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THOUGHTS FROM REVELATION

A PERSPECTIVE ON TOLERANCE

In Matthew 7:1 Jesus said ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’, and for the next four verses expanded on this command. Many Christians see this command as outlawing everything perceived as ‘judgmental’, including identifying anything as ‘false’ teaching or anyone as a ‘false’ teacher’.

In addition to this interpretation of these words of Jesus, is the perception of ‘tolerance’ that pervades our contemporary culture, in which ‘intolerance’ is perceived by many to be the ultimate wrong. This attitude stems from the secularism and relativism of our age which believe all religions are human ideas, and deny the existence of absolute truth. Both secularism and relativism deny the right of any religion to exalt itself above the others.

As a result, many Christians are very reticent in the matter of discernment, hesitant to assess the validity or otherwise of any teaching that comes along, and leaving themselves vulnerable to deception.

But in the remainder of Matthew 7 (verses 6-27) Jesus repeatedly commands actions requiring very acute assessment and discernment.

He commanded ‘Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs …’ [verse 6]. We are here required to make an extremely serious assessment of people.

He commanded ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction … But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life’ [verse 13,14]. Here we are required to judge truth claims, and to not be swayed by the majority.

He commanded ‘Watch out for false prophets … inwardly they are ferocious wolves’ [verse 15]. Here we are required to judge religious teachers.

His teaching in verses 16-20 requires us to judge the ‘fruit’ in the lives of those who present themselves as ‘prophets’, and to judge the ‘prophets’ by that ‘fruit’.

His statements in verses 21-23 reveal how necessary acute discernment is, and also how easy it is to be deceived.

His parable in verses 24-27 requires us to judge between the different foundations upon which we can build our lives, and stresses how vitally important that judgment is.

When we read what Jesus said in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 we find that Jesus praised some churches for their intolerance of false teachers [2:2,6] and that he rebuked others for their tolerance of false teachers [2:14-15, 20]. Our contemporary inhibitions about identifying someone or some teaching as ‘false’ simply do not gel with the commands, priorities and perspectives of Jesus Christ.

He knows what the truth is.
He knows the inability of false teaching to save.
He knows that it originates from the deceptions and the destructive intentions of the evil one.

For Christians, this intolerance of false teaching that Christ commands, is the essential flipside of acknowledgement of Christ: whoever knows that Jesus Christ is God, and that through Jesus Christ alone humans can be reconciled to God, knows also, of necessity, that there is no other God and that there is no other salvation. The church, of necessity, knows that teaching about any other ‘god’ or any other ‘salvation’ can only be spurious – mere counterfeits of the one who is really God, and of the one salvation provided by him.

In this context to be ‘tolerant’, to be ‘open-minded’, is far from being kind and loving. It is to deny the world its only hope of knowing the one true God and of being accepted by God. [John 14:6; 1John 5:20,21]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015