"Christians are intolerant because they try to tell other people what to do and what to believe," is a common complaint from those who have been witnessed to by a zealous Christian. Although the actions of Christians are often interpreted as intolerance, the primary reason why Christians are seen as intolerant is because the perceived, politically-correct definition of tolerance has changed over the years.
What is intolerance?
To begin the discussion, it would be good to know what the word "intolerant" really means, in order to determine if Christians really are intolerant:
The really remarkable thing about the definition of intolerant is that those who say we Christians are intolerant and should not express our religious beliefs are the ones who actually fit the definition. Tolerance is not about accepting every one else's beliefs, but merely being willing to listen to those beliefs. In contrast to many other religious beliefs, evangelical Christians rate quite high on the scale of being willing to discuss religious beliefs on a moment's notice.
Tolerance vs. truth
Tolerance does not mean that we automatically accept every one else's beliefs as being true. Contrary to popular belief, religions do not teach the same things, and, so, they can't all be true. Belief, in and of itself does not make that belief true. Ravi Zacharias, a Christian writer, warns, "Truth cannot be sacrificed at the altar of pretended tolerance. Real tolerance is deference to all ideas, not indifference to the truth." Christianity is the prime example why all religions cannot be true. Virtually every other world religion, other than Christianity, teaches that a person can become acceptable to God on the basis of their actions in life. In contrast, Christianity teaches that no person, no matter what they do, can become acceptable to God through their own actions.2 In Christianity, acceptance by God is based upon the completed work of Jesus Christ,3 through belief that His sacrifice makes us acceptable.4 Therefore, Christianity and other religions cannot all be simultaneously true, since they teach opposite ideas about how one becomes acceptable to God. A Christian cannot accept other belief systems as being true and still maintain his own belief system, since they are directly contradictory.
The Christian is most often claimed to be "intolerant" when he refuses to accept and speaks out against "alternative lifestyles," such as cohabitation or homosexual behavior. Again, this is an improper use of the word "intolerant." Tolerance does not require acceptance of all ideas as being true, but merely a willingness to hear alternative beliefs. Those who say that Christians should not express their beliefs are actually the ones who are being intolerant, since they are unwilling to grant equal freedom of expression to Christian beliefs (see definition above).
Jesus was "intolerant"
The supposed intolerance of Christians is a direct result of the teachings of its founder Jesus Christ, who, today, would be described as one of the most "intolerant" people to live. Although Jesus was loving and associated with all kinds of people, He was not "tolerant" of their "alternative lifestyles." Jesus confronted immoral behavior directly, and even had the audacity to tell people to stop practicing their sinful behavior.5 In addition, Jesus commanded his followers to "make disciples of all the nations... teaching them to observe all that I commanded you,"6 and "preach the gospel to all creation."7 Jesus did not say to accept other religions as being true. In fact, He made one of the most "intolerant" statements that any religious leader has ever made:
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me." (John 14:6)
This statement alone reveals that all other religions and religious ideas cannot be true. No religion other than Christianity claims that Jesus is the only way to God. Therefore, either Jesus was telling the truth and He is the only way to God or He was a liar and Christianity is false.
Evangelical Christians, in their zeal to follow the commands of their Lord, may seem to be over-enthusiastic and judgmental. However, in believing that Jesus is the only way to God, we want everybody we meet to understand their choices, and the consequences of those choices. Love requires that we share the message of the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ. The good news is that all people can enter into a personal relationship with the God and Creator of the universe through belief in Jesus Christ.
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16, Jesus Christ)
- Why are Christians So Judgmental? Doesn't the Bible Say, "Do Not Judge"
- Why Do Christians Lie So Much? Truth and Christianity
- Self-righteous Christians Defined: Is This the Norm?
- Hypocrites Defined: What About Hypocrisy in the Christian Church?
- Sexism in the Bible: Is Christianity Sexist?
- The Threat of Radical Christianity: Christians are Involved Too Much in Politics?
- "intolerant." Merriam-Webster OnLine: WWWebster Dictionary. 2002.
- for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)
as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one;" (Romans 3:10)
"The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23)
- "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were
yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me'" (John 14:6).
- "As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become
children of God, even to those who believe in His name" (John 1:12)
"By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).
- "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law
or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. (Matthew
"When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matthew 6:2)
"And when you pray, you are not to be as the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners, in order to be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matthew 6:5)
"And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. (Matthew 6:16)
But Jesus perceived their malice, and said, "Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? (Matthew 22:18)
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows' houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation. (Matthew 23:14)
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. (Matthew 23:27)
You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" (Mark 10:19)
"And why do you call Me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46)
You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, do not murder, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.'" (Luke 18:20)
Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you." (John 5:14)
"Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." (John 7:24)
And she said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn you; go your way. From now on sin no more." (John 8:11)
Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains. (John 9:41)
- "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:19-20)
- And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15)
Last Modified April 28, 2006