I often get called out by Christians as “promoting tolerance.” In reality, yes, I am a tolerant person who believes Christians need to be tolerant of the beliefs of others.
We are going to start with a semantic lesson on what tolerance is.
Wikipedia probably has the most commonly used definition by Christians: Tolerance is a fair, objective, and permissive attitude towards those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own.
What most Christians get hung up on, and believe tolerance means, is in the word “permissive” – If I am tolerant of someones lifestyle, I am allowing, or encouraging, that way of living. Several dictionaries even define permissive as “being tolerant.”
I believe the word most Christians are looking for is “acceptance” – agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation.
The actual definition of tolerance is: allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.
Acceptance is believing in something and permitting it, while tolerance is living with it even if you disagree with it. For example, I am not accepting of my 13 year old dating. I do not permit it. But I am tolerant of my dog sitting on the sofa. Though I do not agree with it, I permit it.
What Christians argue about in the debate on “tolerance” is all about the semantics.
Like it or not, God is tolerant of those who do not believe in him. He is tolerant of those who have different views than Him. He is tolerant of war. He is tolerant of sin. The Bible is strewn with tolerance from cover to cover. God does not, however, accept certain things. He puts up with us sinning people, and loves us regardless of his dislike for sin (tolerance), and even allows us into His kingdom (if we are repentant). But He does not allow unrepentant sinners in His kingdom (acceptance).
Even in the Christian world, we practice tolerance and acceptance daily, all while we beat people over the head with our Bibles when they do not meet our expectations of how to live. Baptists tolerate and accept those who are not baptized in water. Evangelicals tolerate and accept those who do not speak in tongues. Protestants (often) tolerate Catholics (SDAs, Mormons), even though they do not accept their ways and beliefs.
So why do we treat non-Christians differently than we treat our own?
Keep in mind that we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), and all sin is equal in God’s eyes (James 2:10). The earthly consequences of our acts vary greatly, and although some sins are greater than others, any sin will prevent us from going to heaven without the saving grace and sacrifice of Jesus.
Essentially, any one sin is sufficient to keep us from God.
So why do I bring this up today, on Christmas Eve?
Because God sent Jesus to the world in order to forgive our sins. Jesus tolerated sinners to bring people to acceptance of His ways. He used a gentle and loving hand (in most cases) to win people from their sins and bring them into His kingdom. God wants us to do the same as He did. Discern right from wrong. Know when to be loving of others, even if their lifestyle is not “acceptable” to us. Apply a loving hand versus turning over the tables.
It is time to tolerate some views that are different than mainstream Christian beliefs if we want to win people to Christ. That does not mean we have to be accepting of those ways. It simply means we need to love others as God loves us. God sent his Son to us, to be sacrificed for us.
Give the world a Christmas present this year. Live a loving life as God wants you to, and do not try to impose your personal views on everyone else. Share the Gospel. Don’t beat people with it.
After all, Jesus saved sinners with views that were different from His. He did not save Christians.