The definition of dogmatism according to dictionary.com is: unfounded positiveness in matters of opinion; arrogant assertion of opinions as truths.
Many of us have been victims of dogmatism and in turn practiced dogmatism when we were asleep JWs. We all recognize the dogmatism that characterizes Watchtower statements. Occasionally the Society says there is no need to be dogmatic about certain matters, but the fact is the organization is narrow-minded and dictatorial on almost all issues regarding what a “Christian” is expected to believe.
For instance, for years the Watchtower Society has insisted that Jesus died on an upright torture stake and not a cross. But can they or anyone be sure of the shape of the instrument that Jesus died on? For that matter is it that important that the stake did not have a cross beam? Even when I was an asleep JW I often wondered why the Society had to be dogmatic on certain unclear issues.
Notice also past statements that were put forth in dogmatic terms but today everyone, even faithful JWs, recognize as being erroneous:
***w22 3/1 p.73 Who Is Wise***
The indisputable facts, therefore, show that the “time of the end” began in 1799; that the Lord’s second presence began in 1874;
***w22 9/1 p.262 European Tour-Part V***
The physical facts show beyond question of a doubt that 1914 ended the gentile times; and as the Lord foretold, the old order is being destroyed by war, famine, pestilence, and revolution.The date 1925 is even more distinctly indicated by the Scriptures because it is fixed by the law God gave to Israel. Viewing the present situation in Europe, one wonders how it will be possible to hold back the explosion much longer ; and that even before 1925 the great crisis will be reached and probably passed.
Statements that were “indisputable facts” and “beyond question of a doubt” in truth were nothing more than speculations. This is just a small taste of the past and present way in which beliefs are presented in a dogmatic manner.
We are no longer enslaved to this organization with it’s narrow-minded dogmatic way of thinking. But although we have left behind the belief of the Society’s infallible authority perhaps we haven’t left completely these thought patterns behind. Have we simply replaced our old dogmatically held beliefs with different dogmatically held beliefs? It is a hard question to ask oneself. We are thankful for the mirror of God’s word that helps us to work on our humility and pride, enabling us to see ourselves honestly at least to some extent. (See James 1:22-26, HCSB)
We often hear Christians proclaim that this or that doctrine is Biblical truth. While it is true that the Bible is God’s truth, we must realize that we are all interpreters of the bible. I’m sure it doesn’t shock anyone here that people interpret the Bible differently. Some more accurately or even more sincerely than others. There are many disagreements between Christians over what certain scriptures mean, and labels abound as to what to call this or that school of thought. Even if they agree that the Bible is true and is God’s word, their interpretation of what it says may be different on some points.
The Bible as God’s word has authority. The problem arises when one Christian thinks that their interpretation of the Bible has the authority of God’s word backing it. If you put a Christian that believes in the trinity and a non-trinitarian Christian in one room you may get a big disagreement. Yet both will insist that they are merely teaching Biblical truth. Isn’t the same true of any two Biblical interpretations that don’t agree? They both will insist that what they say is what the Bible plainly teaches.
But doesn’t truth exist in these matters? Most assuredly. Either Jesus is Almighty God, or he isn’t. The majority of us here feel that he is God’s Son, not YHWH himself. But none of us can interpret the Bible infallibly, because we ourselves are not infallible- we are sinful humans, and far from perfect. Therefore, can we be 100% sure that an interpretation of a particular Bible passage is the correct one? Will we be so “sure that we are standing” (1 Corinthians 10:12, HCSB) that we will make that claim on something another disagrees with? We have personal beliefs and opinions, and these are natural. It is also natural to feel deeply that our opinion is the right one.
This would make it an admirable Christian quality then to show understanding to those who have a different opinion than our own, trying to see their viewpoint and perhaps even be willing to say that we don’t have all the answers, and really mean it. After all it may be we ourselves who are mistaken and not the other person. All of us have experienced that situation at one time or another in our lives! By insisting that our own interpretation is the correct one could be evidence of a prideful heart, or even arrogance in some cases.
When Paul helped the Corinthians become Christians notice the simple message that he brought them:
1 Corinthians 2:2 (NLT) “For I decided to concentrate only on Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.” (See also 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, HCSB)
I imagine that many of the controversies and disagreements among today’s Christians would have been incomprehensible to the Christians of the first century. Were those Corinthians not true Christians because they knew only the basic gospel message? Is not the “truth” the person of Jesus, the Messiah? Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”
Does the gospel truth also include the hundreds of other issues which divide some Christians today? Must we interpret correctly the Bible in all these side issues otherwise our eternal life is forfeit? Isn’t that what many of the myriad denominations of Christendom do? They compile and enforce a creed of adherence, that all members must agree to so as to gain admittance into the group.
Did not Jesus say in Matt. 11:28-30 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
We must realize that all those who accept Jesus as their Master and are striving to walk in his footsteps are our brothers and sisters. The WT would have us condemn any that disagree with their narrow view of scripture. Do we still harbor that feeling inside ourselves? Is that right? Is that what our Master Christ did when on earth? Showing love, respect, and consideration for our brother’s beliefs even if we believe he is mistaken trumps Biblical head knowledge. The latter part of 1 Corinthians 8:1, HCSB says “Knowledge inflates with pride, but love builds up.” Did not Priscilla and Aquila “explain the way of God more accurately” to Apollos? (Acts 18:24-26, HCSB) This implies that there was some points he was in error on. Yet he was not written off, discredited, or looked down upon by the others, and in time he came to a fuller understanding of the Christ. Would it not be ironic if we were to receive a surprise someday and were told by the Master that our brother was actually right and we were the ones in error on some doctrinal point!
If we view our own Biblical interpretations as unadulterated truth and we view other’s interpretations as simply vestiges of Babylon the Great or as satanic lies we may be destined to have a very lonely walk as a Christian. We might not be able to fellowship long with any Christian group because of our dogmatism, and off we will go to try and find another “more righteous” place to lay our head. Isn’t that what some among the Witnesses do when they switch from congregation to congregation, always finding fault or getting caught up in controversy?
And much worse is that we could be disappointing the One who bought us at so great a cost. (1 Corinthians 7:23, ESV) It is good to have conviction about doctrinal issues or prophecy, and to study these with vigor as we have the time and the inclination. However if we condemn others for having different views than our own on these matters we have left conviction behind and may be accused of being dogmatic, just like the Watchtower Organization has become. In debatable matters will our pride prevent us from simply “agreeing to disagree”? Or will we stubbornly cling to an “I’m right and they are wrong” attitude?
May we strive to take off “the old self” and to put on the new self ever more as we walk through the narrow gate and difficult road that leads to life. (Ephesians 4:22-24, HCSB; Matthew 7:13,14, ESV)
To the best of our ability, as imperfect sinful people, may we leave the old, fleshly, divisive part of our personality behind as we strive to serve God shoulder to shoulder, or “with a single purpose”. (Zephaniah 3:9, HCSB)