Godliness or Narrowmindedness?

Have you ever been called a “stubborn Hollander”? Most of us have, I suppose. We have also been accused of intolerance, inconsistency and narrow mindedness. Now reason indicates that much of the criticism vented against the Reformed people emanates from hatred toward our traditionally strong religious beliefs. Nevertheless, an element of truth remains in the accusations. All of us, regardless of nationality, color or creed, have a tendency toward intolerance and narrowmindedness. Is narrow-mindedness at times justified? Or do we confuse narrow-mindedness with Godliness and refuse to respect another’s opinion because we believe that we only know Truth?

What does the word narrow-mindedness mean? “Intolerance” and “prejudice” are two synonyms. To define narrow mindedness one might say “without breadth of view or opinion.” In other words, narrow-mindedness is the refusal to see the other side of an argument; refusal or inability to approach the problem from the other person’s point of view and to weigh all arguments for and against. Let us discuss two aspects of the subject: Narrow-mindedness regarding behavior in life and narrow-mindedness in doctrinal tenets. It is understood that this discussion involves only those who are true believers in Christ and His Word.

The Apostle Paul discourses on the subject of our Christian liberty in Romans 14 and I Corinthians 10. In the sixth verse of Romans 14 Paul says, “He that regardeth the day (the Sabbath), regardeth it unto the Lord: and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it.” Now, in the matter of Sunday observance especially, we differ from all other denominations. We do “regard the day.” And we are quick to condemn those who do not regard the day as we do. But Paul says that those who are God’s children do not regard it to the Lord. In modern language, therefore, our rules of what should and should not be done on Sunday may differ from rules that others have. We err in condemning others for their beliefs. “Why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.” If our brother in Christ earnestly believes that he is glorifying God in what he does on the Sabbath, how can we condemn him? Also, in the same verse we read “He that eateth, eateth to the Lord, for he giveth God thanks; and he that eateth not, to the Lord he eateth not, and giveth God thanks.” In our day this part of the text could be applied to the subject of amusements. For example, one brother may feel that he could not attend a major league baseball game “and give God thanks”; another may believe that he can attend a baseball game and also “give God thanks.” “Let every man be persuaded in his own mind.” Ergo, we must respect the brother’s belief if he sincerely believes he glorifies God by his actions.

In I Corinthians 10:23 Paul writes, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” By this passage Paul teaches that his Christian liberty does not forbid him to do a certain thing, but, nevertheless, for the sake of the brother, or because it is not edifying, he does not do it. For example, if you attend an office party and you are offered an alcoholic drink, you are at liberty to partake unless you are offending a brother in doing so. Again, you may desire to attend a baseball game, but you must consider whether you will be “edified” in so doing. The question is not “Are we forbidden to do this?” but “Will I best perform my God-given obligation of glorifying Him by doing this?” If we realize that God in His Word has not laid down specific rules concerning what we may do and what we may not do providing instead that all things we do must be to His glory, we shall be less disposed to look upon the brother with distrust and condemnation. We must not suppose that the brother is using his liberty as an occasion to the flesh for we are warned, “Judge not, that ye be not judged.”

Our recent controversy has given rise to many more accusations that we are narrow-minded. Some accusers are those who are not of the faith; others are brethren in other denominations. Those who ridicule us for “splitting doctrinal hairs” or for being intolerant of minute differences are treading on dangerous ground indeed. Where the nature and essence of Almighty God are involved there can be no compromise or ignoring of differences. To tolerate misconceptions of God Himself must be intolerable to Him. Nevertheless, the words “compromise” and “narrow-mindedness” are not anonymous! we still must respect our fellow-Christians’ point of view and belief. We have often been bitter and hateful when, as God’s children, we should have been sympathetic and loving. When we differ with a brother, it certainly must be a heinous sin in God’s sight to look upon him as an infidel and a heretic. It is our duty to reason with and admonish him, but never to condemn him.

Another example of narrow-mindedness with respect to doctrinal differences is our attitude toward Catholicism. To us the Reformed faith Catholicism appears to be a religion of superstition and ignorance. We often are inclined to ridicule instead of remonstrating. But the Catholic may be just as convinced of the truth as we are. If he believes and confesses the one true God, we may not ridicule and condemn him for his beliefs. We shall not be able to fulfill the great commission of witnessing for Christ if our narrow-mindedness causes him to despise us.

Finally, narrow-mindedness is often more than merely a foible; it is a great evil. We are disobeying God’s command not to judge the brother when we condemn him for what he does. Our narrow-mindedness also can be a stumbling block to others in our efforts to spread the gospel. If others cannot have fellowship with us because we haven’t the grace to tolerate differences of opinion, we should inquire if we are walking according to the commandments of God. Let not narrow-mindedness prevent others from living in our glorious truth.