Is it me, or does our culture seem to be growing in divisiveness? Whether in the news or on social media, we are seeing a rise in expressions of disagreements politically, socially, religiously, and personally. Ironically, many of these arguments are flying under the banner of “tolerance.” Maybe I’m mistaken, but isn’t calling someone “judgmental” also a judgmental statement? Isn’t saying “everything is relative” an absolute statement? I believe our culture is crying out for acceptance, community, and tolerance, and I believe the church should lead the way in these areas. However, let’s talk for a moment about what true tolerance really means.
1. The Trouble – Culture Has Changed the Definition of Tolerance.
What’s interesting to me is that our culture’s definition of tolerance has changed over time. See if you can spot the difference in definitions from the same Encarta Encyclopedia just a few years apart:
Tolerance (old definition) – accept existence of different views to recognize other people’s rights to have different beliefs or practices without an attempt to suppress them.
Tolerance (new definition) – acceptance of different views – the accepting of the differing views of other people, in religious or political matters, and fairness toward the people who hold these different views.
Were you able to find the difference? The new definition removes the words “existence of” to subtly suggest that all thoughts are created equal. D.A. Carson, in his book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, writes, “We move from allowing the free expression of contrary positions to the acceptance of all opinions; we leap from permitting articulation of beliefs and claims with which we do not agree to asserting that all beliefs and claims are equally valid.”
Old tolerance assumes the existence of two things: truth and disagreements. In the old view of tolerance, truth exists and people respectfully debate and dispute truth claims in hopes to uncover what is truth without coercion in the exchange of ideas. The new view of tolerance attempts to say all opinions are correct. David Couchman describes contemporary tolerance as “a cartoon character who has run over the edge of the cliff, and is still running for all he’s worth, without yet realizing that there is nothing underneath him holding him up.”
Christianity is not the only religious belief to make exclusive claims. In fact, atheism (there is no God), agnosticism (it is impossible to know God), pantheism (God is everything), and panentheism (God is in everything) all make absolute statements. The discussion we need to have with people centers around the foundation of truth. If you are reading this article and you are a Christian, then your standard and foundation is Jesus and the Bible. If you are reading this article and you are not a Christian, I would urge you to ask the question… what is my standard and foundation? Because everyone has faith. Everyone has a standard. The question is not how much faith you have, but what or whom is the object of your faith? Where does your standard come from? We can disagree on principle while still being respectful as people.
2. The Example – Jesus Is the Perfect Picture of Biblical Tolerance.
Jesus was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He affirmed the importance of loving one’s neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). He repeatedly had friendly relationships with people of different ethic and religious beliefs, while refusing to compromise biblical truth. He shared the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), offered eternal life to the woman at the well (John 4), had dinner at Zacchaeus the tax collector’s house (Luke 19:1-10), healed lepers (Matthew 8:1-5), healed servants of a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13), and even used Paul, an early enemy of Christianity, to write most of the New Testament. John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world…” And while Jesus does make an exclusive claim in John 14:6 to be the only way to heaven, the path to heaven is inclusive to all who receive it (Colossians 3:11; Romans 10:13).
3. The Challenge – The Church Needs To Grow Stronger In Grace AND Truth.
As the Church, I believe we need to continually grow in grace and truth. Below, I’ve listed ten actions that I believe will help move the Church forward in 2017:
- Read your Bible. – We can’t live what we don’t know, and we can’t know what we don’t read. If you want to grow in truth, you need to read the Word of God. If there’s anything Facebook and Netflix has shown us is that we are not too busy to read our Bibles.
- Pray More – Prayer needs to be our fuel for decision making and not our last line of defense.
- Live out the Bible – I believe in some cases we’ve missed our opportunity to influence our culture by the choices we’ve made. Whether you like it our not, people will judge your beliefs from your behavior. Why would someone want the “joy” of the Lord if we are not exhibiting joy in our own lives? Why would someone see the value of a biblical view of marriage when our marriages don’t seem to look any better? Read the Word of God, and then be transformed by it. Your life is your greatest testimony and example of the Gospel to people who have never met Jesus.
- Stop the “Us Versus Them” Mindset – You don’t agree with someone. You’re upset. I get it. Try a conversation with someone instead of a tweet or Facebook post. It’s okay to hold to your opinions, but don’t disrespect the very people Jesus’ wants us to reach!
- Listen more – The church needs to become a place for dialogue with people where they are, not a just a monologue of where we want people to be. Jesus made a habit of meeting people where they were.
- Complain less. – Jesus told his disciples that they would be persecuted (John 16:33). Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of Christ. Christians need to stop acting surprised and start loving others like Christ did regardless of their circumstances.
- Embrace the message of Jesus – Christianity did not start when people better understood the Sermon on the Mount, but when people believed in and experienced the power of Christ’s resurrection. We are all dead in our sins, but made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4). Christ died to set us free (Galatians 5:1), so let us live in that freedom and extend it to others. The Gospel is what changes people. Yes, the message of Jesus is exclusive, but it’s also open to ALL who will receive it. Our job is to share. God’s job is to save.
- Increase humility in your life – I really don’t understand the concept of a prideful Christian… It seems to be to be a major contradiction to me. Christians are those who receive the grace of God through faith (Ephesians 2:8), so why are so many Christians arrogant? When we remember God’s grace, we’ll be more graceful towards others. When we sing of God’s love, we’ll be more loving towards others. When we think about God’s forgiveness, we can be more forgiving of others. Rather than trying to win an argument, what if Christians tried to simply love people like Jesus loved.
- Remember commonalities – Life was not meant to be lived alone. Diversity reflects the glory of God. Let’s try and remember the value of all people. We are all created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). We are all sinners (Romans 3:23). We are all in need of a Savior (Romans 3:24). We are the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:4-6). We need each other (Galatians 6:2, and the over fifty “one another” passages).
- Look for solutions more than simply identifying problems – I freely admit this is an extreme example, but what if the church stopped picketing abortion clinics and got fully invested in relationship education, teen counseling, and adoption ministry. Currently, there are over 18,000 kids in the foster care system in Arizona. If every church had one family who could take in a child, we could be well on our way to making a difference in our community. I’m not saying that policies and politics are not important. What I am saying is that the church is meant to be a light in the world, and we can make a difference right now in our communities with how we love and how we serve.
What do you think? What are your thoughts? Agree? Disagree? What else should the Church be doing in a divisive culture? I would love to hear your questions and feedback. I hope you found this article helpful.
High School Pastor
North Ridge Community Church