“But I have this against you, that you tolerate . . .” –Jesus Christ, in Revelation 2:20
We live in a culture that loves tolerance. We’re told that we should equally value value and affirm all lifestyles. That is, of course, except for those who are deemed intolerant. You can’t possibly be expected to tolerate them.
And more often than not, as Christians, because we believe the Bible is the perfect Word of God and the source of all moral truth. When we share the Bible faithfully, we’re deemed intolerant, which is the ultimate cultural sin.
As people who love Jesus and love others, the question becomes: How can we faithfully share Jesus and the Bible in a culture that values tolerance more than truth? As the church, can we and should we be tolerant?
The short answer is yes. But, as with anything, the issue is more complicated than a simple yes.
So let’s talk about Christian tolerance. What is it? What is it not?
- Christians Should Practice Legal Tolerance in Society
Should we have legal tolerance of other views, other religions, other ideologies, and other perspectives? Yes.
As Christians, we should support people’s legal rights. Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Buddhists, Bahá’ís, atheists, agnostics, and more—they’re welcome to their belief. We don’t agree with it, but we’ll tolerate it.
Christianity is not a religion that should be imposed on anyone. It’s about loving Jesus, and you can’t simply pass a law to accomplish this. It doesn’t work like that. To love Jesus, your heart must change.
So, rather than impose Christian faith on anyone, we propose it to everyone.
- Christians Should Practice Social Tolerance in Community
If you have a family member, a friend, a coworker, or a neighbor that disagrees with you about the Christian faith, should you tolerate them socially and personally? Totally.
Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. He doesn’t say agree with them. As such, we should love, serve, be good friends with, and be good neighbors to people of other beliefs, ideologies, religions, and perspectives.
This doesn’t mean we won’t share our beliefs and propose Christianity to them, but it does mean that if they choose not to believe what we believe, we won’t write them off or be done with them. We will love them with the hope that Jesus will turn their hearts to him.
- Christians Should Practice Theological Tolerance in the Church
There are all kinds of secondary issues that we tolerate one another on to live together as Christians. Even husbands and wives have some secondary issues they disagree on but find a way to tolerate one another for the sake of the relationship. We talk about it, but we’re not going to declare war over it. They are distinctions, not divisions.
Why? Because Christians who really do love Jesus, believe the Bible, are family, and we’ll be with them in the kingdom of God. So, for the sake of evangelism, we partner together so that people might meet Jesus. We also lovingly have discussions about some of the things we disagree about. But that’s not war. That’s just dialogue between brothers and sisters as in every family there are scuffles but not shootouts.
- Christians Should NotHave Heretical Tolerance in the Church
In the church, there are certain beliefs that are national borders and others that are state borders. The Bible is God’s Word. There is one God in three persons. Jesus is God’s Son. Jesus lived without sin, died on the cross in our place, and rose as our Savior. The Bible is the Word of God. Those are national borders.
Then, there are state boundaries: Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Assemblies of God, Four Square, Reformed, Arminian, etc.? State borders. We should get along across the state borders, but we must protect national borders.
So, if somebody teaches heresy, crosses a national boarder, while claiming to be a Christian, we say, “No, we don’t tolerate that.”
- Christians Should NotHave Immoral Tolerance in the Church
Should we as a church tolerate, from those who are professing Christians, immorality? No.
To be clear, I’m not talking about non-Christians. The problems and divisions in the church are not because of the non-Christians but rather because of those who say they’re Christians but live like unbelievers.
Christianity begins with tolerance and moves to repentance. Meaning, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, and what you’ve done, you can come to Jesus just like you are. But, Christianity is also about change. Jesus will change you as you follow him.
So while we welcome all people, if they confess Christ, we also expect them to change—just as we have changed and are changing by the grace of God.