Learning to Think for Ourselves

If you really want to grow up in Christ, then you’re going have to learn to think for yourself! You’re going to have to come to understand the word of God … for yourself and develop your own faith, a faith that will motivate you to use the word of God to make the kinds of choices that you must make to please Him!

Preachers and elders have to understand that if they really want to help people grow, they have to help people -- and let people -- think for themselves. Too often, elders and preachers are tempted to simply “indoctrinate” church members, rather than helping them to learn and think for themselves. To indoctrinate someone is to teach him “to accept a set of beliefs uncritically” (Oxford, p. 681); it is to get him to blindly and unquestioningly accept a certain set doctrines! When a person is simply indoctrinated, he does not think for himself, nor does he develop a faith of his own. Worse yet, when we as teachers indoctrinate, rather than teach folks to think for themselves, we “lord it over” their faith; something we must not do. The apostle Paul told the Corinthians that he would not “lord it over” their faith, and then added: “for in your faith you are standing firm” (II Corinthians 1:24). People will only stand firm when they stand in a faith that is their own; a faith based on their own understanding of God’s word.

Indoctrinating people is certainly easier, but it doesn’t really help them. Oh, they may say all the right things -- the things the teacher wants to hear; but they are not speaking from their own faith. They are simply “parroting” the faith of their teacher, and that’s not good!

At times, preachers fall prey to this temptation when people want answers to their Bible questions. The temptation is to just give the person the “bottom line” answer, rather than pointing him to the word and helping him think through the answer for himself. After all, if the preacher takes the time to help him think through the question for himself using the Bible, he may not reach the right answer quickly. In fact, he may even at first reach the wrong answer, and then more study and work will be required. In such cases, it’s so easy to just give the “bottom line;” to answer the question for the guy and send him on his merry way. But such indoctrination will not really help the person. It only makes him dependent upon his teacher, and it won’t affect any real or lasting change in his behavior. Real and lasting change in people’s conduct only comes when they are individually and personally convicted that the change is necessary. Indoctrination with the “bottom line” does not produce that kind of conviction.

Elders also, sometimes, fall prey to this temptation as they try to keep unity in a local church. Independent thinking in Bible study, at times, can produce a temporary diversity of views in a local church. Why? Because not every member is equally capable of accurate, solid study, nor of careful, clear thinking. And so, when a variety of differing views begins to emerge within a congregation, elders are often tempted to resort to “indoctrination.” They begin to discourage independent study and independent thinking, and they even squash any effort to openly study controversial issues. What they don’t realize is that when they do this, they step over the line; they begin to “lord it over” the faith of others…something even the apostle Paul said he would not do (II Corinthians 1:24)!

Indoctrination does not help people grow up. It only cripples them. Independent thinking and Bible study, on the other hand, will not hurt a person -- if his heart is right! If a person’s heart is right, he will, in the end, find the Truth (Matthew 7:7). But if his heart is not right, he will not be acceptable to God, even if we “lord it over” his faith by indoctrinating him in the Truth. If we really want to stimulate growth, then we must teach people to learn and think for themselves