If you were to take the temperature of the cultural climate today, you could easily be led to believe that Christianity and “tolerance” are mutually exclusive terms with no room for overlap. Christians continually face accusations of “intolerance” whenever we stand firm on scriptures that are deemed culturally unpopular or offensive. In fact, Satan has been so cunning as to associate scripturally sound Christianity with hate to a large number of unbelievers. So how do we answer the increasingly popular question, “Is the God of Christianity intolerant”?
The world would have you believe that “tolerance” is synonymous with “approval” and “acceptance” of any sinful lifestyle as long as it does not hurt you. But the scriptures reveal a different perspective on tolerance - one where love and absolute truth work together without conflict. Ephesians 4:1-7 inextricably links the concept of tolerance with that of absolute truth. Verse 2 states, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” When Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, he was writing to flawed individuals who were in the midst of the growing pains all Christians experience in their walk with Christ. Words like “patience”, “allowance”, and “faults” all speak to the tolerance we are to have for our fellow brothers and sisters. Notice, however, that the very next verses speak to the absolute truth we are to follow. “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is ONE body and ONE Spirit, just as you have been called to ONE glorious hope for the future. There is ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and Father or all who is over all, in all, and living through all” (vs. 3-6). Even as we are called to be tolerant of one another’s faults, we are simultaneously called to hold ourselves to the absolute truth - without ignoring certain scriptures, without seeking salvation in other “gods,” and without changing God’s standards.
The New Testament is full of examples of radical tolerance and love extended to various taboo populations. In John 4, Jesus extends the truth to a Samaritan woman with a sordid past. In Matthew 9, we find Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, saying “it is the sick who need a physician”. In 1 Corinthians 6, Paul writes out a list of vices that keep you from entering the kingdom of Heaven: idol worshiping, sexual immortality, and greed - just to name a few. But then he says something remarkable in verse 11: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”.
The scriptures extend God’s love and offer of salvation to every sort of person struggling with any variety of sins. The danger comes when Christians begin to claim that sin no longer separates from God in the name of showing “tolerance” to someone who will likely view us as hateful because we do not approve of their life of sin. Do not be discouraged when the world accuses you of hate or is intolerant of your scriptural beliefs. “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. The word would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world so it hates you” (John 16:18-19). Continue to show Godly love and tolerance to the bruised reeds, to the unrepentant, to the new converts, and to those who need the truth explained more accurately - but also continually steer these loved ones toward the one absolute truth.
In Christian Love,
Maranda Cochran is a speech pathologist in Rockville, MD. She stays highly involved in children's and women's ministries. She is married to Caleb and is the mother of the beautiful Aurora.