(This article originally appeared in 2008 on both LifeBrook and Wellsprings and Wineskins)
One unfortunate phenomenon I have observed all too frequently is the marked tendency many believers have regarding the content of their thought life. More specifically, it has to do with the fact that too many Christians are confused over what they should or should not believe.
Many genuine, sincere Christians write in to blogs and websites, asking so-called experts whether or not it is acceptable for them to believe this or that. They often say something like:
“When I am honest with myself, I find that I believe (insert belief here).What I am wondering is, should I believe that? Is it ok for a Christian to believe that?”
These questions stem from an even greater problem, I think: religion’s insistence on and illegitimate marriage to the heresy of “correct doctrine.” I call it heresy because the issue of doctrine has evolved into a subtle but deadly form of idolatry. I know that many standard, status-quo church leaders and pillars of the faith will disagree with what I say about this but so be it. In all good conscience, I cannot force myself to agree with something that I think goes deeply against the grain of what Christ clearly taught and reason upholds.
The result of this idolatry of doctrine is the kind of questions many believers now have. Hesitant to trust their own conclusions, they turn to perceived authority figures for the answers. In the end, they still don’t find the answer. Instead, they merely make a decision to trust the authority’s answer more than their own.
I find this a tragedy because these well-meaning, sincere Christ-followers end up dealing a knockout punch to the integrity of their own minds. Emerson once said that the one thing in this world that was most sacred was “the integrity of your own mind.” The Christian who asked the question in the first place now has something like this going on in his or her head.
“I thought about Issue A and came to Conclusion A. However, when I checked with my pastor (the authority on the subject), he told me that a real Christian would never believe conclusion A. So, now I believe Conclusion A, but I am trying not to believe it because it is not what a Christian is supposed to believe. My pastor said I should believe Conclusion B. So I am praying that God will help me drop belief in conclusion A and get to the point where I can accept Conclusion B. I am having a hard time believing Conclusion B because it doesn’t make any sense. Still, now if someone asks me what I believe, I will tell them I believe Conclusion B because that is how I am supposed to think.”
Do you see how integrity goes out the window with a mess like this? What makes it worse is the fact that if this sincere seeker goes back to the pastor and explains that he or she still thinks Conclusion A makes more sense than Conclusion B, they usually hear something like this:
“Well, God’s ways are higher than your ways.” Or, they may get, “Remember, the heart is deceitful above all things,” or, “The Devil is talking to you, watch out!”
What ends up happening is that too many Christians go through life confused or worse, almost brain-dead. Finding out they are incapable of thinking for themselves, they just do what makes sense to them. They stop thinking.
Sometimes it is difficult for Christians to think outside the box. I think this handicap, and that is what it is, has come about for several reasons beyond the process cited above. For some ardent conservatives, to think beyond those parameters defined for us by church leaders both ancient and contemporary, is to invite doctrinal error. Heaven forbid! We would never want to do that now would we?
It is as Mark, a Fundamentalist friend of mine, so cogently put it:
“First you start entertaining thoughts that are unconventional and from there you begin to mull over ideas that are more than non-traditional, they are downright weird. From there, it is a short step to doctrinal error. Fan the flames of doctrinal error just a tad and you end up with a full blown heresy. And from that theological tightrope, it is easy to take the fall into apostasy.”
Sometimes Mark has a way with words, even if he has a major problem with his tightly wound thinking. I would say that it is people who believe as Mark does, that all one needs is the Bible (interpreted in an ultra-literal fashion) and the historic creeds of the church that fear out of the box thinking more than most.
Another factor influencing people’s reluctance to think out of the box is social expectations and the fear of rejection. More than a few believers have both doubts and questions about the faith, but keep these issues under their vest out of fear that others will view them as incomplete Christians. The problem with this situation is the questions will never be answered nor will the doubts be assuaged. Can you imagine, for example, how history would have progressed if Martin Luther had refused to step out of his comfort zone and think out of the box?
The reality is that some questions and/or doubts can only be dealt with by thinking in new ways, and involve the ability to view an issue from more than one perspective. If a sincere Christian believes that others will reject him/her just because they do not meet with the social expectation that such questions should not even be raised, then that genuine believer may well wither on the vine, simply because part of their social definition of what a Christian is supposed to be like does not permit faltering faith or inconsistent belief.
It is this very type of situation that brings to my mind the immortal words of Emerson: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Yet another issue keeping believers thinking inside the box is very obvious. The stark reality is more than a few of us are intellectually lazy. We don’t want to take the time or expend the mental energy necessary to grapple with the more complex issues of the faith. These are the folks with those bumper stickers that say: “The Bible says it; I believe it; end of story.” These are the folks who frequently nap through sermons and say “Amen” even during the announcements. They are quite content to let others do their thinking for them.
We come to treasure our comfort zones and, as a result, keep our hearts too small for the message of Jesus.
Many of us start out well, accomplish numerous positive things in our lives, and then settle into a pattern of general comfort and complacency. We live not to grow, but to maintain the status quo. This is a tragic mistake.
To be continued…….
(c) L.D. Turner 2008/2012/ All Rights Reserved