This is a subject with which I am currently wrestling. Here are my thoughts – perhaps not particularly well articulated, but that is the nature of an ongoing development of thinking.
As Christians, we often find that there is a tension between what we believe about how things should be in the world, and how they really are. Our first choice would be that everyone would live by the principles that we see in Scripture, and therefore there would not be a conflict between us and others.
The tension is there quite simply because those who do not follow Jesus do not see that their lives need to be lived according to what is in his word. It is true that there are things on which we agree; that is because those who are not Christians can have a view based on rational argument and may come to the same conclusions as us.
For example, most people would accept the fact that murdering someone is wrong. As Christians, first and foremost we believe this because God has said it is wrong. Those who are not believers will point to the fact that murder is the ultimate violation of another human being, not seeing it as necessary to bring God into the equation. Of course, we would completely agree that murder IS indeed the ultimate human violation, and we could well use that as part of an argument. However, that is not the supreme reason for us. We believe that murdering someone is to go against what God has commanded, therefore is sin; not a popular concept.
It is quite straightforward when it comes to clear cut issues such as that – we can all agree that murder is wrong even if for different reasons! However, the tension comes when we, as Christians take a view that something is right or wrong, based on our understanding of God’s revelation, but the majority of others take a different view. Things become even more complex when some of us think a certain way from a Christian perspective, but fellow believers would side with others.
What then do we do about those who are Christians that disagree with our position on an issue? If we all take the Scripture seriously, then I trust we will accept the integrity of our fellow believers if they argue from there, even if we dispute their interpretation/exegesis. I would be more concerned about those who would prefer to take their view from the prevailing culture rather than what Scripture says. Disagree with me by all means, but show me from the Bible why you don’t agree.
The present cultural norm is that we are to be tolerant of everyone, and we must not criticise the choices that anyone else makes. That seems to be an absolute statement for many, and nobody dare question it. But surely this view in itself must be open to scrutiny. Does this not show that tolerance has its limits? A view that questions someone else’s lifestyle is not to be tolerated, we are told! So can we agree that nobody is completely tolerant of everyone? All I am asking is that I am allowed to have my opinion, however wrong that might be.
It seems to me that for everyone there are some views that are completely unacceptable. Different people draw the line in different places. So how does one decide what is and what is not acceptable?
As Christians, we have the Bible for that. But even there, Christians will argue over what can and cannot be tolerated. And then there are those many people who do not believe it at all.
So how do we resolve this? The second part of this article will be an attempt to point to a way forward.