THOUGHTS FROM REVELATION

A PERSPECTIVE ON TOLERANCE – 2

A number of important questions arise for the Christian in relation to tolerance and intolerance.

The first is a question of allegiance: that those who belong to Jesus Christ, those who believe that he actually is who he claimed to be – the one eternal Son of the one true God, who alone can restore human relationship with that one true God, and that his word actually is the true truth, cannot logically ascribe that same truth value to any other ‘god’ or any other ‘word’. The absoluteness of the claims of Jesus Christ outlaws such relativity.

What Jesus approved in Revelation 2:2 and 6 was the intolerance expressed by the Ephesian church towards ‘wicked men’ and towards the ‘practices’ of the false teachers within the church.  He affirmed them for testing those ‘who claim to be apostles but are not’, and he expressed his own hatred of the practices of false teachers. What Jesus rebuked in the church in Pergamum in 2:14-15 and the church in Thyatira in 2:20 was their tolerance of the presence in the church of false teachers who were deliberately deceiving the church with their doctrines and practices.

Given the exclusive truth claims of Jesus Christ, tolerance of alternative truth claims within the church is illogical. Such tolerance (1) denies the essential biblical definition of the church as those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are reconciled to God by his atoning death, and (2) compromises the witness and mission of the church.

The second is a question of responsibility for mission: that Jesus committed to the church the responsibility of making known to the world ‘the word of God and the testimony of Jesus’. It is this mission of confronting the world with the exclusive truth about who Jesus Christ is and what he did that automatically puts Christians in direct ideological conflict with all other belief systems and attracts negative reactions from the adherents of those systems [Revelation 1:9; 6:9; 12:17]. The church, possessing and proclaiming ‘the testimony of Jesus’, is symbolised in Revelation as ‘lampstands’ – shining the light of God into the darkness of human worldviews, ideologies and religions [Revelation 1:12,20]. By the very nature of this responsibility commanded by Jesus Christ [Matthew 28:18-20], those who believe in Jesus Christ are involved in a mission that aligns them with the activity of the Spirit of God who exposes the guilt of the world [read John 16:5-11].

The third is a question of grace and compassion:  That when the world demands the church to be ‘tolerant’ (that is, to stop promoting its beliefs as the only true truth), it is demanding that the church ceases to inform the deeply lost world of the grace and love of God.

Secular culture, not acknowledging the existence of absolute, divinely revealed truth, but steeped in humanism and relativism, sees ‘intolerance’ as something quite hard-hearted, self-righteous and offensive. It assumes all religions, including Christianity, are mere human ideas with no foundation in reality. It has no real awareness that there actually is a God to whom all humans are accountable, and no real awareness that this God has in Jesus Christ provided a sure and certain way by which ‘whoever’ will believe in him can be reconciled to him.

But Christians know both the truth about God and the truth about the sure reconciliation with God provided through the death of Jesus Christ. Their allegiance to Christ and their engagement in mission in the name of Christ is not from a sense of personal superiority as if becoming a believer in Christ was something achieved by them that put them above the rest of the world. Rather their allegiance and their witness is engaged in out of a deep awareness of the grace of God – grace that has rescued them from the darkness of ignorance of God and separation from God; grace that turned them from unbelief to belief; grace that has so overwhelmed them with the immeasurable love of God that this love constrains them to take the truth of God and of salvation in Christ to those who are still lost in spiritual darkness.  

To honour the true truth about Jesus Christ, and to hold forth the gospel of God’s love and grace to those still lost in spiritual darkness, the church of Jesus Christ is called to patiently endure hatred, accusation and persecution from the world [Revelation 1:9; 2:2,3,19;13:10; 14:12], including the accusation of intolerance.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2015