Dr. Peter M. Senge, in his work The Fifth Discipline, discusses several different types of openness, such as Participative, Operational, and Reflective. It is the latter that really attracted my attention. "Reflective Openness" is described as the capacity to continually challenge one's own thinking. It is an openness to inward examination; to introspection and serious reflection on all matters affecting one's focus in life.
There is, unfortunately, an almost inherent tendency among the human species to reach a point of self-satisfied and self-righteous closed-mindedness. When this mindset is evident within us, the reflective process is rendered impotent .... and often, as a result, so also are we! Paul's charge "examine yourselves!" (2 Cor. 13:5) is a broad-based and far-reaching one. The nature of our faith, and whether or not we are even in the faith, are to an extent conditional upon our compliance with that charge. Genuine faith is not evidenced, nor is it enhanced, by a closed mind. Those whose hearts and minds remain open, who are willing to continually and genuinely challenge their own thinking and hold up their own convictions to the light of God's Word, are those who will grow in their faith and understanding. The rest will simply stagnate in the still pond of their carefully guarded dogmas.
Far too many disciples deflect Truth, rather than reflect upon it, because Truth is simply too often found to be incompatible with their own previously accepted beliefs. Such biblical dishonesty and religious arrogance erects a shield of isolationism and exclusivism that effectively blocks out all incoming challenges to its cherished conclusions. One's perceptions, practices, and preferences become the standard by which all else and all others are measured .... and most often found lacking. To dare to be either reflective or open is to risk being viewed with suspicion by those safely fortified behind the walls of their settled traditions and party precepts. Those who dare to challenge the calcified convictions of these narrow-minded religionists, or those within their party who dare to display tendencies toward independence of thought, are dispatched quickly, decisively, and at times viciously. There is no quicker way to rile a religionist than to challenge his convictions. For them it is a call to retaliation, not a call to reflection.
Nowhere, however, does God suggest His gracious revelation to us should result in termination of thought! Throughout His dealings with mankind, He has called us to reflection and meditation, which can only be truly beneficial when engaged in with open hearts and minds. When commissioning Joshua to lead His people across the Jordan and into the land of promise, the Lord God commanded him to take "this book of the law" and "meditate on it day and night" (Joshua 1:8). The Psalms speak repeatedly of the value of meditation, but perhaps nowhere as beautifully as Psalm 119. "Oh how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day" (v. 97).
Genuine reflection is an acknowledgment and manifestation of openness to change! We feast upon His Word in order to be transformed thereby. To devour the Scriptures for no other purpose than to "prove our point" or "enforce our practice" is to approach this feast already filled with our own fare, intent only upon a good "food fight" with other factionists. We have thus already determined within our minds and within our movement, to our complete satisfaction, the nature and extent of Truth. We are content. No other input is desired. Indeed, great offense is taken when "digressive disciples" dare to try. Our perceived task on earth is simply to prove ourselves right and all others wrong ... to the glory of God, of course! By not practicing Reflective Openness, we have succeeded only in deflecting Truth ... by which God is not glorified.
What would have become of Saul of Tarsus had he not practiced Reflective Openness during the seventy-two hours he was in Damascus following his encounter with the risen Savior? How many lives might have been adversely affected had Saul viewed Ananias as an apostate and his message as apostasy because he dared to challenge him to confront his beliefs in a new light?!
What might have been written about the saints in the city of Berea had they not "received the Word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11)? The text says they were more "noble-minded" than those in Thessalonica. Why? Because the latter were religiously bigoted, unwilling to listen to or reflect upon anything that went against their cherished perceptions. They were even willing to travel far and wide to inflict great harm upon those who were in "opposing religious camps." The Bereans were more noble-minded because they practiced Reflective Openness, rather than a dogmatic, self-righteous, closed-mindedness which would in effect have said, "Go away, Paul. We've already got all the answers. We're right, everyone else is wrong. We're the only ones approved of God. The only ones saved."
The Bereans, on the other hand, did not believe themselves to be the sole possessors of all Truth. They were constantly open to a better understanding of what God would have them to know, to do, and to be ... even if it meant radical change! They were practitioners of Reflective Openness! They were noble of mind because they were eager of mind. When Luke states that they "received the Word with great eagerness," he uses the Greek word prothumia which means "readiness, willingness and eagerness of mind." It denotes a disposition or mindset that is free of prejudice and bias --- an open mind; a teachable mind! This Greek word "emphasizes a lack of prejudice" (Arndt & Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the NT and Other Early Christian Literature). The Bereans, simply stated, had a prothumian spirit.
The truths that Paul presented were new to them and were a direct challenge to what they "had always been taught." But, rather than shutting their minds to the message and attacking the messenger, they were willing to take his teachings to the standard of the Scriptures "to see whether these things were so." As a result of their careful and prayerful study, and their Reflective Openness, "many of them therefore believed" (v. 12). On the other hand, too many in the religious world, like the Thessalonians of Acts 17, are prejudiced against (they have prejudged) any teaching that is in any way different from their comfortable, traditional understandings and preferences. Thus, they often attack both message and messenger without giving them a fair hearing and examining the evidence with an open Bible and an open mind.
Having a prothumian spirit, however, does not mean one lacks spiritual discernment. It does not indicate one is susceptible to any false or foolish teaching that comes along. Prothumianism and gullibility are not synonymous. It simply means one is open to receiving and examining all facts available in order to arrive at a better understanding of Truth -- even if that Truth should prove incompatible with what one has always assumed Truth to be. A prothumian spirit is one open to responsible change when shown a more acceptable way. Apollos displayed a prothumian spirit when taken aside by Priscilla and Aquila and shown the Truth more perfectly (Acts 18).
Prothumians embrace the principle and practice of Reflective Openness. When presented with a different teaching, or a challenge to an old familiar one, they confidently exclaim, "This is different from what I have always been taught. So, let's open God's Word and examine it together carefully and prayerfully to determine if these things be so!" They do not flee to their walled fortresses to hide from such challenges to their perceptions, but rather have a readiness of mind to examine all things by the sole standard of God's Word. It is an attitude that humbly declares, "I have not yet arrived at a full, infallible knowledge of God's total revelation to man, thus I am open to receiving further insight from His Word, to reflection and meditation upon those insights, and to effecting whatever changes in my perception and practice that heightened awareness necessitates."
Prothumians realize there is nothing whatsoever to fear from close scrutiny of their beliefs and practices. It is a fact that Truth, if it truly is Truth, has absolutely nothing to fear from intense examination. The more it is scrutinized, the more its nature is confirmed. Indeed, any practice, perception or precept which cannot bear close examination from the Word should be immediately regarded as suspect, as should any person who flees from such scrutiny.
It seems the greatest fear of such persons is often that some of their cherished notions and "sacred cows" may have to be altered or sacrificed to conform with Truth. But is this not the purpose of self-examination? Is this not why we should challenge our own thinking on a regular basis? One reason many fear such challenges is that not only might they be called to change when faced with Truth, but they may well be vilified if they do so by their less noble companions who are unwilling to engage in such open and honest reflection upon the Word, and who insist others refrain from such as well. Alexander Campbell wrote, "If I am not slandered and misrepresented, I shall be a most unworthy advocate of the cause which has always provoked the resentment of those who will not try to think and learn." A willingness to reflect upon Truth with an open mind and an eager heart has never been for the timid or fearful. It takes genuine courage, deep faith, and sincere commitment to expose ourselves and our convictions to the light of God's inspired Word and to then conform to whatever Truth is thereby revealed to us. It also takes courage to expose ourselves to the harsh pejoratives which will most certainly come from those who will not engage in such free thought and who do not possess a prothumian spirit.
Like countless spiritual worthies who have preceded us, known and unknown, may God grant us each the courage and strength of conviction to embrace and employ, regardless of personal cost or sacrifice, this marvelous quality known as Reflective Openness. Dare to be a Prothumian!
From a Reader in Donetsk, Ukraine:
Dear brother Al, Greetings in the name of the Lord from Donetsk, Ukraine. I have read and reread the Reflections articles several times. I am excited that God is working and blessing you, brother. I believe He always does with the people that seek Him not in human traditions and doctrines but in His Power. I visited your web site and read some of the studies and debates there. God bless you, brother. I invite you to visit my web page, but I am afraid you won't benefit from it much because it is in Russian. May God lead you in your ministry.
From a Reader in Arkansas:
Dear Al, Your thinking helps me. Thanks for sharing. I am an old Restorationist of the Campbellite clan so the idea of "get 'em wet" is very much a part of my heritage. As you suggest, baptism alone is not any better than faith alone. There seems to be a process from conception to birth. More and more my thinking sees God not confined to any system. I will always believe and practice Acts 2:38. However, I think it is possible God may love as children some who are incomplete births or premature births.
From a Reader in Texas:
Al, Your articles are very enlightening. I share a lot of your info with inmates as I am a volunteer prison minister. Since I was baptized into Jesus when I was 19, and now I'm 66, I have seen a pendulum swing to the word "grace" in such a way that it is not understood. It does not mean forgiveness. Forgiveness is part of the favor. It is a by-product of grace, along with all of the other blessings thru Jesus Christ. HE is the favor of God sent to us so that in spite of our sin we don't have to die!! THIS is the good news of the gospel. We don't earn grace, forgiveness, or anything good from God, but He does expect us to declare His goodness and the message of life. If we don't, who will? This is what we are saved FOR. (1 Pet 2:9, NIV) -- "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light." Peace and joy!
From a Reader in Texas:
I'll add a hearty amen to the preacher from California. Your Reflections #42 is being forwarded to a Baptist brother I have been studying with. He is hung up on "water regeneration," and I have tried to communicate to him through the conversions in Acts that salvation is a journey and a process, and have hit a wall over the "water regeneration" belief of his that he believes keeps baptism from having a part in the process. I pray that your Reflections will put a crack in the wall and open the door for further exploration. Thanks for your carefully worded essay on this vital subject. God bless you.
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