Guarding Against Dogmatism
Dogmatism is defined as “the expression of an opinion or belief as if it were a fact : an assertion of opinion especially when unwarranted or arrogant.” We see plenty of dogmatism in our culture, but unfortunately, we also see it among Christians. So many divisions, arguments, confusion and hurt happen over people being dogmatic about what they believe and casting direct or indirect judgments on those who disagree. It is easy to call someone else dogmatic, and a lot harder to see it in yourself. I want to talk about why this is and discuss what the root of dogmatism is, what the Bible has to say about it, and ways that we can guard against it.
So, where does a dogmatic attitude come from? What is sinful about dogmatism?
It is not something that forms on its own. If someone is dogmatic, there is something that is rooted in their heart. Just like most actions, dogmatism is simply the result of something much deeper and more serious.
Dogmatism is an outflowing of a self-righteous and prideful heart.
The Bible may not specifically speak about dogmatism, but it does speak about pride. This is because dogmatism is a result of pride. It is what naturally flows from a heart that is self-righteous.
Proverbs 6 tells us about some sins that the Lord hates. A haughty spirit is number one on the list. What is it about pride that God hates? Why does the Bible warn so heavily against pride?
I have often heard that the Lord hates pride because when a man is prideful, he is exalting himself over God. While I do believe that is true, this explanation is very vague and does not get to the real issue. I think there is something deeper that reveals why pride is so dangerous and why one who is “arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 16:5).
During His ministry on Earth, Jesus received great opposition from the Pharisees. To the society around them, the Pharisees seemed to be very righteous and near to God. However, the One who knew their hearts saw the truth:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27-28).
The Pharisees thought themselves to be righteous, but on the inside, their hearts were dark. They could not believe that Jesus would dine with, teach, and save sinners. However, this is why Jesus came. In Luke 5, Jesus commands a tax collector named Matthew (or Levi) to follow Him. Matthew immediately drops everything and obeys. When Jesus goes to his house and dines with Matthew and other tax collectors, the Pharisees grumble and scoff at Him. But Jesus says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31).
The Pharisees were blind to their own sin. They could not see how wretched they really were. In attempts to make themselves feel more righteous than others, they created extra-Biblical commands and expected everyone else to follow them. Their self-righteousness and pride led them to dogmatism. They became calloused to the weight of their own sin and could only see the sin of others.
This is the danger of pride. Someone who is prideful cannot see their sin and their need for repentance. This pride can very easily and quickly lead to dogmatism. An inability to see the sin in your heart as well as an arrogant attitude toward your own beliefs can not only hurt your relationship with God, but also cripple your witness to others.
But until we truly humble ourselves and ask God to reveal the hidden sin in our hearts,
we won’t see it.
That is what is so dangerous.
You can have sin in your heart that you do not see and cannot see because of your pride.
Even those who want so badly to positively influence others can ruin their witness because of their pride.
This is why God hates it and why He “resists the proud” (1 Peter 5:5).
So how do we fight against pride and dogmatism if we may not be able to see it?
Here are some helpful steps that I believe are imperative in guarding our hearts from the sin of pride and from becoming dogmatic in our own beliefs.
1) Pray the prayer of King David and ask the Lord to search your heart and try your ways.
Our hearts have a bent toward sin, which is why, even as believers, we must constantly be asking the Lord to reveal any sin that is in our hearts and to give us the strength to deny ourselves and our sin.
2) Be willing to make a change if what you believe contradicts Truth that you are met with, no matter the cost.
Whether the Lord reveals sin in your heart or beliefs that are wrong or misguided, you must be willing to lay them down and to change, even if it costs you heavily. Maybe your family won’t understand. Maybe people will falsely accuse you. But rest assured in the fact that you are obeying the Lord and that He will be with you.
3) Realize that you are not always right about everything.
It is really easy to believe that your opinions about certain things are correct. This is not necessarily a bad thing. We wouldn’t have a certain opinion about something if we believed it to be false. However, it is so important to maintain a humble spirit and realize that even something you hold fast to may not be completely accurate.
4) Read and listen to other opinions to help you become well-rounded in your beliefs and sensitive to other perspectives.
This is so important, but it also takes discernment. Work on developing the skill of being able to read or listen to something and glean truth, while also being able to detect falsehood. We should always test what we hear or read with Scripture. In doing this, we may actually realize that something we have always believed is actually not based in Scripture, and we may need to change our perspective.
5) Know the difference between doctrinal issues and areas where we have Christian liberty.
There are certain things such as the inerrancy of Scripture, the deity of Christ, and the sinfulness of man, that we should not waver on. However, there are also areas in which we have liberty to disagree and not judge each other. Topics such as spiritual gifts, end times, family dynamics (such as women working outside the home, where children should be schooled, who does what in the household, etc.) are matters in which believers should be able to disagree and still live in harmony with one another without fear of judgment.
Dogmatism is very damaging. It can hurt relationships and stunt spiritual growth. And what is most dangerous about it is that it is usually hard to detect in your own life. The root of it is pride, which is a sin that the Lord hates. We must take this sin seriously and constantly be asking the Lord to show us areas in which we have become prideful so that we can be diligent in the fight against it. And we can rest in the promise that Scripture gives that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).