There are many ways in which the world fights against the Church, but one of the most pernicious threats comes from within. It is the threat of the unteachable spirit.
Proverbs 12:15 reads (in the ESV), “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” We have a great many people who have been “life-long Christians” that are right in their own eyes, and it is a shame.
Numerous congregations have people who are content with a third-grade Sunday school understanding of God. They measure everything they hear against their own understanding of the faith, and if they are stretched in any way, they react negatively because of it, even if the “new” information they hear is as biblical as anything previously heard.
John Wesley constantly was defending himself against problems like this. In The Character of a Methodist Wesley defended his insistence of the doctrine that we are saved by faith alone against his detractors who thought it was a novel teaching, and not something to be accepted in the Church of England in the 1700s. Wesley wrote, “Nor, lastly, is he [a Methodist] distinguished by laying the whole stress of religion on any single part of it. If you say, ‘Yes, he is; for he thinks “we are saved by faith alone:”‘ I answer, You do not understand the terms. By salvation he means holiness of heart and life. And this he affirms to spring from true faith alone. Can even a nominal Christian deny it?”
Our understanding of the truths of God can never be complete because God is infinite. By definition we can never know all there is to know. And God, in his grace and mercy, is not content to let us flounder. There have been numerous times in history where a large portion of the Church has been mistaken on a certain point of faith or had an inappropriate emphasis on one aspect of life in Christ; and in these instances God has raised up voices like Wesley to bring a corrective to the Church.
Given the fact that the Church has been shrinking nearly universally in the West for quite some time, perhaps it is time we admit that we have either been mistaken or had an incorrect emphasis or both, and now is the time to listen for the voices of those who are echoing God’s call through Jeremiah, “Stand by the roads and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
May we let go of the unteachable spirit that “already knows,” and may we heed the call to find the ancient paths.