January 15: Van Horn on Westminster Doctrines : Biblical Tolerance

“To God’s Glory” : A Practical Study of a Doctrine of the Westminster Standards.
by Rev. Leonard T. Van Horn

THE SUBJECT : Biblical Tolerance

THE BIBLE VERSES TO READ : Matt. 12:30; Matt. 6:24; Matt. 6:16; I Cor. 15:34; Isa. 55:7.

REFERENCES TO THE STANDARDS : Confession of Faith : I.10; XVIII.3; XXX; XXXIII.3; Larger Catechism : Q. 5; 75; 81; 109; Shorter Catechism : Q. 3; 36.

The attitude of Biblical tolerance is one of the most difficult to cultivate today. In this land the idea of toleration for religion, especially as it applies to the religion of the other person, is the popular belief to follow. Constantly it is proclaimed in the media that one religion is as good as another. Even within the evangelical realm we sometimes hear the stereotyped words : “After all, we’re all trying to get to the same place.”

Those who are committed to the Reformed Faith hear the same refrain, only it is a bit different. “Toleration,” to those not committed to the Reformed Faith, takes on the cloak of, “You Calvinists must be tolerant of those that disagree with you.” This even comes at times from those who give lip service to the Reformed Faith. It is as if there are two different truths, two different ways to believe, and one is almost as good as the other. 

It must be recognized that there is a wrong kind of intolerance. This is the type that is without compassion, without concern for those who disagree. This has been practiced by many throughout the ages. It has even reached that of hate for one’s opponents. This is not Biblical. This is sin.

There must be both a positive and negative testimony for the Truth. We must be positive as we proclaim the Doctrines of Grace. We must be faithful to all the doctrines. We must be faithful to proclaim the doctrines in all their magnificence. We must be careful we do not overemphasize one or two to the exclusion of others. We must be positive, not only in our beliefs regarding the Doctrines of Grace, but also in our practice of them. Our doctrine and our polity must be consistent.

There is another side and we dare not ignore it. Our proclaiming of the Truth will also be negative. There are many who will denounce this thought. Their approach is that we will turn people off with a negative approach. Though they would not accept the theology of “Positive Thinking” they will insist upon the practice of it when it concerns doctrine.

The problem with this type of thinking and resulting practice is that it is not Biblical. Note Question 109 of the Larger Catechism :

Q. What are the sins forbidden in the second commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the second commandment are, all devising, counseling, commanding, using, and any wise approving, any religious worship not instituted by God himself; tolerating a false religion . . .”

There is no way we can stand for the truth of God’s Word and not oppose whatever stands in opposition to it. Truth is not Truth until it is distinct from error. Therefore, it is necessary to point out the error. Many times it is not easy to do so. Especially it is not easy when the title of “trouble-maker” or “narrow-minded” is branded on you by those who have sold out to a tolerance that is not Biblical.

We must be as narrow-minded as the Bible itself. Therefore we who believe the Reformed Faith is the correct interpretation of Biblical truth will not be quiet regarding positions taken that are contrary to it. As we discover error we must refute error.

Our Lord was intolerant about many things. He would not tolerate such things as hypocrisy or self-centered living. Without doubt he was intolerant regarding sin. And unbelief is sin. When it is uncovered by the searchlight of the Word of God it must be faced.

The facing of error in love is a difficult task. It is difficult because priorities become involved. Some say love should rule over defending the faith and therefore we must be tolerant. Others say defending the faith should rule over love and therefore we must be intolerant. Is it not possible that both are wrong?

Our Lord Jesus Christ defended the faith in love. He knew it must be defended. He knew His Bride would have to be militant before it could be triumphant! But the responsibility of His children to be militant must be saturated with love. Not love for the error involved, but love for those involved in the error. But that love must never motivate us to compromise in any way as we stand for God’s Word.

The point to be made is that we are to defend the faith we say we believe. We have already drawn the line by our profession. Part of our being true to our profession is being intolerant of error. That is Biblical tolerance.





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