(Wes McAdams is the preaching minister at the Baker Heights congregation in Abilene, Texas.
His writing - located on his Radically Christian website - is often poignant and timely.)
Three times this week I’ve had the same conversation with various Christians. The conversation has revolved around the fact that we all know sincere people who are admittedly smarter and more educated than us, but seem to be overlooking a very obvious truth that we see and they don’t. For instance, I listen to many denominational preachers who are brilliant, but when they talk about subjects like baptism, I think, “As smart as you are, how could you possibly miss that?” Which leads me to wonder, what am I missing?
Isn’t that the logical question to ask? When we see a brilliant person who seems to be overlooking some obvious truth, shouldn’t we therefore say to ourselves, “If they could overlook something so obvious, I am probably overlooking something as well”? Or when we see glaring inconsistencies in people’s lives or doctrines, shouldn’t we say to ourselves, “If a sincere and knowledgable person like that can be inconsistent, I am probably inconsistent in some area as well”?
Here are some tips to help us recognize when we’re wrong:
1. Examine EVERYTHING in light of God’s word.
We live in a culture which too quickly says, “I disagree with that.” We say we disagree without ever examining it. It’s like my kids who say about food, “I don’t like that.” Well, have you even tasted it yet? If not, how could you possibly know you don’t like it?
Stop rejecting ideas without examining them in light of the Word. In Acts 17:11 Luke calls this being “noble.” Paul, in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “Test everything; hold fast what is good.” Stop saying you disagree before you’ve even tested it to see if it’s good or not. You might be rejecting some good thing in your life right now because you haven’t tested it. Or, on the other hand, you might be holding fast to something that is not good because you haven’t tested it.
2. Have the humility to admit when you’re wrong.
We need to realize that admitting we’ve been wrong about something is a good thing. You see, if you believe – on every issue – exactly as you did 10 years ago, that means you haven’t grown at all during these last years. That’s not a good thing; that’s a bad thing.
Growing people change their minds. They admit, “Wow! Now that I’ve studied this issue, I realize how wrong I was.” If you’re not saying that, every now and then, you’re probably not growing. Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have conviction. Of course we should! But it does mean, we should be willing to be honest with the facts, even when they contradict our position.
Think about people like Paul (1 Corinthians 15:9-10) and Peter (Galatians 2:11-14), these were sincere and knowledgeable men who were wrong at times and had to admit when they were wrong.
3. Don’t assume all change is progress.
One of the great problems with pride is that it convinces us that when we’ve changed, we’ve changed for the better. We need to keep in mind that while all progress is change, not all change is progress. You have to change in order to grow, but some change is regression rather than growth.
I’ve known far too many people who have proudly lauded their new found “enlightenment,” when they have actually gone further into the darkness, rather than into the light. Be careful when you say, “I used to think like that, but I’ve grown out of that.” Not only is that a very condescending attitude, it is also often said without much evidence that the change was actually “growth.”
4. Earnestly listen to people with whom you disagree.
When people talk, listen. Stop trying to formulate a rebuttal and just listen to them. Who knows, they might be right. You might learn something new. Just because someone is wrong about one thing, does not mean they’re wrong about everything.
As the old saying goes, “God gave you one mouth and two ears, so you should listen twice as much as you speak.”
5. Try to understand other positions.
When you hear a contradictory idea, try to ask yourself, “Where is he coming from? How did he arrive at this conclusion?” He very may very well be wrong, but you can’t really know until you adequately understand his position. Too often we prematurely reject an idea before we understand it.
Admittedly, with some wrong ideas, it is very hard to ascertain how someone came to that conclusion; but you can at least try. Stop saying, “Well, that’s just dumb.” Assume their position – even if it is wrong – was arrived at thoughtfully. Try to understand their thought process, so that – if they are wrong – at least you can help lead them out of that thinking.
6. Don’t vilify or overgeneralize.
We tend to paint with a very broad brush. We speak condescendingly of those with whom we disagree. We say things like, “They’re just a bunch of liberals. All they care about is being entertained.” Or, on the other hand, “They’re just a bunch of traditionalists. They don’t have any spirituality.”
It is very easy to develop a heart of pride and think that you – and people who agree with you – are the only ones who are sincere and knowledgeable. It’s not true. There are sincere and knowledgable people all around us. That doesn’t mean they are necessarily right. It doesn’t even necessarily mean they are Christians. But even someone who is not a Christian can teach you something.
When we overgeneralize and vilify those with whom we disagree, we stagnate. We never learn and we never grow. We isolate ourselves and surround ourselves with “yes men,” who only say what we want to hear.
7. Pray for God to help you rid yourself of your bias.
You are biased. Admit it. There is probably something you believe, not based on Scriptural evidence, but only because you want it to be true. The problem with these biases is they are extremely hard to recognize. We recognize them in others, but ignore them or overlook them in ourselves.
We have to be people who pray for discernment, asking God to help us recognize the biases in our lives. We have to hate inconsistency in our own life more than we hate inconsistency in the life of others and pray that God will help us rid ourselves of it.
About what are you wrong?
Chances are, if some of the most brilliant people on the face of the earth are wrong about something, so are you and so am I. Seek out the log in your eye. I know I have one (or two, or three, or four) and I’m desperately trying to find it. Are you looking for the log in your eye? Are you willing to take it out when you find it?
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