Christianity : tolerant or intolerant?

When it comes to spirituality, we Canadians live in a culture that prizes tolerance above all else.  Our culture has rejected the idea of absolute truth in the name of tolerance.  Nowadays we tend to blame many evils on religious intolerance, and it’s become quite popular to smear Christians as narrow-minded, bigoted, and responsible for many of the problems of our society.

Of course it is possible to find examples of intolerance, bigotry and hatred in the history of the Christian church, just as it’s possible to find examples of nobility, generosity and selfless servanthood.  But these examples prove nothing about what the Christian faith actually teaches.  To understand that, we have to look first at Jesus himself, and secondly at the example of those who knew him best – the first generation of Christian leaders.

Based on that evidence, I’m going to go out on a limb and assert that Christianity is both the most intolerant and the most tolerant of faiths.

Intolerant because our founder made it clear that there is no other way to peace with God but to receive Jesus as Lord.  His insistence on being the only Saviour was what got him crucified.  He made it very plain that He is the way to the Father and there is no other way to be saved.   Anyone who has truly experienced the life-changing power of Jesus has no problem with this claim.  His first-century followers were so convinced of who He was that when asked to renounce Christ and confess Caesar as Lord, they would insist “Jesus is Lord” even though this insistence meant certain death.

Tolerant in the sense that as a Christ follower I have no right – and should have no desire – to condemn others for their sins, or to force my beliefs or convictions on others.  I want to serve Jesus with conviction, without apology, and with a pure heart.  I want to represent Jesus well, and be ready to give an answer to anyone who wants to know more about my Lord.  But when I surrendered control of my life to Jesus, no-one forced me; I made a free choice of my own will, and I must allow each other person that same freedom.  I’m not ashamed of the good news about Jesus – on the contrary, I’m profoundly grateful to belong to Him.  But ultimately it’s only good news if you get to choose it for yourself.

If I live this way, will I avoid the charge of intolerance?  Probably not, but it will be a false accusation.  What I need to be concerned about is not tolerance or intolerance, but lack of love.   Sometimes love compels us to take a stand that is not popular, and may seem narrow-minded to some.  After all, Jesus did tell us to choose the narrow way if we want to enter life.  So as Christians our goal should not be to avoid the accusation of intolerance.  It should be to love our Lord with all our heart, and to love those around us as He does – whether or not they understand our single-minded devotion to Him.