On Being Dogmatic – Revisited


big_wavesIn today’s western culture, most people seem to be dogmatic about only one thing—that no one should be dogmatic. I’m reminded of the day when I realized I was prejudiced against people who are prejudiced. These positions are nonsequiturs.

In the case of dogmatism, it seems to me professing Christians are adopting this cultural position: dogmatic opposition to those who are dogmatic. Hence, beliefs which were once widely-held such as the authority of the Bible, original sin, redemption through Christ alone, even God’s sovereign right to judge His creation, are in question, if not under attack, within certain groups of people who claim the name of Christ.

Interestingly, the Bible commands us to be dogmatic—at least that’s how I characterize the “stand firm” passages in the New Testament. Paul says “stand firm” to the Corinthian church, three times to the Ephesians, a couple times to the Thessalonians, and once to the Philippians. Peter said it too.

In these verses we’re told to stand firm in the faith, in the Lord (twice), and in the grace of God. Once we’re told to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Another time the idea expanded:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us
– 1 Thess 2:15

Hold to the traditions the first century apostles taught—the ones we know of because they are written down for us in the Bible. But holding to traditions is what gets people labeled dogmatic, especially in a day when change seems to rule life.

Maybe it’s time for Christians to stop blushing or dodging when someone hurls “dogmatic” at us as an invective. Maybe it’s time to answer, You got that right. I am standing firm, just like my Commanding Officer told me to.

Ah, but there’s another problem for Christians—all this warfare imagery in Scripture. Couple that with the Christian’s claim at exclusivity, and we are labeled as hate-filled because we aren’t amenable to everyone else’s religion.

The key here, I believe, is for Christians to be dogmatic about the right things. We are to be dogmatic about who Jesus is, about God’s nature, Man’s sin and need for reconciliation with God, salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ at the cross, our opposition to Satan, the authority of Scripture, Christ’s soon return.

No question, being dogmatic separates us from our culture—just as being light separates us from darkness, being salt separates us from that which is flavorless.

You see, dogmatic—that is, standing firm even when the wind and waves come—isn’t all that different from faith. Neither one depends on what we can see, and both can get us through the pressures of life.

This post, minus some revision, first appeared here in September 2010.

Published in: on September 9, 2015 at 5:47 pm  Comments (14)  
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Dogmatism And What Christians Don’t Know


halloween-1369053-mRecently I took the time to write a number of articles to refute the notion that spiritual things are not knowable (for starters, see “Christians Should Not Be Silent,” “What Christians Know,” “What Else Christians Know,” “Christians Also Know . . .,” and “Doubt And Uncertainty.”) Frequently those who take the “can’t know” approach accuse Christians of being know-it-alls. Because I say there are things Christians do know, I am not saying we know everything.

Sometimes I think we need to remind each other of this fact. Because we are Christians, we don’t know who will make the best President of the United States or who should be the next Supreme Court justice. We don’t know if it’s better to delay Obamacare or not. We don’t even know if we should celebrate Halloween or if we should baptize babies or move to Arizona. We don’t know if we should homeschool or send our children to Christian school or to our local public school.

Let’s face it: there are tons of issues that require an opinion, and most of them do not have a corresponding, clear statement of Scripture by which we can set our convictions. There may be principles to guide our thinking, but different people can interpret principles in different ways.

Which brings me to dogmatism. We should cut it out (she said dogmatically. 😉 ) Seriously, dogmatism, by its nature, leads to some dangerous things: legalism, self-righteousness, pride, exclusivity, prejudice, even abuse.

As soon as we cling to a belief dogmatically such that we believe our position is the only right one, we are putting ourselves in jeopardy. Please note: I’m not referring to those things that Christians know, such as God is, Jesus shows us the Father, we are saved by His grace, and so on.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. I believe the Bible clearly teaches parents are to discipline their children. Some parents believe that when Scripture refers to the “rod of correction,” this means a literal rod and the only appropriate discipline is spanking.

Other parents take issue with that view and believe there are effective means of discipline which fulfill the Scriptural principles regarding raising children that don’t include spanking.

My caution is against dogmatism and against ignoring Scripture. If one parent understands what Scripture says about discipline and decides the best way to implement the principles is by spanking, and another parent, also using Scripture, decides to use time-outs, neither should judge the other.

Scripture is to be our guide, and by prayer, trusting in the Holy Spirit to illuminate His truth, we should make reasoned, careful decisions. But once we’ve done so, we need to refrain from extrapolating from our experience to what all other Christians or Americans or humans should do.

We don’t know what God has in mind for someone else and ought not judge.

However, not judging does not mean we are to make our decision and ignore everyone else. We are in relationship with others. With peers we are to let iron sharpen iron. We are to discuss, even debate, so we and they can learn. We are to teach–older women, the younger, and older men, the younger. Pastors and teachers are to instruct. We are to live as examples for one another as Paul did for the church at Philippi.

In other words, it’s fine, even necessary, for us to share what we’ve learned and what we believe. It’s not fine to expect everyone who has heard us to reach the exact same conclusion as we have. And, more so, it is not fine to look down on those who do things differently.

We might think they are wrong. We might even be responsible for confronting them and telling them they are wrong, though we would need a lot of Biblical backing to reach that point. But unless the issue is something clearly stated in Scripture (don’t steal, for example), it’s not OK for us to be so dogmatic we leave no room for the Holy Spirit to work differently in the lives of different Christians.

Unfortunately, I think our Western culture has influenced Christians to the point that we are less inclined to be dogmatic about the things the Bible states without equivocation (for example, Jesus is the way, the truth, the life; no one comes to the Father but through Him) and more inclined to be dogmatic about our own preferences and point of view (things like, the Harry Potter books are of the devil–or not).

There’s one other thing I think we need to remember. With God there is forgiveness. Nothing any of us does or has done is beyond God’s mercy. He has made it clear that Jesus “bore our sins in His body on the cross that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” So even the things that we hold to dogmatically that align with Scripture (I’d put a stand against abortion in that category, for example), do not give us the right to hate others or malign them.

Scripture says we’re not fighting against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces. Consequently, people with opposing views are not our enemies. If this is true when it comes to the clear things of Scripture, it certainly is true when it comes to things not spelled out in the Bible.

In short, we have no business taking a dogmatic stand on things that aren’t in the Bible–I don’t think. 😉

Published in: on October 29, 2013 at 5:00 pm  Comments (2)  
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On Being Dogmatic


In today’s western culture, most people seem to be dogmatic about only one thing: no one should be dogmatic. It reminds me of the occasion I learned I was prejudiced against people who were prejudiced.

In the case of dogmatism, it seems to me Christians are adopting the cultural opposition to those who are dogmatic and making it our own. Hence, once widely-held beliefs such as the authority of the Bible, original sin, redemption through Christ alone, even God’s sovereign right to judge His creation, are in question if not under attack.

Interestingly, the Bible commands us to be dogmatic—at least that’s how I characterize the “stand firm” passages in the New Testament. Paul says it to the Corinthian church, three times to the Ephesians, a couple times to the Thessalonians, and once to the Philippians. Peter said it too.

In these verses we’re told to stand firm in the faith, in the Lord (twice), and in the grace of God. Once we’re told to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Another time the idea expanded:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us
– 1 Thess 2:15

Hold to the traditions the first century apostles taught—the ones we know of because they are written down for us in the Bible. But holding to traditions is what gets people labeled dogmatic, especially in a day when change seems to rule life.

Maybe it’s time for Christians to stop blushing or dodging when someone hurls “dogmatic” at us as an invective. Maybe it’s time to answer, You got that right. I am standing firm, just like my Commanding Officer told me to.

Ah, but there’s another problem for Christians—all this warfare imagery in Scripture. Couple that with the Christian’s claim at exclusivity, and we are labeled as hate-filled because we disagree with someone else’s religion.

The key here, I believe, is for Christians to be dogmatic about the right things. We are to be dogmatic about who Jesus is, about God’s nature, Man’s sin and need for reconciliation with God, salvation by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ at the cross, our opposition to Satan, the authority of Scripture, Christ’s soon return.

No question, being dogmatic separates us from our culture—just as being light separates us from darkness, being salt separates us from that which is flavorless.

You see, dogmatic—that is, standing firm, even when the wind and waves come—isn’t all that different from faith. Neither one depends on what we can see, and both can get us through the pressures of life.

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm  Comments (3)  
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