Q: #237. Should Christians tolerate other religions?
By: Steve Shirley
A: First off, I think we should see if the God of the Bible was tolerant of other religions. God made one of the 10 Commandments (the 1st Commandment) to address this, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (Ex 20:3)(Deut 5:7). Therefore, if you worship a god or believe in a god that is not the God of the Bible, you are in disobedience to this commandment. Putting anything ahead of the God of the Bible is idolatry. This sin is found all through the Bible. There were 100's of false gods (idols), and belief systems that went with them, in Bible times. People worshipped the sun, moon, different animals, etc... and also made up gods for things like fertility, weather, grain, war, etc... (See Q: #220 for a complete list)
They almost always had hand-made representations of these "gods" so they could have something visible to worship. They built temples for them (1 Chr 10:10) (2 Kin 10:21,23,26-27)(1 Kin 16:32), and had priests and prophets for them (2 Kin 23:5)(2 Kin 10:19)(2 Kin 18:21-40). They even made and sold small replicas of them so people could have "household idols" to worship at home (Gen 31:19,34-35)(2 Kin 23:24)(Ezek 21:21). (Paul spoke out against these in Acts 19:23-28.)
These idol worshippers greatly angered God, so much so that He ordered His chosen people, the Israelites, to kill all of those who committed this sin. (Ex 22:20) "He who sacrifices to any god, except to the Lord only, he shall be utterly destroyed" (Also see: Num 25:2-5, Deut 17:2-5, 1 Kin 18:40, Deut 13:1-15, Deut 20:16-18). Clearly then, the God who authored the Bible did not "tolerate" the "gods" of other religions.
Of course, today, people in the Unites States are not killed for worshipping other gods (idolatry) and practicing other religions, although other countries DO kill (mainly Christians) for this. We will discuss this more in just a bit.
So, let's look at Jesus. Was He tolerant of other people's belief systems and religions? I am guessing many people would say, "Yes!" I would argue though that Jesus was probably the most INTOLERANT man in history. Why? I think one statement He made pretty much sums it up: (Jn 14:6) "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father but by me" (Also see: Mt 11:27, Lk 10:22, Jn 8:24). How intolerant is that? This is one of the main reasons the "world" hates Jesus' words in the Bible and the Christians that teach them. When Jesus stated He was the ONLY way, He excluded every other path to God and salvation that other faith's teach. He lived a sinless life on Earth, and then gave His life to make this possible. Jesus is the whole focus of the Bible. The Old Testament pointed forward to Him, the Gospels fulfilled what the Old Testament pointed forward to, and the rest of the New Testament looks back at what He did.
*** Note: Jesus also showed intolerance in many other areas such as hypocrisy (Mt 23:1-36)(Mt 15:1-5)(Lk 11:37-54)(Lk 13:10-17)(Lk 12:1), selfishness (Mt 19:16-26), desecration of His Father's house (Mk 11:15-18)(Mt 21:12-13)(Lk 19:45-46)(Jn 2:15-16), one who caused another to sin (Mt 18:7)(Lk 17:1), and many other areas which we won't discuss here.
So, if God the Father and Jesus Christ did not tolerate other religions and belief systems, do you think Christians should? Of course not! If we believe that the Bible is 100% true and God-inspired, as it says it is (2 Tim 3:16)(2 Pet 1:20-21), then we cannot tolerate the teaching of anyone who teaches contrary to it. There are several essential and primary doctrines which one MUST believe to be a Christian, and we must uncompromisingly stand up for these doctrines.
For example, the Bible clearly teaches that Jesus IS God and if someone doesn't believe this, they cannot be saved. If a religion denies the Lordship of Jesus, then they are leading their followers away from the true Jesus and God. In more graphic words, they are leading people to Hell.... Should we accept or tolerate this? The Bible also teaches that Jesus lived a sinless life while on Earth and paid a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins through His shed blood on the cross. We cannot be saved, nor get to the Father, if we don't accept this. If a religion teaches that Jesus did not do this, should we accept or tolerate this? The key to the whole Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead (1 Cor 15:12-20). The Bible tells us that if we don't believe in the resurrection, we cannot be saved (Rom 10:9-10)(Rom 4:25). Should we accept or tolerate a religion that denies this?
I hope you have noticed though that when I speak about "tolerating," I have mentioned the same thing over and over. We are not to tolerate false TEACHINGS or BELIEFS. This does NOT mean though that we are to have no tolerance for the person who teaches or believes falsely. In fact, the opposite is true. We are to LOVE them, and we are confront them out of LOVE and concern for them. God loves everyone (Jn 3:16)(Rom 5:8)(Titus 3:4)(1 Jn 4:8-9)(Deut 10:17-18). Jesus loved everyone as well, and was our perfect example of God's love. Yes, He was intolerant of false teachings and beliefs (just as the Father was), but He sought to correct those who were sinning by bring them to the truth (sometimes harshly) in love. (You have probably heard the term, "God loves the sinner but hates the sin.")
Jesus said that the 2nd greatest commandment was to "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt 22:39)(Mk 12:31). By following this example of our Lord in confronting those who do not know the truth with love, we will set ourselves apart from every other religion in the world. There is an old hymn which says, "And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, yes they'll know we are Christians by our love." Some religions (i.e. Islam) often persecute or kill those who will not convert. They will also persecute or kill Christians who try to evangelize. Some religions (i.e. Mormons or Jehovah Witnesses) attempt to convert people out of obligation, because they believe they can become acceptable to God and find favor with Him based on what they do, and not on the finished work of Jesus Christ. These religions, and many others, are not trying to teach their "truth" with love, but rather with hate, fear, or obligation. They, and every other religion in the world, teach the path to God and salvation is based upon "works" or what we do. Christianity teaches that our salvation is ONLY by what Jesus Christ did, and there is nothing we can do. As Christians, we should be so thankful for this that we desire to teach the whole world the truth about Jesus Christ out of love and concern for each lost soul who does not know Him.
Here are a few good verses to keep in my mind:
(Ezek 33:8-9) When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at thy hand. (9) Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. (Also see: Ezek 3:18-21, Acts 20:26-27)
(1 Pet 3:15) ...be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
(Gal 1:6-9)(NASB) I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel; (7) which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. (8) But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! (9) As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you have received, he is to be accursed.