Ten Mangled Words – “Tolerance”

Words are more than names. Words are things that either correspond to something in reality, or fail to. When words fail to correspond to something true about God’s reality, they become part of the darkening of human understanding. Like a sign pointing the wrong way, like a faulty map, the mangled word gives the human mind a false inner reality, and distorts the truth.

One of those words is tolerance. Tolerance, today, means something like embracing and approving of people and ideas without criticism. The tolerant man is the one who does not merely live peacefully with his neighbour, but muzzles any criticism he might have of his neighbour. That’s about as close as one can get to defining the modern idea of tolerance, because it is more of an elastic sentiment than a clear idea, one which morphs according to the target of its protectiveness, or, as the case may be, its inchoate resentments.

This idea of tolerance is incoherent, and not even internally consistent. It will soon be apparent why.

First, there is no such thing as absolute tolerance. No one tolerates everything. Every society sets limits on its tolerance, and those actions or ideas it finds intolerable, it punishes. Few societies, at least in principle, tolerate murder or treason. No school tolerates all behaviour, no employer tolerates all work, no country tolerates all views. When the point of intolerance is reached, some form of coercion follows: a spanking, a jail term, expulsion, public shaming, violence, or even execution. Sometimes this is evil; sometimes it is not. The question before us not, should we tolerate intolerance (for it is unavoidable)? The real question is: when should we be intolerant?

Second, modern tolerance tolerates only versions of itself. That is, it tolerates only those who have imbibed its idea of tolerance. Any person or group that holds different views on what should be tolerated and when, becomes a target of its ire. Indeed, Christians who hold to the authority of Scripture soon find that their view will not be tolerated. It is the transparent contradiction that the tolerazis cannot see: they are viciously intolerant of those who don’t embrace their view of tolerance.

Third, modern tolerance cannot distinguish between tolerance and agreement. If one agrees completely with another view, tolerance is not necessary. Tolerance, in fact, requires disagreement to make sense at all. Tolerance involves forbearance with a view as it is expressed, or even with a practice, without resorting to any of the coercive methods that stop it altogether. The modern idea of tolerance insists that one must agree with the view, and that disagreement counts as intolerance. To truly tolerate under this regime, only silent disagreement is permitted. Furthermore, publicly prosecuting your own view, if it conflicts with others, constitutes intolerance.

Much of this stems from secular relativism. If absolute truth is impossible or non-existent, then every man is right in his own eyes. As such, to express disagreement with his ‘personal truth’ becomes a kind of violation of his being, since it is apparently true only in his being. Once truth has contracted to exist only in individual brains, the only way to protect it is to prohibit public disagreement.

Were we to take this farce to its logical end, we should end all debate, discussion or dialogue. Again, the fact that the tolerazis would disagree with this post, demonstrates that they have to equivocate on the meaning of tolerance.

A Worship Catechism (15)

97. What is our ultimate hope?

Our ultimate hope is to see God’s glory in His realised presence (Rev 21:2-3, 22:4; Joh 17:21-26), where we will behold His beauty forever (Ps 27:4, 23:6).

98. How will we commune with God in His realised presence?

We will behold Him without the curse of corrupt bodies and partially blind souls (Rev 21:4-5, 22:1-3), without sin or other sinners (Rev 21:7-8, 27; 1 Cor 6:9-11), so there will be no confession of sin or cleansing needed.

99. Will the cycle of communion continue in Heaven?

Though we will be like Him, our beholding of Him will take us to ever deeper union and likeness (1 John 3:2, 2 Cor 3:18), as we develop from one degree of glory to another (Jo 17:22; Eph 3:18-19)

100. How should this hope affect our great priority and purpose?

The end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshippers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity.

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91. What are the disciplines of perpetual worship?

The disciplines of perpetual worship are gratitude, discernment, fasting , and stewardship, which seek to behold, reflect, and magnify God’s glory in His works of creation, redemption and providence.

92. What does the discipline of gratitude entail?

Gratitude is receiving all that is good and lawful in creation with receptive enjoyment and conscious thanksgiving (1 Tim 4:4; 1 Thes 5:16-18; Jam 1:17).

93. What does the discipline of discernment entail?

Discernment is judging the meaning of all things in creation through an obedient examination of all things (1 Thes 5:22, Eph 5:10; Heb 5:14; Phil 1:9-11, 4:8), a pursuit of wisdom and understanding (Prov 2:1-7), and an immersion in the good judgement of others (Prov 13:20; Heb 13:7).

94. What does the discipline of stewardship entail?

Stewardship consciously consecrates objects and activities for the glory of God, seeing all as gifts and callings to be managed for Him (1 Cor 4:1-7).

95. What does the discipline of fasting entail?

Fasting is deliberate self-denial of the pleasures of creation to enable prayer and a spirit of humble supplication for focused seasons of spiritual need.

96. How will these disciplines enable the great priority of life?

These disciplines will nurture beholding, reflecting and magnifying the glory of God, whether in private, in society, or immersed in work or leisure.

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84. What are the disciplines of public worship?

The disciplines of public worship are recognition, service, discipleship, and corporate worship, which seek to behold, reflect and magnify God’s glory in the society of others.

85. What does the discipline of recognition entail?

Recognition is repeatedly submitting to the biblical view of our neighbour as a means of loving God, and thinking of all men as such.

86. How is our neighbour a means of loving God?

We may behold God’s glory in our neighbour as that neighbour reflects and reveals the Creator (James 1:17, 3:9; Ps 19:1), as an act of loving obedience (Jo 14:15, 13:34; 1 Pet 2:17), and as a means of loving what God loves and hating what He hates (Mt 5:43-45; 25:31-46; Prov 6:16-19; Phil 4:8).

87. Who is our neighbour?

Our neighbour is our worst enemy, and everyone closer to us than him (Lk 10:29-37).

88. What does the discipline of service entail?

Service is sacrificially meeting the needs of other Christians by obeying the one-another commands, (Jo 13:34) and of our unsaved neighbours through doing to them as we would want done to us (Lk 6:31), and so loving Christ (Mt 25:31-45)

89. What does the discipline of discipleship entail?

Discipleship is increasing the number of fellow-worshippers through instruction (Mt 28:20), and the involvement of affection (1 Thes 2:7-9), exemplary living (1 Thes 2:10, 1 Co 11:1, 1 Ti 4:12, Tis 2:7), and patient, encouraging mentoring (1 Thes 2:11-12).

90. What does the discipline of corporate worship entail?

Corporate worship is assembling with a New Testament local church on the appointed day with circumspection (Eccl 5:1-2), to unite mind and heart with other believers to publicly read the Word publicly (1 Timothy 4:13, Colossians 4:16), preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2), pray the Word (1 Timothy 2:1-2, 8), sing the Word (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16) show the Word publicly (the ordinances or sacraments) (Luke 22:19, Matthew 28:19-20) and respond in grateful giving (1 Corinthians 16:1-2.)

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76. What disciplines will nurture faith and maintain abiding in God’s presence?

We must embrace disciplines of private worship, public worship, and perpetual worship.

77. What are the disciplines of private worship?

The disciplines of private worship are meditation, private prayer, and memorisation, which seek to behold reflect and magnify God’s glory in solitude (Mt 6:1-9).

78. What does discipline of meditation entail?

Meditation is beholding God’s glory in His Word, by reverently interrogating the meaning of Scripture, particularly in its analogies, for its interpretation and application, and often accompanied by journaling (Jas 1:25; Ps 1:2).

79. What do we seek in meditation?

We seek God’s mind on Himself, His people, and the world, wherein we will find His glory (Ps 119:15; 2 Tim 3:16-17).

80. What does the discipline of private prayer entail?

Private prayer responds to our meditations with adoration of God’s revealed glory, thanksgiving for His works, confession of our sins and consecration of our lives, supplication for our needs and intercession for others (Col 3:16; Phil 4:6).

81. How should we pray?

Vital, lively prayer is prayed in faith (Matthew 21:22), in full sincerity (Matt 6:7), and with persistence (Col 4:2).

82. What does the discipline of memorisation entail?

Memorisation is committing to memory Scripture passages and Christian verse, and regularly refreshing what has been memorised (Ps 119:11).

83. What may aid us in these disciplines?

An excellent hymnbook, a book of Christian verse, a book of prayers, devotional classics, a journal in which to write, prayer lists, Bible study aids, and an alarm to wake us.

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67. How is faith nurtured?

Faith is nurtured through the grace-enabled practice of the spiritual disciplines (2 Pet 1:5-7).

68. What is spiritual discipline?

Spiritual discipline is imposing order upon disorder to nurture communion with God (2 Tim 3:3-6).

69. What is the first purpose of the spiritual disciplines?

The first purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to provide the opportunity for communion with God to occur, confessing our sins, consecrating our loves, and conforming our lives (Dan 6:10).

70. What is the second purpose of the spiritual disciplines?

The second purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to train the abilities, attitudes and habits fundamental to communion with God (1 Timothy 4:7).

71. What is the third purpose of the spiritual disciplines?

The third purpose of the spiritual disciplines is to structure and shape life so that its rhythms, routines and rituals shape the overall imagination and sensibilities towards communion with God (Deut 6:7-9).

72. What are the dangers associated with discipline?

On the one hand: laziness (Prov 26:13-16), lack of watchfulness (1 Thes 5:6-8; 1 Pet 4:7) and spiritual apathy (Mal 1:13, Rev 3:16-17); on the other: will-worship (Col 2:23), spiritual pride (Lk 18:11-12), and man-pleasing (Mt 6:1-18).

73. How do we avoid these dangers?

We understand that no progress is possible without discipline (2 Tim 2:3-6), while understanding that discipline is a means to communing with God, not the end in itself (2 King 18:4).

74. How is discipline related to the Gospel?

Discipline requires we, by the Spirit, mortify desires and habits hostile to faith (Rom 8:13), while reckoning ourselves alive to the empowering grace of obedience (1 Cor 9:27; Rom 6:1-23).

75. How do we reconcile desire and self-denial?

The Spirit will grant us desires (Phil 2:13), but these desires are fanned into flame and not quenched (2 Tim 1:6, 1 Thes 5:19) when we respond by working out those desires in vigorous, wholehearted action (Phil 2:12; Col 1:29, 1 Tim 4:12), which requires self-denial (1 Cor 9:25-27; Lk 9:23; Col 3:5).

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60. What is the Spirit’s work in this cycle also known as?

Grace: He grants the grace of conviction, the grace of cleansing, the grace of conformity, and the grace of illumination (Phil 2:13)

61. How is this grace received and the cycle maintained?

Grace is always received through faith (Eph 2:8) – the faith of beholding Him and blessing Him in communion, the faith of becoming like Christ in confession and consecration.

62. Of what is faith composed?

Faith is composed of a simultaneous humble submission to God’s supreme authority (Jas 4:6-7, 10) a brokenness over our sin (vv 8-9), and drawing near to God for all He is (v8).

63. How is our faith to be humbly submitted?

Faith forsakes beholding and glorifying self (Ps 115:1; 2 Cor 5:14-15) for a life wholly given to God’s glory (Rom 11:36; Eccl 12:13), and yields to loving God’s loves supremely (2 Cor 5:9).

64. How is our faith to be broken in spirit?

Faith confesses the ugliness of sin – hating what God hates – and counts itself dead to sin and alive to Christ’s righteousness (Rom 6:3-14)

65. How is our faith to be drawing near to God?

Faith seeks God’s beauty as its chief desire (Ps 27:4, 63:1-2; Ex 33:18-19), wholeheartedly (Jer 29:13), intentionally (Prov 2:1-6), persistently (Lk 11:5-13) and teachably (Ps 50:21; Job 42:5).

66. In what way does this cycle resemble the Gospel?

The cycle is initiated and maintained by God’s grace, and responded to with faith, wherein there is both the “deaths” of humble submission, brokenness, confession and consecration, and the “resurrections” of delighted beholding, becoming and blessing of God’s beauty (Col 2:6)

Adoration of the Shepherds

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Take some time to consider Caravaggio’s Adoration of the Shepherds. Don’t scan and speed-read, but if you have the time, stop and stare.

First, where is the focal point of this painting? Where does our gaze go first, and where does it seem to land? Is there more than one focal point? Are we above, below, or eye-level with this scene? It seems the lines, the gaze of the shepherds, the direction of the hands points us to Mary and her Child. But a secondary focal point is the faces of the shepherds. Caravaggio wants us to look where they are looking. But once there, Mary’s face is in shadow, and the Christ-child is faced away from us, so we go back to the shepherds, who can see His face. Our eyes go back and forth from the Child to the Shepherds, and that is as the artist would have it. We are almost eye-level with this scene, which suggests Caravaggio wants us to come in as the shepherds, seeing, absorbing the scene, and beginning to crouch to see and adore more clearly.

Second, consider the colours used. What colour dominates? What colours have been used? Of the three primary colours (red, blue, yellow), which has been used? On a colour wheel, has Caravaggio used colours complementary to one another (i.e. opposite each other on the colour wheel), or analogous to one another (next to each other on the colour wheel)?colourwheel

Why?  Caravaggio has chosen a warm red for Mary’s clothes, and given the shepherd closest to her exactly the same colour for his robe, with nearly parallel lines directing our gaze to that section of the painting. The colours of the other robes, the skin tones of all, the colours in the stable, are all browns, yellows, beiges, and golden tones. The scene exudes warmth, and joy.  Caravaggio is avoiding contrasts at all costs, trying to evoke a very natural and life-like manger scene. And yet — the golden light is enough to alert us that something is not as natural as it normally would be. Some divine intervention is here, too.

Third, what sort of lines has the artist used? Are they sharp and geometrical? Are they curvilinear? Are they bold outlines? Using oil, Caravaggio avoids dark outlines, and creates very natural, biomorphic, curvilinear shapes. The lines are smooth and calming, but they flow towards the focal point. The painting is not symmetrical, but it nevertheless has a convergence point. Even the sharp bits of straw direct our eyes to Mary and the Child. The artist wants the scene to be as natural as possible, because it is in its very naturalness that we will absorb the supernaturalness of it.

Fourth, where is the light coming from? What does this suggest? What is illuminated and what is in shadow? The scene seems to be a night-time scene, and the light seems too bright for a candle, so the light seems to be a heavenly source. It is shining in from above. But, whether it is the Star of Bethlehem, the glory of angels, moonlight, we do not know. We can merely tell the light is beautiful, and illuminating a humble scene. Supernature and nature are combining in one scene of mystery.

Fifth, consider the symbols. Almost invisible, behind Mary are two figures with a long history in Christian portrayals of the Nativity – the ox and the ass, traditionally made to represent Jew and Gentile (Is 1:3), both rebellious, but now adoring Christ. In Caravaggio’s work, they are present, but not as icons of devotion. They are simply animals in the background. Caravaggio wants to stand in the tradition of Nativity scenes, but he is determined to portray this scene in all its humble realism. Two people have halos, Mary and Joseph (the man third from Mary’s right). But the halos are so thin as to be almost invisible. Carpenter’s tools and some dry bread in the front show us that this is a scene of realistic poverty. Caravaggio is not abandoning the symbols, but he is adapting them for his purposes.

Sixth, notice the physical gestures. Look at the hands – Mary’s, and the shepherds. What do they tell us of how to feel about this Child? Notice the postures – Mary’s draped and exhausted posture, the shepherds’ awkward stoop and crouch. Notice how Caravaggio has created a subtle divide between Mary and the shepherds through the parallel red cloaks, and the black cloth (the darkest thing in the painting) draped over her. She is everything normal, natural, and homely, but there is a Divine presence here, and the shepherds (and even Joseph) stop short of irreverently reaching past this divide with their hands.

Seventh, notice the men, and their expressions. They are dirty, scraggly, unkempt. The sun has aged them. Their clothes are almost rags, in one case. But what do these hardened, simple, poor men say with their eyes? Mary’s face is in shadow, for Caravaggio wants us to focus on the expressions of the shepherds: awe, gratitude, amazement. These are hard faces softening in the glow of what they are seeing.

Caravaggio is blending the supernatural and the natural, the divine and the human, the presence of grace within a fallen world. But his realism never becomes the gritty despair so common in the post-modern imagination: the grim and dark meaninglessness glorified in the anti-heroes of today’s movies. No, his deep realism is intended to provide a contrast: glory in the midst of humility. He wishes us to feel the awe of knowing that the glory of heaven was present in the dirt of a manger scene. This birth was normal, in every way, but it was glorious. This scene was humble – forgettable even, by the standards of the world. But it was simultaneously the most important birth ever. Caravaggio has masterfully imagined the truths of the Incarnation.

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52. What is meant by consecration?

Consecration is dedicating something to the holy glory of God.

53. What are we to consecrate to God?

Whatever cannot be loved for God’s sake should not be loved at all; whatever can be loved for God’s sake should be consecrated to Him (Phil 4:8).

54. How are we to consecrate all lawful things to God?

We are to present our entire lives as a sacrificial offering (Rom 12:1), doing all deeds for Christ’s sake (Col 3:17, 23), doing all for God’s glory (1 Cor 10:31) and doing all that we do in love (1 Cor 16:14), while depending on His enabling grace to do so (Col 1:29; 2 Cor 9:8; Deut 33:25; 1 Cor 15:10).

55. What will confession and consecration lead to?

Our confession and consecration leads to God’s cleansing of us (1 Jo 1:9).

56. What is meant by cleansing?

The continual cleansing of the Christian is not the cleansing of his judicial guilt, but the sanctifying work of practically imparting Christ’s righteousness to his soul (John 13:9-10).

57. What is cleansed in the Christian?

First, his conscience is cleansed from accusation and the sense of the Father’s displeasure (Ps 51:12-15) and is re-sensitized to holiness. Second, he is cleansed from moral defilement (2 Cor 7:1), as he flees from sin (1 Cor 10:13; 2 Tim 2:22), mortifying its power (Col 3:5), making no provision for it (Ro 13:14), and puts off the old man. This leads him to more conformity to Christ.

58. What is meant by conformity to Christ?

Conformity is the progressive likeness to Christ in affection, mind, and action that is imparted to the believer who gazes on Christ (2 Cor 3:18), seeks to put off the old and be renewed in his mind (Eph 4:22-24), and walks submissively by the power of the Spirit (Gal 5:16-24).

59. To what does conformity to Christ lead?

Likeness brings nearness: God communicates Himself most to the soul that has progressed farthest in Christlikeness (Jas 4:8; Jo 14:21, 15:9-10; Eph 3:16-19). With more conformity to Christ, communion is increased, and the cycle of deepening love for God continues.

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46. What is meant by confession?

Confession is the agreement of the mind and heart with God’s conviction (1 John 1:9). The mind agrees with the sinfulness of the sin, and accepts the guilt of it (Ps 51:3-4). The heart agrees it has loved what God hates and hated what God loves, and sorrowfully revolts against such inordinate love (2 Cor 7:10), forsaking it for the cleansing blood of Christ and the truths of justification (Prov 28:13; Micah 7:8-9).

47. What will result from our refusing to confess?

When we refuse to confess, we experience leanness of soul and spiritual drought (Ps 106:15, 32:3-4), and harden our hearts to worshipping God (Ps 95:6-8), while losing boldness to approach God in communion (Heb 10:19-22).

48. Why is refusing to confess foolishness?

Refusing to confess is attempting to flee from the omnipresent One (Ps 139:1-16), hoping to cover our sins (Prov 28:13) by avoiding the Light (Jo 3:20) that lights every man (Jo 1:9) and hardening our hearts to the Almighty Spirit’s relentless conviction (Ps 139:7; Jo 16:8).

49. How will God respond to our refusals to confess?

God will lovingly chasten us, bringing to bear upon our souls the pain of withdrawn fellowship, evil consequences for sin, or purifying trials to purge us of our love of sin, and urge us toward confession and consecration (Heb 12:5-11).

50. What habits will encourage confession?

We should confess sin the moment we are aware of it, see no sin as too small to confess to Christ, refuse any reluctance to go to Christ, and be clothed with Christ’s obedience.

51. How will God receive our confession?

God receives it as the loving father ran to meet his prodigal son (Lk 15:20), for He is slow to anger and abundant in compassion (Ps 103:8-10), He delights to show mercy (Micah 7:18), and He is faithful and just to keep cleansing us because of our Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous (1 John 1:9, 2:1-2).