The Tragedy of the Tolerant Scientist
by Fred G. Zaspel
Words of Life!
Volume 7, Number 3, May-June, 1996
A Publication Ministry of Word of Life Baptist Church
Rev. Fred G. Zaspel, M.A., M.A., Th.M., Pastor-Teacher/Editor
It seems that a medical scientist, who resides somewhere in the northeastern United States, labored desperately to find the cure for cancer. He was very personally involved in his work, and understandably so ) his mother and three close friends had contracted the disease, and the outlook was not good for them.
But finally his work paid off; he finally had the cure. He developed a serum which worked directly on the body's cancer cells, much in the way the body's own immune system functions, destroying the harmful intruders and restoring health. The remedy was proven to work, and he was extremely gratified.
Now his first thoughts, of course, were about the publication of his findings. Every medical journal in the world, he thought, should have this information. Every oncologist should be told. Every cancer patient could now be healed. This breakthrough would render obsolete all other treatments ) radiation, chemotherapy, and even the health-food approaches. Instead of continuing with methods which have no guarantee of cure, physicians could now administer a cure that was real. Cancer now can be a disease of the past. His announcement would save the world.
To Tell, or Not to Tell?
But then the scientist began to think through the implications of such an announcement. What of those who had already died from cancer? Would we now be forced to say that they might have lived? Moreover, there were many physicians who depended for their livelihood on the continuation of the disease. What would his announcement do to their careers and to their families? And there was the question of their feelings and self-esteem ) they had been sincere in their work, and now if he announced his findings, they would all feel very embarrassed. In effect, he would be saying that they were all wrong and only he was right. And that raised the question of the esteem of his peers ) what would be their perception of him? Would he not appear proud? And if he insisted that only his way could cure, would he not be, in fact, a narrow- minded bigot?
He sought the counsel of the community leaders, and he was surprised at the outrage with which he was met. They all kept telling him that he should be more tolerant of the other doctors. Some would even curse and scream, "If the cancer industry is ruined, and if we can no longer have our annual oncology banquet, you will be to blame!" "Toleration is a higher virtue," they insisted.
O sure, there were some who heard of the controversy who were glad for the findings. But when they tried to inform others of it, they too were called bigoted and narrow and intolerant. "How can you think that only your way is right?" And to make their case more believable they would add things like, "He always thinks he's the only one who is ever right. He thinks that you can't be cured from cancer unless you agree with him in all matters of science and medicine. He's free to believe that if he likes, but he shouldn't be so pompous as to say so publicly. Who does he think he is?"
The scientist, in the end, decided that his cure for cancer really should not be announced. It just wouldn't be fair to those who had been so sincere in other methods of treatment. And when it came his turn to speak at the annual banquet, he was just another voice among many ) calling for more federal funding and more research into this terrible disease which continues to kill so many. No, he didn't sound like a man with an answer and who could help, but he was very tolerant. And that, everyone seemed to agree, was good. His talk was kind and considerate, and it made everyone feel good.
A True Story?
Sound ridiculous? This is the situation which faced the apostles in those early days exactly. In Acts 4-5 Luke records for us their ministry in Jerusalem. Peter had boldly proclaimed Jesus as the only savior (Acts 4:12) and invited men freely to trust in Him for salvation. But then the authorities called them in. Their message was entirely too narrow. "Jesus a good teacher" might be an acceptable message, but not "Jesus the only savior." That was entirely too narrow. Too exclusive. Much to close- minded.
But in response the apostles explained, from the Scriptures, that Jesus is, in fact, the only savior. They explained that only He is qualified to save sinners and how that God had vindicated Him in resurrection. But no, they wouldn't be heard. And for their insistence on that message of "Jesus only," they were imprisoned and severely beaten.
Did It Happen Again?
A similar situation occurred here in Pottsville recently. Carmen DiCello, my co- pastor who is also a phys-ed teacher in the local high school, was asked by the student baccalaureate committee to speak at the annual baccalaureate service. To which he agreed.
But then the admin-istration got involved. You see, Carmen had previously shared the message of "Jesus only" with them, and expecting that Carmen would preach the same at the baccalaureate, they removed him from the program. Carmen was counseled by an administrator, "Can't you just say 'higher power' or 'supreme being'?" But of course, Carmen would not agree, and so his removal from the program was final.
We were advised that the action they took was illegal. The Rutherford Institute felt certain about a win in court, and it was a case they would like to have pursued, although the likelihood of Carmen taking it that far was never very strong.
Then the school decided that if the matter were going to court, they would cancel the service altogether and place the public blame on Carmen. He, not they, would be the bad guy.
So rather than be made out to be the Grinch that stole baccalaureate from the graduating seniors, Carmen decided to give his assurance to the school administrator that he would not press the matter in court. The service went as originally scheduled, but in place of Carmen, the school obtained another local pastor without such firm convictions about Christ. And he preached a generic message with which all but evangelical Christians were comfortable.
There the matter was left ) until the press caught wind of it. A school parent evidently tipped off the local newspaper who, in turn, approached Carmen about what had transpired. Carmen simply related to the reporter the facts of what had transpired.
Soon the school was publicly embarrassed, and in response another administrator came good on his threat to place the blame on Carmen. The adminis-trator did not simply state that he thought Carmen's belief's about faith in Jesus Christ would be offensive. Instead, Carmen was portrayed in the media as intending to "evangelize" and preach "damnation." It was further denied that Carmen was ever asked not to speak about Jesus. And they asserted that even back in the 1930's local pastors had agreed not to speak about such things at the baccalaureate service ) a doubtful assertion for which they offered no proof. In fact, we later learned with certainty that this long-standing "policy" of which they spoke had never existed.
And in the name of "toleration," neither Carmen nor his message were tolerated. And on lies and mischaracterizations and slanderous implications the school rested its case. Ironic, isn't it ) by people who cursed at him for what he might preach, Carmen was labeled unreasonable and intolerant.
What's curious here, by the way, is that several of the people involved admitted to the essence of Carmen's faith ) that is, that Jesus is the only savior. Indeed, they "respected" his beliefs! It was just that he should not be so bigoted as to say such things.
So here's the situation. A public school hosts not a seminar on physiology but an admittedly religious service and invites a Christian pastor to speak, but then requires of him that he not sound like a Christian. He must only sound "religious."
Explanations & Analysis
Now you might think, why couldn't Carmen have simply agreed not to talk about faith in Jesus Christ? The substituting pastor agreed! And if he didn't see that it was necessary to mention Jesus' name even once in his address, then why should Carmen be so narrow?
Well, we might ask the same about the apostles. In order to avoid public whippings, why didn't they agree not to speak about Jesus? Why couldn't they have couched their message in terms that would appear more tolerant of other ideas ) like Carmen's substitute did?
Answer: "Whether it is right to listen to you rather than to God, you decide. But we cannot but speak of the things which we have seen and heard.... We ought to obey God rather than man" (Acts 4:18-19; 5:29). For them, obedience to God was not embarrassing.
In other words, their loyalty to the command of Christ to tell the world about Him was such that no one could stand in their way. Not even public humiliation and whipping.
So, Who's the Bigot?
So for the apostles, the blame for bigotry must be directed to God! He was the one Who demanded such narrowness. It was not their fault; they were simply doing what God had ordered. To do what modern preachers agree to do, the apostles tell us, is disobedience. And so they chose to disobey men rather than to offend God. And for this lack of "toleration," they were whipped.
But then, is this really bigotry? Is it really narrow-minded to tell others about the only remedy for sin? If Jesus claims, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me," and if He then commands us to offer Him freely in that capacity to all men everywhere ) is that pompous? Rather, would it not be the most cruel thing we could possibly do to people to hold back this message and offer? Why, it would not only be disobedi-ence to Christ's command, it would also render us cruel and unfeeling for the welfare of other people. "Intolerant"? That's right, Jesus was not at all tolerant of other professed saviors. But it was not his narrow bigotry which caused Him to be intolerant of them; it was His love for men. To allow them the impression that any other way "to the Father" might work would have been not only wrong, but heartless.
Of Myths & Reality
You see, we must deal with reality. Matters of religion are not games for pretending. If there is no Savior but Jesus, we do well to let everyone know it. And if Jesus offers Himself freely as the Savior to anyone who will trust Him for it, and if he commands us to make that announcement to the world, it cannot ever be wrong to do it. And anyone who thinks so is merely pretending about things of very serious and eternal consequence.
The whole reason Jesus came was that no one else could save. No one else could take us "to the Father." No one else could take away our sin. The amazing thing is not that He could save us, but that he was willing to do it. And to save us He came and was crucified in the place of sinners. And the salvation which only He could accomplish, He freely offers to all who will come to Him for it.
This is the message which we Christians love. And it is the message which we love to tell. Indeed, given its seriousness and consequences, it is the message which we cannot but tell. This is the whole heart and soul of what we are. It is the whole heart and soul of true religion. And it is the whole heart and soul of our praise to God in worship.