We live in a peculiar time. The United States is among the most tolerant and permissive of societies. Yet it is a society that is extremely intolerant of a very few things. One example of intolerance is with regard to "political correctness." There are certain attitudes and ideas, which if expressed, lead to the ruin of public reputations and careers. Often those who rush to condemn these attitudes, (what they call "hate speech"), are the same ones who clamor over the right to freedom of expression. This is incongruous, but is nevertheless a rather prominent feature of our day.
Another area of intolerance is found in the religious realm. These permissive influences claim that all religions have worth and that religious criticism is a form of that "hate speech" mentioned previously. Such pleas for toleration have led many to the irrational claim that the recent terrorist attacks by Muslim fundamentalists had "nothing to do with religion." This, despite the fact that the extremists have declared a "jihad" (holy war) against all non-muslims.
This ecumenical mindset has had a great influence among Christian denominations. (The word ecumenical is defined by Webster as, "the promoting or tending toward worldwide Christian unity or cooperation"). Some would extend their ecumenical invitation even to those who do not name Christ as Lord. Others, who will not go so far, nevertheless seek to dismiss differences between religious organizations as unimportant, and to develop a type of unity that has its roots in toleration and permissiveness. In effect, all can believe as they wish, and as long as we are not disagreeable, we can all get along.
It is not difficult to see this for the charade it is. While unity is claimed, each Sunday the various denominations retreat to their own sanctuaries, and their own methods of worship and work, and preach their own doctrines. This is not the unity that God has enjoined upon His disciples. Christians are to be "one" as Christ said, as "You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:21). Whatever this toleration is, it is not the unity for which Christ prayed to the Father. The conflicting doctrines and multiplicity of denominations certainly do not encourage faith from the world.
When the Bible speaks of unity, it requires Christians to be "like-minded" (cf. Philippians 2:2). Paul exhorted the divided Corinthians to unity by writing, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). This perfect joining can not be accomplished by tolerating differences. The differences must be examined, and error must be separated from truth.
Far different from the tolerant attitudes of our time is the actual practice of Jesus and his followers when they were confronted with sin and doctrinal error. Rather than taking our cue from the peculiar attitudes of our day, it seems best to mimic the responses of our Lord and the apostles. We should not be more permissive than is our God. When the Corinthians tolerated the sexually immoral man (cf. 1 Corinthians 5), rather than commending them for their open-mindedness, Paul admonished them, "And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you" (5:2).
So, let us examine the practice of Jesus and his followers. In so doing we will be able to determine our proper response to religious error.
Simply put, any religious person who teaches "as doctrines the commandments of men" is said by Jesus to be devising "vain" worship. It is not right to tolerate these things, and certainly not right to actively fellowship such unlawfulness. Rather, we should raise our voices with the Lord in condemnation of such impudence.
The preceding examples are by no means exhaustive, but serve to show the contrast in attitude, (regarding sin), between Christ and the apostles and those who promote ecumenism in our time. Rather than embrace the various faiths with contradicting doctrine, we are to "contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). While it is popular, and supposedly enlightened to be tolerant of the views of others, when those views contradict God's word, we must speak out. No man has the right to put his own views and opinions on par with the revealed will of God. "Surely you have things turned around! Shall the potter be esteemed as the clay; For shall the thing made say of him who made it, 'He did not make me'? Or shall the thing formed say of him who formed it, 'He has no understanding'?" (Isaiah 29:16).
In this series of articles we will be examining religious error. We do not intend to offend in this, though as Jesus did, we most probably will cause offense to some. Our motivation is a concern for lost souls, and a desire to expose evil influences to save some from sin. We are no better than our Master. We must follow the example of the apostles (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:1). It is our prayer that the reader will examine each article with an open mind.
"These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
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