Thinking Cap #38 - Tolerance

Tol-er.ance - sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.

Being intolerant in this day and age of political correctness is a black mark on ones reputation. Being labeled as intolerant often silences ones opinion or ability to be heard in the marketplace of ideas and debate. Whether we like it or not, we all will go to various lengths to avoid being called intolerant. That is of course, unless we are hard-liners, in which we might even carry the badge with pride. Is this Biblical? What is a Christian approach to tolerance?

Tolerance has become the universal virtue. Yet universal tolerance is tantamount to Christian heresy. Tolerance is the virtue of those who have no standards. President Clinton in speaking to a secular group on a sexual issue stated that we “must broaden our imagination.” Yet, a reading of the Bible warns us against broadening the narrow way. It’s just human nature to want to broaden the narrow way. But, truth can never be broadened. It thus becomes important that we have an authority for truth. It can not be ourselves or our own thinking, as our minds are deceitful.

This becomes clear when we consider a line that is leveled at those who take a stand for truth: “You are being judgmental.” Now, if I judge out of my own self-righteousness, then I am wrong regardless of the subject. If I say you are wrong because I am right, that is non-Christian. Yet, if I say that the same judgment that applies to you, applies to me, then I’m not being judgmental. I am simply living under an authority. I am reporting a judgment that applies to both of us.

Consider three tests of tolerance. First, is it taste or is it truth? We should be tolerant in our taste, but intolerant in matters of truth. In matters of taste, we should be tolerant. In general contemporary music does not create and attitude of worship within me. But that doesn’t mean that others cannot worship in an atmosphere of contemporary music. It’s a matter of taste. I prefer the KJV as a standard from which to preach. There are other reliable translations (NASB, NIV and NKJV to name three in my opinion). If one of those serves your taste, that is fine; it is a matter of taste. However, the Bible makes it clear that salvation is by faith. It is by the grace of God. It is a matter of belief and repentance. Those are not taste. Those are truth. As a result I cannot be tolerant of religious expression which teaches that you have to do something (works) to be saved (Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Church of Christ to name four). Similarly the Bible teaches the security of the believer (once saved, always saved). Thus, I cannot be tolerant of churches of the charismatic persuasion that teach that you can lose your salvation (thus making void the cross and making the seal of the Holy Spirit a lie).

A second test of tolerance is whether it is a preference or a principle. Our preferences can vary. Our principles cannot. Cultural issues can be a preference. I can ask Jesus into my liver in Africa and my heart in the USA. I can use a loaf of bread or a wafer for communion. I can wear jeans to preach in here in Montana. That’s cultural and preference.But, I must differ with the New Age movement, not as a matter of taste or preference, but out of principle. I don’t think they have the truth. Thus, I must differ with them and not tolerate them over truth.

A third test of tolerance is this. We can be tolerant where God is tolerant and not be tolerant where God is not tolerant. For example, God is not tolerant with sin, but he is forgiving. I read a letter to the editor in a religious newspaper from a UMC minister. He was angry with the newspaper for their intolerant view of homosexuals. He gave several examples of how accepting the Biblical narrative was of others. Mention was made of the woman at the well. He said that the intolerant religious right apparently didn’t realize that Jesus accepted the woman at the well. While that is true, I would also suggest that she was never the same after she met Christ. He didn’t tolerate her, but He did forgive her. So God is saying, “I’m going beyond tolerance.”

Tolerance is benign. Forgiveness is positive. But, there is also qualification for forgiveness. There must be recognition of wrong and there must be repentance. You don’t have just status quo with forgiveness; that nothing matters. Things do matter. God says, “I don’t tolerate. I forgive.”

God forgives, because God is love. Love is so much more than tolerance. Love warns, it disciplines and it corrects. A line from a movie goes, “Wine me, dine me, have sex with me... but don’t love me..... Love is a responsibility and I want to be free.”

So I consider a viable test for tolerance to be:
- is it taste or truth
- is it preference or principle
- is it something God is tolerant about or something about which He is intolerant.

The allure of tolerance with very great. If it wasn’t great, it wouldn’t have caught on. Satan never fails to give benefits to sin. The profits always come first and the price comes later. It’s the power of temptation. Consider some lures of tolerance. You get to go with the flow as it’s almost universally accepted. There’s no controversy. But Pascal said, “It is false piety to preserve peace at the expense of truth. A second allure is that it is convenient. You don’t have to give a subject any thought. And most people will do pretty much anything to keep from thinking something through. A third allure is that you have a short term gain, and a long term loss. The secular world
makes decisions on the here and now. Fourth, it avoids responsibility. If sincerity is the test of “right” then I don’t have to take responsibility to confront error. If all religions are of equal value and all roads lead to the same place, it relieves us of the responsibility of evangelism.

Eddie Robinson, the football coach for Grambling for well over 50 years and the builder of hundreds of men of character once said, “winning the game is never as important as winning the man.” He was not a tolerant coach. There never has been a championship coach who was tolerant. For nearly twenty-five years, I have been teaching the Christian Martial Arts. Ask any of my students how tolerant I have been. Forgiving, yes; loving, I would hope so; tolerant, never. I assume that students come to me because they want to become good at what they do. I assume that people come to the church which I pastor because they want to become Christ-like. I assume their purpose is
to improve, not be complimented. We come to Jesus for improvement, not just for acceptance as we are. If I were tolerate sin and error in their technique and lives, I would be prostituting the responsibility that I have as their sensei, mentor, discipler, pastor and friend.

The ultimate result of universal tolerance is anarchy. Judges tells us that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Total tolerance brings alienation and destroys community. Love and forgiveness builds community. Universal tolerance weakens divine forgiveness and love.

Pleasant Thinking
Kent Haralson


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