According to a Christian worldview, experiences can be either natural or supernatural. And if they are supernatural, they can either come from God or Satan. In other words, only 3 possible options. When it comes to discerning spiritual experiences (e.g. a dream, a vision, a prophetic revelation, an apparition, an ecstatic experience, physical manifestations, whispers, an audible voice, etc.), are there any Christian groups or denominations that teach how to tell if the experience is Godly, demonic or just our minds playing tricks on us? If so, what is the biblical basis for the "protocol of discernment" proposed?
Are there any Christian groups or denominations that teach how to discern between Godly, demonic and psychological experiences?
Within the the Catholic Church, this seems to be a charismatic gift bestowed on certain individuals. I am sure the gift is bestowed on others of various denominations as well.
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. - 1 Corinthians 12-14
Various individuals throughout Christendom have employed various means to detect the presence of good over evil. Not all are acceptable.
The use of mediums for dream interpretation is taboo for the vast majority of Christians and is explicitly forbidden in the Bible, while other would simply ask a person in good standing within their Christian community. They may or may not get an answer. Not all dreams, convey some sort of message. Most do not!
‘Give no regard to mediums and familiar spirits; do not seek after them, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God. - Leviticus 19:31
As for detecting the presence of evil in someone, exorcists have a few things that would help us establish if the demonic has taken hold of someone.
The use of the name of Jesus irritates the Devil intensely. Catholic exorcists will equally employ the names of various saints such as Mary and St. Micheal the Archangel. The Demon hates the Sacred!
Catholic exorcists habitually are added by medical professionals such as psychologists and psychiatrists in determining if symptoms of possession can be attributed to some underlying medical condition.
Discernment of Spirits is a term used in Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Charismatic (Evangelist) Christian theology to indicate judging various spiritual agents for their moral influence. These agents are:
From within the human soul itself, known as concupiscence
The first and the last being evil, and the second and third good, the judgment required is to discern the cause of a given impulse. Although some people are regarded as having a special gift to perceive this by intuitive light, most people are regarded as needing study and reflection, and possibly the direction of others.
This judgment can be made in two ways. The first is by a charism or spiritual gift divinely granted to certain individuals for the discerning of spirits by intuition (1 Corinthians 12:10). The second way to discern spirits is by reflection and theological study. This second method then is an acquired human knowledge; however, it is always gained "with the assistance of grace, by the reading of the Holy Bible, of works on theology and asceticism, of autobiographies, and the correspondence of the most distinguished ascetics".
Dream interpretation and the Orthodox:
Similar to discernment of thoughts, confusion and turmoil after a night dream is the sign of its demonic origin. St. Theophan the Recluse writes in a letter: "your night dream should not be trusted already because it confused you." Elder Joseph the Hesychast also writes in a letter about disturbance after demonic dreams: "however, one must be cautious and discerning here, too, my child, and must not believe in dreams, but must recognize whether they are from God or from the demons. But since not everyone has this discernment, one should not believe in them at all. However, dreams from God can be recognized. Sometimes one sees them in deep sleep, other times in a light sleep, as if sleeping but not really sleeping and for a short duration. And when he wakes up, he is full of joy, and his mind meditates on them, and they bring him theoria. For years and years he brings them to mind, and they are unforgettable. On the contrary, dreams from the demons fill the soul with disturbance. When one wakes up and the mind tries to recall them, he is filled with fear, and his heart does not accept them. But even during sleep as he sees them, they are not stationary, but they change into forms and shapes, into places and ways, into actions and movements. From these changes and the disturbance and the unpleasantness, you are able to recognize where they are from. There are also other things proceeding from the imagination and from overeating, but it is not necessary to point them out."
Upon examination of own dreams, one can make a conclusion about personal spiritual state. St. Maximus the Confessor writes: "once the soul starts to feel its own good health, the images in its dreams are also calm and free from passion." St. Niketas Stethatos writes: "If your soul hankers after pleasure and material things, you will dream about acquiring possessions and having money, about the female figure and sexual intercourse - all of which leads to the soiling and defilement of soul and body. If you are haunted by images of greed and avarice, you will see money everywhere, will get hold of it, and will make more money by lending it out at interest and storing the proceeds in the bank, and you will be condemned for your callousness. If you are hottempered and vicious, images of poisonous snakes and wild beasts will plague you and overwhelm you with terror. If you are fall of self-esteem, you will dream of popular acclaim and mass-meetings, government posts and high office; and even when awake you will imagine that these things, which as yet you lack, are already yours, or soon will be. If you are proud and pretentious, you will see yourself being carried along in a splendid coach and even sometimes airborne, while everyone trembles at your great power. Similarly, if you are devoted to God, diligent in the practice of the virtues, scrupulous in the struggle for holiness and with a soul purged of material preoccupations, you will see in sleep the outcome of events and awe-inspiring visions will be disclosed to you. When you wake from sleep you will always find yourself praying with compunction and in a peaceful state of soul and body, and there will be tears on your cheeks, and on your lips words addressed to God."
St. Ambrose of Optina says that it is better not to believe night dreams at all: if one will believe dreams, he can go completely mad.
For a Pentecostal and charismatic viewpoint on discernment the following will be helpful:
Discernment of spirits is particularly important among Pentecostal and charismatic Christians because of their emphasis on the operation of all the spiritual gifts within their churches. It becomes necessary then to be able to determine whether the exercise of a spiritual gift (such as prophecy or an interpretation of tongues) comes from the Holy Spirit, an evil spirit, or merely the human spirit. They believe that every Christian is able to judge and responsible for judging whether such an occurrence is helpful and edifying to the church; however, they also believe that there are those individuals who have been given the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that the discerning of spirits does not involve the judging of people. The gift of discerning of spirits is also believed to be necessary in distinguishing demonic possession from mental or physical illness. This is important in the actual practice of deliverance, otherwise known as exorcism or the casting out of demons, which was part of the great commission that Jesus gave his disciples and future generations of believers. According to the late Albert Taylor, in "Ministering Below the Surface – a practical guide to Inner Healing and Deliverance", discerning of spirits can also be learnt.
Additionally, many Charismatics and those in Pentecostal churches believe that the gift of discernment of Spirits allows certain individuals to see spirits. The story about Elisha and the host of angels (cf. 2 Kings 6:15-17) is given as an example along with many other modern examples in the Book 'School of the Seers' by Dr. Jonathan Welton.
Discernment is the ability to make wise decisions in difficult situations.
The Catholic Encyclopedia has an excellent article on the Discernment of Spirits:
All moral conduct may be summed up in the rule: avoid evil and do good. In the language of Christian asceticism, spirits, in the broad sense, is the term applied to certain complex influences, capable of impelling the will, the ones toward good, the others toward evil; we have the wordly spirit of error, the spirit of race, the spirit of Christianity, etc. However, in the restricted sense, spirits indicate the various spiritual agents which, by their suggestions and movements, may influence the moral value of our acts.
Here we shall speak only of this second kind. They are reduced to four, including, in a certain way, the human soul itself, because in consequence of the original Fall, its lower faculties are at variance with its superior powers. Concupiscence, that is to say, disturbances of the imagination and errors of sensibility, thwart or pervert the operations of the intellect and will, by deterring the one from the true and the other from the good (Genesis 8:21; James 1:14). In opposition to our vitiated nature, or so to speak, to the flesh which drags us into sin, the Spirit of God acts within us by grace, a supernatural help given to our intellect and will to lead us back to good and to the observance of the moral law (Romans 7:22-25). Besides these two spirits, the human and the Divine, in the actual order of Providence, two others must be observed. The Creator willed that there should be communication between angels and men, and as the angels are of two kinds, good and bad, the latter try to win us over to their rebellion and the former endeavour to make us their companions in obedience. Hence four spirits lay siege to our liberty: the angelic and the Divine seeking its good, and the human (in the sense heretofore mentioned) and the diabolical its misery. In ordinary language they may, for brevity sake, be called simply the good and the evil spirit.
"Discernment of spirits" is the term given to the judgment whereby it is possible to determine from what spirit the impulses of the soul emanate, and it is easy to understand the importance of this judgment both for self-direction and the direction of others. Now this judgment may be formed in two ways. In the first case the discernment is made by means of an intuitive light which infallibly discovers the quality of the movement; it is then a gift of God, a grace gratis data, vouchsafed mainly for the benefit of our neighbour (1 Corinthians 12:10). This charisma or gift was granted in the early Church and in the course of the lives of the saints as, for example, St. Philip Neri. Second, discernment of spirits may be obtained through study and reflection. It is then an acquired human knowledge, more or less perfect, but very useful in the direction of souls. It is procured, always, of course, with the assistance of grace, by the reading of the Holy Bible, of works on theology and asceticism, of autobiographies, and the correspondence of the most distinguished ascetics. The necessity of self-direction and of directing others, when one had charge of souls, produced documents, preserved in spiritual libraries, from the perusal of which one may see that the discernment of spirits is a science that has always flourished in the Church.
An excellent lesson is that given by St. Ignatius Loyola in his "Spiritual Exercises". Here we find rules for the discernment of spirits and, being clearly and briefly formulated, these rules indicate a secure course, containing in embryo all that is included in the more extensive treatises of later date. For a complete explanation of them the best commentaries on the "Exercises" of St. Ignatius may be consulted. Of the rules transmitted to us by a saint inspired by Divine light and a learned psychologist taught by personal experience, it will suffice to recall the principal ones. Ignatius gives two kinds and we must call attention to the fact that in the second category, according to some opinions, he sometimes considers a more delicate discernment of spirits adapted to the extraordinary course of mysticism. Be that as it may, he begins by enunciating this clear principle, that both the good and the evil spirit act upon a soul according to the attitude it assumes toward them. If the evil spirits pose as their friend, they flatter it; if to resist them, they torment it. But the evil spirit speaks only to the imagination and the senses, whereas the good spirit acts upon reason and conscience. The evil labours to excite concupiscence, the good to intensify love for God. Of course it may happen that a perfectly well-disposed soul suffers from the attacks of the devil deprived of the sustaining consolations of the good angel; but this is only a temporary trial the passing of which must be awaited in patience and humility. St. Ignatius also teaches us to distinguish the spirits by their mode of action and by the end they seek. Without any preceding cause, that is to say, suddenly, without previous knowledge or sentiment, God alone, by virtue of His sovereign dominion, can flood the soul with light and joy. But if there has been a preceding cause, either the good or the bad angel may be the author of the consolation; this remains to be judged from the consequences. As the good angel's object is the welfare of the soul and the bad angel's its defects or unhappiness, if, in the progress of our thoughts all is well and tends to good there is no occasion for uneasiness; on the contrary, if we perceive any deviation whatsoever towards evil or even a slight unpleasant agitation, there is reason to fear. Such, then, is the substance of these brief rules which are nevertheless so greatly admired by the masters of the spiritual life. Although requiring an authorized explanation, when well understood, they act as a preservative against many illusions.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints have teachings for this, though not with the phrasing demonic generally.
When you believe an angel is visiting you D&C 129 offers guidance and you want to know what type of angel (of God or of Satan):
1 There are two kinds of beings in heaven, namely: Angels, who are resurrected personages, having bodies of flesh and bones—
2 For instance, Jesus said: Handle me and see, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.
3 Secondly: the spirits of just men made perfect, they who are not resurrected, but inherit the same glory.
4 When a messenger comes saying he has a message from God, offer him your hand and request him to shake hands with you.
5 If he be an angel he will do so, and you will feel his hand.
6 If he be the spirit of a just man made perfect he will come in his glory; for that is the only way he can appear—
7 Ask him to shake hands with you, but he will not move, because it is contrary to the order of heaven for a just man to deceive; but he will still deliver his message.
8 If it be the devil as an angel of light, when you ask him to shake hands he will offer you his hand, and you will not feel anything; you may therefore detect him.
9 These are three grand keys whereby you may know whether any administration is from God.
The LDS also believe in gifts of the Spirit, which include
discerning of spirits. 1
And on gifts of the spirit D&C 46:11 teaches:
11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.
What gift one has if not known may be revealed in one's patriarchal blessing or by one's bishop2.
Church leaders are granted more gifts of the spirit. D&C 107:91-92 Tells us the prophet has all the gifts, which includes
91 And again, the duty of the President of the office of the High Priesthood is to preside over the whole church, and to be like unto Moses—
92 Behold, here is wisdom; yea, to be a seer, a revelator, a translator, and a prophet, having all the gifts of God which he bestows upon the head of the church.
If one thinks they have received revelation or direction of God one should remember revelation stewardship order:
Only the President of the Church receives revelation to guide the entire Church. Only the stake president receives revelation for the special guidance of the stake. The person who receives revelation for the ward is the bishop. For a family, it is the priesthood leadership of the family. Leaders receive revelation for their own areas of responsibility. Individuals can receive revelation to guide their own lives. But when one person purports to receive revelation for another person outside his or her own area of responsibility—such as a Church member who claims to have revelation to guide the entire Church or a person who claims to have a revelation to guide another person over whom he or she has no presiding authority according to the order of the Church—you can be sure that such revelations are not from the Lord.3
The final bit of teaching the LDS have (that I'll mention) is Moroni 7:12 which tells us if something tells/entices us to do good it is of God, and bad is of Satan.
12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.