The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that Congress shall not establish a religion nor prohibit the free practice of religion, whatever that religion may be. It also prevents Congress from prohibiting speech (which the courts have expanded to include freedom of expression), meaning you can express your views without fear of being punished or otherwise stopped by the goverment. However, courts have recognized that the freedoms of religion and speech have limits: they cannot subvert the freedoms of another individual. While a person is free to worship a tree stump, one cannot break into another person’s back yard to worship the foliage.
Recent decades have witnessed the rise of postmodernism and, especially, the concepts of tolerance and relativism. Postmodernism, put simply, is the term used to describe the philosophy that there is no such thing as absolute truth that dictates all other truths (called a meta-narrative). Relativism is the concept that everything is ‘relative’: what may be true and good for one person may not be true or good for another. Furthermore, each individual truth is just as valid and acceptable as all others. Put simply, truth is in the eye of the beholder. Tolerance, as expressed by popular culture, finds its foundation in relativism: all beliefs should be respected and accepted as valid beliefs since none are superior. Along with this, tolerance is often described as meaning that no person has the right to try to persuade another to change their beliefs, for such is forcing one’s beliefs on another and is the epitome of intolerance.
Tolerance Hates Evangelism
The postmodern doctrine of tolerance impacts how culture interprets the Bill of Rights, especially the First Amendment. Society does not generally see a document that prevents the government from (1) requiring individuals to adhere to a specific religious dogma and (2) persecuting them for practicing their beliefs. Instead, it is perceived as a document that (1) prohibits any government agency or institution from allowing any religious activity within its presence and (2) protects individuals from anyone who might try to convince others to change their beliefs. In other words, the First Amendment is no longer seen as granting an individual’s freedom of religion, but freedom from religion.
While the Constitution was being reinterpreted and, effectively, rewritten by the courts, one of the major victims of the rise of tolerance has been the Christian faith, especially evangelism. When a Christian shares his faith with another, a common response is that the believer is intolerant and trying to force their beliefs on others. The moral argument is that nobody has the right to force their beliefs on another; the legal argument is that the Constitution protects individual beliefs and any attempt to change those beliefs hinders that freedom. One of the great concerns for Christians is that the day may come when the government (either by activist judges or legislation) will make it illegal for anyone to proselytize, all in the name of tolerance and under the guise of the First Amendment. Meanwhile, Christians are faced with a society that dislikes evangelistic followers of Christ and tries to silence the evangelistic message of Jesus.
God Loves Evangelism
The world believes that Christians are wrong for sharing their beliefs; Christians believe it is necessary to share their faith. How should believers approach such a conflict? Sadly, many Christians choose to remain silent. Some believers seek acceptance by the world and, thus, refuse to evangelize because it could lead to alienation. Other Christians adopt the view that we should respect all religions and, thus, refuse to evangelize because doing so is disrespectful. However, both of these views ignore the fact that while the world is opposed to evangelism, God desires it.
Scripture teaches us that the world hates the Gospel and the truth it declares and, thus, will hate those to bring the Gospel (Psalm 10:4; 36:1-4; Matt 24:9; John 1:5; 3:19-20; 15:18, 24-25; 17:14; 1 John 3:1). Also, believers are instructed not to seek after things of the world, but to seek the things of God (1 Kings 22:5; 2 Chr 30:18-20; Psalm 119:10; Amos 5:14; Matt 6:33; John 5:30). This means that we should desire God’s love and not the world’s love; we should seek to please God, not the world. Christians must be willing to sacrifice the temporary pleasures and joys of the world to serve God, even if it means being rejected by our closest family and friends.
Jesus commands us to share the Gospel with the world (Matt 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Tim 4:1-5). He did not promise it would be easy, but instead, prophesied that the task would be difficult and would lead to persecution (Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11; 22:36-37; see also the passages regarding the world’s hatred of believers).
God sent his son, Jesus, for the purpose of saving the lost. Jesus willingly gave himself up to pay the penalty for sin and save all those who put their faith and hope in Christ alone. Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus proclaimed this truth to others. He told large groups, small groups, strangers on the street, and friends; he shared the Gospel with whomever he encountered, whether they liked the message or not. Jesus did not seek glory from the world, but sought the glory of the Father.
Just as Christ did, believers should not remain silent simply because the world does not want to hear the Gospel. Instead, they should boldly proclaim the truth and the hope that Jesus offers. Persecution, hatred, and rejection should be expected, not feared (Matt 10:28).
Is evangelism an act of intolerance? Maybe. Evangelism is, however, an act of love. It shows our love and passion for God; it shows our love for the lost world in that we proclaim the way for them to be rescued. Believers must continue to share the Gospel to a world that promotes relativism and tolerance because God desire us to do so. We must revive our passion for God by living out God’s passion for evangelism and missions. God’s message of salvation in Christ alone will conflict with the philosophy of the world. However, that is not because the Gospel is flawed or wrong, but because the world hates the one who declares that message: the world rejects God. Nevertheless, God loves those who hate him and sent his son to die for those who hate him (Rom 5:6-8); this is grace in that God offers salvation to undeserving sinners and offers it freely to all those who will believe!