There are situations in our Christian lives when we have to deal with a very heavy situation and one of these situations is when to tolerate or when not to. When do we draw the line when it comes to religious tolerance?
To be quite clear about this, the tolerance that was experienced in the classical era is quite different in the modern-day. In the classical era, Christians acknowledged that there were different religions and beliefs and accepted that people had the right to choose which belief they wanted to be in.
However, in the modern-day view of tolerance, acceptance is not only a matter of respecting other religions, but also accepting they are right and true.
These two different eras are very different and that is why there are numerous debates on religious tolerance in the present-day practice of Christianity. Accepting that there are different beliefs in this world, which is what classical tolerance is all about, is an accepted practice of Christianity.
However, accepting that these beliefs are right, which is the modern-day view of Christian tolerance, is a totally different thing and this is where we, as Christians, need to draw the line.
Definitely, accepting the doctrines and beliefs of other religions as truth is something Christians should never do. Let us tackle this further and visit what Scripture has to say about religious tolerance.
Accepting but Not Agreeing
In the letter to the Galatians, Paul specifically called this out when he said, “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods” (Galatians 4:8).
Paul was referring to people who did not know God because of the bondage of sin. This is a very powerful statement because it tells us the demarcation of being a Christian in believing in other religions. Now, look at what Paul says in Romans 1:18-25, as it is written,
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen.
Paul explains that it is the nature of humans to not accept God. This, again, is a very powerful statement because it tells us that whether we like it or not, some people will never believe in Christianity, even if we tolerate their beliefs first. And yet, even when we get rejected in the process, we are still blessed, as it is written in Luke 6:22,
“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.”
This also means that when we are hated because of our beliefs, we must remember that they hated Jesus first, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18).
Disagreeing Does Not Mean Hatred
Despite our knowing that our religious tolerance towards other beliefs and doctrines will sometimes not be reciprocated by other people, this does not mean that we brew in hatred for others who do not believe in Jesus Christ.
According to Scripture, religious tolerance is also about being respectful to others even if they are not respectful to us. We can read this in Matthew 5:43-48,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The verse puts so much emphasis on loving our enemies — and while other people who do not believe in Christ may or may not be our enemies, it boils down to the fact that it is specifically stated in the Bible that we should never let hatred brew in our hearts because of others — even if they hate us for what we believe in.
This is one of the principles of religious tolerance that the Bible continually presents. In fact, it is further presented in other verses,
On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head” (Romans 12:20).
Love Is the Most Important Thing
Going back to the two eras of religious tolerance, in the present world, it is a norm that if we agree it automatically means we believe. However, this is not a biblical principle of religious tolerance, and this should not be practiced.
As mentioned in the above sections, Christians have the role of respecting other beliefs even if we do not necessarily think it is right and true — even when that respect is not reciprocated.
However, there are certain moments when the heat of the conversation arises, and some controversies happen within church denominations that tend to divide us especially pertaining to religious doctrines.
What is our proper way for addressing this? Do we still need to focus on religious tolerance as respect and love? Yes, of course, we do.
Even if people tend to think that religious tolerance is accepting what others believe to be true, it is our duty to present the Scripture as the truth — as Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
We should present the truth with love. After all, love is the most important thing in this world and Jesus puts so much emphasis on love in His teachings, as it is written in Matthew 22:37-39,
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus’ words are strong and powerful and whenever we feel that we are pressured by religious tolerance, just go back to what Jesus said by reading the Bible.
What Does This Mean?
So, is religious tolerance a biblical principle? Yes, in fact, the Bible sets fundamentals on how we should deal with situations that lead us to either tolerate or not.
Christians should always be tolerant of other religious beliefs but not accept them as the truth. Instead, Christians should respect and love others in their beliefs, but show greater love in sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ.
For further reading:
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Glory Dy has been a content creator for more than 10 years. She lives in a quiet suburb with her family and four cats.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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