et's face it: steadfast immovability is one of those virtues that has lost its luster in these postmodern times. "Epistemological humility" is the new supreme and cardinal virtue. We're supposed to refuse to be certain or dogmatic about anything.
Our culture thinks rank skepticism (or even spiritual nihilism) is humility, and hipster Christians have overcontextualized themselves to the point where they seem to think that's true. Strong convictionsthe very thing Paul calls for hereare out. If you don't undergo some kind of major paradigm shift in your theology and your worldview every few years or so, you are not only hopelessly behind the times, you are incurably arrogant, too.
That's why, according to any postmodern way of thinking, dogmatism is to be avoided at all costs, diversity is to be cultivated no matter what, and tolerance means never having to say "You're wrong."
That's not "humility"; that's unbelief.
It's not arrogant to have firm, immovable biblical convictions. In fact, it is our duty to be precise and thorough in our doctrine, and to come to strong, mature, biblically-informed convictions. Paul even named this as one of the necessary evidences of authentic faith: "If indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard" (Colossians 1:23). We are not to be "children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine" (Ephesians 4:14). Stability is a good and precious virtuea necessary virtue for church leaders especially. Peter wrote, "Take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability" (2 Peter 3:17).
Watch out for those who undergo regular, major paradigm shifts in their thinking or revamp their whole theology every few yearsavoid them. Double-minded men are unstable in all their ways.
Yeah, but isn't it wrong to be obstinate and inflexible?
Well, it certainly can be, but do you know what the Bible identifies as the very worst kind of stubbornness? It's the obstinacy of refusing to be steadfast in our conviction that the Word of the Lord is true. Scripture condemns such people as "a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast" (Psalm 78:8). How were they "stubborn" without being steadfast? "Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant" (v. 37). That's the very height of arrogance.
"Stand firm." That's a command. "Stand firm in the faith." The definite article is significant. There is only one true faith, and if your faith in Scripture isn't strong enough to affirm even that fact without equivocation, you really need to ponder very carefully what Paul is saying here. Because in all likelihood, that question will be put to you by an unbeliever ("Is conscious faith in Jesus really the only way to heaven?"), and you need to be ready to give an answer. I'm amazed and appalled at the parade of evangelical celebrities who have flubbed that question on Larry King Live or other national platforms.
If you are someone who undergoes regular worldview-sized shifts in your thinking; if your worldview changes every time a new fad or bestselling book comes along; if you are by nature fascinated with new perspectives and radical doctrinesdon't become a blogger or use the Internet as a place to do your thinking out loud. Please. People like that only sow doubt and confusion. The Christian is supposed to be like a tree, planted by rivers of watersteadfast, immovable, growing in a steady, constant fashion rather than lurching wildly from one point of view to another all the time. He should be full of life and energy, but staunch and unwavering in his faith.
Of course I'm not suggesting that it's always inappropriate to change your mindeven on the big issues. You may have heard me making the case somewhere that if you're an Arminian, you ought to rethink your soteriology and adopt a more biblical view. I personally experienced precisely that kind of large-scale theological shift several years ago, and a few years before that, while reading Warfield's Studies in Perfectionism and comparing it with Scripture, my whole understanding of sanctification got an overhaul.
There's nothing wrong with that, as long as you don't become addicted to the idea of remodeling your doctrine just for the sake of having something new to play with. Bible doctrines are not Lego brickstoys you can tear apart and put them back together in any shape you want whenever you tire of your most recent plaything. We're not supposed to be like the Athenian Philosophers in Acts 17:21, who "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new." The goal of our study should not be the constant shifting of our beliefsbut Christlike steadfastnesssolid, settled, mature convictions.
And let me add this: if you do abandon Arminianism and become a Calvinist; if you leave one eschatalogical position and take up another one; if you undergo any major doctrinal shiftdon't suddenly act like that one point of doctrine is more important than all others. Don't blog or talk about it constantly to the exclusion of everything else. Spend some time settling into your new convictions before you pretend to have expertise you frankly haven't had time to develop.
I think the tendency of fresh Calvinists to become cocky and obsessive about the fine points of predestination is one of the things that makes Calvinism most odious to non-Calvinists. Don't do that. It's not a sign of maturity, and you're not truly steadfast in the faith unless you are truly mature.
That is what Paul is calling for here: maturity, groundedness, stability. That's the heart of legitimate Christian conviction.
In fact, let's be clear about this: What Paul wanted to see in the Corinthians was not the ability to argue with zeal and vigor in favor of a particular point of view. Immature college kids can do that better than anyone else. What Paul was calling for is firm belief, settled assurance, confidence in the truth of God's Word, and an unwavering heart. In short, spiritual maturity. And that's not an easy thing to come by in a culture like Corinth, where the fads and fashions of this world seem to have more appeal than the eternal word of God.
Listen to what Charles Hodge said about this command:
Do not consider every point of doctrine an open question. Matters of faith, doctrines for which you have a clear revelation of God, such for example as the doctrine of the resurrection, are to be considered settled, and, as among Christians, no longer matters of dispute. There are doctrines embraced in the creeds of all orthodox churches, so clearly taught in Scripture, that it is not only useless, but hurtful, to be always calling them into question.
"Stand firm in the faith," Paul says, and if you are tempted to tone that down, apologize for it, or explain it away because it conflicts so dramatically with the spirit of this age, then you need to repent of that attitude and ask God to give you more conviction and more courage.