By Bartimaeus Sungbin Kim
Tolerance and openness to diversity are the characteristics that represent the virtues and moral standards in our current time. The Oxford English Dictionary defines tolerance as the quality of being willing to accept or tolerate somebody/something, especially opinions or behavior that you may not agree with, or people who are not like you. With the help of smart devices to explore the world, public opinion frequently identifies those who are intolerant as biased, or at the very least outdated in terms of embracing diversity.
As an ex-Presbyterian and currently a Mennonite, I have a growing thankfulness to God for what I have learned about the need and the sweetness of tolerance and openness to diversity through my personal faith journey. The more I meet people who are different from myself, the more I become humble and learn from various perspectives. Describing church leaders, The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:7:
The gospel leads me to ask who are the outsiders? Do they include people who have a difference in religion and moral values than Christians? If this is the case, how do outsiders view Christians? How can Christians live a Gospel-centered life through tolerance and openness to diversity?
“Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil."
Let’s turn to the gospels where we read how Jesus talks with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well where we are reminded of the foundational theological truth of the Christian faith that God is Spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:21-24 reads:
“Woman," Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The gospel teaches me that Jesus is relational, in tolerance and openness to diversity, to draw marginalized people close to him, those who are consistently and deliberately pushed aside by society. Whom Jesus calls, he qualifies. It was not primarily the Pharisees, Scribes, Sadducees, scholars, the wealthy, the famous, the powerful political or military leaders. No. Jesus called upon a broken woman who had been isolated because of her sinful lifestyle, for she lived with six men in her life and all were not her husband. Through this encounter with Jesus the Samaritan woman would go on to impact many, as it is written in John 4: 39-41:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
Living in an era in which the worth of tolerance and openness to diversity is strongly urged, how can Christians keep and esteem their Gospel-centered identity and faith when it is in opposition to primary worldly virtues? Here are three humble suggestions.
First, to refresh our minds daily to manifest the shalom received in the gift of Jesus Christ, Son of God. Shalom is a multi-layered word. Peace is its primary translation in the Bible but also it has other significant meanings such as wholeness, welfare, completeness, security, and well-being (physically and mentally). Christians receive shalom “peace” of God’s Holy Spirit by believing and following the life, the words, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus gave his life as ransom on the cross for our sins so we may live in shalom, reconciled with God.
It is the shalom of God’s Holy Spirit that saves us from our own brokenness and directs the brokenness of the world around us to Jesus as we engage in Gospel-centered relationships. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul called Christian ministry “the ministry of reconciliation.” The gospel reminds us that we are free of sin, as Christ’s ambassadors; the shalom of God in our Christian faith appeals to the broken world to seek Jesus. Christians must be attentive, careful, and humble with the brokenness of the world and to ourselves in our bold and courageous evangelism, the tolerant ministry of reconciliation.
Second, the Gospel-Centeredness. As God’s shalom we live out the process of the ministry of reconciliation understanding and defining the character of it as the body of Christ. A call to a Gospel-centered holy reconciliation movement that occurs when Christians live in diversity, opening up the circle of those with whom we share life.
I lament that some people today tend to underestimate the message of the Gospel which is extensively highlighted in the New Testament. Some seem even ashamed of misunderstanding the message of the Gospel as “unethical” or “immoral.”
If Christians underestimate and even neglect the message of the Gospel in Christian faith and Christian living, then, what do Christians abide by?
In the Roman Empire, there were many gods but Christians believed and confessed that Jesus is LORD and many Christians become martyrs. Now, being surrounded by vast diversity, should we let go of the message of the Gospel because it seems too exclusive?
Yes, the message of the Gospel is exclusive to a certain degree, and yet universal, able to radiate God’s righteousness and justice to the world. Christians are to balance exclusivity and universality of the message of the Gospel – it is the mystery of God’s shalom at work.
I have learned that the Anabaptist tradition of biblical hermeneutics is to center the four Gospels in interpreting the whole Bible and I do love it. So, in rendering Christian ministry of reconciliation, the Gospel-Centeredness must be the first and foremost principle. I support tolerance and that support by no means weakens my conviction, my joy, and my freedom in the message of the Gospel. Rather, the deeper I understand the message of the Gospel, the better tolerance I can practice relying against the ever-unfathomable humbleness of Christ.
Third and lastly, in pursuing God’s shalom through the ministry of reconciliation, my last humble suggestion is to restore holiness in the Gospel. Jesus chose and restored the woman at the well. However, that does not mean Jesus compromised his teaching about marriage and divorce. Here again, the centrality of the message of the Gospel reappears because without the message of the Gospel, the word holiness could become too sacred to be perceptibly defined. As we see, the Bible contains some stories which are dark and agonizing. So, without the light of the message of the Gospel, Christians might commit serious mistakes in understanding and practicing the holiness that God requires through his Son.
In our current time, distractedness and shallowness are growing rapidly. Advanced technology is a great feature and can benefit our time. But we must not allow it to become a spirit-taking threat, with obsessions with smartphones, internet, SNS, etc. that can make us unholy. People are also easily caught up by social and political issues which are 24/7 being delivered by smart devices within reach. Relationships become shallow, even broken within our Christian living and with our commitment to Christ.
Christians’ notion on holiness has become thin. Our relationship with God has become distant, no longer focused on the daily practice of reflective prayers asking God to search our hearts. “How am I near to holiness?”, “How much am I dedicated to my daily prayer life?” or “How much am I consistent with my daily devotion?”
In the message of the Gospel, God’s holiness is best revealed to the world. It shows God’s self-sacrifice for the sake of sinners. God gave His only Son to save sinners. The innocent died for the sinful.
Highlighting self-sacrifice could cause some odds against the social justice movement which is also critical in our time. Speaking of self-sacrifice might fan any kinds of abuses or exploitations even without cause. However, abandoning the holiness which shows the divine self-sacrifice can be one of the worst mistakes Christians can make because it is the same with abandoning the source of our healing. “With his wounds we are healed.”
The clear understanding that we are being saved by God’s holy sacrifice directs us to be humble with our character, restrains us in the indulgent entertainments of the world, prompts us to open and learn from the Bible again. It creates willingness in us to serve and sacrifice for our brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as for this world which does not know or hasn’t tasted yet that humbling holiness.
Here is the second meaning of tolerance from the Oxford learner’s dictionary: the ability to suffer something, especially pain, difficult conditions, etc. without being harmed. I believe growing the holiness of Jesus’ Gospel will grow our tolerance so that even in our current suffering in this world, we Christians may stay unharmed with our commitment toward God’s shalom through the process of reconciliation.
Bartimaeus Sungbin Kim and his wife, Shinae, with their teenage son, live in Kentucky. He will begin studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in the Fall. He is ordained by LMC as a Pastor and church planter from Yellow Creek Mennonite Church.
Bartimaeus Sungbin Kim and his wife, Shinae, with their teenage son, live in Kentucky. He will begin studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in the Fall. He is ordained by LMC as a Pastor and church planter from Yellow Creek Mennonite Church. Pastor Sungbin lived 39 years in South Korea hearing much about the cruelties of North Korea. Immigrating to the USA, he found a different culture. His belief in holy reconciliation springs from a deep love for people, learning to bridge diverse cultures, and a desire to share the whole and true Gospel of Jesus Christ. His specific calling to mission in the world is toward reconciliation. When he was in South Korea in the Presbyterian church, Sungbin noted that he was too caught up in spiritual warfare, winning and losing, and right and wrong. In the Asian context, the peace of the Lord is still too low. He desires to go back to Asia to introduce the peace of Jesus there. His vision for reconciliation in South Korea is Gospel-centered. The culture is steeped in Buddhism and Confucianism. He wants to restore full respect to what is written in the Bible.