Tolerance or something more…

I’ve used this image in a post previously as it seemed to make a good point. However there was something about the word ‘tolerance’ and how it’s being used today.

We can have a look at the Oxford English dictionary definition to get an initial thought of how tolerance is defined:

Definition of tolerance


  • 1 [mass noun] the ability or willingness to tolerate the existence of opinions or behaviour that one dislikes or disagrees with:the tolerance of corruptionan advocate of religious tolerance
  • 2the capacity to endure continued subjection to something such as a drug or environmental conditions without adverse reaction:the desert camel shows the greatest tolerance to dehydration[count noun]:various species of diatoms display different tolerances to acid
  • diminution in the body’s response to a drug after continued use:the body’s tolerance to Ecstasy builds up very quickly
  • 3an allowable amount of variation of a specified quantity, especially in the dimensions of a machine or part:250 parts in his cars were made to tolerances of one thousandth of an inch


late Middle English (denoting the action of bearing hardship, or the ability to bear pain and hardship): via Old French from Latin tolerantia, from tolerare (see tolerate)

From the above it’s obvious that definition 3 is referring to a mechanistic application and definitions 1 and 2 are perhaps more relevant to social interaction and society. It’s interesting that both definitions 1 and 2 do not put ‘tolerance’ in the scope of ‘approval’. In other words ‘tolerance’ is something temporary and transient. ‘Tolerance’ in itself does not imply approval.
As a Christian I see many areas of conflict between the orthodox teachings of the church and the ways of the world reflected in the ever changing attitudes of the wider society. As Christians we are often accused of intolerance and our ‘tolerance’ is demanded but I do wonder if there is not an intolerance behind what is demanded of us and the church.
To tolerate someone else’s morals, behaviour, religion, philosophy, ethics or politics simply means to accept albeit with a mild form of disapproval. When we as Christians and the church or ekklesia are asked to show ‘tolerance’ I do wonder if the motive behind that call is really a call to approve and that our ‘tolerance’ will not be accepted for long?

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