The Tyranny of the Tolerant

by Rick Shrader

It is the best of times.  It is the worst of times.  Never have Americans been as comfortable in their homes and as afraid in the world.  Never have Americans enjoyed freedom of thought and expression and been so corrupt in the imaginations of their hearts.  And never have Americans been so tolerant of moral decadence while being robbed of every trace of moral fiber.  Dick Keyes described the irony that has taken place; “Tolerance is rightly seen as a virtue.  But today what is often implied by the word is relativism, thinly disguised under the positive connotations of the word tolerance.  If you do not toe the line to relativism you are branded as intolerant, which is not tolerated.”1 That is, the very ones who have insisted on their right to do as they please, cannot grant the same privilege to others.  They cannot allow anyone to tell them they cannot do as they please!

Tolerance can indeed be a virtue.  Even Jesus tolerated the unbelief of enemies and friends alike.  It is tolerance that lets the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest.  In nations and cultures, Christians have had to live among corruption, allowing the sin of the lost to coexist with righteousness until the Righteous Judge does the dividing.  During this time God Himself is not intolerant, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9).  However, as Peter reminds us in the same chapter, there is a limit to God’s patience and judgment will one day be meted out.

But there is also a spiritual line that must be drawn by the believer.  He knows that granting unlimited tolerance to the sinful nature will quickly breed tyranny of his own heart and mind.  Paul doubly answered the Corinthians’ questions about their desire for personal tolerance by writing, All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful unto me, but I will not be brought under the power of any (1 Cor 6:12).  There is no power so tyrannical as the sinful nature of man, and the believer must always know where to draw the line on its desire to enslave.

This tyranny is more obvious in the larger cultural landscape.  We have seen Hollywood change from a time when family and Christian productions were the norm, and only slight indiscretions were allowed,  to a time when debauchery is the norm and Christianity is outwardly attacked.  Our country was built on laws that protect the family as a divine institution designed for a man and a woman.  Now moral deviation has become a powerful lobby and desires to do away with marriage and the family altogether.  What once asked for a little toleration has become the tyrant.

Os Guinness has captured our generation in these words:  “In a day of relativism, tolerance, cynicism, radical multiculturalism, and ‘morally ungrounded morality,’ how is anyone to judge anything, let alone condemn? . . . The 1960s student slogan ‘It is forbidden to forbid’ now covers thinking and criticizing as well as acting.  Censuring is commonly confused with censoring and moral judgment is paralyzed at the same time that gossip is unleashed.”2 Guinness notes that “censuring,” a common form of conversation and critique, is now seen as “censoring,” which is to make something illegal.  “I would like to disagree with you” (censuring) is met with “We are not here to judge one another’s values” (censoring).   Those who demand toleration for their point of view in the group soon become the tyrants of the conversation, eliminating any who might want to disagree.

The tyranny of moral tolerance

The Christian should be acutely aware that the flesh seeks to control the Spirit and the Spirit seeks to control the flesh.  But when the flesh is in control, it is tolerant of everything except restriction, as Paul says, So that you cannot do the things that ye would (Gal 5:17).  Peter describes apostate leaders that use the flesh for their own gain:  For when they speak great swelling words of vanity, they allure through the lusts of the flesh, through much wantonness, those that were clean escaped from them who live in error.  While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage (2 Pet 2:18-19).

It is a foolish thing for a Christian to think he can indulge the flesh while remaining above its addictive power.  Even the Christian finds out that if he sows to the flesh he shall of the flesh reap corruption (Gal 6:8).  This we know sadly due to the well traveled path of overcome laymen, parents, children and ministers.  Too many modern-day Joseph’s are slaves in the chamber of Potiphar’s wife, opting for a little tolerance rather than denial.  Too many modern-day Demases are of no more use to the ministry due to loving this present world (literally “this now age”) and are now the slaves to it.

Satan is good at getting the believer to see the value of compartmentalizing his sins into separate categories where one does not affect the other.  “A little indiscretion here will not affect my ministry there.”  Satan has convinced some that privatizing one’s convictions allows both for tolerance and diversity.  “What is right for you may not be right for me.”  But these things come from the father of lies.

The tyranny of doctrinal tolerance

In similar fashion to fleshly temptations, tolerance of doctrinal compromise and acquiescence will destroy the work of God.  As the apostle Paul warned Timothy of the last days, these admonitions are packed into sixteen verses:  shun . . .  depart . . .  purge . . .  flee . . . avoid . . . turn away (2 Tim 2:16-3:5).  Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching false doctrine about the resurrection. Timothy was to “shun” them.  In any house (church?) there are vessels (teachers?) of wood and vessels of gold.  Timothy is to “purge himself” from the vessels of wood.  In the last days some will have a “form of godliness” but deny the biblical truth of godliness.  From such Timothy is to “turn away.”

These teachers of false doctrine were sporting themselves among the believers and feasting with them in the early churches (2 Pet 2:13).  They had crept in unawares among the brethren, Jude says, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear (Jude 4, 12).  The believers had indulged those asking for doctrinal tolerance but now could not keep the leaven from leavening the whole lump.  The believer sometimes thinks he can handle a little heresy without it hurting him.  Vance Havner wrote, “He mistakes the stretching of his conscience for the broadening of his mind.”3 He tolerates false doctrine and doesn’t realize when he has been captured by it.

In Ephesians 4, Paul is writing of the development of the believers and the church and their need for unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph 4:13) so that they would not be children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men (vs 14).  The word “sleight” (“trickery” NKJV) is the word kubeia or “cubes.”  It means to play at the cubes, or to play dice.  Believers who give themselves to false teaching are like the cubes in a game of dice.  What they believe is determined by chance or by the last teacher they heard or the last book they read.  Their tolerance of the false doctrine has left them slaves to the teachers of false doctrine.

The tyranny of family tolerance

One of the tragic tyrannies displayed all around us today is the subjugation of parents to children.  In the 1960s J. Sidlow Baxter wrote, “Not long ago, according to a radio newscast, a foreign diplomat visiting America remarked that one of the things which had impressed him most about the average American home was the wonderful obedience in it — the obedience of parents to children!  The thing would be comic if it were not tragic.”4 My mother taught in the public high school for twenty five years including the 1960s.  I remember her saying of those days, “The teachers were afraid of the principal; the principal was afraid of the school board; the school board was afraid of the parents; the parents were afraid of the students; and the students were afraid of no one!”

I use the 1960s as a starting place because I was a teenager then.  What began as a request for “rights” and “space” was really a demand for total freedom from any restraint.  This precursor of postmodernism soon turned to tyranny from the very ones who first asked for tolerance.  Soon the arms were locked and the fists were raised and the songs were sung and there was no going back.  Sadly, this was largely due to parents and teachers refusing to “just say no.”  Spurgeon said, “When fathers are tongue-tied religiously with their offspring, need they wonder if their children’s hearts remain sin-tied?”5

C.S. Lewis, in his book, The Four Loves, describes the family love, “storg?.”  As in all the earthly words for love, though it is beautiful in its proper use, it becomes a dictator unless it is tempered by agape love.6 A parent’s love for children or a child’s love for parents can develop into ruthless control if left to itself.  It is not very funny to see a parent indulging little Johnny during his antics, laughing with him and showing him how cute he is.  To anyone else, without the attachment of storg?, little Johnny is not funny and the tyranny that is sure to come is obvious.  Vance Havner wrote, “Fathers sometimes make the mistake of trying to be merely pals to their boys.  They mean well but fathers are not meant to be mere pals but parents; when they lose their parental authority and the respect of their children they have sacrificed too much.”7

The one indulgence that children will not be able to overcome is the indulgence to worldliness.  The world, the flesh and the devil will eat our kids up if we do not set the example of separation and godliness.  The book of Hebrews says that when Moses was grown, he; a) refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; b) forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; and c) kept the Passover when it was despised by all Egypt (Heb 11:24-28).  Why could Moses do this?  Because when he was young he was hid three months by godly parents who feared the Lord their God more than the king of Egypt.  Moses learned early that no price is too high to pay for obedience to God.

The tyranny of church tolerance

The church is no more than individuals and families.  If these indulgences have taken place in those areas, we are sure to find them in the church.  How often churches have been held hostage by moral or financial scandal; by doctrinal leaven that creeps in and affects the whole church; by worldliness that begins as a slight acquiescence to gain nickels and noses but ends in a lack of power and respect!  Our churches are filled with little Johnnys and little Suzys who demand tolerance for their lack of manners and behavior while indulgent parents smile with blinded eyes.  But the same indulgence that was cute at two years old is not so cute at sixteen years old.  By then, however, the teen department is running the church.  The tolerance that was indulged for many years in the hallways and children’s programs has now become the tyranny that demands conformity from the rest of the church, including the adults, seniors and often the pastoral staff.  Everyone is afraid that the tantrum that used to be thrown on the hallway floor will now be thrown under the exit sign of the church.  To deny the youth department the music, dress, language and a prominent place on the platform is to risk losing families.  Why?  Because the children will tell the parents they want to leave and the parents, as they have done since their children were toddlers, will indulge them.

In my lifetime I have seen our Baptist churches change in their attitude toward ecumenicalism and tolerance of contrary doctrine.  What once was general agreement among our brethren is now mutual non-agreement.   In 1964, the first Fundamental Baptist Congress of America was held in Detroit at Temple Baptist Church. The congress was attended by leaders of almost every fundamental Baptist group in America and the messages were printed in a book (as were the congress messages for the next several years).   Paul R. Jackson preached a sermon titled, “The Biblical Doctrine of the Church.”  He said:

The interdenominationalists cry that we must ignore the points that divide us, and unite upon a few fundamental doctrines.  To such persons immersion is not important; eternal security is not important; New Testament polity is not important, along with many similar doctrines.  They contend that as long as a man believes in the deity of Christ and the precious blood as the price of redemption that he should be received into the church.  Now, my brethren, this is compromise and nothing but ecumenicalism within the framework of redemptive truth.8

Today, such a statement would cause one to be quickly removed from the roster of speakers rather than to be printed in a book.  Email chat rooms for pastors or pastors’ wives are notorious for allowing the broadest discussion from an ecumenical viewpoint, but quickly censoring any objection.  Even among fundamental Baptists we may talk all day without fear of criticism of things such as Promise Keepers, Women of Faith, Forty Days of Purpose, or The Passion.  But let one brother speak his conscience to the contrary and his objection cannot be tolerated for a moment.  One-way streets are very diverse for all travelers, but only if one happens to be going that way.

And so . . . .

“In our day of diversity and tolerance, where God the Creator has been dethroned, denouncing error has become the ultimate unpardonable sin.  Principal opposition to anything that others hold dear makes you a bigot and a hate-monger.”9 But God has not asked us to tailor His message to fit the likes and dislikes of the audience.  Such a message never ends in victory, only in tyranny.

1. Dick Keyes, Chameleon Christianity (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1999) 26.
2. Os Guinness, Unriddling Our Times (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1999) 116.
3. Vance Havner, Why Not Just Be Christians? (Westwood, NJ:  Revell, 1964) 21.
4. J. Sidlow Baxter, Our High Calling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1977) 59.
5. Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David vol. II) Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1978) 333.
6. C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: HBJ Book, 1988) 76-77.
7. Vance Havner, Repent or Else!: The Seven Churches of Revelation (Old Tappan: Revell, 1958) 91.
8. Paul R. Jackson, in Biblical Faith of Baptists (Detroit: FBCA, 1964) 35.
9. Tal Brooke, The Conspiracy to Silence the Son of God (Eugene: Harvest House, 1998) 76.