Christians are to be salt and light in this world but does this mean that we should be tolerant of other religions and beliefs?
The Definition of Tolerance
Tolerance has many definitions. It depends on who you ask. Generally speaking, tolerance is the capacity of respecting and recognizing the beliefs or practices of others who differ from our own. Literally, it is the willingness or the ability to tolerate the existence of opinions, beliefs, or behaviors that one does not necessarily agree with or practice themselves. We might have a family member that has a much different set of values and beliefs than we do and so by accepting his or her beliefs and values and remaining civil in their presence, it can be said of us that we are tolerant of them. We can be tolerant of something while simultaneously disagreeing with it. We can agree to disagree but not be disagreeable. So, should Christians be tolerant of other religions outside of their own faith? What does the Bible say about such tolerance?
Only One Way
Christians are often called narrow-minded and prejudiced because they believe that there is only one true way to receive eternal life but is this “one way” belief of our own origination or imagination? No, this is what Jesus said; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He never said I am one of the ways, I am one of the truths and I am one of the ways to eternal life; rather He said that He is the way, the truth, and the life and there is no other. If we believe that there is only one way to be saved, we only believe what Jesus said and this is Jesus’ teaching, not ours. If people disagree with us about this, it is really their disagreeing with Jesus. Clearly, this is what the Scriptures teach, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Rom 10:13). This necessarily means that if someone calls on the Lord’s name they will be saved. The antithesis of this must also of necessity be true; “Whoever does not call on the name of the Lord will not be saved.” There is only one name given to men, women, and children by which they can be saved and that name is Jesus Christ’s (Acts 4:12). It should not amaze us that Jesus is the only way to be saved but considering the sinfulness of mankind, it is amazing that there is any way at all to be saved.
If you were following a narrow path on a mountain side and following a guide, you wouldn’t think that your guide is narrow minded or prejudiced because he knows the only way across the side of the mountain. He has been there many times and so to think that he is being intolerant of other ways is to misunderstand that there is no other way than the way that he is taking. To accept another way or your own belief could result in death.
Is there Objective Truth?
I’ve heard this statement frequently; “Well, that may be true for you but that is not true for me. What you believe makes it true for you but it doesn’t make it true for me.” Is there objective truth? One man told me that there are no absolutes. My question to him is this; “If you are saying that there are no absolutes, how am I supposed to believe you? Are you absolutely sure of that?” What’s to stop us from pulling into a gas station and just putting water into our tanks instead of gas? They’re both liquids aren’t they? Am I being narrow minded to tell the guy, “Hey, that’s water and not gas?” Based upon the belief that there are no absolutes or no objective truth, if a person feels that it is right for them to put water into their tank instead of gas, they would argue, who am I to say what’s true for them? For someone to dogmatically say that there are no absolute truths or no absolute right or wrongs is oxy-moronic because they’ve just made an absolute claim of truth saying that there are no absolutes. That is sheer folly and is a highly illogical statement.
Salvation is from God
If we understand that it is not our responsibility to save people who are lost and outside of saving faith, we should be more understanding of the beliefs of others. Without the Holy Spirit to reveal a person’s need for the Savior, there is no way that we can convince them by arguing that their belief or religion is false. No one has ever been argued into heaven that I know of. It is not our responsibility to save anyone…it is their response to His ability, although it is our responsibility to tell them. We can point them to Christ but God alone does the saving (John 6:44) and without the Spirit’s work in a person, they cannot ever understand that Jesus is the one and only way. Clearly, “these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor 2:10) and “So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:11b) so that “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). The point Paul is making here is that we cannot convince people that they are wrong. We can tell them about Jesus and point out that their sins have the wrath of God abiding on them (John 3:36b) but “the natural person [cannot] accept the things of the Spirit of God [because] they are [foolish] to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” We can tell them that Buddha is not the way to be saved but until the Spirit of God convicts them of their sin and convinces them that Jesus is their only hope to be saved, they are “not able to understand.”
Tolerance and Tolerating
We must tolerate other people’s beliefs, even if we know that they are wrong. We ourselves would be in this same state of disbelief in Christ except the Spirit of God revealed these things to us. We are in no way superior to those who don’t believe. We are only in a better position on the coming Day of Judgment and that is only because Jesus became sin for us so that when the Father sees us, He sees Jesus’ own righteousness and not our sinfulness (2 Cor 5:21). That is not something that we did but it is what God has done. For those who believe in Muhammad’s way, Confucius, Buddha, Mormonism, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, we must realize it is only by the grace of God that we are not in the same belief systems ourselves. When we understand that salvation is fully a work of God and that God receives all the glory for our being saved, we will be more tolerant of those who differ in their beliefs. If we understand these things, we can tolerate others; indeed it should motivate us to pray for them so that their blindness can be removed so that they are able to see the glorious light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We can accept people for who they are and we must learn to tolerate other people’s beliefs. This doesn’t mean that we agree with what they believe for we know there is only one way to be saved (Acts 16:30-31) but it does mean that we should love others despite their disagreements with us. We must honestly admit, “And such were some of you” (2 Cor 6:11a) but thanks be to God “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (2 Cor 6:11b, c). We must still share with them that Jesus is the only way but if they don’t believe in Him, then all we can do is pray that the Spirit of God reveals this to them. This doesn’t lesson our responsibility to proclaim the gospel but we should understand that it takes the Word of God, from a person of God, mixed with the Spirit of God, to make the children of God, and for the glory of God.
Another Reading on Patheos to Check Out: What Did Jesus Really Look Like: A Look at the Bible Facts
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Blind Chance or Intelligent Design available on Amazon