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The Christian Virtue of Intolerance

by Daniel LaLond Jr.

Popular opinion in these early years of the twenty-first century has assailed our minds with “politically correct” sentiment. In keeping with this viewpoint a garbage man ought to be dubbed a “sanitation engineer” and a short person is not short he is “vertically challenged.” Even the term thief might offend so we should adopt the more tolerant “ethically disoriented.” This paradigm bares its true farcical colors when traffic signs are marked in Braille so the blind aren’t offended!

Politically correct extremes can even creep into the evangelical Christian church under the scriptural banner of “judge not lest ye be judged.” That is, it’s easy to think that Christian “love” excludes intolerance. Though no Christian should desire to flippantly judge, when we tolerate what God does not we have imbibed the culture we ought to affect.

Many Christians are appropriately intolerant toward moral “diversity” (at least rhetorically). When it comes to doctrinal issues though, we tend to tolerate unscriptural doctrinal “diversity” believing it to be “gracious.” Jude, however, taught the church of antiquity to “contend earnestly for the faith.” With thousands of evangelical Christian denominations perhaps we’d prefer to comfort rather than to contend. Contrary to tolerant Christianity, but in line with Jude, Paul also insisted that we not tolerate doctrinal corruption:

Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple (Rom 16:17-18).

Regarding the term mark them in the preceding passage esteemed expositor James Strong notes that the phrase means “to take aim at.” Is it possible that Paul, the gentle apostle of grace, wanted believers to “take aim at” leaders within the Christian faith? When considered through the lens of modern “tolerance” notions such an idea does indeed seem offensive. Paul, however, demonstrated the lost Christian virtue of intolerance when he cautioned Timothy regarding Hymenaeus and Philetus whose doctrines “will spread like gangrene.”

Can you imagine the reaction a preacher today might receive if he said that another Christian leader’s doctrine “will spread like gangrene?” It’s easy to believe that Paul’s intolerance was probably always directed at some fringe teacher. Kindly consider, however, another example of Paul openly rebuking the most prominent church leader of early Christianity:

But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (Gal 2:14).

In Galatians 2:14 Paul critiqued Peter because when trusted preachers proclaim errors others are mislead. Being intolerant toward doctrinal deviations isn’t sympathetic with modern live and let live ideology, but it is biblical. Even the Christians at the church of Pergamum in Rev. 2:15 did not need to guess about whose teaching to avoid. “You have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam,” warned the Lord, “who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice immorality.”

In stark opposition to the practices of modern Christianity where tolerance at the expense of doctrinal purity is considered a virtue. In scripture though, Jesus expects His church to exercise the virtue of intolerance toward errant teachers and their dangerous dogmas. By merely being tolerant of an errant teacher within the church at Thyatira the Christians there earned an open rebuke in the eternal record:

But I have this against you, that you tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray, so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols (Rev 2:20).

As Jezebel (and even Peter) were tolerated though they misled many early Christians, teachers who occupy mainstream, popular pulpits today are tolerated though they too lead the children of God astray. And in contrast to the just coexist secular slogans which can seem so “Christian” the only item on the menu is biblical intolerance as our modern pulpits are polluted and our spiritual cisterns are dry.

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