Tolerating Different Opinions

Tolerating Different Opinions

Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words

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Gary Pollard

Dale and I were recently talking about the marked differences in preference among gun owners, bikers, etc. He made the observation that those who are pro-fill-in-the-blank (revolvers vs magazine-fed, 1911 vs Glock, etc., cruisers vs sport bike, Chevy vs Ford, and so on) are often very enthusiastic about their preference and very hostile to what is the antithesis of their preference. 

To use the term in its purest and least twisted sense, there is very little tolerance concerning differences of opinion among those who are passionate about the same things. With motorcycles, those who enjoy cruisers might scoff at those who prefer sport bikes. “They’re more difficult to maintain, you can’t practically go long distances, they’re more dangerous…” Sport bikers might do the same, “Cruisers aren’t as fast or agile, they’re old man bikes, you lose so much power with a belt or shaft drive, they don’t look as cool…” We could go on forever, but if you have any interests where differences of opinion abound (which is just about any hobby or interest), you know what I’m talking about. 

We face the same things in the church. Culture influences our preferences in matters of opinion, and I don’t have to go into detail about those opinions or traditions. We’re aware of the range of preferences and the way we can be tempted to respond to opposing preferences. Of course, I’m not talking about doctrines that cannot and should never be altered, but of opinions and traditions that do not affect salvation. 

The same responses we observe in every other aspect of our lives – passionate support or passionate opposition – can sometimes be observed in the church. We exist in the world, but we are supposed to be different from the world. Matthew 5.43ff tells us that we should love our enemies. We sometimes treat those with different preferences in the church as enemies; the level of hostility that we (and I mean me, too) can show over those preferences proves this. Do we love them anyway? Are we praying for them? 

Matthew 5.46-48 points out (in principle) that if we’re only nice to those on “our side,” it means nothing. In fact, it’s wrong! Twice in this passage we are called to change and be different from everyone else. That is a salvation issue. 

The word “tolerance” has become perverted over the last generation or so, but we can’t forget that it does play a role in our faith. We must not tolerate false doctrine, but we must tolerate our differences in matters of opinion. This carries over to everything we’re passionate about! 

How we treat those who disagree with us will show others who we serve far more effectively than our professed beliefs will. Does our treatment of those with whom we disagree show that we are genuinely Christian, or does it serve as a perfect deterrent? This is up to us. As things slowly return to normal we can change the status quo in a very positive way – let’s make the best of it!

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