The Sin of Tolerance

Tolerance is all the rage today, and perhaps no other value is so trumpeted in modern Western culture than this one. It is the ultimate test of whether one is politically correct or not. But the modern notion of tolerance is devastatingly false. Unlike the original understanding of the term, in which we were expected to put up with those that we strongly disagreed with, now the word has come to mean something altogether different.

Today it means to accept, embrace, endorse and coddle the ideas, beliefs, worldviews, ideologies, practices, behaviours and actions of others, no matter how much they may be repulsive to us. For example, in the past one could respect or at least tolerate a socialist while detesting his socialism.

But now we must accept any and every belief and practice, whether we like it or not. Thus we now are told we must embrace the beliefs of atheists, or the practices of homosexuals, or the values of humanism, or the worldview of the New Age Movement.

To fail to do so is to be guilty of intolerance. But that of course simply destroys the very meaning of the word. We do not tolerate that which we like, or agree with, or approve of. We can only tolerate that which we find repugnant or disagreeable. But today to show any disapproval or dislike of other beliefs and actions is the greatest of vices.

Christians of all people however should not be caught up in this false cult of tolerance. There is nothing Christian about it. In fact, the Bible makes it quite clear that believers are to be intolerant of many things. Indeed, we are always to be intolerant of sin.

When we are not, then we sin again, for we end up tolerating or accepting that which is sinful. Paul made this crystal clear when he commanded us to “hate that which is evil and cling to that which is good” (Rom 12:9). This is a constant theme running throughout Scripture.

Jesus himself makes this perfectly clear in his words to the seven churches in the book of Revelation. There he roundly condemns those who tolerate evil, while he heartily praises those who are intolerant of it. Take as an example the church at Ephesus (Rev 2:1-7).

Consider his words of praise to the Ephesians: “I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false” (Rev 2:2).

The Ephesians were intolerant, and Jesus loves it. He commends their intolerance, because they dislike the very things He dislikes. Indeed, Jesus praises them because they actually hate that which He hates: “But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Rev 2:6).

It seems that the Ephesians heeded well the admonition of Paul when he was with them: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:28-31).

G.K. Beale reminds us that such false teachers were not easy to detect with their deceitful guise. “Nevertheless, the Ephesians’ theological acumen penetrated this disguise and revealed the false ‘apostles’ for the ‘liars’ they were. Consequently, the emphasis is on persevering in guarding the internal doctrinal purity of the church’s faith. This was not an occasional strength of the church but an ever vigilant attitude toward inner purity.”

But Jesus must address the opposite situation in the church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29). Consider this word of rebuke: “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols” (Rev 2:20).

The believers in Thyatira are tolerating what they should be quite intolerant of. This false teaching leads to sinful lifestyles as well. Wrong beliefs will lead to wrong actions. Indeed, the connection between idolatry and immorality is constantly found throughout Scripture.

In between these two churches is the church in Pergamum (2:12-17). These believers also are rebuked by Jesus for tolerating that which they should not tolerate: “Likewise you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (2:15-16).

As Grant Osborne puts it, “The believers are being given a choice: go to war against the heretics or else God will do so for them but with far more drastic results. This theme will be made more explicit in verses 20-25 (Thyatira, who also has failed to condemn the false teachers).”

We certainly do not hear much today about going to war against false teaching, or even condemning it. Indeed, we don’t hear much about hating the sin of heresy or false doctrine. We don’t hear much about how sinful it is to tolerate that which is evil, that which God detests.

The truth is, we have come a long way from the early church. Back then it was a life and death struggle, and to tolerate sin in any form – be it false doctrine and wrong behaviour – was viewed as a great sin. Today we have totally reversed all this.

Today we seem to think that we are somehow being Christlike and compassionate when we tolerate any and every trendy teaching, lifestyle and activity. Our churches are awash with questionable if not patently false doctrines, yet we say not a word.

Our churches are being infiltrated by those who would promote every ungodly lifestyle, whether it is homosexuality or abortion, and we do nothing about it. We think it would be unloving to speak out about such matters. We think it would be judgmental to actually hold all teachings and behaviours up to the clear light of Scripture.

We are paying a heavy price for this cowardice and compromise. Jesus offers the strongest words of rebuke in Revelation 2-3 for any believer or church who engages in such syncretistic and idolatrous activities. Yet we somehow think we are being quite Christlike in doing the very opposite.

Jesus said to those who continued in such activities that they must repent, otherwise face His just wrath. If that was so very true of those seven churches, how can it not also be absolutely true for us today?

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21 Replies to “The Sin of Tolerance”

  1. Too true.

    Tolerance in the modern sense is just apathy. How can you love the Jewish people and not hate the Holocaust? How can love health and not hate cancer? How can you love children and not hate abortion/infanticide? How can you love the truth and not hate lies? How can you love the word and not hate false teaching? How can you love Christ and not hate sin?

    (not sure where I read that sort of thing but it should just be common sense)

    Jonathan Bertuch

  2. Bill,

    This is precisely the argument I have with my son all the time when I tell him that he mustn’t fall for the liberal agenda mistake of tolerating atheists and homosexuals. He always throws it right back in my face by asking why should they tolerate Christians? I regularly get annoyed by atheists being on television, like Richard Dawkins, but my son seems to like him just to spite me, and keeping claiming that atheism and the like are “valid viewpoints that have as much right to be heard as Christianity”. Obviously, as bible-believing and literate Christians we know that the only way to the Lord is through Jesus Christ our saviour, but for the unfortunates who don’t have Christ in their lives, what are we to do? What is the best way I can answer my son?

    Thank you,

    Barbara Murray-Leach

  3. Thanks Barbara

    There is nothing wrong in a democracy in allowing various positions to be heard. But what matters in the long run is which ones are true. All cannot be true of course. If Christianity is true, then atheism isn’t, etc. And no one really believes all points of view are equally valid. Does your son think that the Nazi point of view was valid? Or the point of view of pedophiles? Or racists? No one can consistently live as a relativist when it comes to truth claims, whether they have to do with religious beliefs or the instructions on a medicine bottle.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  4. Thank you for your wise words Bill, as ever. I will relay that to my son this evening. Indeed, moral relativism is a hiding to dystopia. We must stand firm with the biblical message that Christianity is the only truth.

    Barbara Murray-Leach

  5. “our churches are awash with questionable if not patently false doctrines, yet we say not a word.”

    In my experience, those who hold to a sense of biblical inerrancy or purity of doctrine are usually those on the outskirts of churches.

    There have been times when I have attempted to point out ideas or teachings (using a generous outlook, not a trifling dogmatic one) that have little support in scripture only to be locked out.

    The prevailing attitude seems to be, ‘God made us leaders, if you criticize us you are in effect criticizing the way God has done things. ‘ One does need to obey the leadership but there seems to be no middle ground.

    You are left with the only recourse of leaving quietly (what good does that do to those who remain?). You then spend months hunting around for another church, (which usually has similar problems, but now you have even less influence than the one you started with) or you attempt to start your own fellowship which is never easy and problematic (does the bible give the mandate to every disgruntled Christian to become their own leader?)

    There have been times when I have taken a stand and been howled down and others, when I must confess I have considered it not worth the strife. Modern church leadership, especially for a large church, and especially for denominations where every decision is taken out of the hands of the laity, seems to be getting increasing autocratic.

    I like George Barna’s concept of home churches, but unlike him, still place value in structured preaching and see the sense in employing a trained minister (servant) to serve God’s people in this way.

    Has anyone else had similar experiences?

    Lennard Caldwell, Clifton QLD

  6. My understanding of a good pastor is that he is a shepherd of the flock, appointed to feed his congregation with biblical teaching, give wise counsel to the troubled, encourage the use of the whole range of spiritual gifts in the church, and be a role model in love and holy living. A big ask? Yes, but there are pastors who fulfil this calling wonderfully. Others don’t. Surely each member of the Body of Christ has the Holy Spirit, and a humble leadership will seek to listen to what God may be saying through the voices of those with discernment. My experience too, though, is that these voices are dismissed, often because they are in the minority and not necessarily in high positions in the church. Prayer may be the only recourse in the short term.
    Debbie Ryan

  7. Good one Bill & Jonathan – I have a view and I don’t mind if Christian’s disagree with me; that the Western Church is compromised (derr!) and it is actually trapped in the 3rd soil of the parable of the sower – that is that the believers are saved BUT are trapped/stuck in the cares, worries, anxieties, deceitfulness of riches and the pursuance of the pleasures of this age…….I know this is controversial – once saved; always saved – but one has to only look at the greats of scripture and see that, even though they had a relationship with God, they still sinned. King David being the most classical example, an adulterer and a murderer, with so much blood on his hands that he could not build God’s temple. And yet, God said of him, David is a man after His own heart who did all all that he commanded (Acts) and I know that David suffered terribly for his sins with his family. I say this because I work with so many Christians who have ‘sin’ in their lives and yes it is tolerated and yes they will reap what they sow, but they believe they are saved. I do not want to sin and I’m not preaching tolerance for sinful behaviour, I am just observing, as many of you here would also and I am a firm believer with Paul that should we go on sinning that grace may abound? Of course not, but I do think that the Western Church is stuck in the mud of sin and yes, does tolerate it. Sadly, persecution would be the best way to get most of the Church to get into the 4th soil and to start the 30, 60 and 100 fold returns.
    Neil Innes, NT

  8. Bill I am giving you a HD+ for this article.
    I studied Revelations last year and found it amazing. Our lecturer actually read the whole of Revelations to us one night which made it much easier to study.

    We need to get the word out that “only the truth will set you free” and the truth is not PC. Tolerance today is verging on (or is) like communism…be politically correct or else!!!

    Madge Fahy

  9. “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. ” Rom 1:32

    The church must accept sinners, but should not accept sin. King David was confronted by a man of God and he repented. King Saul, started well but kept doing things his way instead of waiting for God. Christians are not those who don’t sin but those who repent when they do sin and try not to do it again.

    By being tolerant we are letting be stay in their sin. And instead of warning them of the future that awaits them we accept them and their sin. And love them all the way to hell.

    I keep being told not to judge people. That I don’t know what made them abort their child. But I do know abortion is wrong. And I do believe the only way to forgiveness and healing is through Christ. The only way to Christ is through repentance and admission of sin (guilt).

    If God’s people don’t stand up for what is right who will?

    Kylie Anderson

  10. Barbara,

    As I have said to you in previous blogs you have written in on – keep your head in God’s word and be faithfull! Your son will be watching your consistency and your faith/doctrine in action. God will use this to work in his life, when answering his comments or challenges, be confident and up front and loving. Kids can frustrate the living daylights out of you sometimes but you are doing your duty as a Christian parent and God will reward you for that!

    Stephen Davis

  11. C.S. Lewis said ‘The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse (such as the demand for tolerance and kindness) of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity (or tolerance) in general was safe, but it is not. If you leave out justice and truth you will find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials ‘for the sake of humanity (or tolerance)’, and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man’, Mere Christianity, Chapter II.

    Western governments, brainwashed by the ideology of cultural Marxists are forcing us to hate good and to embrace that which is evil. Only a megalomaniac would have the audacity to control a person’s will and the way that they felt. Not even God would invade or violate a person’s free will. To make it a crime to feel hatred, or be the cause of inciting feelings of hatred in others is assuming a level of omnipotence only formerly reserved for God.

    The whole palette of emotions – love, hate, anger, peace, fear, joy, desolation – that are displayed in human nature are all necessary for our survival, like the notes on a piano, all are equally essential. Not only are they essential for our survival but also for any kind of personal relationship to develop and out of respect for our ability to exercise free will and to make responsible choices. For a government to eliminate feelings of antipathy or hatred in order to produce a dehumanised society that runs like a well-oiled piece of machinery, sounds ominously like the film “Clockwork Orange,” where the behaviour of citizens can be controlled by drugs or brain surgery. This is surely pure evolutionary engineering.

    To quote Michael D. O’Brien ‘How long will it take for our people to understand that when humanist sentiments replace moral absolutes, it is not long before very idealistic people begin to invade human families in the name of the family, and destroy human lives in the name of humanity (and tolerance)? This is the idealist’s greatest temptation, the temptation by which nations and cultures so often fall. The wielder of power is deluded into thinking he can remould reality into a less unkind condition. If he succeeds in convincing his people of the delusion and posits for them an enemy of the collective good, then unspeakable evils can be released in society. Those who share a mass-delusion rarely recognise it as such, and can pursue the most heinous acts in a spirit of self-righteousness.’

    CS Lewis says, ‘Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience’.

    Let us also be reminded that mere tolerance, or being “kind” is not enough for the gays. They do not want our sympathy or even affection but only a standing ovation for their depravity and perversions.

    David Skinner, UK

  12. Barbara: “asking why should they tolerate Christians?”
    The short answer is of course that they don’t! People like Dawkins, Peter Singer and the homosexual lobbyists most certainly don’t tolerate, but actively hate Christians, and work diligently to undermine the Christian faith all the time.
    John Angelico

  13. In Britain we have Section 5 of the Public Disorder Act 1986 which states:

    “(1) A person is guilty of an offence if he:
    (a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
    (b) displays any writing, or signs, or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
    within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”

    Since that time scores of people, principally Christians, have been harassed and intimidated by the police, fined and threatened with imprisonment on the assumption that they have insulted or caused harassment to gays by merely criticising polymorphous sexual perversity.

    And yet here in Britain where public disorder is being created on a breathtaking level, there is not a policeman in sight. One has to see all of this video to see that I am not just talking about excessive drinking.

    David Skinner, UK

  14. It used to be said that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Perhaps we need to modify this to say that now the road to hell is paved with misplaced tolerance.
    David Vivian

  15. Lennard
    Yes, I have lived the life you describe in the church. I have questioned ideas, gave positive feed back, brought up troubling things and sought there opinions, and I can say all have been met with a quick change of subject. I’ve come to the conclusion the church is in a woeful state and has been for about 700 years. The church is a safe environment with minimal straight talk or confrontation.
    Daniel Kempton

  16. “Tolerance is the virtue of the man with no convictions” – GK Chesterton
    Julian DeSouza

  17. Lennard and Daniel. my husband and I have come to the same conclusions; vote with your feet; but in doing that and starting up new fellowships one must not lose heart and keep courage. The lord has noever stopped bringing people across our path that we disciple. usually immigrants of which I was one. Finally after some years we have found an excellent fellowship Baptist that both feeds us, support our ministry and welcomes our input. We waited a long time but the wait was worth it.We have found a levelof love, maturity and respect which we have longed for. Now we have somewhere to take our disciples as well as continue our home meets. On another note I find it hard to watch my daughetr living with a guy after her life of leadership in the church and bible college. How intolerant can I get? Most say I have to love her through it, How hard can a mother be??
    Ilona Sturla

  18. Dear Bill, when I get down about the state of the world I see you tirelessly use your gift of writing and thank God for you!
    Never doubt your impact and your gift and also to your readers their comments confirm that the remnant is alive and well but maybe a bit isolated and sad at times.
    Ilona Sturla

  19. Ilona, I think we would all wish to endorse your appraisal of Bill’s tireless work and the uniqueness of his ministry and such we need to pray for his protection, as he must be way up there on the enemy’s list of targets.

    David Skinner, UK

  20. Many thanks guys.

    Yes prayer is most earnestly coveted indeed. And yes there always will be a remnant who have not bowed the knee to Baal. Thanks for all that you do as well.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  21. Ilona, I have a Christian brother who has two children conceived out of wedlock. He and his now wife go to church but some of their beliefs and action make me question their relationship with God. We live 400km from each other so I don’t see him often but I do struggle to know what to say to him and whether it is my place to say anything or not. The rift between my SIL and I grows with every pro-life post I make.

    All this to say I understand your position, though as a mother it would be even harder I’m sure, but I can offer no easy answers.

    Kylie Anderson

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