Bible Study Guides – Religious Intolerance

October 17, 2010 – October 23, 2010

Key Text

“If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” John 7:17.

Study Help: The Great Controversy, 293–295; Testimonies, vol. 6, 402, 403.


“In all ages Satan has persecuted the people of God.” The Acts of the Apostles, 576.

1 When the three Hebrews were miraculously delivered in the time of Daniel, how did the king err, even as he acknowledged God’s greatness? Daniel 3:28, 29.

Note: “It was right for the king to make public confession, and to seek to exalt the God of heaven above all other gods; but in endeavoring to force his subjects to make a similar confession of faith and to show similar reverence, Nebuchadnezzar was exceeding his right as a temporal sovereign. He had no more right, either civil or moral, to threaten men with death for not worshiping God, than he had to make the decree consigning to the flames all who refused to worship the golden image. God never compels the obedience of man. He leaves all free to choose whom they will serve.” Prophets and Kings, 510, 511.

2 In all ages, how have unconverted religionists dealt with dissenters? Acts 4:1–3, 15–18.

Note: “[In the first centuries] it required a desperate struggle for those who would be faithful to stand firm against the deceptions and abominations which were disguised in sacerdotal garments and introduced into the church. The Bible was not accepted as the standard of faith. The doctrine of religious freedom was termed heresy, and its upholders were hated and proscribed.” The Great Controversy, 45.

3 How does God describe the type of scene that fosters religious intolerance and triggers persecution against the faithful? Isaiah 65:2–5.

Note: “The Cain-spirit, which leads men to accuse, condemn, imprison, and put to death their fellow-men, has waxed strong in our world. The transgressors of God’s plain commands are inspired by the spirit of Satan to harm their fellow-men, because they differ from them in religious belief. They disregard God’s law, enacting man-made laws, and trying, by their cruel inventions, to compel men to blaspheme God, as they themselves are doing. But they have been given no right to do this. Those who pass sentence of pain and death upon their fellow-men because of a difference of religion, will have just such sentence passed upon them if they continue to transgress. By their works they bear testimony that should Christ come the second time as He came the first time, they would reject Him and put Him to death.” The Signs of the Times, March 21, 1900.

4 What teachings of Christ strike at the heart of intolerance? Matthew 7:12; John 14:15.

Note: “It is no part of Christ’s mission to compel men to receive Him. It is Satan, and men actuated by his spirit, that seek to compel the conscience. Under a pretense of zeal for righteousness, men who are confederate with evil angels bring suffering upon their fellow men, in order to convert them to their ideas of religion; but Christ is ever showing mercy, ever seeking to win by the revealing of His love. He can admit no rival in the soul, nor accept of partial service; but He desires only voluntary service, the willing surrender of the heart under the constraint of love. There can be no more conclusive evidence that we possess the spirit of Satan than the disposition to hurt and destroy those who do not appreciate our work, or who act contrary to our ideas.” The Desire of Ages, 487.

“The character of God is expressed in His law; and in order for you to be in harmony with God, the principles of His law must be the spring of your every action.” Christ’s Object Lessons, 391.

5 With what words did Christ seek to correct the bitter intolerance found even among His beloved disciples? Luke 9:54, 55.

6 What contrast did He present to those who use force? Revelation 3:20; John 6:66–69.

7 What can we learn from Christ’s methods of reaching hearts and enlisting workers? Revelation 3:18; Matthew 4:17–20.

Note: “Our ministers and teachers are to represent the love of God to a fallen world. With hearts melted in tenderness let the word of truth be spoken. Let all who are in error be treated with the gentleness of Christ. If those for whom you labor do not immediately grasp the truth, do not censure, do not criticize or condemn. Remember that you are to represent Christ in His meekness and gentleness and love. We must expect to meet unbelief and opposition. The truth has always had to meet these elements. But though you should meet the bitterest opposition, do not denounce your opponents. They may think, as did Paul, that they are doing God’s service, and to such we must manifest patience, meekness, and long-suffering.” Testimonies, vol. 6, 120.

8 What attitudes must we steadfastly avoid when discussing sacred truth with those whose views may differ from our own? Luke 11:52–54.

Note: “There are some who indulge in levity, sarcasm, and even mockery toward those who differ with them. Others present an array of objections to any new view; and when these objections are plainly answered by the words of Scripture, they do not acknowledge the evidence presented, nor allow themselves to be convinced. Their questioning is not for the purpose of arriving at truth, but is intended merely to confuse the minds of others.

“Some have thought it an evidence of intellectual keenness and superiority to perplex minds in regard to what is truth. They resort to subtlety of argument, to playing upon words; they take unjust advantage in asking questions. When their questions have been fairly answered, they will turn the subject [and] bring up another point to avoid acknowledging the truth. We should beware of indulging the spirit which controlled the Jews.” Testimonies to Ministers and Gospel Workers, 108.

9 How does the prophet illustrate the manner of preaching the Word during the long period when religious intolerance was predominant? Revelation 11:1–3.

Note: “ ‘They shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and threescore days, clothed in sackcloth.’ Revelation 11:3. During the greater part of this period, God’s witnesses remained in a state of obscurity.” The Great Controversy, 267.

10 Why does the Lord permit such terrible persecution and trials to come upon His people? I Peter 1:7; II Timothy 3:12.

Note: “ ‘The Lord is not slack concerning His promise.’ 11 Peter 3:9. He does not forget or neglect His children; but He permits the wicked to reveal their true character, that none who desire to do His will may be deceived concerning them. Again, the righteous are placed in the furnace of affliction, that they themselves may be purified; that their example may convince others of the reality of faith and godliness; and also that their consistent course may condemn the ungodly and unbelieving.” The Great Controversy, 48.

“In all ages Satan has persecuted the people of God. He has tortured them and put them to death, but in dying they became conquerors. They bore witness to the power of One mightier than Satan. Wicked men may torture and kill the body, but they cannot touch the life that is hid with Christ in God. They can incarcerate men and women in prison walls, but they cannot bind the spirit.” The Acts of the Apostles, 576.

11 What experiences reveal the character of God in His true followers? Matthew 3:11, 12; 20:22.

Note: “Through trial and persecution the glory—the character—of God is revealed in His chosen ones. The believers in Christ, hated and persecuted by the world, are educated and disciplined in the school of Christ. On earth they walk in narrow paths; they are purified in the furnace of affliction. They follow Christ through sore conflicts; they endure self-denial and experience bitter disappointments; but thus they learn the guilt and woe of sin, and they look upon it with abhorrence. Being partakers of Christ’s sufferings, they can look beyond the gloom to the glory, saying, ‘I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.’ Romans 8:18.” The Acts of the Apostles, 576, 577.

12 To what did Paul direct the attention of believers when strengthening their faith for the time of persecution before them? Acts 14:22.

13 When men allow the spirit of Satan to lead them to persecute and attempt to force the conscience, what should we always remember? Matthew 10:28; 5:11, 12.

Additional Reading

“ ‘Remember your church covenant, in which you have agreed to walk in all the ways of the Lord, made or to be made known unto you. Remember your promise and covenant with God and with one another, to receive whatever light and truth shall be made known to you from His written word; but withal, take heed, I beseech you, what you receive for truth, and compare it and weigh it with other scriptures of truth before you accept it; for it is not possible the Christian world should come so lately out of such thick antichristian darkness, and that full perfection of knowledge should break forth at once.’—Martyn, vol. 5, pp. 70, 71.

“It was the desire for liberty of conscience that inspired the Pilgrims to brave the perils of the long journey across the sea, to endure the hardships and dangers of the wilderness, and with God’s blessing to lay, on the shores of America, the foundation of a mighty nation. Yet honest and God-fearing as they were, the Pilgrims did not yet comprehend the great principle of religious liberty. The freedom which they sacrificed so much to secure for themselves, they were not equally ready to grant to others. ‘Very few, even of the foremost thinkers and moralists of the seventeenth century, had any just conception of that grand principle, the outgrowth of the New Testament, which acknowledges God as the sole judge of human faith.’—Ibid., vol. 5, p. 297. The doctrine that God has committed to the church the right to control the conscience, and to define and punish heresy, is one of the most deeply rooted of papal errors. While the Reformers rejected the creed of Rome, they were not entirely free from her spirit of intolerance. The dense darkness in which, through the long ages of her rule, popery had enveloped all Christendom, had not even yet been wholly dissipated. Said one of the leading ministers in the colony of Massachusetts Bay: ‘It was toleration that made the world antichristian; and the church never took harm by the punishment of heretics.’—Ibid., vol. 5, p. 335. The regulation was adopted by the colonists that only church members should have a voice in the civil government. A kind of state church was formed, all the people being required to contribute to the support of the clergy, and the magistrates being authorized to suppress heresy. Thus the secular power was in the hands of the church. It was not long before these measures led to the inevitable result—persecution.

“Eleven years after the planting of the first colony, Roger Williams came to the New World. Like the early Pilgrims he came to enjoy religious freedom; but, unlike them, he saw—what so few in his time had yet seen—that this freedom was the inalienable right of all, whatever might be their creed. He was an earnest seeker for truth, with Robinson holding it impossible that all the light from God’s word had yet been received. Williams ‘was the first person in modern Christendom to establish civil government on the doctrine of the liberty of conscience, the equality of opinions before the law.’—Bancroft, pt. 1, ch. 15, par. 16. He declared it to be the duty of the magistrate to restrain crime, but never to control the conscience. ‘The public or the magistrates may decide,’ he said, ‘what is due from man to man; but when they attempt to prescribe a man’s duties to God, they are out of place, and there can be no safety; for it is clear that if the magistrates has the power, he may decree one set of opinions or beliefs today and another tomorrow; as has been done in England by different kings and queens, and by different popes and councils in the Roman Church; so that belief would become a heap of confusion.’ Martyn, vol. 5, p. 340.” The Great Controversy, 292–294.

©2005 Reformation Herald Publishing Association, Roanoke, Virginia. Reprinted by permission.