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 Vol. 8, No. 5 

May 2006

~ Page 13 ~

How Tolerant Should We Be?

By T. Pierce Brown

Image What would you think if you heard a preacher say that the Bible taught that husbands should tolerate their wives? Probably your first reaction would be, "That is not what the Bible says! It says, 'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself up for it'" (Ephesians 6:25). You would be right. But does the Bible teach that husbands should tolerate their wives? Does the word "love" necessarily include "tolerate," and therefore when it says, "Love your wives," it also teaches "Tolerate your wives?" The answer to that is, "Yes." As we meditate on that, we should consider two things. First, if a word necessarily includes a concept, when the word is used, the concept, which is included, is taught. "Love your enemies" necessarily involves toleration of them. It does not involve condoning or approving their sins or actions against you.

Second, we need to understand what toleration involves, and that one may have toleration for a person, but not tolerate certain actions of that person. Toleration has to do with the allowance of beliefs, habits or practices differing from one's own preference. Should we be tolerant of those in denominations? Of course! This does not mean that we should refuse to teach against them or fail to point out the consequences of their disobedience. It does mean that we should not try to get national or local laws passed forbidding them. We have the right and responsibility to try to get laws passed forbidding immoral actions which degrade and harm society, but not "religious laws" which relate only to our worship and service to God.

There are two Scriptures that are misunderstood and misused in connection with that principle. In Mark 9:38-40 we find, "John said unto him, Teacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, because he followed not us. But Jesus said, 'Forbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.'" The other one is Matthew 13:30," Let them both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn."

Every denominational commentary of which I am aware, and many who claim to be Gospel preachers, quote one or both of those passages to teach that all religions have an equal right to exist and that we should not only tolerate them, but also let them alone. Neither passage teaches that. However, we need to make a distinction between legally having a right to exist in a society and having a right to exist religiously with God's approval.

The first passage has to do with a group of disciples who were doing things by the authority (in the name of) Christ. They were not doing it in the same way or place the apostles were, but they were doing the work of Christ in the name of Christ. They in no way represent any denomination or group who is worshiping God in vain, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men, having both works and words with no authority from Christ!

They more nearly represent two churches of Christ. One has two Bible study periods on Sunday morning, but does not meet on Wednesday evening. They support a radio program. The other one has a Wednesday evening Bible study, does not support the radio program, but has an extensive Correspondence Bible course work. They are both meeting in the same town. Each feels that its way of doing the work of Christ is the better way. They should not fuss about it, but recognize that each has the authority to do what it does--but they are not following each other.

Toleration involves the realization that although I may firmly believe the way I do it is better than the way they do it, I do not try to prevent them from doing it. But suppose they are teaching a fatally false doctrine? They are not doing and teaching what they do by the authority of Christ. Should I still tolerate them? I should. My toleration does not involve my refusing to teach against their false doctrine and practice. Nor does it involve my having religious fellowship with them. To withdraw fellowship from a brother who is no longer in fellowship with God is not intolerant. Toleration involves my loving them and recognizing that they have a right under the governments of men to believe and practice anything they want to that does not remove my right and freedom to do the same thing, and does not break some law of the land. Paul shows that fellowship in man's government is not the same as fellowship under God's (1 Corinthians 5:10-11).

One does not have that right in God's government to teach unsound doctrine. Paul says in Romans 16:17, "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them that are causing divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned: and turn away from them." That in no way negates the idea of tolerance for sinners.

Was the Lord tolerant of sinners and false teachers? Yes, he loves us, and is "longsuffering to usward" (2 Peter 3:9), tolerating our wrong doings over and over. That does not mean he does not rebuke, chastise, warn, admonish and try to get us to change, nor that he will not punish us if we fail to change.

It is sometimes assumed that "let them both grow together until the harvest" (Matthew 13:30) means that in the church we must not take any action that would separate the tares from the wheat. If that were true, then Jesus and Paul are in contradiction, and that cannot be right. The field is the world, and Christians should not try to institute an Inquisition and take up a sword, as people did in the Crusades, to root out the tares. God will take care of the destruction of the tares in judgment day. Tolerate them, love them and teach them what will happen to them if they do not bear fruit for Christ. If you persecute them and try to prevent by worldly means their right as human beings to teach what they believe, you will "root up the wheat also" and find yourself prevented from teaching what you believe. Every congregation has both the right and responsibility to withdraw from members of that congregation who are teaching fatally false doctrines, but do not have the right to be intolerant, or to get human governments to punish them for that.

So husbands and wives are to tolerate their spouses. Any husband that loves his wife "even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it" will tolerate many idiosyncrasies without even thinking about them. Most any wife who happens to read this knows that she has tolerated many things in her husband's life that she would like to change. That does not mean that she is not submissive to him, nor does it mean that she cannot still try to get him to change those things that need to be changed in his life. We are not to tolerate fatally false doctrine, but we are to be tolerant toward all men.

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