The Danger of Tolerance | Part One

by Dr. William F. Harrell

*This post was taken from Dr. Harrell’s website and is used by permission

In reading the history of my former church of over thirty one years, I am stricken with the degree to which they held their membership when considering the manner of life they were living. It was not uncommon at all for them to call a member before the church in a disciplinary action. The interesting fact is that they were excommunicated and soundly warned for doing things that the churches of today don’t even notice much less consider them a cause for discipline. Public drunkenness was cause for church action. If a woman was seen smoking in public they were called before the church. Profanity was something that would bring discipline. Irregular attendance in the services would also bring action by the church. Gossip would not be tolerated and one had to answer for it. Yes, in the early days of the church, people were expected to exhibit a Christian way of life and demeanor if they were going to claim Christianity and remain a member of the church in good standing.

There was also another side to the situation. The church, which met only once a month in those early days of the late seventeen and eighteen hundreds, also disciplined in love. They would send a committee of two or three men to talk to the offending member about their moral and spiritual failures. If the person repented, they were restored in good standing in the next monthly meeting. If they did not repent they were finally excommunicated until such time that they came before the church and publicly confessed their sin seeking restored membership. All of this demonstrated that the people of the church took seriously their relationship to the Lord and to His Church. One can read the historical minutes of the church and see that this action continued in many of the churches well into the twentieth century.

But, something has taken place in the last one hundred years. The churches have ceased to demand that their members act like dedicated Christians whose lives have been changed by the Spirit of the Lord. A dangerous word and concept has slowly and almost imperceptibly become operative and that concept is tolerance. As the spiritual commitment of the people began to wane, it was easy to tolerate sin in the camp because many members knew they were harboring sin in their own lives. Sin found its way in the door almost unhindered as tolerance became the norm. One would have to do something absolutely horrible to be questioned at all. Adultery became unquestioned except in the dark halls of gossip. Public cursing, smoking by women, drinking, slander and non attendance no longer even rated on the scale of unacceptable conduct. Things which would formally bring absolute and sudden discipline and even excommunication became something hardly noticed by the church. This didn’t happen over night. Satan is more subtle than that. It was something that slowly and imperceptibly took place. The church awoke one day and people could be heard to say: “I remember when a person would never do such and such because they feared the discipline of the church.” In the days when the church held its people to a close Biblical standard and when people had a healthy fear of church discipline, society had a disciplinary force beyond the law which held it to account. In fact the “long arm of the church’s disciplinary action” was far more feared than the “long arm of the law.” But, as people absorbed the idea that tolerance was a good thing, the church began to lose the ability to be the moral agent it had been in previous times. When it watered itself down, it also watered down its ability to speak to the ills of society and to be taken seriously.

Part Two Coming Soon!