Vol. 7, No. 6
~ Page 18 ~
A crucial question is coming to the forefront in America today that is becoming a major concern for Christians, or at least it should be a major concern. The question is: How tolerant should Christians be of sinful practices (as identified in the Bible) and when and to what extent may Christians manifest intolerance? This matter can be, and is, taken to two extremes:
On the one hand, there is the extreme of complete tolerance for everybody and everything someone may choose to believe and/or practice within the framework of their religious beliefs, political preferences and moral standards, to the point of saying, "They have the personal right to do as they think; God will accept them if they are honest and sincere about it, and if that is what they want, more power to them."
On the other hand, there is the extreme of intolerance for everybody and everything they choose to believe and/or practice that is outside the framework of one's own religious beliefs, political preferences and moral standards, having the desire to enforce conformity to the extent of using all available means of coercion, persecution and violence, lawfully or unlawfully in regard to the law of the land.
Both extremes are totally outside the letter and spirit of Christianity as set forth by directives from the Lord and by his examples. Certainly, Christians are not to be "weak as water" flowing with the "tide," but neither are they to be radical "rabble-rousers." Christians must know what is the will of the Lord, what is the spirit of Christianity and stand firmly for that while, as Paul wrote, "as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men"(Romans 12:18). It takes much conviction and courage to stand against sin (e.g., abortion, homosexuality, adultery, etc.) by teaching and example, especially when it opposes the general thinking and practice of our current culture. Christians are not "weak-kneed," compromising people when it comes to exposing sin so designated by the Word of God, and living by biblical principles. But that conviction and courage does not allow the practice of coercion, persecution or violence. Taking this course of action against sinful practices is totally contrary to the purpose, example and teaching of Jehovah God.
In the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, recorded in John, Chapter Four, among the things Jesus related to him was this: "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (vss. 17-18). Jesus did not come to enforce his principles of righteousness, nor did he go about to execute a deserved judgment, even though "...those who practice such things are deserving of death..." (cf. Romans 1:32). But he did identify and speak out against sinful practices in no uncertain terms and left it to the choosing of each individual to repent, turn from all sinful practices and thus escape condemnation. Otherwise, they were left to remain under condemnation even though it is not God's will that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (cf. 2 Peter 3:9). In the meantime, Jesus said, "...He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45).
God demands righteousness, if one is to be a child of his, but he does not enforce that demand to put an end to sinful practices in this world. He has not authorized his "servants" to pull up the "tares" out of his field of "wheat" before the time of "harvest," at which time the "reapers" will gather out the "tares" (cf. Matthew 13:24-30). Thus, we see in the life and teaching of Jesus the God-ordained tolerance of sinners and their sinful practices. (However, we are not discounting the executing of natural consequences in many cases through the providential working of God.)
Most certainly Christians will detest the sinful practices of those who despise God's righteousness, even cringe at the thought of, for example, partial birth abortion (a killing of an unwanted baby while emerging through the birth canal), or at the thought of homosexual acts (such that even animals will not tolerate) and a host of violent and inhumane acts. It really does, as it did Noah, "torment" one's "righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds" (2 Peter 2:8)--lawless in respect to God but not necessarily lawless in respect to our civil government. But that does not give Christians the right to use coercion or violence in any form to stop those sinful practices that "torment" their souls.
Christians may (and should) use all means that utilize the power of verbal persuasion (teaching of God's Word) and righteous examples to reach the heart and conscience of those who violate the law of God. Most sinful practices will stop only when the heart of man (his understanding) has been brought to a conviction of the awfulness of sinful practices and, out of a respect for and love of God, motivated to repentance.
Some sinful practices may be greatly curtailed by civil law enacted when the general community conscience is outraged. This is where the "abortion battle" now stands, hanging in the balance between the views of "pro-life" and "pro-abortion." Christians may (and should) exercise their peaceful, non-violent, right at the polls by voting for "pro-life" candidates whose moral values at least tend toward biblical morals rather than humanistic morals. That vote should be far more important than what might affect one's wallet. (Yet, for many materialistically minded people, the economy seems to be of greater interest than moral values). But the greatest impact Christians can have is by teaching and living what the Bible teaches. God wants a change of the heart, not just a physical restraint. He sent his Son to persuade men to repent and obtain everlasting life in Christ Jesus. That is the only way sinful practices can be (will be) eliminated.
Christians must be careful to extend to sinners the same tolerance God extends to them. Tolerance does not mean fellowship, i.e., a sanction of or participation in sinful practices. Nor does speaking out against sinful practices mean one is intolerant. Christians will abhor the sinful practice, but love the sinner. That is the God-ordained tolerance he demonstrated in the sending of his Son.