Getting A Grip on Tolerance, Acceptance and Inclusion

This was not the first time the question had plagued his mind. Since Christians are supposed to be loving, is not a gracious broad-mindedness which accepts, tolerates and validates other’s perspectives the loving approach? Sometimes it is easy to discern what we should choose at the crossroads. At other times, the choice might seem murky or worse yet, perhaps even the wrong path might look like the right way to go.

If we wish to hear God’s message and not merely an empty echo of our own thoughts, we must resist the temptation to handle Scripture selectively. This is true, regardless of our feelings about tolerance, acceptance and inclusion. What is needed is an understanding of God’s message which seamlessly incorporates each part into its proper place within the whole. Let’s take a look at some of the pieces.

Clearly a case can be made that tolerance, acceptance and inclusion are good and godly values. Jesus taught that people should not judge others lest they be judged./1 Those who desire to serve Christ are to accept one another just as Christ has accepted them./2 Furthermore, God’s people are to keep matters of personal conviction private between themselves and God./3 Add to all of this that through Christ, God is working to unite everything in heaven and on earth/4 and it should be clear that tolerance, acceptance and inclusion are godly values.

And yet at other times we find scripture just as forcefully upholding intolerance, rejection and exclusion. God’s people are instructed to judge those within the church in order to exclude certain ones./5 Christ does not accept everybody; even some who call him Lord will be rejected./6 There are false doctrinal perspectives which should be reproved and rejected./7 And finally, God does reject and pour out His wrath upon some people./8

Are we to understand these seemingly contradictory principles belong to a consistent message from God? Yes. And the keys to understanding the harmonious intent of the Scriptures are quite simple. 1) Give each good value its proper priority. That is, avoid transforming what was intended to be a secondary value into becoming the dominant organizing principle and standard for behavior. 2) Use Biblical words with biblical definitions; do not infuse new definitions into them.

What are the highest values which should drive our life? First, love God and then love others as we love ourselves./9 Loving God and all that this means is the standard for determining what is right and wrong.

What happens when someone replaces the priority of loving God with another godly value? Take for example, peace. Peace is a a fruit of the Spirit and is obviously a godly principle. Yet, it would be wrong to elevate peace to the role of determining what is right and wrong, for this would dictate that we were to make peace even with what is evil. Similarly, whether we are to be tolerant or intolerant is determined by the higher principle of what it means to love God and obey Him.

Neither inclusion, acceptance and tolerance nor exclusion, rejection and intolerance were intended to be the measuring stick for determining what is good or bad in every situation. God would have us welcome all sinners to respond to Christ, and yet we are to be intolerant of rebellious unrepentant sinfulness within the church. In fact, whenever any godly principle is divorced from being controlled by the higher principle of what it means to love God so that the subordinate principle becomes an end unto itself, it will become twisted into something horribly evil.

There is a difference between how political correctness and God will paint the perfect picture of love. The former would have us accept, tolerate and include all diversity, even immorality and what God has revealed to be lies. On the other hand, God teaches us that it is in everybody’s best interest for us to pursue what is truly good and to reject what is evil. At times, to love God and seek the well-being of our neighbor can prescribe being intolerant of what is hurtful to our neighbors and to those around them.

1/Matthew 7:1
2/Romans 15:7
3/Romans 14:22
4/Ephesians 1:10
5/1 Cor. 5:12-13
6/Matthew 7:21-22
7/Galatians 1:6-9
8/Romans 1:18
9/Matthew 22:36-39

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Barry Newton

Married to his wonderful wife Sofia and a former missionary in Brazil, Barry enjoys trying to express old truths in fresh ways. They are the parents of two young men.

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