Responding to intolerance with courage and truth

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Responding to intolerance with courage and truth

August 18, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

The eye of a hurricane from overhead | © EvgeniyQW/stock.adobe.com

The eye of a hurricane from overhead | © EvgeniyQW/stock.adobe.com

Justin Welby is the Archbishop of Canterbury and a noted evangelical leader. When he recently spoke to the Lambeth conference, he affirmed the validity of a 1998 declaration that gay sex is sin, stating that the resolution is “not in doubt.” His statement provoked a large uproar among those in the Church of England who affirm same-sex marriage and LGBTQ ideology.

In response to this ongoing controversy, the conservative Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches launched an effort to have the 1998 resolution reaffirmed as the official stance of the Anglican Communion. Their leader explained, “We cannot break bread with bishops who betray the Bible. We cannot just deceive ourselves, saying, ‘Fine, we are together.’ We are not really together. This is hypocrisy.”

The time to prepare for a hurricane

Tolerance is the cardinal virtue of our postmodern culture. In a society that defines all truth as personal and subjective, there can be no objective basis for adjudicating conflicting truth claims. As a result, we are told, we must tolerate all truth claims that do not harm others.

However, as D. A. Carson notes in The Intolerance of Tolerance, our society has redefined the concept of tolerance. It used to mean allowing people to be wrong. Now it means that there is no such thing as “wrong.”

Unless, of course, you disagree, in which case your views cannot be tolerated.

In a culture that rejects biblical morality and those who affirm it, we can expect such intolerance to escalate over the coming years. As a result, we should prepare today for what is coming tomorrow. The time to prepare for a hurricane is before it arrives.

To this end, an example I discovered today in Scripture offers the guidance and encouragement we need.

A prophet goes to prison

In Jeremiah 32 we read that “Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned [Jeremiah], saying, ‘Why do you prophesy and say, ‘Thus says the Lᴏʀᴅ”’” (v. 3). The king proceeds to quote the prophet’s warning that the city of Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians (vv. 4–5), clearly a warning the king did not want to hear.

As a result, because he did not like the message, he imprisoned the messenger.

We see the same pattern throughout Scripture, from the opposition of the Israelites to Moses’ leadership to the sinfulness of the nation during the period of the judges to the rejection of many of the prophets and their revelations. We see the same with the apostles on trial before the Sanhedrin, Paul imprisoned by the Romans, and John exiled on Patmos.

Most of all, of course, we see this pattern in the life of our Lord. Jesus warned us, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). As Paul noted, “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12, my emphasis). The apostle allowed for no exceptions.

However, the more people reject biblical truth, the more they need biblical truth. How can we respond to their rejection in ways that may draw them to our Lord?

One: Speak the truth in love, not condemnation

The psalmist noted that “there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 53:3). As a result, every person you know needs the transforming truth of God, including yourself.

When you speak biblical truth, you are not imposing your opinions but offering the word of life (John 6:63). However, we are called to speak that truth in the humility of a fellow sinner and in the love of the One we represent (Ephesians 4:15).

Two: Reframe opposition as an opportunity for the gospel

Pain is part of life. Even Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” suffered from “frequent ailments” (1 Timothy 5:23). Persecution for godliness is to be expected as well, as we have seen.

But God is not constrained by our constraints. Jeremiah 33 begins, “The word of the Lᴏʀᴅ came to Jeremiah a second time, while he was still shut up in the court of the guard” (v. 1). God gave the imprisoned Paul epistles that changed the world; Jesus met John on the prison island of Patmos.

In fact, God often uses our constraints to manifest his grace. Faithful suffering shows the power and relevance of our faith. The fact that Jeremiah would not change his message under persecution made his message even more powerful.

So, let’s ask God to help us reframe our obstacles as opportunities to trust him and to serve others even if they reject our Lord. Oswald Chambers observed, “God expects his children to be so confident in him that in any crisis they are the reliable ones.” He added: “There are stages in life when there is no storm, no crisis, when we do our human best; it is when a crisis arises that we instantly reveal upon whom we rely. If we have been learning to worship God and to trust him, the crisis will reveal that we will go to the breaking point and not break in our confidence in him.”

Three: Remember how the story ends

The Scottish minister John Baillie prayed, “Let me always keep in mind that the things that matter are not money or possessions, not houses or property, not bodily comforts or pleasures, but truth and honor and gentleness and helpfulness and a pure love of you.”

As God answered his prayer, he then thanked the Lord for “the strong sense I have that this is not my eternal home.”

A seminary student was playing basketball with some friends on a nearby high school playground when he noticed an elderly school custodian sitting on the steps. The man watched them play while reading the Bible open on his lap.

During a time out, the seminary student made his way over to the custodian and asked him, “What are you reading?”

“The Bible,” the man replied.

“I can see that,” the student said, “but what part?”

“The book of Revelation,” the custodian said.

“The book of Revelation?” the student replied in surprise. “Do you understand it?”

“Sure, I understand it,” the man said.

“What does it mean?” the student asked.

“It means,” the custodian said with a smile, “we win.”

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