Julian: Paganism and Tolerance

I’ve just been reading an article on religious tolerance and intolerance in the Fourth Century AD. It was interesting to read about the general tolerance that was held by the emperors. Constantine was generally tolerant of all religions, but gave a lot of support to the Christians. Julian himself, reduced the privileges given to the Christians but never forced them into conversion or stop them form meeting to worship Jesus. One of the interesting aspects of Julian’s Hellene Byzantine pagan belief was that he had a largely organised and formal structure to its practice, seeking to institutionalise it. This goes against the grain of paganism, which is very free in its beliefs and not inclined to dogmatics (i.e. formal beliefs, creedal statements, like Christianity). Commentators say this was probably not the best way for Julian to reinstate paganism back into the empire.

One of the more interesting comments the article made was about the tolerance shown by the Christian emperors following Julian (Jovian, Valentinian I and Valens). They were fully tolerant of paganism, leaving it to do what it wanted, however, with respect to their own, they considered it important to persecute heretics of the Christian faith with whom they disagreed with in their faith. It also commented that this was a common trend for most Christians until recent times. And I reckon this is on the money, but I also think this is a biblical kind of tolerance/intolerance. (Mt 7:1, 2 Tim 4:1-5, Rom 2:1-4, 1 Cor 3, 5, Gal 1:6-9, 1 Tim 1:3-11, 2 Pet 2:1-22, Jude)

Today I think we have lost this aspect a little. Quite often we are quick to judge the actions of our society (mainly pagan materialists)(e.g. bombing abortion clinics, slamming drug addicts and prostitutes) yet letting terrible teachings and actions run rampant in our churches (e.g. the cover up of child abuse, the acceptance of doctrines like prosperity and new perspective (good works to stay saved)). I do realise many are preaching out against these things and doing it in godly ways. But sometimes I think we have lost focus on what is important.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is what’s important. Telling those who need to hear it in a loving and respectful way, and telling those who proclaim to believe it to get it right ad not pervert it by adding or subtracting from it.

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