxy and Catholicism and everybody else. And the confusion goes from the grass roots right on up to the top. I’ve talked to the evangelical brain trust, if you will, and they aren’t even willing to commit to who’s a Christian. Even my conversation with J.I. Packer, so capable and gifted a theologian and writer, when I asked him…what is the line by which you determine a true Christian? All he could say was, “That’s a good question.”

For most of the last part of the twentieth century, the last 50 years, there has been a sustained effort to invent and promote a popular definition of Christianity, which is neither biblical nor legitimate and to fill the church with non-Christians. . .

Satan always wants to get the church confused about who’s saved, then he can infiltrate and take over, as he’s done in so many institutions and denominations.

Iain Murray again writes, “When churches have recovered from apostasy, historically, such as at the time of the Reformation and the eighteenth century evangelical revival…it has always been…by a return to such discriminating preaching and practice.” What he means is when there’s ever a recovery from a time of apostasy, it has come when preaching has become discriminating.

What does it mean to discriminate? If you say you discriminate, what does it mean? If you say…you hear people say, be a discriminating buyer, what does that mean? It means that you can choose the best out of the lot, right? You know how to discriminate. It means to discern. The only hope for the church is discriminating, discerning preaching. I don’t think there’s any organizational answer. I don’t think we need more meetings, more seminars. We need preachers who will stand up and preach discriminating messages.

And Murray says, “Given the great decline in the English-speaking churches of the twentieth century, the chief need again was the reassertion of the meaning of being a Christian.” Wow! The chief hope for the church is discriminating preaching primarily directed at the issue of who is a Christian.

I don’t care how widely known you are as an evangelical leader, to say that Roman Catholics and the Pope are wonderful Christians is not discriminating, he questions somebody’s faculties of discernment. And sometimes I wonder if those who can’t discern the true church can’t discern it because they’re not part of it. I know people who aren’t a part of it can’t discern it because the natural man understands not the things of God. I don’t expect non-Christians to be discerning about the church, but I do expect Christians to be discerning about the church. And yet you have people who have risen to prominence in evangelicalism who have defined evangelicalism on a large scale who lack that discernment. And what we need is exactly what Murray says, we have to have some discriminating preaching. It’s time…it’s time to draw the line again and that means to be unpopular, I hate to say.

And people ask me…why do people do this? Why do they compromise? Why aren’t they discriminating? Why don’t they say what needs to be said? Why don’t they say this is not a Christian institution, these people are not Christians? Why don’t they make a clear-cut line? Why don’t do they do that?

And the only answer I can come up with and I think it’s a general one and Murray in his book agrees with me on this, the fear of being alienated. It’s the fear of man, it’s the desire for popularity. It’s the desire for the widest possible acceptance. It’s the desire for a reputation. It’s the desire not to be marginalized and pushed off into a corner. It’s a desire to be tolerable and tolerant because it affords you some level of popularity. Because it lets you move up the social strata in the world of Christianity. And so they seek the approval of man. And it’s amazing how they can seek the approval of man at the expense of the approval of the Lord of the church.

taken from: Deliverance: The Neglected Doctrine, a sermon preached by John MacArthur on October 01, 2000 (emphasis added). Click here to listen to, or read the message in its entirety.

HT: Eric T. Young, Reformed Bibliophile

By Topic


By Scripture

Old Testament









1 Samuel

2 Samuel

1 Kings

2 Kings

1 Chronicles

2 Chronicles








Song of Solomon


















New Testament







1 Corinthians

2 Corinthians





1 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians

1 Timothy

2 Timothy





1 Peter

2 Peter

1 John

2 John

3 John



By Author

Latest Links