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[COMMENT: Sent by email. An excellent essay
on the sinful side of tolerance. But needs some help to stay on track.
Which I try to provide in with addendas in the text below. We
must learn what Biblical pluralism is,
and how it is to be the basis for evangelism and living together in a mixed
society. It is the
foundation of our very Biblical Constitutional order. God puts
truth ahead of Himself, and thus makes pursuit of truth the Royal Road to
Himself (see Elijah on Mount Carmel - I King 18). We must do the
If there is an absolute value in the relativistic world of post-modern Western culture, it is tolerance. Political correctness, medical ethics, and public policy are gauged by the polestar of tolerance. People say tolerance is an absolute virtue, which, in the realm of theology, must make it an attribute of God. Yes, God must be eternally and infinitely tolerant, because tolerance is an expression of love, and we all know the Bible tells us that God is love.
Since everyone accepts that God is love, the thinking goes that God must be the most tolerant of all. Just look at the tolerance of Jesus! The Pharisees did not tolerate the tax collectors and sinners, but Jesus regularly ate dinner with them. Jesus was hospitable. Thus, people surmise, for us to be otherwise would be to reject the example of Jesus and follow in the footsteps of the Pharisees.
To be enlightened, in today's common thinking, we must tolerate nearly everyone and respect their individual choices, provided those choices do not harm others. Even when other persons are harmed, personal choices are entitled to great deference and respect. In some cases, were told we must recognize that even the definition of who is a person is a matter of personal choice. Tolerance and the worship of personal autonomy personal choice are inextricably intertwined.
To tolerate someone is to allow the other person to exist unmolested, to abide them, to peacefully co-exist with them. It is the moral equivalent of detente. You don't have to agree with or even like the other person. You simply must respect personal choices, on the one hand, and refrain from imposing your personal choices, on the other. If you fail to do the former, you are considered intolerant, perhaps the only true sin which remains in our culture. If you fail to do the latter, you are thought a bigot. If you seek to convince a group of people that their collective personal choice is morally wrong and that your personal choice is morally right, you are at best insensitive and unloving, and quite often you are cast as an oppressor.
It gets worse: If you claim divine endorsement of your personal choice, you get pegged as a fundamentalist. This is very bad. Fundamentalists are seen as dangerous, because they truly believe their personal choice is absolutely true and that God agrees with them. This necessarily means that all others are absolutely wrong and that God disagrees with them. In fact, God may even disapprove of and (dare we speak it?) condemn and judge the personal choices of others. To tell someone their personal choice is the subject of God's condemnation is definitely considered an act of intellectual or spiritual violence. Some have declared this tantamount to assault or, if the victim is a woman, even rape.
Fundamentalists are dangerous people, we're told, the only intolerable people in our culture of tolerance. They are the only ones with whom the god of tolerance is displeased.
All of this should sound familiar. How often it is preached from our pulpits, taught in our seminary classrooms, and read in publications funded with our denominational dollars! In its own way, it sounds right, because it resonates with our culture. We learn at an early age to prize our individual freedom and to protect it against unwelcome incursions.
However, as Christians we see in all of this a pernicious lie. It is based on a premise that originates not from divine inspiration, but from precisely the opposite.
The popular virtue of tolerance the absolute value of a relativistic culture is founded upon the absorption of truth into the individual. Truth is no longer conceived as an outward objective reality. After all, people say, who can really know what is truth? What authority can we call upon to verify the truth? Only the naive and uninitiated believe that Jesus loves them because the Bible tells them so. We have moved beyond that children's song to understand that one must engage the Bible to listen for God's truth for us.
[We have indeed
moved beyond a simplistic reading of the Bible. A thing is in the Bible because it is true, not true because itis in the Bible. And the Bible itself requires a worldview assessment before we can reasonably affirm the Bible as an authority. That is, we must show at least that we live in a cosmos in which a personal God is our Creator. On the alternative view, that of evolution, a Bible makes no sense because there is no creator. The Bible must "defend itself" like any other asserter of truth. The Bible must be shown to be telling the truth using any relevant testing (historical, logical, etc.) which we can devise. E. Fox]
When truth is absorbed into the individual, it becomes ultimately subjective. Truth becomes a matter of opinion, merely a personal choice. Therefore, when I reject a person's truth, I am seen as rejecting the person. When I try to convert a person from their truth to my truth, I have become an oppressor, and the other person has become a victim. In a world of only personal truth, truth cannot bind us together as a church. Personal truth has no adhesive properties to bind together individual Christians into the temple of God. But without truth, what can bind us together? Our culture provides the answer: tolerance, the ultimate attribute of their loving god. It is tolerance that unites us and inclusiveness that exhibits our tolerance, they reckon. God would be pleased if, of course, such a god of tolerance were to exist.
Is the true God tolerant, as our culture defines that term?
Not according to the Word of God. The tolerant god is a myth. It is an idol crafted by human hands in the image of individual autonomy and personal choice, the same virtues the serpent suggested to Eve as a preferable alternative to servitude to God. Indeed, in some theological circles, Eve's choice has made her a heroine for rejecting the patriarchal oppression of a God who would impose his truth on her right to choose. As our culture defines the term, the God of the Bible is not tolerant. That is why God must be re-imagined.
But it is the essence of the sin of the Garden to re-imagine God into the mythical tolerant god rather than challenge and alter our own definition of tolerance to conform to the revealed truth of God.
[Exactly right. The Image of God is the heart of Biblical religion. Not that we should not explore with our own imaginations, but we cannot rewrite the Image of God to fit our preferences. God is Himself, and will define Himself. E. Fox]
Tolerance as a concept is skewed in a church captured by its culture, because it is defined without the Cross. The Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are called, it is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24).
We live in a world supposedly without sin, because people can no longer define it. One person's sin is another's personal choice the liberating choice if you believe the serpent's promise from the Father of Lies. God requires nothing and gives everything. God only blesses and never curses. This god is a myth.
The real God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the God who flooded the earth (Gen 6:3), rained fire on Sodom (Gen 19:3), and sent Assyria and Babylon to chastise his own people (Isa 3). He is the God who told Eve the truth: If you sin, you die (Gen 3:3 nasb). This is the true God who became incarnate and gave his life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28). It was this Holy Father who sent his Son into his own creation to die on a cross. God made him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21). The real God canceled out his own decree of judgment against us by nailing it to the cross of his only begotten Son, the Lamb of God, who paid the price we could not pay for a debt he did not owe (Col 2:14).
That is real love. The tolerant God who demands nothing and gives everything and calls it love is a worthless lie in the light of the Cross. Love is the Cross. For those who worship the tolerant god, the Cross is offensive. It is a stumbling block.
Is God tolerant in any sense at all? Yes! Did we draw breath this morning? So did faithful Christians, honest pagans, and despicable terrorists, murderers, and rapists all around the world. The rain falls on the just and the unjust as the gift of life is renewed each day (Mt 5:45).
Where is the judgment of this holy God? It is delayed for one purpose: to provide an opportunity for repentance and faith. Justice delayed is not justice denied. It is the merciful tolerance of the one true God.
Paul warns the Romans not to think lightly of the riches of God's kindness and tolerance and patience (Rom 2:4). The kindness of God should lead us to repentance. That God allows rebellious sinners any opportunity to repent and be saved from the just wages of sin is an act of supreme tolerance.
However, much of the so-called church today takes God's kindness lightly, using it as license rather than as an opportunity to repent. They sin that grace may abound (Rom 6:1). But, we hear from God, do not be deceived. God is not mocked. Each person will reap what he or she sows (Gal 6:7). The true God is mercifully tolerant for a season, pending a final judgment to come.
Just as tolerance is skewed without the Cross, so inclusion gets redefined as the universal acceptance by God of all our personal choices, as long as they are grounded in love. But Jesus Christ did not come to tell us we are just fine the way we are. The essence of the Gospel is Repent and believe!
Is God inclusive at all? Yes, indeed! God actually so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life (Jn 3:16). The offer is extended to all and accepted by few. Broad is the path that leads to destruction and narrow is the gate to life (Mt 7:14).
How seldom we hear the rest of Jesus' words to Nicodemus in John 3: he who does not believe is judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the Light, because their deeds were evil (Jn 3:18a 19 nasb).
Jesus told us that some invited guests will never sit down to dinner (Lk 14:24), that some will be cast into outer darkness (Mt 8:12), that wheat will be harvested and tares will be burned in the fire (Mt 13:41). God issues an all-inclusive call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, but true faith in Christ involves death to sin and a life of obedience to God (Rom 6:11). Thus, if we say we have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness we lie, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn 1:6).
This is the inclusiveness of God. God is under no obligation to save anyone. Yet our gracious and merciful God offers salvation to all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ.
Unity founded on diversity is the final lie spun off the myth of the tolerant god who is not there. If all our personal choices are endorsed by a wholly acceptant god, each of us then, as self-contained units of divinity, can join together into a coalition of personal choices called the church.
Certainly this, too, is a lie, for the Church of Jesus Christ is composed of repentant sinners who have cast themselves on the mercy and grace of God through faith in the One who bore the penalty for their sins on the Cross and rose again to give them new life, a life enslaved to righteousness by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 6:22).
The true unity of the Bride of Christ is founded not on diversity, but on the common bond of the Truth that makes us free (Jn 8:32). Christ is the cornerstone of the Church, and the teachings of the prophets and apostles the Word of God is its foundation (Eph 2:20). Unity means unity in truth, standing firm in one Spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel (Phil 1:27).
As with tolerance and inclusiveness, the true meaning of unity is only grasped at the foot of the Cross. We are unified in this and by this alone: That we are those who have been washed by the blood of the Lamb, wretched sinners saved by grace alone through faith alone, falling on our faces in worship and thankful praise to our only Savior and our acknowledged Lord, Jesus Christ.
If we would be unified as the church, we must bow together at the foot of the Cross. There alone is the Truth that makes us free. Not free to make our personal choices and create our personal truth; free to live in obedience to God, slaves of righteousness who are free at last.
"For there will come a time
when they will not endure sound teaching and will turn aside to
myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an
evangelist, fulfill your ministry."(2 Tim 4:35 NASB)
[This article is excellent, but needs a deeper understanding of Biblical pluralism. See articles -- 4 Levels of Christian Unity, and Honest Pluralism (see part 4 of "Victim or Victor?"). ]
Dean Waldt is a practicing attorney and also a parish associate at Faith United Presbyterian Church in Medford, New Jersey.
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