One of the questions that I ask people in Worcester when I’m doing interviews to learn more about the city is what sort of church might interest people. This is intentionally vague and open ended so that I do not unduly influence their answer. The goal in asking this question is not to create a church that fits the expectations of all those I speak with (this would be impossible!) but to try and follow the example of the Jesus, the apostle Paul, and many Christians since then. In a letter to the church in Corinth Paul writes,
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
In this excerpt you’ll notice how Paul identifies with certain people groups while also providing qualifiers that describe the ways in which he is not a simple mirror reflecting the surrounding culture of that group. This principle definitely makes sense if we follow the bible’s description of humanity being made in God’s likeness but corrupted by our choices. Thus there are ways in which each of us will reflect who God is as well as ways in which we distort the image. So when people keep saying that they are looking for a church that is open minded, here are some of the ways that I think we should both reflect and push against this answer:
Reflect: When people say they are looking for a church that is open minded they can mean a variety of things. At it’s most basic level people want a place where they are heard, where others truly listen and aren’t simply waiting for their chance to talk, where their questions and doubts are taken seriously, where cliches aren’t the answers, and where we resist the instinct to categorize and then dismiss. This basic stance of treating all people with dignity and starting from a posture of humility is rooted in both creation and redemption. God makes all of us in his image and every single person shows something of God, regardless of what they believe or how they live. Furthermore every single person is marred by sin and becoming a Christian isn’t an immediate fix of everything that is wrong with you. Based on the bible doctrine of creation and the fall into sin we should expectant that non-Christians will have things right that we have wrong. So there should be respect for all and a willingness to learn from others. Even more the church must be marked by humility because we are brought near to God by grace and are still marred by sin, not only in our actions but in our thinking as well. For the areas in which we do have it right we will be able to confidently state these without pride or any sense of superiority because it all comes from grace.
Push Back: On the other hand when people speak of being openminded they can also mean that it doesn’t matter what you think or believe, that all views are equal and that the only virtue is tolerance of varying opinions. Practically this will mean that people are very willing to hear and talk about other ideas and positions without criticizing them and often without taking a firm position. I think there are a few problems with holding up this view of open-mindedness. First of all, no one is truly open minded. There is a brilliant quote from G.K. Chesterton who says, “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.” Every single day we all make choices and close our minds on something. Who is openminded about their ability to leap tall buildings or whether their lover is a complex robot masquerading as a human or the red stop light a figment of the imagination? In the gospels you find that Jesus takes everyone, even his most bitter opponents, seriously and blithely dismiss no one – as if he were indifferent and it’s all a matter of opinion. One of the most attractive and challenging features of Jesus’ life is the strong stance he takes on all sorts of issues. As a church we cannot simply mirror the world around us but must, like Jesus, seek to reflect God’s unique perspective on our time. Christianity is ultimately a revealed religion which believes that God has actually spoken to us and given our minds something solid to bite down and not remain open.
So, will our church be open minded? Yes and no…
– G.K. Chesterton