Rules of Engagement: “How” to Practice Christian Tolerance

Over the last few weeks I’ve really been chewing on tolerance – what it is, and how to practice it as a gospel-centered Christian. Last week we looked at the question, “Is Evangelism Intolerant?

1 Peter 3:15 says this, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”

The center of evangelism is this: honoring Christ. Honoring him by telling others what he has done to give them hope and salvation. Honoring him by receiving his grace and responding to the call to live a life of honoring Christ with what we think, what we say, what we feel, and how we treat others. Faith brings new life and new hope.

With this foundation for evangelism in mind, I want to offer a few “Rules of Engagement” for how Christians can evangelize while demonstrating tolerance (“respect despite disagreement“).

Thumbs Up1. Listen, Listen, Listen
We all come to the table with pre-drawn conclusions about people. Even if you just met someone, you’ve sized them up with your eyes and in your mind before you’ve spoken anything to each other. Their race, their clothes, their body language, the context in which you met, etc. These are all factors that can lead us to make false assumptions.

We need to do what we can to lay those aside and really listen. Especially when talking about issues of faith/theology, we need to be slow to categorize people.

“Well, you believe XYZ and others who believe XYZ are like ABC, therefore you’re wrong because ABC is wrong.”

Really listening to someone means that you’re not thinking about what you’re going to say next. Isn’t that what we do? Stop it! It’s impossible to ignore what you already know about people who take a certain position on an issue, but respect doesn’t make assumptions… it asks questions… and it listens.

2. Repeat Back What They Said (this demonstrates respect)
How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and thought, “Are they even listening to me? I never said that!” Well, don’t do that to others. The best way to avoid it: repeat back to them what they said.

“So, what I hear you saying is…”

Make sure you understand what they’re actually saying before you try to interpret and analyze what they’re saying. If you want people to show you the respect of being good listeners, then you do the same!

Doing this will show them a few things:

  • You’re actually paying attention (instead of acting like you’re paying attention, because what you’re actually doing is thinking about what you’re going to say next).
  • You’re doing more than trying to win an argument.
  • You are taking them seriously enough to really understand them before you disagree.

3. Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing (Jesus)
Some of my best friends in high school were a Buddhist, a non-religious Jew, and an agnostic. I was an imperfect but genuinely convinced Christian. We had many “interesting” conversations. Looking back, I desperately wish I could redo those conversations.

The main thing I’d do differently is this: I’d focus on Jesus.

Too many conversations focus on important and timely issues, but they ignore what is central to the Christian faith. Imagine I convinced my friends that God actually created the world and humanity rather than it all being the result of chance and evolution. Great! Now they believe God created the world… but they’re still in their sins because they still think Jesus was just another good teacher.

It’s so easy for Christians today to get distracted from what makes someone a Christian in the first place – Jesus! Let’s not refuse to talk about these timely issues. But let’s refuse even more the temptation to let them distract us from the Great Commission.

If we believe John 14:6 (that Jesus truly is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him) then let’s agree to keep the main thing the main thing. The gospel is the message of salvation.

Sexuality matters. Creation matters. Abortion matters. Marriage matters. But none of these things are the foundation of the Church.

Putting it Together
Tolerance is respect despite disagreement. As we share the good news of salvation and hope, may we do conduct ourselves in a way that demonstrates the love and grace of God.

Don’t compromise your faith. Don’t be like the false shepherds of Israel:

“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14)

False hope is no hope at all. We cannot say everything is fine when we know that’s just not true. BUT, we need to remember the attitude of Jesus, who was harsh with the religious folks who should’ve known better while being gentle and kind towards the “sinners.”

In all things, we must be calling people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. But we also need to put on full display the amazing grace and love of Jesus Christ as we call out the invitation.

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