"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true"(Acts 17:11).
While church leaders will often pay lip service to the idea that their flock should examine what is being taught, in light of the scriptures, church members are rarely given the freedom to actually do so without serious repercussions. That is, unless the members' conclusions are the same as the leaders. The question is not "if the church's teaching is right or wrong"; rather it is "do you have the right to study the Bible for yourself and do you really have the freedom to come to your own conclusions?" In reality, those who differ with those who control the church institution often meet with stiff opposition. Leaders have been known to malign, attempt to discredit, and mark as false teachers those who sincerely disagree.
The point, however, is not how some independent thinkers have been treated, but whether or not YOU have surrendered your freedom, right and responsibility to think for yourself. How about it? Have you allowed those nagging suspicions and feelings that "something just ain't right" to go unattended to, being pushed back into the recesses of your mind? Do you have thoughts and have you read things in the Bible that contradict what you've been taught, yet you have refused to think about them because you are afraid of what you might see? Has your conscience been offended but you go along with leadership for fear of being "unsubmissive"?
Several years ago I began to realize that truth is much greater than I am because God is the author of all truth. If something is true, it will be just as true AFTER I examine its validity as it was before. Truth never fears examination or scrutiny. In fact, the man who loves truth welcomes it because he knows that the truth with withstand any scrutiny. This is why the Bereans were commended for "checking out" what the "inspired apostle" Paul was teaching. On the other hand, those who fear or hate truth will do whatever they can in order to convince you that their interpretation is the only correct one. They will attempt to convince you to agree and obey on the basis of what they perceive as their "authority". The Bible, I believe, teaches that no man has the "authority" to tell you what must believe.
Have you seen it before? Leaders who impose their own will on those that they think are "under" them? Whose wedding you may attend, what you may or may not wear whenever you come together with God's family, whose and how much advice you got. These are examples of human leaders (men just like you) who are trying to control you and impose their opinions on you. Some believe that submission to these men is the godly thing to do, but Jesus seemed to say otherwise in Matthew fifteen: "... their teachings are but rules taught by men." Then he said in verse fourteen, "Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." You may be thinking, "This does not affect me. I have been able to believe what I want. I just keep it to myself." Perhaps; or perhaps you have deluded yourself (as most of us have at one time or another). A man or woman who is free to think is also free to express what they are thinking. How can one truly learn without expression?
An interesting scripture dealing with this subject is found in Paul's letter to the church at Galatia. Paul was incensed when he discovered that some had turned away from the gospel and had turned back to the law. His anger was so great, in fact, that he told them that even if he or an angel from heaven preached another message, he should suffer eternal condemnation (Gal. 1.6f). It stands to reason, then, that if Paul (and even angels) do not have the authority to control our thoughts and minds, neither do leaders today have any such supposed authority.
Threatened leaders can often be quite convincing in their presentation of what they want you to believe to be true. Scriptures may flow freely and eloquently from their lips. This may convince you of this person's knowledge and, therefore, understanding of truth. Truth and knowledge of facts are not synonymous, however. Jesus said to the Pharisees, "you diligently study the scriptures, because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify of me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5.39f). One may be able to quote scripture all day long and do so with great passion and emotion. DO NOT BE FOOLED! Think for yourself! Study! Pray! Come to your own conclusions. God will not condemn you, rather he is pleased with the honest and sincere seeker who is willing to "give it all up" in order to know Jesus (Lk.14.25ff). He has even gone so far as to assure us that the Holy Spirit himself, given to us by the gracious will of our Father, will teach us about all things (1 John 2.26ff).
I am not naive enough to believe that thinking for oneself is an easy and comfortable thing to begin to do. It is, in fact, perhaps the single most difficult thing you will ever do. The price can be high. You may lose friends and most certainly the approval of some religious leaders. Making one's own decisions can be painful because we then realize that the responsibility now rests with us (it always has anyway) for what we do with our lives. The resulting alienation from some of those we love can cause depression and anxiety. But the resulting freedom will eventually be recognized as the glorious thing that it is. Perhaps it is time for you to begin to think for yourself. It is not only a good thing to do, it is the only way to go. Peter faced the decision of whether he should obey God or the leaders of the Sanhedrin. Peter knew what he was going to do and who he was going to listen to (Acts 4.18ff; 5.29ff). Peter did his own thinking, always seeking God's will rather than man's. How about you? Are you thinking for yourself? It's O.K. to do so, you know.