ImageFor my vacation reading, I picked one book entitled Credo – Meditations on the Nicene Creed.  I heard the author, Donald T. Williams, speak in San Diego last year and I enjoyed how he combined his erudition of the English language with a fantastic grasp of the Reformed and Catholic theologies.

In the section entitled Credo in Unum Deum (I Believe in One God) he writes: "Thus they grounded their whole theology on the shema': "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one" (Deut. 6:4, NJKV).  The Hebrew can perhaps more accurately be translated, "Hear O Israel, Yahweh is your God, Yahweh alone." They grounded their whole ethic on the commandment to have no other gods before Him, to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to serve Him only.  They had a precise technical term for the willingness to settle for anything less: idolatry.  By insisting that all of life be grounded in Yahweh alone, they affirmed both One God and One God.  In this, they were narrow, intolerant, dogmatic-and right. And when we take the Christian credo in our mouths, we stake our claim to the same ground they occupied, at the foot of the burning mountain in the presence of the living God." 

I was thinking, "How much do I try to avoid these terms – narrow-minded, intolerant, and dogmatic? I have been in discussions with my colleagues who argue that they are not dogmatic in anything they do, even though in Protestantism, we have a branch of study called Reformed Dogmatics.  Being dogmatic implies that there is only one truth and that truth can be seen and understood by the entire world. 

And then I thought of biblical passages where these words are used.  It is not narrow-minded, but it is the narrow road.  Jesus, speaking in the Beatitudes, says: Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it. (Mt. 7:13-14). In a number of occasions when I focused on Jesus being the only way to God, I was told that I was narrow-minded, but in our witnessing to the world we cannot escape that statement of Jesus.  In a later instance, he narrows the road even more when he says: I am the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except through me. That is mighty narrow!

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Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean in residency at Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park
Jackson Pines and Cranston Dean at Langosta

Then I thought of how rare the word tolerate is in the Bible.  We find it only once in the Book of Revelation against the Thyatira church, which otherwise was a pretty good church.  Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess.  By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of the food sacrificed to idols."  (Rev. 2:20)  God is warning that unless they change and throw this prophetess out, His wrath will come upon this particular church. 

Then I thought of the word dogmatic.  This label can be applied to Paul many times.  One of the things that he could not stand was falsehood.  He wrote to the Galatians church: But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned.  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other that what you accepted let him be eternally condemned." (Gal. 1:8-9)  Paul did not leave any room for another gospel.  He was very dogmatic – there was only one gospel because there was only one Savior sent from the Father who gave His life for our salvation.

Thus, we can be very open-minded, tolerant, non-dogmatic, and completely wrong. However, we can also be narrow-minded, intolerant, dogmatic, and right.

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George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...