Tuesday, 15 March 2011

There is no such thing as "Christian Tolerance"

I've begun reading Isaiah recently, studying with the help of daily Bible reading questions and weekly small group discussions, lectures and notes from my local BSF class. (Since I live in the southern hemisphere, my BSF classes run from February to November, starting and finishing after the northern hemisphere classes.) I've just finished studying Isaiah 5, and the notes were particularly helpful this week in helping me to understand what the behaviours Isaiah condemned among the people of Israel and Judah in his time equate to today.

Isaiah 5:18,20-21 says,
Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit,
and wickedness as with cart ropes...
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.
Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
and clever in their own sight.

It is easy to think of instances when this happens today. Most notably, perhaps, in the recent news in Australia, the Labor/Green alliance in government is looking closely at legalising homosexual (so-called) "marriage". Isn't it evil, not good, to tell people that their distorted and destructive lust for each other is the same as the creative, supporting and edifying love that is between couples whose marriages reflect biblical instructions for marriage? Yet this is promoted as a "good" thing for Australian society.

One of the arguments that often comes up in such debates is the idea of the "virtue" of Tolerance. Live and let live, we are told. If they want to do it, let them. Be more tolerant. And then, as a Christian, I might be asked, "What about your Christian Tolerance? Where's that in this situation?"

"No-where", I'd answer. There is no such thing as "Christian Tolerance".

A quick search for the words tolerance, tolerate and tolerant on my iPhone NIV Bible app, and on Bible Gateway, reveal only 11 instances of the words in the entire Bible. Here they are:

1. and 2. Esther 3:4 and 3:8
Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply. Therefore they told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew. ... Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom who keep themselves separate. Their customs are different from those of all other people, and they do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them.
A foreign power would not tolerate a Jewish man's cultural practices. Not supportive of the idea of Tolerating wrongdoing, but not really relevant to Christian or godly Tolerance anyway.

3. Psalm 101:5
Whoever slanders their neighbor in secret,
I will put to silence;
whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart,
I will not tolerate.

The Bible says God will not tolerate haughty eyes and a proud heart.

4. 5. and 6. Habbakuk 1:3 and 1:13 (twice)
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds. ...
Your eyes are too pure to look on evil;
you cannot tolerate wrongdoing.
Why then do you tolerate the treacherous?

Why are you silent while the wicked
swallow up those more righteous than themselves?

The Bible records Habakkuk, God's prophet, complaining that God tolerates wrongdoing (v3). God replied that he is about to send the Babylonians to wreak havoc upon these wrongdoers in punishment for the wrongdoing. God does not tolerate wrongdoing, as Habakkuk later recognises (v13a): "You [God] cannot tolerate wrongdoing." Then Habakkuk again complains to God, asking why God tolerates treacherous people. God's response is to pronounce woe upon the treacherous, and to reassure HIs prophet that his revelation of destruction for these people will indeed come to pass (eg Hab 2:3,8). God will not tolerate the treacherous forever.

7. 1 Corinthians 5:1-2
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?
Paul says it is completely wrong for the Christians to tolerate sexual immorality. Paul says it is better to treat the wrong-doer as if they are dead than to proudly tolerate the sinners.

8. 2 Corinthians 11:16
I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting.
Paul suggests, in passing, that the only person whose wrong actions may be tolerated is a fool, who is intellectually incapable of better.

9. and 10. Revelation 2:2 and 2:20
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. ...
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.

Firstly, Jesus commends one group of Christians because they cannot tolerate wicked people. Then Jesus condemns another group of Christians because they tolerate a particular teacher who misleads other people into sexual sin.

In conclusion, it seems clear that the Bible condemns tolerance of wrongdoing, particularly tolerance of sexual immorality. There is no such thing as Christian Tolerance.

However, as was alluded to in the Habakkuk passages, there is such a thing as God's tolerance. It is only mentioned once in the Bible, and it isn't in the latest (2011) version of the NIV, where the word "forbearance" is used.

11. Romans 2:2-4
Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
God does tolerate our sin - for a time. But God only tolerates our sin so that there is time for us to acknowledge our sin and turn from our sin to Him for His forgiveness. And God will not tolerate our sin forever. One Day, Jesus will return in judgement, and His standard of good and evil will never be confused, because God's judgement is based on truth, not on the wisdom of our own eyes.

What sin is God tolerating in you, kindly and patiently giving you an opportunity to turn away from your sin and repent?

If you'd like to study Isaiah with BSF in Perth, here's a list of classes:

Perth Women's Day class (with pre-school children's classes)
Wednesdays 10am-12nn @ Subiaco Church of Christ, 260 Bagot Rd Subiaco

Perth South Women's Day class (with pre-school children's classes)
Thursdays 10am-12nn @ Perth Chinese Christian Church, 9 Gedling Close Parkwood

Perth Women's Evening class (with school-aged children's classes)
Mondays 7-9pm @ Mt Pleasant Church of Christ, 29 Darnell Ave Mt Pleasant

Perth North Women's Evening class (with school-aged children's classes)
Mondays 7-9pm @ Duncraig Christian Fellowship, 41 Beddi Rd Duncraig

Perth Men's Evening class (with school-aged children's classes)
Mondays 7-9pm @ Mt Pleasant Uniting Church, 1 Coomoora Rd Mt Pleasant

Perth North Men's Evening class (with school-aged children's classes)
Tuesdays 7-9pm @ Kingsley Church of Christ, 58 New Cross Rd, Kingsley

Perth Young Adult's class Evening class
Mondays 7-9pm @ Mount Hawthorn Baptist Church, 96 Hobart St Mount Hawthorn


Mrs. Edwards said...

Forbearance is such a good word, even though it isn't used much in our day to day speech. I'm glad NIV chose it to capture the meaning of God's tolerance of our sin.

When I watch the horrible suffering in Japan, and the oppression in the Middle East, I think, "This is a warning. God is saying 'Take notice! Repent! Turn to me. I love you and want to forgive you.'" And those of us watching the suffering from afar should realize that it is a warning for us as well. Our turn will come, for we deserve nothing better.

Our teaching leader, early in the study, shared that her father, a preacher, kept a sign on his desk that read, "It may be today."

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Thanks for this post, directing our eyes to God's tolerance of us--a tolerance that in His mercy gives us time to turn to Him.

Sharon said...

You're right... and there's been the earthquake in New Zealand, and serious flooding across the eastern seaboard of Australian before that, not to mention bushfires that destroyed many houses here in Perth. Someone in my class commented that most of the destruction (up until the Japan earthquake and tsunami) was of property and buildings - as if God was saying to us, "Stop relying on your stuff! Rely on Me instead!"

I just wrote on fb, "When I read Augustine's Confessions last year I was surprised how many of the temptations Augustine faced were still applicable today; the same is true of Isaiah's writing. So much of the sin Isaiah condemns in the people of his time (800-odd BC) is happening here in Perth today." Every single thing on Isaiah's list of "Woes" (warnings of judgement) could have been said of the people of Perth today, and I am sure the same is true of Wichita also.