There's a lot of talk in our present culture about "tolerance" - about the idea that as long as they aren't hurting anyone, we ought to let people do what they do, think what they think, believe what they believe. And this sounds like a really noble idea. We can even, if we stretch the text enough, find some Biblical mandate for such thinking.
For example, Paul tells us it doesn't matter what you eat or drink as long as your doing so doesn't cause someone else to stumble. The mandate here is higher than simply causing someone else to be offended; it must cause them to stumble. (Although in our present culture, offend seems to be the most terrible thing we can do to someone.) Eating food sacrificed to idols? Eating unclean foods? It's okay, as long as it doesn't push someone else's faith off its foundations. If it does, we ought to be respectful of that.
We've lost a lot of that second part, by the way. We've lost a lot of our respectfulness for the belief of others, even amidst all this so-called "tolerance." We think tolerance only applies to us, that people should just let us be and do and think whatever we want to be and do and think and that it's ludicrous that anyone would be bothered by us.
There's another Scripture I ran across not so long ago, in Acts 23, that caused me to stop and think about some of this. Paul stands before the Jewish council and declares, "Brothers, my relationship with God has always given me a perfectly clear conscience." (v. 1) And this strikes me because this is the most pernicious form of tolerance we have today - this idea within Christianity of religious tolerance, that it doesn't matter how you worship God as long as you're worshiping God. That it doesn't matter what you believe about Him as long as you believe in Him. That it's okay to have your own understanding of God (after all, He's got a different relationship with each of us) as long as you live consistent with that relationship.
And frankly, that scares me. Have you seen the headlines in the past...whatever? As long as you've been alive, if you've seen half-a-second of news, you know the kinds of things people in this world have done to one another in the name of their God. And with a clear conscience.
Christians bomb abortion clinics with a clear conscience. They picket funerals of fallen soldiers with a clear conscience. They close their doors to troops of local boy scouts with a clear conscience. They shun women in their congregations with a clear conscience. They hate and they hurt with a clear conscience. Are we really supposed to just let such things be on account of such a thing as "tolerance"?
Sometimes, I read the headlines or I watch social media, and I see the backlash against Christians because of this or that thing that some of them are doing. And I want to crawl through my computer screen, grab these commenters by the hands, and plead with them - Don't judge me by their actions. That's not what my God is about. Because for all we're not doing to hold one another accountable to a real relationship with God, we are creating a world where our hate speaks louder than our love. It's heartbreaking, particularly when Jesus says we will be known by our love.
And I'm not here to judge anybody. That's not the point. Although I might say that Paul's clear conscience comes from letting God guide his actions where most of man's clear conscience in hate and in hurt today is guided by God justifying his actions. But that's neither here nor there right now. What I do want to say is that the trouble seems to be that in a culture that preaches tolerance, we've allowed this concept to seep into our churches and into our faith. We've allowed it to become one of the defining characteristics of our Christian culture, as well, and in doing so, we have sacrificed something beautiful that we used to hold so dearly: accountability.
Remember when accountability was a thing? Remember when brothers and sisters in the church would hold one another to a higher standard? Remember when we weren't afraid to speak out for better things? Even to speak against the atrocities committed by our brothers and sisters?
It's hard to reconcile the ideas. Where is the place for accountability in a world of tolerance? Where is the place for discipline in a world of freedom? Maybe the better question is this: where is the place for love in a world of hate? That's what we have to get back.
It's a fine line. Done wrong, we become arrogant. We've seen enough of that. Done right, however, this accountability is a beautiful thing. More on accountability tomorrow.