Thursday, August 27, 2009
God Is NOT Tolerant... Grace is NOT Tolerance
Americans are, at heart, a fairly tolerant people. Sure we have a few folks whose raised voices clamor for the spotlight, whose rants and raves make it sound like we all belong to the lunatic fringe. Perhaps Nixon had it right, about the silent majority. American just want us all to get along. Not such an outlandish request, is it?
I think that when it comes to religion in America, we tolerate differences as long as they are quiet and do not challenge the thin veneer of unity that, for appearance's sake, merges all the huddled masses into one huddled mass. We have a private idea of truth when it comes to religious truth. In public we like a somewhat bland religion, heavy on virtues and morality but not specific and not dogmatic.
So that is what many churches have become. They have been Americanized and have ended up pretty vague on the specifics and pretty broad on religious truth (s). They have become like your favorite beagle, warm and cuddly and, if you do not move too fast, they will keep up and follow you where ever you go. And these American churches have been following, a little behind the times but on the same path, to all the cultural changes that have marked our societal transition over the past one hundred years or so.
For a long time, immigrant churches were somewhat immune from all of this. They lived on the fringes of American society and so they were "off the radar," so to speak. The Roman Catholics did not hit main street until well after World War II but neither did the Lutherans. It took a few decades later and the Pentecostals also began their walk down the boulevard of American religion.
It would be a lie if we did not admit that it has changed us. We are tempted to become that bland "Wonder" bread religion that looks so good but is almost empty of vitamins, fiber, and nutrition. We want to fit it and be loved. But if you belong to Jesus Christ, you must prepare to be hated and vilified and persecuted.
God is NOT tolerant. He does not tolerate sin. We must not mistake His willingness to become our Savior as His tolerance of sin. He was so intolerant of sin that He bore all of its weight and took its stain in our place. He made Himself to be like us in every way but sin in order to bear the burden of our sin -- death.
The Gospel is NOT tolerant. Read the passage about what happens to those who reject His gift of a wedding garment. No, God is neither casual or tolerant. If we make Him out to be, we render Him weak, impotent, and, ultimately, completely irrelevant to life.
Grace is NOT tolerance. Jesus did not condemn the woman caught in adultery but He did not shrug His shoulders at her sin. "Go and sin no more." Grace is not tolerance. Grace confronts sin and error and falsehood and lies but it confronts it not simply with condemnation. Grace confronts sin and error and falsehood and lies with the only power stronger than these evils -- the power of God's redemptive love at work for us and for our salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ.
A wise man once said "Clarity and charity..." Clarity about what the Gospel is, about how God deals with sin, and about the only Name under heaven and on earth by which anyone can be saved... but charity, too. Truth spoken in love -- not to condemn but to redeem, not to excuse but to save, not to exclude but as the one power that is truly inclusive.
Christians are under great pressure today to tolerate what was once labeled sin... to accept what was once condemned... to be content with the way things are instead of striving for the way things should be. But let us not abuse the Gospel by giving in to tolerance and stripping the cross from the Gospel so that God's answer is the shrug of His shoulder instead of the spilling of His blood... yet at the same time let us not be judgmental or delight in the failures of others or we will prove that the Pharisees have not gone away but are merely called by a different name today...
Clarity and charity... It is God's way... it ought to be ours.