The history of toleration has been fraught with violence and martyrs of the faith. Many of us believe that Christian freedom started with Jesus and the early church but only through history by successive generations of the Lord's people have we been able to bring about the freedom that will typify the true Christian community of love. John Locke wrote in 1689 that toleration was "the chief characteristic mark of the true Church." If that is true then most Christian movements throughout history could not be considered as true. Along with the toleration that Christians have been able to learn over the years is the intoleration of other Christians that has cropped up to combat it.

The first instance of general toleration in the Roman Empire was the Edict of Milan that the Emperor Constantine proclaimed, granting religious freedom to Christians. Of course, the church abused its position and became as intolerant of others as the empire had been toward them, but this was not the fault of Constantine but of the exalted papacy of "satan's seat."

In Thomas Aquinas we find for the first time the doctrinal idea of tolerance presented in a clear and systematic form. He did not have much toleration for heretics or infidels but at least raised the questions of allowing evil in certain situations. Saint Thomas provided the best example of his time for the toleration of Jews and pagans and his influence guided others that followed.

Another milestone of toleration and Christian freedom was the lesson learned in the burning of Servetus, who was in fact a heretic, but also a great scientist. The intolerance of Calvin and the Calvinism in general is widely acknowledged but it took the murder of Servetus by Calvin to shock the religious world and see the evil of this kind of intolerance in the name of Christian dogma. From the example of the ungodly perspectives of Calvinism, it was inevitable that the theme of tolerance would at least evolve into something that could be truly called Christian freedom. Finally intellectual freedom and the free use of reason appeared during the Enlightenment. Evil is thereby tolerated, even if that meant tolerating religious error. As a matter of idealistic principle, this evil should have been eliminated, but the means used had to take into consideration "Christian charity." Love will find a way, not the intolerant judgmental attitudes of self-righteous Christians that end up worse than pagans and alienate the very ones that we are sent to save.

In the early years of America, we are able to find good examples of the history of religious freedom and toleration. The early Puritans left for the New World to escape the intolerance of the Christians in the Old World. The problem here is that the Puritans were not a freedom loving people except when it concerned their own freedom and they seldom showed tolerance to others outside of their own community. The idea of a free church was a notion of only a small segment of the Puritans; as a whole, they were exclusive and showed the highest degree of intolerance toward others. The Maryland Toleration Act of the Catholic Christians in 1649 was a giant step. It suggested that toleration is due for those with other Christian persuasions and served as an example to intolerant Protestants, yet it provided the death penalty and confiscation of property for anyone who said anything against the trinity and civil punishment or fines for those who disagreed with their brothers or profaned the (Sunday) Sabbath. From here, we can see the logical progression to the charters of Rhode Island in 1663, Pennsylvania in 1701 and beyond.

Voltaire is a good example of the type of thinking concerning toleration that was needed to bring about true Christian freedom. It is not up to us for we are not to judge, but it may be argued whether Voltaire was a Christian or an atheist but taught: "...toleration has never yet excited civil wars, whereas intoleration has filled the earth with slaughter and desolation... May all men remember that they are brothers! May they alike abhor that tyranny which seeks to subject the freedom of the will." This period of Enlightenment in a very concrete way, brought about the thinking of the bulwark of freedom, the American Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Before Voltaire, atheism was illegal. Those that brought the greatest strides toward tolerance were not theists, like us, but rather deists who acknowledged a divine creator but rejected most of the other fundamental beliefs of Christianity. This was actually the thinking that was needed for the Lord to bring about the liberation from the intolerance that the Roman Catholics, Calvinists and Puritans had perpetuated in the church. If radical faith is to overcome conservative faith, and the gospel of grace, Christian freedom and Holy Ghost power is to transcend the luke-warm doctrines and the traditions of men in these last days, it must have the freedom to be taught openly. For us to have the freedom, we must allow others with contrary opinions also the same freedom so that we may have the mechanism necessary for open dialogue.

Should there be limits to tolerance? Of course, that is why there are laws against violence, thievery and the destruction of property. There must be protections in society that prevent us from those that would wish to destroy us or our family, we are not to tolerate the things that are so evil that it causes a destructive force. As Christians, we have Christian freedom except in the areas of the occult, idolatry and fornication. In society, these things must be tolerated among others to establish peace, but we need to evaluate the destructive force that fornication and homosexuality especially has toward our young and to insist that there must be a degree of control in order to be free from that destructive force. You cannot turn on primetime television without being subjected to rampant occasions of homosexual tendencies and free sex intended to justify immorality. We are in a society that allows these things, but if our young are threatened by a degree of tolerance that allows these things to be taught to them as accepted behavior, what are we to do? We must realize that tolerance has its limits and to separate from these evils ourselves and protect our children from the evil.

We are to also to protect the general principle of tolerance and denounce general principles of in-tolerance. There is a demonic force in America today called zero-tolerance. This unrighteous force has filled our prisons with many that should not be there. It has split families and left them vulnerable and impoverished. As judgment comes upon the church and America itself, the prophets of today must denounce those things like the three strikes laws, the drug war, right-wing intolerance, the oppressive justice system and the abuse of power in government. Unfortunately puritanical intolerance still reigns supreme in American society. Many of the inroads that the Lord has brought about through His Spirit have been eroded by the intolerant spirit of the right-wing intolerance of Christians who believe that they are doing God's work. In a society such as ours in the United States where the tolerant nature of liberality is suspect, only oppression can follow. This is the nature of the beast. Oh, if only we could go back to those days when America was truly free.
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