Christian Intolerance: Virtue or Vice?

When you just can’t stand it any more.

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Is it a virtue or a vice to be intolerant of others? We often hear the advice to “just be loving” or almost as often “don’t judge others, lest ye be judged”, but have you considered that at times Jesus demands intolerance of those he considers worthy of salvation?

This evening, as my family read a few passages out of the final book of the Bible (as highlighted in our Claiming Christ devotional study), we wrestled with the red-letter expectations of our Savior to be intolerant.

As much as it stings to be criticized by others as a bunch of intolerant Christians, I am inclined to prefer the favor of the Lord-of-All ahead of the preferences of humanistic Pharisees. You see, this is what Jesus commended to the first church he addressed in Revelation:

“I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men [in the church, and especially in leadership roles], that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false”.

To the members of the church in Ephesus, Jesus says “Well done” in this area, for they demonstrated a strong commitment to Christian integrity among their leaders, both of apparent apostles as well as those who promoted doctrinal twists in the gospel. Although the Lord does extend a criticism to those in that church, he quickly adds that their intolerance within the church toward twists of truth is in line with his own views:

“But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.”

Of course, it is fully within the expanse of the gospel of Jesus to extend grace to the undeserving, just as our Lord extended his grace to us “while we were yet sinners”. This is not in any way undermining that glorious truth. Rather it is a point of distinction.

The sober reality is that because God has chosen to allow the wheat to grow along with the weeds in his holy field, there will be those who look the part but have no part. Although God told servants (in the parable) to not yank all the weeds out lest they disturb the growth of the wheat, so we are to avoid witch-hunts. But as these passages in Revelation make clear, that does not mean that we are then to just stand back and watch as wolves ravage the sheep, consoling our indifference with humanistic niceties like “let’s all just get along” or “nobodies perfect”.

Oh contraire. Everything and everyone, even every thought, must be brought captive to Christ.

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

That means that we must have our own minds saturated with the Word of Life through Scripture, by which we can then measure everything around us and even that which is circling about within us. It also means we must be developing skill in hearing and using the Spirit by putting into practice those words of God. Obedience is so important to rightly applying this difficult command that Jesus repeatedly speaks of it, as recorded in Revelation, using the words “your deeds” and “your works”.

It is not those deeds that earn his favor or our salvation, but rather they are the indicators of our willingness to honor his words by doing what he says.

If such intolerance were optional, then perhaps he would have avoided attaching a consequence to it, but it seems that the Head of the Church expects his faithful in Church to strive to uphold the holy integrity of his Church by drawing a line in the sand whenever church leaders begin to veer astray.

After describing the meaning of the candlesticks as representatives of the light of Christ in each congregation standing before the Throne of God, he then say adds these words:

“Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent [added because God allows Christians the free will to still disobey him], I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

In short, Jesus is warning Christians that he will be intolerant of sustaining their reserved “place” before the Throne of God, unless they are willing to be intolerant of revealed sin in both Church leaders and those with whom they worship. The Apostle John interprets this removal-of-inheritance with his final warning in the book that puts this whole business at a salvational level of importance:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words [like “cannot tolerate”] away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”

Yes, we are our brother’s keepers. And it is a burden that we must bear with great patience, humility, and faithfulness. This is where such reminders of caution apply, like “check the mote in your own eye, then go…”

Are you willing to hold your brothers and sisters in Christ to the Light of scriptural truth, even if it is awkward, and even if others hate you because of it?

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About grahamAlive

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