What is Christian Tolerance?
by Ray King
"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another." Colossians 3: 12, 13.
Among religious teachers, tolerance has become a popular theme. In fact, it has been over-emphasized to the point that it "covers a multitude of sins." Not that we would in any sense minimize the importance of tolerance in religion, or seek to destroy its influence. "Live and let live" is a slogan that needs to be spoken much and practiced more. Bigotry and intolerance have done much to turn away the faith of many. The word of God teaches tolerance and it condemns intolerance. However, in teaching against intolerance in religion, it is so easy to swing to an extreme and urge this principle where it does not apply.
1. In what realm does tolerance apply? Let us look candidly at the principle and see where it is to be used. In the realm of judging other peoples' motives, the child of God is to exercise tolerance. When Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged," (Matt. 7: 1), He was speaking of motives. We cannot look into another man's heart and see what is there. Only God can do that. Thus it is wrong for us to impune the motives of others. Paul was condemning this attitude when he wrote, "Who are you that judges another man's servant? To his own master he stands or falls." (Romans 14: 4). In regard to the thoughts and intents of other men's hearts, God alone is able to judge with understanding and justice.
In the matter of judging the overt acts of others, we should make great allowances. We cannot know all the circumstances that brought about their mistakes; our decision would have to be rendered on insufficient evidence. We know the circumstances in our own lives that cause us to fall, and we can make sufficient allowances for ourselves. Thus is is easy for us to be lenient with ourselves and harsh with others. The Lord condemned this injustice in his well known "mote and beam" illustration, "And why do you behold the mote (speck) that is in your brother's eye, but do not consider the beam that is in your own eye? Or how will you say to your brother, 'Let me pull out the speck out of your eye; and behold, a beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of your own eye; and then you can see clearly to cast out the mote out of your brother's eye." (Matt. 7: 3-5).
Far greater justice would prevail in this world if more of us would be stern in our judgement of self, and tolerant in our judgement of others. Too many times we practice tolerance toward self and rank intolerance toward others. In rebuking this frailty of human nature, James voiced this divine pronouncement: "So speak you, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty. For he shall have judgement without mercy, that has shown no mercy; and mercy rejoices against judgement." (James 2: 8-13). When God judges us, mercy and understanding plead against the stern demands of justice. It certainly behooves us mortals, who are so short on wisdom, to exercise tolerance in dealing with the mistakes of our brothers.
In the realm of private judgement and opinion, we are at all times admonished to be very tolerant. "Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem the other better than himself. Look not to every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others," (Phil. 2: 3, 4). When it comes to matters of method, or individual ideas concerning the doing of things, we are to exercise a great deal of forbearance. There is a realm of private liberty where great tolerance is to be exercised toward others if harmony is to prevail among Christians.
2. In what realm is tolerance not to be applied? It may come as a shock to some to learn that the Christian is not to be tolerant toward everything. In some things he is aggressively not tolerant. Are you surprised? I can be most liberal with the things that are mine, but I have no right to be liberal with the things that belong to you. It is my business if I want to allow my children, for example, to play in my automobile and literally tear it to pieces, but it certainly would not be right for me to be that tolerant of my children in regards to your automobile. My indulgence of my childrens' mistakes must legally stop where your property begins. Just so, friends, with the Christian's tolerance. He can be very liberal with others in the sphere of his own opinions and his ow personal rights, but the moment he crosses over into God's realm of authority, his indulgences must cease.
The word of God does not belong to man; it is the sole property of the Almighty. It is mankind's to use and benefit by, but not his to indulge or change. It is the only absolute standard of justice and righteousness in all the universe. It is the only perfect pattern of living to which we can look. It furnishes the only pathway from earth to heaven. It is God speaking to man. It belongs to God. Woe betide the man who exercises tolerance in regard to this divine standard of perfection.
When religious teachers tell us that there are many roads to heaven, and everyone has the God-given right to choose the one that he wants to travel, they are taking presumptious liberties with that which does not belong to them. Jesus Christ said there was only one way to Heaven and He said that He was that way (John 14: 6).
When religions tell us that "faith only" is a very wholesome doctrine and full of comfort, they are being tolerant with that which does not belong to them. God plainly teaches that faith without works of obedience is dead (James 2: 14-26); that faith must be coupled with works and motivated by love in order to avail anything in Jesus Christ (Galatians 5: 6).
When men insist that one church is as good as another, ant that all churches are pleasing to God, they are being indulgent with that which does not belong to them. God clearly states that there is one body (Eph. 4: 4) and that it is the one church of which Christ is the head (Eph. 5: 23). When men-pleasing liberals teach us that sprinkling or pouring a little water on the penitent sinner is just as good as immersion, they are being generous with something that does not belong to them. God stated very plainly the conditions under which He would forgive an individual his past sins. After believing, repenting, and confessing his faith in Christ, he must be baptized in order to have his sins remitted (Acts 2: 38). Sprinkling and pouring are not baptism--not by any stretch of the imagination. Baptism that puts us into Christ is a planting, or burial; it is an act that conforms to the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (Romans 6: 2-18). Other passages tell us that the medium in which the penitent believer is submerged is water (Acts 8: 36-39 and I Peter 3: 21).
Those broad-minded libertines who take men of all faiths into their fellowship, and who would encourage those victims of error to continue their disobedience, are manifesting generosity with that which is not theirs to indulge. God has emphatically taught that there is only one faith that carries any hope of reward (Ephesians 4:5 and Jude verse 3). When broad-minded liberals tell us that a man is free to leave his wife because he is unhappy, discontented, or incompatible, he is taking liberties with God's word which do not belong to them. God teaches that sexual misconduct is the only scriptural reason for leaving (Sermon on the Mount, Matt. 5). When churches and church leaders liberally equate forgiveness with condoning sin, we are in error. When Jesus forgave the adulterous woman, he did not condone her adultery. He told her to stop.
3. What is intolerance in religion? We are intolerant and sinful when we attempt to force our religious beliefs on others. Whether our beliefs are right or wrong would not change the principle. The Puritans' harsh treatment of Roger Williams is a case in point. God will not acept any service of man that is done against His will. In every respect God "loveth a cheerful giver." He will accept no other kind of service.
We are intolerant and sinful when we [as individuals or vigilantes--STW] attempt to punish sinners. Civil authority is granted this obligation. The cruelty of the Spanish Inquisition stands as a disgrace on the pages of history. Jesus taught in the parable of the tares that His disciples are not to punish eveil doers. God will punish in the final judgement.
We are intolerant and sinful when we insist that others conform to our view in matters of opinion. Whatever may be involved in an act of service that is not specified in God's word is a matter of opinion. Whatever is clearly specified in scripture is a matter of faith. We are not to tamper with matters of faith. In opinions we are to "esteem the other better than ourselves." No Christian will force a private opinion on anyone. All will contend for the faith. We are intolerant when we pretend to be the seat of authority. No man in the Kingdom has any authority above another. The authority is all in the Bible, the word og God. for any man or woamn to pretend to have occult or spiritual powers of interpretation above their brethren is to stand before God guilty of the gross sin of presemption (See Psalms 19: 13, 14, David).
Frinds we are not intolerant when we "contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Judge verse 3). We are not intolerant when we teach God's word "in season and out of season." (2 Tim. 4: 1-5). We are not intolerant when we "fight against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph 6: 12). We are not intolerant when we refuse to fellowship with those who persist in teaching and practicing religious errors that would destroy man eternally or lead his children (the church) astray (2 John verses 9 - 11).
Click on the doorway to return to the sermons index page.