Is "Tolerance" a Christian Virtue?
Do you know how many times the word "tolerance" is used in the Bible? I looked into to my old King James Bible, but I could not find the word anywhere. The only words I could find which were similar were "grace", "forbearance", "patience", "longsuffering", "compassion", "peace" and "kindness."
So, if the word "Tolerance" is not in the Bible, what does this mean? The dictionary says ”to be tolerant” means to be "broadminded", to "bear" or to "endure”. It also means “to suffer or allow things we do not like, or to put up with things/people and not prevent them”. This includes, in particular, "doubtful religious practices”.
South Africa has been a Christian country, and therefore, for most of its existence, the Christian way of life prevailed. At the same time, the non-Christian minorities enjoyed religious freedom. But even though most South Africans claim to be Christians, we are now told that we are a multi-religious and multi-cultural country, and that Christians must not assert themselves. We must be tolerant because all religions are equal. In fact, the authorities almost treat us as if we were a minority, when in fact we are a huge majority. 70-80% of South Africans claim to be Christians, and if we really are a democracy as they say, we should proudly insist on civilized Christian standards, and not accept the standards of other religions or those of no religion.
I want to illustrate that it is impossible to allow every religion unlimited freedom. In the area in which I live, a Muslim Imam bought a house, and on one of the Muslim Holy Days he brought in a huge truck loaded with 200 sheep which he wanted to ritually slaughter in his garden in the presence of his congregation. He had already dug a deep pit into which to throw the entrails. But when the neighbours saw this they got very upset. They phoned the municipal authorities, but one official after the other said: ”We have freedom of religion. It is guaranteed in the Constitution.” At last we found a Medical Officer of Health who was courageous enough to stop the slaughter. He came and told the Muslims that they should take their sheep to the abattoir.
Now the Muslim was not the only one who wanted to practise his religion in our area. Around the corner, a Xhosa had bought himself a house. He wanted to thank his ancestors and ask them for their blessing. So he and his beer drinking friends slaughtered a sheep and hung the fresh skin over the wall facing the play ground. The children took fright and came running to us for help. I said to the ancestor worshipper: ”Please take this skin down. This is a residential area, and you cannot kill a sheep in your garden!” ”Oh yes, I can,” he said. ”I have freedom of religion, and you have to respect that.” A big black dog stood by his side, barking his approval. But in the end he did take down the skin, and the children went back to their games.
Now you may say that it was very intolerant of us, to spoil these two religious ceremonies. But fortunately, because of all the fuss, they did not happen again. Nevertheless, we learned that equality of religion is just not feasible. Imagine, that the Satanists might one day decide to openly meet at the full moon to sacrifice a black cat or, even worse, a human baby? We must not underestimate the demonic powers and ghastly practices inherent in pagan religions. Never forget that such religions signify a rebellion of man against God.
Is God tolerant?
I could not find a commandment which says: ”Thou shalt be tolerant.” So I asked myself: is God tolerant? In the First Commandment He says: ”I am the LORD your God... You shall have no other gods before me.” Throughout the Bible God makes it very plain that He will not give His glory to any other god. And David warned his son Solomon, saying: ”My son, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart, and with a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every plan and thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will cast you off for ever.” (1 Chron. 28:9) In the second Commandment, God says: ”I, the LORD your God am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to thousands who love Me and keep My commandments.” In other words, God is jealous. He is intolerant. He does not permit anyone to engage in religious worship not instituted by Himself. The first 4 commandments make this very plain. He even forbids us to "tolerate a false religion.” (Westminster Catechism). Any kind of idolatry has dire consequences. Paul says to the Christians of Corinth: "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: 'I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.’ Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Cor. 6:14-18
Some people say: ”But we all pray to the same God!” - DO WE? No, we Christians worship the Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is the only God, and His Son, Jesus, is The Way, The Truth and The Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him. The Jews do not acknowledge Jesus, and since God is revealed only through Jesus, their God is a different God. The Muslims worship Allah. They acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, but not as God, and so their god, too, is different from the true God.
Then people say: ”What does it matter, even if we cannot worship together, let us at least live by our common values.” But is there such a thing as common values? Admittedly other religions have laws against murder, theft and lies, but these only apply to themselves and can be broken at will with people of other religions. Among the Churches today it is fashionable to be tolerant and to join with other religions in their rites and prayers. For instance, at the inauguration of our state Presidents Mandela and Mbeki, both Christian and heathen priests officiated. But we must remember that God is not mocked. When we become too tolerant, when we deny the Triune God and reject Christianity, we commit religious and cultural suicide. Pagan religions will overwhelm and enslave us, and it will not take long before our freedoms are gone. For only where the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ is, there is liberty. 2 Cor. 3:17
In Europe millions of Muslim immigrants are becoming ever more militant and boasting of the day when they will take over and establish their own harsh system, the Sharia Law. South Africa, too, is yielding to Muslims. Even though it has a very small Muslim community, a large proportion of them are already in leading positions. And since Muslims can be very aggressive, Christians tend to give way to them, keeping quiet and not speaking up. Therefore, while there is yet time, we must seek our God and pray: ”Have pity on Your people, LORD. Do not let other nations despise us and mock us by saying, ’Where is your God?’” Joel 2:17
Now we live in a world, where all divisions are being broken down. The great aim is to establish the global village, and bring about the One World Order. Therefore the divisions between nationalities, religions, cultures, and people must go. Anything and anybody who claims a definite identity or holds to unique and absolute values, is seen as an obstacle, and the greatest obstacle is our Lord Jesus Christ - because He is absolute and unique. He is God. He is the only Saviour of the world. This makes all true Christians, who will not compromise, an enemy of the New World Order. Therefore, for the new politics to succeed, Christianity and Christians must be silenced and outlawed, for they are regarded as divisive, unwilling to forsake their Lord of to give up their identity.
We can thank God that in South Africa, in spite of all the crime, there is much social harmony and little religious tension. The reason for this is that for generations South Africans have lived under a Christian dispensation, and the non-Christian religions have absorbed much of the Christian ethos. Christians, while ready to evangelise, have always been tolerant towards other religions, and so all people, whether Christians or not, have lived by the Golden Rule because it was the commonly accepted standard.
But with the present drive towards a humanistic world government the non-Christian religions have become assertive and are challenging the predominance of Christianity. In fact, the world’s cultures are at war with one another. Each wants to establish its own values and threatens the freedom of the others. In America the actor Charlton Heston said: ”A culture war is raging across our land - storming our values, assaulting our freedoms, killing our self-confidence in who we are and what we believe.” And the writer Janet Folger added: ”We’ve all seen the attack coming. The year I was born, the Supreme Court said that kids can’t pray in school - at least not out loud. Can’t talk about God - at least not the real one - in school. If you want to use the Name of Jesus, you’d better be taking it in vain or be in another country... like Russia. My senior year, the Ten Commandments were ripped from classrooms for fear that unsuspecting students might read them... and actually obey them. Wouldn’t want to discourage kids from lying and stealing and killing, after all. Then the Commandments were pulled from public buildings and courthouses...”
The same war is taking place in South Africa. Our Christian culture is under threat. Persecution is mounting. Already, throughout the world, 160,000 Christians are killed every year for their faith (Freedom House Report) Indeed, the Christian religion has been systematically targeted for destruction, and the whole Christian culture is in peril.
The question is, how tolerant can we be in such a culture war? How can we put up with blasphemy and destructive teachings (such as the Gospel of Judas and the Da Vinci Code?) How can we tolerate abortion, stem-cell research/cloning, homosexuality, pornography, assisted suicide, evolution, and sexual immorality? God has instructed us to turn away from such things and build a culture in which we live ”self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this world, as we wait for the blessed Day we hope for, when the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ will appear.” Titus 2:12
Already, and throughout the Christian nations, many freedoms have been lost by default, because Christians, when coming face to face with evil, often do nothing. In fact, one can say that present day Christians sin more by omission than by commission. In a false understanding of turning the other cheek they turn the other cheek to the devil himself. But when Christ said: ”If anyone hits you on one cheek, let him hit the other one too,” He was talking about people who wrong us, not people who wrong God. He meant OUR enemies, not GOD’s enemies. Jesus did not turn the other cheek to the enemies of His Father. He overturned their tables and whipped them out of the temple.
This is a poem called: ”Where ’tolerance’ leads”, it speaks of a woman who is blaming her best friend for doing nothing, for keeping quiet, for tolerating evil, and for leading her to hell with her tolerance:
When we disagreed
while watching the news,
You chose to ignore
my misguided views.
I trusted you and thought
you were my friend,
But you stood by and watched me
come to this end.
When I fell for the lie
"my body, my choice,”
Fear of offending me
silenced your voice,
"Don’t let me die!”
the child in me implored,
But you drove to the clinic
and dropped me off at the door.
You didn’t tell me Jesus
took all of my blame,
Because you didn't want to be
called a mean name,
It was all about you
not shining the light.
You didn’t speak up
to show me what was right.
That my sins were paid for
by a God who loved me,
You could have explained it
so I could see.
Yes, you were 'tolerant’
when love would have cost more,
When there was time
to choose heaven’s door.
But for the first time I can now tell,
With a warm, pleasant smile,
you let me go to hell.
You called it 'Tolerance,’
but it was not love.
You let your friend go to hell,
Who were you thinking of?
This sad poem shows how easy it is to fail God and man by trying to be too tolerant.
Keep Christian company.
When my children were young we lived in Sea Point at a time when the population was 70% Jewish, and there were many friendships between Jews and Christians. One was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. She renounced Christ and confessed the Jewish religion as she married. The only Christian thing she kept was her leather-bound, gold-cut hymn book. One day her Jewish mother-in-law came to me and said: ”We do not need this any more. You can have it.” I still have that book and think of that girl. Why did her parents and her friends not stop her? Their tolerance may have cost her her eternal life.
God has set boundaries for us which we need to respect, and not break down with false tolerance. Jesus says: ”Worship the Lord your God and serve only Him.” (Matt. 4:10) God has also ”fixed the exact times and limits of the places” where we should live. Paul says: He did that so that we would look for him, and perhaps find him... (Acts 17:26) So every human being moves in fixed spheres of life. He is bounded not only by space and time, but by religion, culture, family, and race. To break these bounds brings trouble and grief.
Go into the World.
In these days of culture war, we Christians are told to become more tolerant and loving. We should stop talking about our beliefs, and stop making moral judgments. Because, they claim, to do so is being ”mean”, ”narrow-minded”, ”unloving”, ”divisive” and all sorts of other things. Some godless people even claim that when a Christian speaks up it is a kind of ”hatred”, and the newest crime in the law books of the world is ”hate speech”. In many countries they are instituting ”hate speech” laws, but these are not used to forbid blasphemy or insults. They are used to prosecute Christians who are standing up for Christ and speaking out on spiritual and moral issues. Godless authorities do not want criticism of abortion, homosexuality, and other kinds of ungodliness. By means of these hate-speech laws evangelical Christians have already been prosecuted for teaching about Islam, for protesting against abortion, for speaking out against homosexuality, for holding up Bible placards, and for declaring that Jesus is the only Way, Truth and Life. In fact, opposition to Christianity is building up fast, and every Christian must know that if he or she witnesses effectively, sooner or later he will suffer defamation or may even be taken to court. In this situation Christians must stand together, uphold one another, and be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves. They need to be courageous, bold and urgent in declaring the ways of God.
This does not mean that we should be offensive or aggressive or rude. We must remember that God loves all people and does not want any to perish. Therefore He commands us to testify to the Law and the Gospel. Just as Jesus was ”about His Father’s business,” so must we be about His business, but not in a timid way. If we meet with persons or experiences which are not right, it is our duty to address them. We must speak out confidently, for the Lord does ”not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Tim. 1:7) It is actually a matter of life and death, for He says: ”If I announce that an evil person is going to die but you do not warn him to change his ways so that he can save his life, he will die, still a sinner, and I will hold you responsible for his death. If you do warn an evil man and he doesn’t stop sinning, he will die, still a sinner, but your life will be spared.” Ezekiel 3:18
It is a great privilege to encourage others to come to God, to help them to be joined to Christ and become a new being. We long to see Jesus’ enemies change into his friends, and to know that ”God is making the whole human race his friends through Christ.” 2 Cor. 5:18
So to answer our question: Is tolerance a Christian virtue, we must say: No, it is not. Instead of trying to be tolerant, let us rather be kind, forbearing, and gracious to all people who do not know the Lord. Let us love them enough to tell them the Gospel and save them from hell. Let us be tools in the hands of God and make the most of our opportunities. I would urge you to set up prayer and action groups and keep close contact with Frontline Fellowship and Africa Christian Action. I pray that God may guide you by His Holy Spirit and let you be wise in all your contacts, so that many people may be rescued from a desolate eternity and be brought into the light of life.
Mrs Dorothea Scarborough was a Missionary of the London Missionary Society to the Gilbert Islands. She is the Founder of the Gospel Defence League, Chairman of the Christian Action Network and President of The Reformation Society.
For back copies of articles by Mrs. Scarborough visit the Gospel Defence League website: www.christianaction.org.za/GDL/index.htm