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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

I May be Wrong
March 31, 2011

It happened this week again – a friend of mine went public on “how my mind has changed” with regard to a particular issue. He did it big-time, publishing his change of heart in Salon magazine. Whenever one of my friends pulls off this sort of switch, I am at first bewildered to discover that someone whom I knew to be a convinced partisan on one side of an issue has flipped – and he didn’t even bothered to consult with me! He’s still the same guy – I think. In fact, he says that his new position is more in line with his bedrock convictions than his old stance was. Maybe so. But it still unsettles those of us who have long known him.

Sometimes we welcome changes of mind; indeed, we urge folk to change their mind when it comes to embracing the claims of Christ on their lives. We rightly celebrate someone becoming a convert to the way of Jesus, which entails being transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2).

We who have been following the Lord Jesus know well that conversion is not a “one and done” deal. Our need for continuing conversion never ends. It’s called “sanctification,” the lifelong process of becoming a saint. While it is extraordinarily difficult to change our minds at will, we can adopt practices that either cultivate or militate against a disposition toward continuing conversion. This may be what the Westminster Larger Catechism is driving at when it urges us to be vigilant about “improving our baptism.” (Question 167)

Westminster couches the discussion on improving our baptism in terms of our growing together in love, owning that we are baptized by the same Spirit into one body. By opening ourselves to others in the body of Christ, we make ourselves “convertible.” And, I dare say, that is especially so when we open our hearts and arms to those who differ from us. By the same token, when we insulate ourselves from others, or surround ourselves only with those who confirm what we already believe and do, we lose the capacity for ongoing conversion.

My friend who changed his mind says that it all began for him when he got to know someone who saw things differently than he did. I can testify that I too have made the biggest leaps forward in my life as a Christian when I have gotten close to folk with other perspectives.

John Calvin deeply resisted talking about his personal faith journey. He feared that any attention to him personally could make people less attentive to Christ, and he wanted none of that. In fact, he was so averse to personal attention that he insisted on being buried in an unmarked grave. We have no idea where his body lies. But there is one time in his massive literature that he does talk about his personal conversion experience, saying that God “brought my mind to a teachable frame.” (Introduction to his commentary on Psalms) He goes on to relate how this played out in his life, as time and again he was persuaded by others to say and do things that went against his ordinary inclinations. It was in his ongoing teachability by those who challenged him that he grew in faith and ministry.

How do we cultivate a disposition of teachability? Among other things, we do so by getting close to folk who challenge our ordinary inclinations. We risk relationship with people who may well challenge us to change.

Over the years, The Christian Century has published a series of occasional articles in which various Christian leaders and scholars write under the headline, “How My Mind has Changed.” Several have told how hard it is to admit that they once had it wrong – because it means they could still be wrong in some respects. And perhaps that is precisely the point – only when we admit that we are not God, can God can truly glorified in us. And what better way to admit that God is God, and I am not, than when I say, “I may be wrong.”

In constant need of conversion,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Pittsburgh Presbytery

P.S. It’s always nice to have a real theologian confirm what one says – check out the wisdom of Snoopy the theologian at http://chanceofmanna.wordpress.com/2008/10/03/snoopy-the-theologian/

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