Tolerance can be a virtue, but
it can also betray an inexcusable weakness of character. We admire the
person who tolerates differences where no great issue is at stake. He
allows for a variety of preferences, methods and unimportant
viewpoints. He would rather be killed for a sheep than for a lamb.
But there is another tolerance that is despicable. This
is the willingness to remain silent when God’s name is blasphemed or
when Christ is dishonoured. It is the treachery of silence when truth
is on the scaffold. It is the unwillingness to speak out against evil.
Tolerance that condones deceit and unrighteousness is sin.
Those who think that Jesus was always tolerant should
read Matthew 23, a denunciation of hypocrisy. This passage proves
forever that our Lord was capable of scathing indignation at the
pretence of religious leaders. Or they should read Revelation 2:20
where He condemned the church in Thyatira for tolerating a woman
teacher named Jezebel.
Paul too was intolerant of evil. He even mentioned
names, something that is considered unacceptable in evangelical circles
today. He delivered Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan, that they might
learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:20). He didn’t hesitate to single
out Hymenaeus and Philetus as false teachers (2 Timothy 2:17) and he
denounced Alexander the coppersmith by name for his evil behaviour (2
John also had the courage to name Diotrephes as one who loved to have the pre-eminence (3 John 9).
It seems that the church today has lost its capacity
for godly intolerance. As Robert G Lee said ‘We live in a world of
invertebrate theology, jellyfish morality, seesaw religion, India
rubber convictions, somersault philosophy that tells us what we already
know in words which we do not understand’.
The writings of William Barclay are another case
in point. Barclay denies the deity of Christ, the inspiration of the
Scriptures, the miracles of Jesus and His substitutionary atonement. He
believes in the eventual salvation of all mankind. Yet his books are
sold in the majority of Christian bookstores. He is widely quoted by
prominent evangelical leaders. And multitudes of Christians study his
books on the specious excuse that ‘they contain such valuable
background information’. The fact that he is a heretic, a blasphemer
and a deceiver is not important. Neither, apparently, is the honour of
our Lord Jesus Christ.
A missionary to India was right on target when he wrote
‘Toleration has become so tolerant that evil is included in that
tolerance. We are in danger of becoming "moral cows in our plump
It is an ungodly tolerance that has allowed so many
pulpits in America to be filled with "false apostles and deceitful
workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ". Detecting a
resemblance to conditions in Elijah’s day, J Sidlow Baxter writes ‘Such
are the people who today, with sickly kindness, will tolerate teachers
of errors in our pulpits because they are such smooth-mannered and
amiable gentlemen. They would rather allow error to be preached and
souls to be deceived than hurt the preacher’s feelings. Let Baal be
worshipped rather than drought come! Let the cancer kill its victim
rather than the cruel surgeon use the knife!…The best thing that could
happen to some so-called Christian ministers of today is that they
should be denounced in God’s name by their hearers’.
It is a sinful tolerance  that refuses to castigate
a false church system that leads millions to eternal destruction with
its perverted gospel.  That honours its head as a great evangelist
at the same time that he is condemning evangelicals as wolves.  That
labels God’s prophets as divisive when they denounce its idolatry, its
mariolatry and its other heresies.  That sends converts back into
its deadening clutches.
What has happened to the church of the martyrs?
We have an enormous craving for popularity. This is the
stuff of which false prophets are made. We have a desire to avoid
unpleasantness at all cost. A desire like this keeps us from
confronting, from intervening when we should.
We have a distaste for being different. We find it
easier to move along with the crowd, to drift with the tide. It is all
too easy to remain silent when we are in an adverse theological
climate. We are ‘slaves who dare not to be right with two or three’.
We have lost the capacity for being angry. We are not
easily enough disturbed. We are in the sorry state of having no
capacity for indignation. We are experts at putting off decisiveness
simply because we don’t want to act.
Sometimes we are too blinded by friendship to stand
against wrong. When a Christian spoke out against E J Carnell’s book
‘The Case For Orthodoxy’ because it argued against the inspiration of
the Scriptures, a friend of the author said ‘Well you do not know him
personally as I do. He is a gracious gentleman, a godly man’.
Jay Adams was right when he said ‘In some circles, the
fear of controversy is so great that preachers and congregations
following after them will settle for peace at any cost - even the cost
of the truth - God’s truth. The idea is that peace is all- important.
Peace is a biblical ideal…but so is purity. The peace of the church may
never be bought at the price of the purity of the church. The price is
Ecumenism and catholicity are two great buzzwords
today. Let’s all get together. Don’t do or say anything to rock the
boat. Doctrine divides, they say. What we need is unity.
What we really need is to contend earnestly for the
faith in a day when it is being attacked, diluted and denied. We will
be tolerant in matters of indifference but intolerant of departure from
the truth of God. With Luther, ‘Here we stand. We can do no other’.