Pastor Matt Hedrick, the senior pastor of Bethany Church, teaches a class known as worldview. The students had just wrapped up their Worldview class with stories of intense conversations that solidified what they believe and why they believe it. Is war something Christians should participate in or not? This is one of the questions discussed in class as pastor Matt exercises his well-developed teaching skills.
Toward a new definition of tolerance.
Ro 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is, his good,pleasing and perfect will.
Over these past couple of weeks, I have had the privilege of teaching a class called “Developing a Biblical Worldview” to the first year students at Bethany. For my “day job,” I am the Senior Pastor at Bethany Church, the church located on the campus of Bethany College of Missions. But I have been so privileged for the past several years to have the opportunity to teach this class at Bethany College of Missions. I love having the opportunity to present this concept of worldview to these students and to challenge them to develop the skills to think Biblically about all areas of life. Part of that is the need to recognize a lot of the prevailing philosophies and ideas in our culture that have had an impact on our thinking in the Body of Christ.
In class today, we discussed the concept of tolerance. One of the things that we hear a lot about is how “intolerant” Christians are as a group. It is true that there have been some intolerant Christians; think “crusades” (of the Papal variety, not the Billy Graham variety) and “inquisitions.” And yes, there continue to be intolerant Christians today, like the man who recently shot and killed an abortion doctor as he handed out bulletins in his Lutheran Church in Kansas City. Those actions are wrong, and do not reflect the heart of the God that we represent. But it is not true that Christians are “intolerant” when we express our Biblical convictions that adultery and homosexuality are sinful or that Islam and Buddhism do not lead us all to the same God. Unfortunately, in our pluralistic and relativistic culture, “tolerance” has been elevated to the highest ideal, and according to our society, Christians, frankly, don’t do a very good job of aligning with those cultural values. The problem, however, is that we are suffering from a really,really bad definition of tolerance.
In our culture, tolerance has been equated with the idea that we must affirm all ideas as equally valid and all lifestyles as appropriate and acceptable. But when we stop to think rationally about this idea, the entire notion of “tolerance,” by its very definition, necessitates the idea of disagreement. You do not tolerate something that you agree with, you accept it. I don’t “tolerate” turtle cheesecake, I like it. I agree with it, and it agrees with me. But I do tolerate flossing. I don’t like it. I don’t agree with it. But I continue to allow it to be a part of my life, at least for the week before I go to the dentist. What am I saying? Tolerance, properly understood, means that we disagree with something but we do not force those that we disagree with to abandon their viewpoint. The crusades tried to do that. The inquisitions tried to do that. And yes, those were instances of “Christian”intolerance. But when a Christian believer presents their conviction that Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God, it is not a case of intolerance. In the true spirit of tolerance, we tolerate those that we disagree with, but we don’t necessarily endorse their ideas at the same time.
With that understanding, we begin to see that Christians may in fact be some of the most tolerant people in our nation. Why? Because unlike many in our culture, there are many different things that the conservative Christian culture in America actually disagrees with, and yet,we still allow people to voice their opinions, to propose legislation that we disagree with, to make movies and publish books that present ideas that we don’t like, and to even preach in “Christian” churches on ideas that we consider to be unfaithful to the Scriptures. But to disagree with these ideas and to even voice our disagreement is not an example of “intolerance.” As a part of coming out of our conformity to the pattern of this world, I think we should spend less time seeking to avoid the label of intolerance and more time on helping our society to arrive at a better and truer definition of tolerance.