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Being "Open - Minded"

By Nick McDowell & Gary Berger


“I just believe it’s important to be open-minded.”


It wasn’t the first time myself (Nick) or my wife had heard this before. 


We were confused and frustrated.  We talked it over at the dinner table, after we laid our son down to bed, and a little bit more in the bedroom as we eventually fell asleep. 


Serving in ministry has its share of ups and downs, but this was getting old.  In 11 plus years of ministry we had shared the Gospel with a lot of different people.  Over the course of that time there were some wonderful moments of seeing individuals make spiritual progress and then there were experiences that just made us want to hang it all up.


It happened when an individual or family was confronted with something in Scripture that challenged their worldview and made them feel uncomfortable. “I just believe it’s important to be open-minded.”“You need to be more open-minded.”“Christians are so close-minded,”and a few more variations of this phrase were thrown our direction.  We asked ourselves, What were we missing?  Did we do something wrong? 


I understand that sooner or later God takes us to a place where we have to choose between His will and our own.  Jesus says that only a few will choose the path that leads to life (Matthew 7:13-14) and so we shouldn’t be surprised when people reject the Gospel.  It’s just the way it happens sometimes that bugs me.  Was I being close-minded?  What do all of these people mean when they say they want to be open-minded?  Does the Christian community have an “open-minded” problem or is something else at play?


As my friend Gary states, “I think it’s important we begin by defining what it means to be “open-minded.”


Gary found the following in one of the many dictionaries out there: open-minded (adjective) - willing to consider ideas & opinions that are new or different to your own: Doctors these days tend to be more open-minded about alternative medicine.


I read that definition, but then I look around and don’t see a lot of consideration for something new.  I always found it ironic that when we opened up our home to those who disagreed with us and whom had expressed some form of the phrases mentioned above, nearly all of them turned down the invitation to have further discussion.  When it came to these individuals talking about being “open-minded”, I felt like Inigo Montoya from the Princess Bride: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”





About a week ago I threw out a few questions on social media relating to the topic of being open-minded and received some interesting responses.  One of the things I wanted to know from the Christians was “If you were asked to be more "open-minded", how would you respond?”  Several responses were along the lines of feeling attacked or feeling like they were being expected to compromise their values and beliefs.  I would say I resonate with those feelings.  However, it also caused me to think that this is probably how those confronted with God’s word feel…an attack on what they value and believe.  Are Christians who maintain the authority of Scripture and the traditionally held orthodox views of the faith failing to be open-minded?  What should our approach to this idea of being “open-minded” be?  A brother-in-Christ, Gary Berger, responded to the questions I had posed, and he gave some great insight as we grapple with this idea. Much of the following comes directly from him.


To start out, it’s important to know that being “open-minded” doesn't mean we agree with everyone. It simply means that we listen & we are open to changing our mind. It's the same thing with tolerance. Being tolerant doesn't mean we think any decision is the right decision. It means we respect other people's right to make their own decisions & we don't treat them badly because of the decisions that they've made.

 

William Tyndale

The Bible encourages us to think, ponder, and use discernment as we walk through life (Phil 1:9-10, 1 John 4:1, Romans 12:2, John 7:24, Matthew 7:15-19, Proverbs 3:5-6). Yet during most of the “Christian" period of Europe, the elites were careful NOT to let peasants read the Bible. Services were conducted in Latin, which very few people understood. When William Tyndale (& others of the same generation) wanted to translate the Bible into popular languages, they were considered heretics & revolutionaries. Putting the Bible into the common people's hands would be encouraging them to be “open-minded” & to think for themselves.  This approach by the Church in those days could easily be labeled as being close-minded.


There's a great quote from Professor Walter Kotschnig about “not having a mind so open that your brains fall out.”  A Christian should be weighing all teachings against the Word of God. So while we should consider the arguments of others & listen carefully, in the end we must be true to our understanding of God's teachings. And even our own understanding should be held in humility, because God's thoughts are bigger, higher & greater than ours.  We are continually needing to be transformed by the Holy Spirit. There are things we will never understand & we shouldn't pretend that we do.

 

Where it can get tricky is that many Christians want so badly to be seen as being open-minded, tolerant & loving by those around them that the actual hard teachings of Christ are forgotten.  On the flip-side, there are many that are so focused on declaring the truth of the Gospel that they forget to practice it with humility and respect.

 

Let’s do a thought experiment. Think of someone you don't really like. Now imagine that they are about to make a decision & you know, you KNOW, that this decision is going to ruin their life. As in, totally ruin, you-wouldn't-wish-it-on-your-worst-enemy ruin, their life. Now, how do you tell them - convince them - to change their decision? Can you do it without sounding closed-minded & intolerant?

 

That's how Christians are supposed to feel about sin (defined as anything & everything that's not God's will). Sin has the power to destroy your life. It might happen slowly, but it does happen. And WORSE, it takes you away from the presence of God, which is the Best Thing Ever. And yet we're asked to not only warn people when they're wrong, but also to LOVE them. And not only to love them, but also to WARN them. Even if we don't “like” them.

 

Scripture teaches us to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2). Jesus, in Luke 24:45, opened the minds of the disciples to the Scriptures and His fulfillment of them.  Paul wrote to the Church in Colosse to “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2) and to “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Col. 2:8) The Psalmist in Psalm 119:18 writes “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” Finally, Paul writes to the Ephesians that his prayer is “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…” (Ephesians 1:17-18)





So, can a Christian be open-minded? Yes, we can & we should.  However, at the end of the day we need to have convictions - to read the Bible & honestly look at what Jesus said. And to LIVE those convictions. And if one of those convictions is that we should confront people when they’ve made poor decisions or share hard truths to prevent them from making a poor decision, because we LOVE them, sometimes we'll need to risk sounding intolerant & closed-minded.

 

Ultimately, we do need to be more open-minded as Christians. We need to be open-minded to what God wants us to do...day in and day out.

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