"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Monday, February 18, 2013

The Tragedy of Tolerance, from Christ's Own Lips

In the front entrance of my middle school, there was displayed prominently a single word:  "TOLERANCE."  No doubt you have seen something like this yourself, no?  To be fair, the idea of tolerance is not a bad one, if it is contained properly.  Tolerance with regard to ethnicity or social standing, for instance, is wholly appropriate from a biblical standpoint:  Colossians 3:11 comprehends no difference in the kingdom of God between "Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman."  We have each of us become new creations, and so we all find ourselves placed by adoption into the same eternal family, and purchased as redeemed slaves into the same eternal household.

However, the idea of tolerance is nearly always pressed beyond this, far into the realm of ideological open-mindedness.  We are urged to develop and maintain a wideness in our regard for systems of thinking which differ from our own - we must ascribe genuine worth to the philosophies of others, even if they are starkly and completely contrasted to ours.  This sort of tolerance is repugnant to the Lord because it delights in spurning absolute truth, and so it cannot help but lead people astray.

Christ Himself spoke in no uncertain terms regarding the danger of tolerance as He saw it spreading through one of His churches like a growth of hardy weeds, choking out true growth and sapping spiritual vitality. We see His words in Revelation 2:18-29 to the church in Thyatira. 

A key truth we must establish is that the church in Thyatira constituted a legitimate body of believers.  The Lord Jesus takes special notice of both their inward and outward qualities, such as faith and service (v. 19), and He calls their partakers "My bond-servants" (v. 20).  As such, He approaches this group as their acknowledged Lord, carrying righteous jealousy and intent upon their purity. 

In direct contradiction of their acknowledged status as a true church, they harbor a devastating problem:  they are tolerating a woman who is improperly functioning in their midst as a teacher, and a false one at that (v. 20).  The result is a devoted following of this Jezebel, and the spread of immoral living (vv. 22-23).  Christ has been patient (v. 21), but He promises that judgment looms large and certain unless there is repentance (vv. 22-23).

We have here an absoluely chilling instance in which there is laid up, even for believers, the most dire earthly consequences for sin - death itself.  Our God promises death to His wayward children!  There is a tendency for us to suppose that, as the cross has sponged away the sentence of eternal doom awaiting us, we would never be compelled to suffer such weighty temporal punishment for our sins, but of course this simply is not the case.  John speaks of believers who engage in "a sin leading to death" (1 John 5:16a), and of course the writer of Hebrews declares that where God bestows His love, He also delivers His discipline (Heb. 12:6).  While it has no bearing upon eternal salvation, it is nevertheless a terrifying prospect, is it not?

Note that tolerance in this case is not the sterling example of grace or kindness that your school counselor tried to palm off on you - it is pure selfishness.  The Thyatiran church is saying, "Tolerating this heresy in our midst is not costing the rest of us anything personally, so we do not agree that it is a problem to the church."  This, of course, is tantamount to declaring, "We will tolerate heresy that devastates our brothers and sisters, so long as we are left untouched ourselves." 

This is like watching a stranger give your younger siblings each a popsicle laced with turpentine, and smiling as you walk away because you know where the Good Humor man is parked.  It denies every fundamental uproar of Christian love, and it all but shouts a contentedness with an unbecoming isolation.  This sort of spiritual climate; that is, spiritual foolishness mixed with spiritual isolationism, will see even a formerly thriving church laid waste in all quarters.

These things ought not be so.  Slap the popsicle out of your kid brother's hand, take that stranger by the lapel, and make sure he finds his way out of your neighborhood for good.  And go take your brother, who's crying now, to the Good Humor man. 


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