Indifference to doctrine, we saw the last time, is so serious a thing because it reveals an unconcern for the truth of God. But it is also serious because it tends toward compromise and appeasement on truth and doctrinal matters. And this in turn, as I shall now try to show, leads to a false tolerance. By false tolerance I mean an attitude of compromise toward evil, an attitude of leniency toward perverters of the Gospel, an airy indifference toward matters of truth and doctrine, with great concern, however, for the person and reputation of those whose opinions are tending toward a deviation from the norm of the Word.
Confusion as to the Nature of Christianity
There are many in the Christian Church today who no longer understand the intolerant character of Christianity. Christianity has historically presented itself as the final revelation of God. It is absolute in its claim. It is the true religion. It will not allow that man can be saved in any other way than by the way of the Cross—for Christ is the way, the truth and the life. This excludes Mohammedanism, Masonry, Modernism, Mormonism, etc. We are then, saying in effect, that you are wrong, you are in error, if you hold to opposite views. For there is none other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.
This intolerance toward all false religion and all opponents of the true religion was dramatically announced by the Covenant Jehovah when he said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed: he shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). No, there is to be no tolerance between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent—but endless war, from Paradise lost to the gates of the heavenly Paradise regained.
Many of the advocates of tolerance in the church have lost sight of this basic requirement of their religion; that they are to fight always against falsehood and error as the very works of the devil, who is opposing the kingdom of our Lord. For our warfare is not against flesh and blood, but against spiritual powers in the heavens, that is, flesh and blood are merely instruments in this great struggle. That should teach us, on the one hand, that we must be tolerant toward people as such. We must have a great concern to save the sinner, to show him the error of his way and thereby to save the soul from hell. On the other hand, we may not by a false tolerance toward the person permit the devil’s lie to become dominant in the Church. We see that kind of false tolerance already at work in Paradise—the devil has been busy using the same tactics ever since because it is so eminently successful—the Serpent uses Eve to ensnare Adam. Adam should have rejected the plea of his fair helpmeet, thereby showing his intolerance toward evil and disobedience. But because he accepted the person—after all the proposal of Satan appeared so harmless since she was eating of the fruit and assured him that everything was all right—Adam rejected the authority of the Word and did not live by faith, but by sight. (This, by the way, is the essence of Modernism, that is, to reject external authority and live by religious experience, bringing the norm of action down to man instead of accepting the Law of God.)
On the other hand, it is the constant cry of the liberals that love will solve all our problems. We are hearing it more and more in our circles that if only we love the brethren and will sit down to talk things over, we will surely find our way out of our difficulties. But this certainly is a questionable proposition. At any rate, if by talking things over we imply that we shall thereby give up our “narrow-minded approach” I for one would make a plea for the virtue of the narrow mind. I am perfectly agreed with the Rev. Harland Steele who a few years ago wrote in an article appearing in the Church Herald: “One of the world’s most misguided missiles is the accusation: ‘You’re narrow-minded!’ As far as the religious sphere of life is concerned, this intended derogation is in reality a compliment. It is good to be intolerant! In this day of an anemic ‘brotherhood of man’ religion, intolerance is supposed to be the most godless trait in a man’s character. In some senses, intolerance can be evil—when it says that a Negro is less than a white man, when it says that the rich are better than the poor, and in other such philosophies. Yet, in another sphere, namely, theology, intolerance is a good, if rare virtue.”
Charity is Good But Not the Only Good
Let no one say that we are forgetting about charity toward the brethren or advocating indifference toward the weaker brother. But charity must not be carried to the point where we neglect the truth. There are many in our day who would make charity the highest good. And this in itself goes back to the baseless presupposition that the highest characterization of God is that he is Love to the exclusion of his justice and holiness and veracity. But this God of love is a consuming-fire and his Word is “quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
In my judgment there are many in the Church today who would make the virtue or charity toward the brethren the only and highest good. But we may never sacrifice the purity of the.faith, we may never give up the truth even for the sake of loving the brethren, thereby covering’ up such error that would defame our God and dishonor him. On this important point I should like to quote John Calvin:
“But whatever I have advanced respecting avoidance of offenses, I wish to be referred to indifferent and unimportant things; for necessary duties must not be omitted through—fear of any offense: as our liberty should be subject to charity, so charity itself ought to be subservient to the purity of faith. It becomes us, indeed, to have regard to charity: but we must not offend God for the love of Our neighbor” (Institutes) Bk III, Ch. XIX, par. 13).
The Apostle’s Example
As an example of: true tolerance and also of pure intolerance let us study the reactions of the apostle Paul on several occasions. On one occasion Paul was imprisoned and it was reported to him that some of the brethren were preaching Christ out of envy and strife; they were trying to make a name for themselves at Paul’s expense but his rejoinder was:
“Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one do it of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel; but the other proclaim Christ of faction, not sincerely, thinking to raise up affliction for me in my bonds. What then? only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Phil. 1:15–18).
On another occasion, however, the Judaizers had followed him into Galatia and were troubling the Church by perverting the Gospel of Christ and saying that believers, must he circumcised according to the law of Moses to be saved. But here the answer of Paul is quite different: “I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another gospel:…But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Gal. l:6–8).
Now what is the cause of this apparent difference in reaction? In the first instance it is a question of mode and manner and motive, but the gospel itself is not at stake. Paul is tolerant toward those whose motives are manifestly wrong as long as they preach the gospel of God. In the second instance the gospel itself is at stake—the gospel of the free grace of Cod that man is saved without the works of the law–and here Paul becomes fiercely intolerant. He is adamant. He will not budge one inch! But the modern church man would have considered Paul an intolerant bigot, unable to see the other man’s point of view. Popular opinion says that courtesy and broad-mindedness are not only commendable but they are the real signs of true Christianity. And thus the term tolerance is bandied about. However, though tolerance if rightly understood and rightly applied can be praiseworthy, it can also become a contemptible vice. Let us remember that the corruption of the best is the worst. To the extent that tolerance is excellent when practiced in according to the Word of God, by the same token it becomes detestable when false.
We often congratulate ourselves that we are broadminded. We give every man a hearing, and we believe that each individual has a right to his own ideas. But in science we still believe in the virtue of narrow-mindedness, for example, by sticking to the truth of such a simple fact that the chemical formula for water is always H20, and such measures as isolating a person who has a contagious disease. Must we not insist on the same simple intolerance in the Church? Have we no right in this day of religious tolerance to insist that there is an absoluteness about the truths of the creed? And ought not the church to take precautions against falsehood just as medicine does against an epidemic? Is it not clear that our tolerance toward the person in error or sin may not lead us to the position that we now tolerate error and sin in the Church? Jesus, in holy indignation, drove the money-changers out of the temple even though he was meek and lowly. The Lord rebuked the intolerance of John toward one who was not one of them and yet was casting out demons, but we may be sure that he would not have said in reference to the non-unionists: “He that is not against us is for us,” if they were not sincerely committed to his ca use and agreed on the truth of God. This is abundantly clear from the parallel passage in Matt. 12:30: “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.” The issue is fundamental in both passages that of choosing between Christ and the devil; to light for the Kingdom which is exemplified in the person of Christ, or to fight against the Kingdom and thus to stand on the side of Satan. Christ accepts the challenge of the Devil and is casting out demons. The Pharisees stand on the side of Satan, they oppose the work of the Savior. But there are also some who have congregated together around the Lord. They are with him. The time had come to join up, to show where one’s allegiance was—and whoever does not join with Jesus is simply against him. That is the verdict; such a man is working, speaking, and using his influence not of the Kingdom but against it. Even though the Pharisees compassed heaven and earth to make one proselyte, they nevertheless were against the Christ of God. So it is with much of the self-willed religion of our day that tolerates evil in the Church and is willing to wink at indifference to the truth. We can see excessive tolerance today toward Modernism and Barthianism, toward all kinds of doctrinal deviation. All of which means that we must take a firm and uncompromising stand with Christ for the truth.
Truth Is Absolute!
The truth is not relative. The truth is absolute! Of course, a man is not a relativist if he indicates that we can not know all truth absolutely. But there are some things we can know with finality. And that statement does not make a man an absolutist. But those who are being accused of absolutism in our day are afraid that the absoluteness of the antithesis between truth and error will be lost to a false tolerance. This false tolerance welcomes every strange wind of doctrine as something original and existential, but it is opposed to exact definition and unyielding conviction on fundamental doctrinal points which no longer seem fresh and contemporary. We are fearful of being narrow-minded, unscholarly and dogmatic; so we are apt to hear, read and quote without comment or criticism men who have long departed from the Christian faith. This is to comply in the spirit of a false tolerance! It confuses the uninitiated and simple, and works as a creeping paralysis upon the Church of God, which is called to a militant defense of the gospel in this wicked generation.
Tolerance is, indeed, a commendable virtue in dealing with individuals in individual matters, so long as truth and moral principle and the purity of the faith are not compromised. But tolerance may become the betrayal of a trust. In the Church a false tolerance which would prefer persons to principle must be abhorred. For the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It has received a sacred trust, and its ministers must be watchmen upon the walls of Zion, while all the members are under obligation to try the spirits to see whether they be of God. Let us, then, ever be ready to forgive personal wrong, but no man, no group, no church has a right to be tolerant with that which is really not its own, but only that which has been committed to it–namely, our most holy faith. For it we must contend most earnestly!