[Audio Link at bottom]
Today, were going to focus on a topic that might just be the most central issue of our day as we seek the welfare of the city in the Canadian context: the issue of tolerance. My contention this morning is this: The Gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us True Tolerance
This is a very disputed contention. It is in fact routinely denied in our culture, which views the Christian faith with, at best, suspicion, and more commonly, derision.
- On March 9, CNN talk-show host Piers Morgan interviewed Pastor Mark Driscoll, a well-known Christian pastor. “Interview” is a charitable word, as Morgan drilled Driscoll on the issue of tolerance, rarely allowing the pastor time to get a full answer out. “Do you think you're a tolerant type of guy?” Morgan asked, “Do you teach tolerance?” When Driscoll said that he preaches that we should love our neighbor, Morgan cut him off “But tolerance – tolerance in particular.” “Because, you know,” Morgan went on to say, “my — my view about this is — is not that I don’t respect Christians or Catholics or whoever who — who absolutely swear by every word in [the Bible]. It’s just that it’s — I just don’t believe anyone who is genuinely Christian should be spouting bigoted opinions about sections of the community for their sexuality … But I also think what is harming America right now, like many countries around the world, is just a fundamental lack of tolerance and respect for people who may not share your personal values.”
- Morgan went on to suggest that the Bible must be dragged “kicking and screaming” into this age of tolerance. Google: religious, tolerance. The first hit is the website for the Canadian grown religioustolerance.org, the Ontario Consultants of Religious Tolerance. About the Bible and by extension Biblical Christianity they write that: ”an overall theme of the Bible is religious exclusivity and intolerance.”
- Maybe you’ve felt the pressure of trying to discern how to hold your Christian beliefs in environments increasingly hostile to the “intolerance” of our faith. What did you do on the “Day of Pink”? What will you do this year? Has your campus group faced pressure to alter its charter? Has your work adopted policies and causes that leave you outside of the mainstream. These things are happening more and more in Canada.
- As Canada becomes more multicultural, tolerance becomes the only virtue left and therefore is championed more and more zealously. Tolerance has come to define what it means to be Canadian. For example, University of Ottawa Professor Leslie Armour writes, “Our idea is that to be a virtuous citizen is to be one who tolerates everything accept intolerance.”
- Another Canadian, Trinity Western University professor Paul Chamberlain, writes in his book, “Why People Don’t Believe”, that since the religiously motivated violence of 911, the predominant argument against religious worldviews such as Christianity has changed. Before, Christian opponents would argue that Christianity was untrue. However, you hardly every hear those sorts of challenges any more. Instead, people make that case that Christianity is at its very nature intolerant, which by popular definition makes it immoral. “What does all of this mean for people of religious faith? What does it mean for Christians attempting to live out and contend for their faith. At the very least it mean that while many of us seem to take for granted that our faith is a force for good in the world and is viewed as such by most others around us, the reality of how religion is perceived is far different. Religious belief is no longer seen by many of our friends and neighbors as a means to resolve humanities deepest problems. Instead, it is increasingly being regarded as being the problem, the villain, the culprit of our times. Indeed, many view it as being the cause of some of our greatest evils: violence, intolerance, imperialism, irrationality, bigotry, and war, to name a few.”
- Some see the shift in our culture’s view of biblical Christianity as a return to the early years of the Christian Church when Christianity was also looked on in suspicion for being intolerant, non-progressive, sexually repressive, and atheistic (because it denied the existence of the Pagan gods). It was deemed bad for society.
Does the New Testament give us any guidance here? Yes.
Titus 3:1 Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, 2 to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. 3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
True Tolerance The context demonstrates that these verses are speaking to the issue of tolerance in culture. Remember, this section of Titus is all about how do we engage the city through our good works. What this means is that the values listed in verse 2 are not general virtues (be gentle and show perfect courtesy) but are particularly set in the context of engaging outsiders. The four words in verse two all relate to the issue of tolerance and in fact provide a blueprint for what true tolerance is. They are to be taken together.
- To speak evil of no one: literally to not blaspheme someone. We usually think of blasphemy as relating to God, but apparently one can blaspheme people created in the image of God. We blaspheme when we do not carefully represent the character or ascribe proper respect to someone worthy or our respect and representation. We may blaspheme others by stereotyping them (all gays are child abusers), or by making straw-man arguments (atheists have no conception of morality).
- To avoid quarreling: literally the word is amochos from which we might translate, don’t be macho. At one time in Western Culture, the church had a lot of weight that it threw around. People respected it as an institution and, even if they disagreed with it, they listened to it as an important cultural voice. Those days are over. Now, when we try to throw our weight around it smacks of desperation. We have to learn to be amachos in our approach. To use reason, prayer, humility and good works from the gospel to win our case.
- To be gentle: William Barclay, lecturer in New Testament Language in the University of Glasgow, declares that this word is one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words. The word "epieikeia." was a favorite word of Roman lawyers refering to the liberty the law might exercise in not holding the law against a person or idea. I might think that you are wrong, but I am not going to legally hold you to your wrongness. This is very close to the idea of tolerance that we used to hold to in Western societies (what I’m calling today true tolerance). D.A. Carson in very helpful in his book, “The Intolerance of Tolerance.” He says that this old tolerance is to accept that other opinions of faith and morality exist and that they have the right to exist. As Voltaire said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Even though I believe that you are wrong, there are reasons for our society to not eradicate your view or make a law to punish your actions. Carson argues that this is true tolerance that is at the foundation of a free society, and shows that this true tolerance is completely compatible with the Christian faith. However, he contrasts this older tolerance with the “new tolerance” which insists that we must not only accept the existence of other views, but must also accept that their view is as valid, as true, as our own. This doesn’t seem to be a huge shift, but it changes everything! Instead of granting other religions the right to propagate their own teachings, the new tolerance demands that we view other religions as valid as our own. Instead of just recognizing that some people live certain lifestyles that we find contrary to the teaching of scripture, the new tolerance requires us to reckon them as valid as all others. As the representative from the Ottawa Carlton School board declared at last years PRIDE parade – “we must move beyond tolerance to celebration.” Notice that this new tolerance is really nothing more than a cover for moral and religious pluralism (the idea that there is no discernable objective truth, therefore no absolute morality and no one true faith). This new tolerance (and the pluralism that props it up:
- Is self-contradictory: You probably caught it already – we tolerate everything but intolerance. It is build on the foundation of relativism: There are no absolutes (well isn’t that absolute of you)
- Is ethnocentric: The new tolerance is a bunch of privileged Westerners telling the rest of the world that their ideas of moral laws and religious approaches to God are nothing more than naïve ignorance. The new tolerance faces a moral dilemma when it comes into contact with a minority group that holds to exclusivist claims. I remember a friend of mine, who was a homosexual activist who confided in me that he faced a sincere moral dilemma when he travelled abroad, because as much as he wanted to stamp out intolerance toward gays in the Muslim world, he realized that he could only do so by imposing his values on them, a very intolerant thing to do.
- Is despair-inducing: ultimately, the new tolerance rejects the God of the Bible who reveals himself to us so that we can know him and have a relationship with Him. There is objective truth – what God has revealed to us. There is one true faith and path to God – through Jesus Christ, our Lord (which we will soon get to.) So we must reject the new tolerance, but the Holy Spirit is saying to us that we are to be tolerant in the older sense when we come into contact with the city. It’s not our job to be the morality police all of the time, or tear down others temples, its our job to point to Jesus.
- To show perfect courtesy of all people: this is a meekness that knows the truth and the power therefore, yet chooses not to express it. Carson makes a good point, that there is a tolerance that veers toward intolerance because of how we argue and act. We must tolerate others, but must do so in respect and love, showing courtesy.
True Tolerance Stems From the Gospel of Jesus Christ
Contrary to popular belief, true tolerance does not stem from secularism: The new tolerance pushes the secular worldview, for secularists love to point out that they don’t have any spiritual belief system, yet if the 20 century has taught us anything it is that secularism is not directly tied to tolerance of any kind. The bloodiest regimes of the 20th century were secular and atheistic in their ideology. We’ve seen Naturalistic Darwinism (nature red tooth and claw survival of the fittest) morph into social Darwinism in which the strong root out the weak. So where does true tolerance stem from?
3 For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The Holy Spirit shows us here that true tolerance stems from the gospel of Jesus Christ. Look what Paul says.
- We were intolerable: we were bigots (detestable and hating others)
- God is tolerant: when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared
- Loving kindness: philanthropy – love of mankind.
- God is so tolerant that mankind scoffs at him. 2 Peter 3:1-10
- God’s tolerance renews us.
- Remember the distinction between old tolerance and new and point out the inconsistency of the new tolerance. Driscoll: what do you mean by tolerance. Westfest lady.
- When asked about specific sins, answer briefly, relativize, and point to Jesus.
- Understand the nuances of Christian tolerance. We tolerate sin and false teaching in the world around us, but not in the church. Even then, Christians tolerate struggle and weakness, we do not tolerate unrepentance and shameful celebration of sin.
- Always place the focus on Jesus Christ