Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Communities of Intolerance

I've been reading through Timothy Keller's newest book, The Reason for God, lately and have come upon an interesting line of thought. In his book, Keller argues about skepticism and the many charges brought against Christianity and attempts to ask readers to evaluate and criticize their worldviews in the same light. One of the chapters that has recently caught my eye is the chapter that includes some thoughts on "Christianity as a straight-jacket."

One common view of Christianity is that it is narrow and exclusive. Not only is it narrow and exclusive, but that it demands that its people hold up certain standards and beliefs. In the eyes of the world this is divisive and intolerant, therefore not a good community or acceptable faith. Keller goes on to describe that every community, no matter how liberally democratic, holds its members to commonly shared beliefs and standards. Our society, while claiming to be tolerant and "unified" holds to the personal beliefs such as "a preference of individual to community rights, a division between private and public morality, and the sanctity of personal choice." Therefore, even a liberal democracy like ours is based upon a common set of beliefs. And, these beliefs are by no means universal or commonly held throughout the world. He ends this paragraph by stating, "Every human community holds in common some beliefs that necessarily create boundaries, including some people and excluding others from its circle." I guess that's why we have prisons. Some people have not met the common standards or believe the shared beliefs of the community. If we were truly "unified" and "tolerant" we wouldn't have prisons, or a justice system. But because we do have some common assumptions of personal safety and personal and individual rights, we need a justice system and a penal system.

Keller asks people to evaluate communities with these tests: "Which community has beliefs that lead its members to treat persons in other communities with love and respect - to serve them and meet their needs? Which community's beliefs lead it to demonize and attack those who violate their boundaries rather than treating them with kindness, humility, and winsomeness? We should criticize Christians when they are condemning and ungracious to unbelievers. But we should not criticize churches when they maintain standards for membership in accord with their beliefs. Every community must do the same."

Sadly, I believe that this inadequate view of "tolerance" and "unity" has pervaded our churches, having hijacked the wondrous word of "grace." In our churches today it is deemed horrific if we hold our members up to the standard of Scripture and the belief of the gospel. How could we tell somebody that they don't believe correctly? That's not gracious! It's legalistic and pharisaical!How could we discipline a member for not living in line with the belief of the gospel, though they claim to believe in the beliefs of the church? Am I speaking of those who are unbelievers? No! I'm not. We do not judge those outside the church. However, we are called to judge those inside the church (1 Cor 5:9-13), to call each other to repentance and faith when we see each other wandering away from the truth of the gospel. In fact, true love of each would do these very things. The more we love each other the more we hate in them the sin that destroys and pulls them away from the joy of the gospel. Exhortation and admonition are to be held in great esteem, because the holiness and truth of God in the doctrine of the gospel is held in great esteem. Because Jesus has pardoned us for purity, not from purity. Where a passion for purity does not exist, then neither does a passion for the God of Scripture. As John Piper states, "The proof of your pardon is your passion for purity."

Let us seek to walk in-line with the gospel, to repent daily and turn away from and fight against sin in our hearts and behaviors. Let us make enemies of sin for God has made peace with us. But, if we make peace with sin we make ourselves out to be enemies of God, for we cannot make peace with sin and make peace with God. And if our community holds a shared set of beliefs and conduct to be a community, let it ever lie in the gospel of Jesus Christ and for His glory and our obedient dependence.

Peace to you.