I was talking with some people last week at church about how hard it is when you get called ‘intolerant’ for simply holding a Biblical view of morality. We agreed that tolerance has become the most important virtue in modern Australia. To be called intolerant is now as bad as being called a bigot or racist. To disagree is to be a “whatever you disagree with – phobic”!
The true meaning of tolerance is to put up with what you disagree with. So, to tolerate someone is to respect their right to believe something that you don’t think is true or to respect someone’s right to act in a way that you don’t agree with. This is indeed a commendable trait and all Christians should be tolerant in this sense of those who disagree with us.
However, tolerance has come to mean something that it was never meant to. Tolerance now means that you have to accept another person’s beliefs or actions as equally true and valid (even if they are logically inconsistent with yours!). Truth has become relative, so to claim that you might know the true or right answer is, by definition, intolerant. Worse still is to question whether a person’s lifestyle might be harmful or inappropriate.
As Christians, we are called to be truly tolerant – respecting and loving even those we disagree with. However, we must be willing to be called intolerant. We must be willing to stand up and say that certain beliefs and lifestyles are wrong. We must be willing to say that we respect people’s right to disagree while still pointing out their error.
Sadly, this prevailing view of tolerance has not just scared Christians into remaining silent in the world for fear of being called “intolerant”, but even more insidiously it has crept into the church with regard to our attitude to the Bible. It now grates on us to hear other views questioned or declared wrong. Often I talk to Christians who are happy to hear the positive affirmations of Scripture but who dislike any teaching that points out error. Sadly, at this point our problem is with the teaching of Jesus and his Apostles! It was Jesus and the Apostles who demanded that anyone who teaches God’s flock not only teach the truth but also refute error .
The other place where I have seen this creeping of tolerance into Christian circles is in the attitude to Bible Study groups. I fear that some people see Bible Study groups as an opportunity to share our different views or wisdom on a topic or passage of Scripture. I hear people making statements about what they believe with no Bible open in front of them! That is not the aim of Bible Study. The aim is to work together with our Bibles open in order to work out the true meaning of a passage of Scripture and then consider what it means for our beliefs and our lives. Our views and opinions are at best secondary.
I wonder if a worthwhile prayer for us all might be that we will be tolerant (in the true sense) as we intolerantly (in the modern sense) work out and declare the truth of God’s word?