In The Gathering Storm, Albert Mohler writes, “a new and unprecedented right is now the central focus of legal, procedural, and cultural concern in many corridors––a supposed right not to be offended.” Thus, almost every corner of society is terrified to cause offence. Only tolerance is tolerated.
The Winds Of Change
Many societies must now transform their traditional ethical norms. For so many of these are now considered offensive. As a result, what used to be traditionally unethical is now celebrated as the new norm. Alternatively, what was once ethically normative in society is being rewritten in the pursuit of tolerance.
What was once ethically normative in society is being rewritten in the pursuit of tolerance
Religious institutions are also reconsidering traditional positions and restructuring themselves. Yet the impetus for this change is rarely more than to avoid causing offence or appearing intolerant.
Intolerance: The Great Cultural Taboo
What is ‘right’ is now largely determined by how it makes people feel. Therefore intolerance is a great cultural taboo. If someone feels offended by your position then it is almost assumed that your position is wrong. This is impacting the church significantly – perhaps most explicitly in the realm of gender, sexuality, and marriage. But it extends further afield.
If someone feels offended by your position then it is almost assumed that your position is wrong.
This emphasis on tolerance has also impacted Christianity’s claim that it is the only true religion: the claim of exclusivity. This has led many Christian theologians and churchgoers to suggest Christianity might not be the only true religion. In fact, this response goes further. Some claim that the church needs to affirm that other religions are also true.
Can Christianity Pursue Tolerance?
For example Rosemary Reuther writes: “I would like to argue in this paper that this opposition between Christian identity and openness to a pluralistic world has to do with a certain construction of Christian identity. It is possible to construct Christian identity in a different way that both clarifies norms of what is authentic Christianity and affirms other religious paths, not in opposition to each other or as a vague compromise between the two, but in mutual affirmation.”
Reuther is claiming that Christianity seems exclusive today because, at an earlier point, it lost its way. Historically, she suggests, Christianity was not exclusive. True Christians for centuries, even millennia, held the view that other religions are true. So she concludes that genuine Christian faith need not deny the authenticity and claims of other religions. Religious tolerance, according to Reuther, does not compromise core Christian beliefs or identity. This raises a question. Is it possible to be a true Christian while believing that other religions are also true?
Christianity Is About Following Christ
To see how Christianity began we must start with Jesus. He came to earth, taught his disciples, and then told them to go and witness for him. In this regard, Christianity is about who Jesus is and what he taught about himself. Therefore Christianity can only be authentic as long as it is consistent with what Jesus taught.
With Jesus, the Church has always treated the apostolic ministry as authoritative. This is what we find in the New Testament. Yet too often today this witness is cast aside in the pursuit of tolerance. Because many desire to make Christianity inoffensive they have muted what Jesus and his apostles taught. Yet in his instruction Christ provides us with a distinctive identity. We should not trade this for tolerance. We should not silence Christ because his claims are offensive.
Christianity can only be authentic as long as it is consistent with what Jesus taught
Yes, The Christian Gospel Is Offensive
In fact, the Christian gospel message is offensive. There is no way – throughout history and perhaps even more today – one can affirm the Christian faith without offending someone. This is because in the gospel God calls the world to repentance. Religion and morality do not render this call necessary.
Albert Mohler writes this: “There is no way for a faithful Christian to avoid offending those who are offended by Jesus Christ and his cross. The truth claims of Christianity, by their very particularity and exclusivity, are inherently offensive to those who would demand some other gospel.”
The truth claims of Christianity, by their very particularity and exclusivity, are inherently offensive
Christians Believe in One Way To God
Consider what Jesus said about himself in John 3:17-18. “For God did not send his Son to the world to condemn the word, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” This is one of the most exclusive claims you will ever hear.
Today many would classify it offensive and lacking in tolerance. But because of passages like this one, from the lips of Christ, it is impossible for Christians to construct a Christian identity that is not exclusive. To do so would be to move away from what Jesus taught about himself. Not only that, it would also deny what the apostles taught. Christians through the ages suffered for Christ’s exclusive claims. What makes us any different?
One Mandate: To Share The Gospel
It is impossible to speak about authentic Christian identity without speaking about its mandate. For what purpose does the Church exist? It is because of this mandate that the Church holds its unique claim as the only true religion. This claim is based on the historical events recorded in the Gospels: Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
Paul did not compromise his calling out of that fear that he might insult someone
The Example of Paul
As Paul said, “I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you––unless you believed in vain. I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive” (1 Corinthians 15:1-6).
Paul understood that even though the Gentiles were religious people, salvation is found only in Christ. His ministry and missions are proof of this conviction. And this conviction flowed from Paul’s new identity and mandate in Christ.
Caring Deeply For The Lost
As he said, “To those under the law I became as one under the law… that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in it blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23).
Paul sacrificed his own comfort, culture, and formerly held convictions for the sake of the lost
These are not the words of a man who greatly esteems tolerance. Paul did not compromise his calling out of that fear that he might insult someone.
In the passage quoted above we meet a man who greatly esteemed Christ. Therefore he went out of his way to introduce others to him. Rather than sacrificing his Christian identity and mandate from Christ for the sake of tolerance, he sacrificed his own comfort, culture, and formerly held convictions for the sake of the lost.
Exclusivity, But Not Pride
Christ’s claims are exclusive. Therefore his mandate for the church will offend. Unbelievers will find the gospel message offensive. The fact that they are referred to as ‘unbelievers’ is already offensive. It is liable to the charge of intolerance. But this is what the New Testament advocates.
Salvation is in Christ alone. But the manner of this announcement matters.
Both Christ and the apostolic witness make exclusive claims. Salvation is in Christ alone. But the manner of this announcement matters. Our witness to Christ cannot fall short of Christian character. Christian identity involves both manner and message. We make no excuses for Christ’s exclusive claims. We do not worship at the altar of tolerance. But remember: Christ preached “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Matthew 5:10). This righteousness covers both what we say and how we say it.