From Dale – This entry for our ABC’s of Faith touches on a topic that makes folks uncomfortable. It challenges our status quo and feelings about what is normal or acceptable. For that reason, we offer two looks at what it means to have a tolerant faith. Two voices, two generations, looking at two different aspects of tolerant faith. The first entry by Ben Hoerr looks at tolerance within the church, The second entry by Kyle Benefield looks at tolerance towards all others. Both challenge us to leave the echo chamber of false unity and see people through God’s eyes.
By Ben Hoerr
When we take a look around the world today, it’s obvious that humans have demonstrated the consistent ability to divide over everything: politics, religion, race, gender, our perspectives on the environment, forms of government, civic responsibility, taxes, and immigration to name just a few! We have the capacity to treat people with whom we disagree with contempt, hatred . . . and in some cases, even violence.
This penchant for division is also evidenced by the 10,000+ Christian denominations, separated by their beliefs on almost everything. This can be explained, in part, by the number of commands in the Bible that are not specific enough to warrant clear, direct, or conclusive action. Church history has revealed that gaining a clear consensus on where to draw the line between matters of clear, specific command and matters of freedom is not easy.
God didn’t goof! He does not desire uniformity of opinion, but unity of relationship in the midst of diversity. So instead of trying to eliminate divergence of opinion, the Holy Spirit has given practical instruction to guide our response to it. In the early church, Christians argued over the propriety of eating meat. Simply, the Jews were judging and criticizing the Gentiles because they did not have the same religious scruples of being vegetarians. The Gentiles who recognized their freedom in Christ to eat anything if received with thanksgiving were parading their liberty by eating meat.
The Apostle Paul used this issue to offer instructions about how to have tolerant faith. In Romans 14:1-4, 22, he encourages us this way: “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval . . . .You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God.”
This text urges followers of Jesus to allow other Christians the freedom to determine their own convictions on debatable matters even if they differ from ours. Specifically, he commands the meat-eaters to not look down on, or despise, the vegetarians, thinking of themselves as superior. And he commands the vegetarians to not criticize, or judge, the meat-eaters as loose and unprincipled. We are to hold our convictions to ourselves, never usurping a place of moral superiority over others who view things differently. We are never to judge others because this prerogative belongs only to God.
The principles for having a tolerant faith regarding meat-eating and vegetarianism can be extended to all other debatable issues that have caused Christians to argue, separate, and divide. If we were to all practice the spirit of tolerance and respect, and we were to refrain from judging others, the diverse church could live together in a spirit of true unity.
By Kyle Bennefield
Tolerance is a tricky subject to broach. The word itself carries a weighty amount of baggage. Different types of people approach tolerance with radically different definitions. Generationally speaking, a Builder (someone born before 1945) and a Baby Boomer (born after 1946) might hear the word and think something completely different. They could probably fight for hours about the true meaning of the word. Then you get into the Gen Xers (the mid-60s to mid-70s) and the Millennials (late 70s to early 90s). Those two groups might not be able to come to an agreement on what tolerance signifies, let alone have it look anything like either of the two previous generations. And this is just the tip of the iceberg! We haven’t even talked about geography or our stances on modernity. Is our mindset more related to an Eastern mentality or a Western one? Would we consider ourselves more modern or postmodern? It takes tolerance to talk about tolerance.
All of these filters act like lenses through which we take in the world. The incredibly scary part of all of this is that our minds trick us. Scientific studies and experiments have shown that we are creatures of habit. These studies illustrate that our minds are lazy; we often draw conclusions about events or circumstances. Our conclusions make perfect sense in our own minds, but may in actuality be completely wrong. We truly only see what our lenses allow us to see and we fail to see things that don’t fit within our paradigms. We ALL fall prey to this. My worldview, my upbringing, my faith, my geography, my finances, my skin color, and even when I was born has more control over what I see and understand than I care to admit. It’s like I can only see what I am programmed to see.
The danger in all of this, especially regarding tolerance, is when I assume that I must be right and others are clearly wrong. I like to think of this condition as a poison that has infiltrated everyone. Yes, we have all been poisoned. Romans 3:23 sums it up well: “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” We live in a broken world that is ravaged with genocide, hatred, sexism, racism, and war, stemming from an egregious lack of tolerance.
Now that everyone is sufficiently depressed, allow me to leave us with some hope. There is an antidote to this poison of “I’m right and you’re wrong”; it is developing a paradigm of tolerance. Jesus laid out the path to this new paradigm of tolerance, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.” (Luke 6:31–32, NASB95) How do I want to be treated? I want to be seen, heard, and understood by people around me; consequently, I must seek to see, hear, and understand others.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting the type of tolerance where I’m barely able to be in the same state with someone I don’t like or find to be offensive. I mean the type of tolerance where I get out of my comfort zone. The type of tolerance where I purposefully spend time with people that look, think, and act differently than I do. We interact, we laugh, we smile, we cry, we hear their stories, we learn their languages, we read what they are reading, and we eat their foods. It isn’t easy. It isn’t convenient. However, it is a worthwhile endeavor that the master potter uses to shape us in ways we never thought possible.
Ben Hoerr is the lead pastor of The Vineyard Church – Peoria, a new church for people from all walks of life. Ben loves to tell stories, encourage people, and help them discover and fulfill their place in God’s sweeping story. He and his wife Tina have 4 grown children and 3 grandchildren. In his spare time, you’ll find him working in the yard, writing, or creating something.
Kyle Benefield lives in Peoria Illinois with his wife Ellen and 3 sons, Ethan, August, and Liam. He is a Community Life Pastor at the Vineyard Church of Peoria. He lived in Mexico almost 9 years, speaks Spanish, is an avid wearer of bow ties, and loves Laserdiscs and Betamax tapes.