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Eight principles

How Christians should relate to those of other faiths

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We should not conceal aspects of our faith so as to avoid criticism or disapproval, and we should not ask others to do that. We believe it is just and loving to point out publicly the errors of other faiths, provided this is done with sufficient evidence that the sacred writings or representative spokesmen of those faiths do indeed express these errors. We must strive not to misrepresent other faiths, as that is not only disrespectful but also undermining of our own credibility. We should acknowledge our sin and desperate need of salvation by a crucified and risen Savior, and not posture ourselves as worthy of salvation as if we had superior intellect or wisdom or goodness. We are beggars who have, by grace, found the life-giving bread of truth, forgiveness, and joy. As we expose the errors of other religions, we should feel and express sorrow and compassion for those who do not embrace Christ so as to be saved. We should not expect a fair fight in a secular world that is hostile to God and uncomfortable around the truth of Christ. Therefore, our response to abuse, distortion, or slander should not be angry resentment, but patient witness to the truth, in the hope and with the prayer that returning good for evil may open hearts to the truth. We must recognize that persecution is normal and that much of the protection Christians have in America is abnormal in history and in the world. Our witness will be best advanced by kind, steadfast statements and reasonable defenses of the truth. We should renounce all violence as a means of spreading our faith. Christians spread biblical faith by suffering, not by causing suffering. Authentic Christianity cannot be coerced by force or manipulation. We should acknowledge and proclaim that Christ will, at his personal appearing, punish those who have rejected him; his violence at the end of the age is a decisive reason we should not and may not exert violence against anyone because of his beliefs. This is Christ's right, not ours. We believe that God has given to civil government, not individuals or the church, the duty to bear the sword for justice and safety. Civil authorities should not punish beliefs, but some behaviors rooted in beliefs-such as killing, assault, or theft-may be outside the law and therefore punishable by the civil authority. Which behaviors are legally prohibited in a society based on freedom of belief and religion will be determined in a process of persuasion, debate, and election of representative lawmakers, with checks and balances provided by the executive and judicial branches and by constitutional safeguards for the rights of minorities. We should distinguish between a just war of defense against aggression and a religious war against people because of their beliefs. We should acknowledge that this distinction will probably not be recognized by certain religions that define their beliefs to include the right of cultural domination by force. But we should insist on this distinction rather than accept the claim of aggressors that our resistance is a religious attack on their faith. We should argue that the ground of such national defense is the civil right to freedom (of religion and speech and press and assembly), not disapproval of the religion underlying the attack. We should distinguish between the right to express criticism of erroneous beliefs and sinful behaviors, on the one hand, and the false inference some draw from this criticism that proponents of the criticized beliefs can therefore legitimately be mistreated. We also should not accept the claim that being criticized or denounced as mistaken or as sinners is a form of mistreatment. It is not a crime (hate crime or otherwise) to say publicly that someone's belief is wrong and harmful, or to call someone's behavior sinful and destructive. A necessary part of all debate concerning beliefs, behaviors, or proposals is the argument that some are wrong, ill-founded, and have deleterious effects. We believe that every religion, worldview, or philosophy of life may freely endeavor to influence and shape our culture. We renounce the use of force or bribery or deceit in this culture-shaping effort. We affirm preaching the gospel, publishing truth, and modeling love and justice, as well as prayer, persuasion, and participation in the political process. We recognize that all laws "impose" some group's behavioral conviction on all, so it is not a compelling criticism to say that a law that governs behavior is bad because it "imposes someone's morality" on society. It is therefore particularly vital to support principles, laws, and policies that protect the legal freedoms of minorities that do not have the numbers to sway lawmaking processes.

-These principles are further developed at the website http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/culture/tolerance_principles.html

John Piper

John contributes commentary and other pastoral reflections to WORLD. He is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. John has authored more than 50 books, including Don't Waste Your Life. John resides in Minneapolis, Minn.



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