Tolerance Toward those Differing from Us
Biblical Research Monthly, March 1942 — by Dr. David L. Cooper
From my childhood I have heard the statement that “Life is a give and take proposition.” Everyone who has in the slightest way observed human nature, and who knows life, readily admits the truthfulness of this statement. We must learn, we are told, that our liberty ends where that of the other man begins. A jocular person once, in speaking to another who was swinging his arms in every direction, expressed the thought this way: “Your liberty ends where my nose begins.” So long as we are living in association with others, we must recognize that our liberty must not encroach upon that of another. Otherwise, differences, which often prove fatal, will arise.
There is no field of thought in which interested persons are at full agreement upon every point. This situation is just what one should expect. The reason for these statements is the following facts. The personal equation of each individual is unique. Each has his own antecedents and historical background. The poet has well said, “We are a part of all we meet.” The capabilities of men differ. Each has his own ideals and objectives in life. The aptitude and application of men are unequal. Some have traveled over vaster territories, both figuratively and literally, and have varying horizons. In a word, we are all different. These and other facts which might be mentioned account for our ability, or, on the other hands lack of capacity, to take in truth. Under these conditions there can be but one result a wide range of opinions on various subjects and a broad margin for the comprehension of truth.
Since these many differences account adequately for the great variety of opinions which we see on every hand, how shall we approach the problems arising out of such diversity? What shall be our attitude toward those who do not agree with us on all points of doctrine? This question is most vital.
There can be but one answer — tolerance and cooperation in the things of God. We must consider that our brother is just as honest and conscientious as we are and that he desires the truth in order that he may glorify God unless his conduct and life prove differently. All of this I am saying, having in mind only those who are born again and who are standing for the fundamentals of the faith. It is to be understood that there can be no compromise of the truth on any occasion or under any circumstance. So long as anyone who is called a brother gives evidence of regeneration and is standing for the fundamentals of the faith, we must be tolerant and sympathetic toward him, even though we may not see eye to eye with him on all points. It is altogether possible that he may not have enjoyed the full light that we have, or that he has seen something to which our attention has never been called. In many instances, such is the occasion for the differences of opinions with reference to many matters and doctrines.
Looking back over the thirty odd years of my Christian experience and study of the Scriptures, I see that, while I have stood upon the fundamentals of the faith from the beginning until the present, my comprehension of truth has grown with the passing of the years. The horizon of my outlook upon all matters is constantly enlarging. There has been a steady, normal growth in my comprehension of truth and acquisition of knowledge. To illustrate this point: I can fairly accurately go back five years in my thinking and can see myself at that time as I looked out over the great fields of truth. During the time since then, I have made wonderful progress, by the grace of God, and have seen many things that I never realized were in the Book. Furthermore, I see that on some points I have at times been mistaken. Of course, when I learn new truths, I accept them immediately, and, when I see that I am in error on any point, I change my views instantly. If I am allowed to judge the next five years by the past and if Jesus permits me to live that long, I expect in this period to make far greater progress in the acquisition of scriptural knowledge and comprehension of the truth than I have ever made. I expect to discover that at the present I am mistaken on certain points. Moreover I confidently expect to see new truths which will throw a flood of light upon other things that I now perceive more or less dimly. Thus, five years hence I expect my mental and spiritual horizon to be very greatly enlarged. If this supposition is correct, the David L. Cooper of 1947 will not agree altogether with the David L. Cooper of 1942. In view of these facts, what should have been the attitude of the David L. Cooper of 1936 who doubtless on many points did not agree with the David L. Cooper of 1942? Once again, what should be the attitude of David L. Cooper of 1942 toward the same person of 1947? Another question: What should be the attitude of David L. Cooper of 1947 toward the David L. Cooper of 1942? Everyone will agree that the attitude in each instance should be that of toleration and sympathetic cooperation.
Since all of us who know and love the Lord are passing along the same road of experiences and the acquisition of knowledge, it is necessary for us to recognize that there are those who have not traveled along the road quite so far as we have gone. Hence, they have not had the advantage of much truth which God has graciously brought to our attention. We should therefore be most sympathetic and helpful toward such brethren in the Lord. Furthermore, those who have gone farther and deeper than we have should likewise maintain the same gracious attitude.
I read recently a book review in the Sunday School Times in which the writer did not agree with the author of the volume upon which he was commenting. The special point on which there was a difference of opinion was the time of the rapture. The author of the volume insists that that event is to occur in the middle of the Tribulation; whereas, the reviewer of the book is of the conviction that it will occur before the Tribulation. Personally, I think that the reviewer holds the correct view. About this position I do not believe that there can be any reasonable question. However, possibly all brethren have not had the advantage of studying these questions so much as some others. This reviewer was very kind and sympathetic toward the author of the volume. He let us know where he stood. Though he differed from the other brother, he recognized him as a brother beloved in the Lord. This is the only Christian attitude that one brother should take toward another. May the Lord enable us to be, gracious and sympathetic and to cooperate with others who do not agree with us on all points where no sacrificing of principles and loyalty to the Lord Jesus is involved.
Last summer, I heard a rather astounding statement made during a conversation regarding the doctrine of evolution. The one making it had studied the subject forty or fifty years ago and had at that time formulated his ideas concerning the origin of things. In accordance with the position which was held by the rationalists of that day, which was not so very blatant and bold as that held now, he maintained his faith in God and in the Bible as the revealed will of God. At the present time he maintains that the evolutionary hypothesis of fifty years ago is correct and is the most beautiful conception concerning the Creator in His relation to the world that can possibly be advanced.
In this conversation I endeavored to point out the scriptural teaching concerning God and His relation to the world, which He, by infinite power, created together with all things therein. Moreover I called attention to various statements which disprove the theory of organic evolution. At last, after I had said all that I could, this gentleman said that he had not changed his mind because he did not want to be convinced. It was obvious that he wanted to believe in this antiquated doctrine of evolution (there is not the slightest evidence in support of any doctrine of evolution, this theory is a figment of the imagination).
It is needless to say that such an attitude is thoroughly unscientific and is contrary to all reason. Literally speaking, science is tabulated knowledge. For instance, the classification and the correlation of all the knowledge which we have acquired about life is included under the subject of biology. What we know of the earth and its strata with its fossil remains is what we call geology. Thus, these branches of learning are supposed to include all that we know on these two subjects. A man, to be scientific, must be willing to spend the time and energy to gather all the facts in any given realm, to correlate them to the best of his ability, and then to examine his data in order to see to what conclusion they point. If the newly acquired evidence and facts point to conclusions that overthrow previous beliefs, the scientific man will instantly repudiate his former ideas and accept that which is demanded by the facts in hand.
As a child I often heard people, in discussing religious matters, say that they would not give their feelings for a stack of Bibles forty high. They therefore arrayed their emotional experiences against the infallibly inspired Word of God. Few people today would take such a radical position as that. Nevertheless, there are those who, unfortunately, have formulated their ideas and who are unwilling to investigate any subject in quest of further knowledge. Such an attitude is fatal to development, both spiritually and intellectually. May the Lord deliver us from such a point of view!