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A reader of The Conservative Treehouse wrote a lengthy and interesting perspective on Evangelicals who despise politics except during times of revival.
The man points out that, because the United States is not currently in a state of religious revival, the needle is not moving, so to speak, for some diehard no-politics-for-me Protestants.
Excerpts from his comment follow, emphases mine. I have also corrected a couple of spelling errors.
First, on Evangelicals and politics:
I have written on this subject before last year about Evangelicals. Evangelicals don’t get involved in politics. When I say Evangelicals I mean not just those that can name the church they go to on Christmas and Easter, but those who find their identity in their Christian faith. Those that would say they have a relationship with God. When someone becomes an Evangelical one of the first things that happens is a loss of interest in their prior life and worldly things. They prioritize their life. God first, then family, then their local church, then work and career, then national loyalty, and last politics. You hear this when Pence talks and also in Cruz. When most Evangelicals think about politics they look down at it from their higher priorities. It is like a Christian going back to their old life. There is a disgust to it and those involved in it. This is a state of a immature Christian. It is good to reject your old life. But you must still see that God is involved in all things. He is Lord of all. Christ is Lord of your personal faith, your family, your church, your work, your country, and your politics. Where ever you are God is there. But not many Christians and Evangelicals mature to that level …
So barring another ‘’Great Awakening” we have to work on one Evangelical or Christian at a time.
Just so. If we were not meant to be politically aware, we would not be praying for our respective governments and their leaders at church.
I cannot speak for all denominations but clergy at Catholic and mainline Protestant churches offer a prayer on Sunday (and weekday) services for our political leaders. Therefore, if politics is so distasteful and worldly — it could be respectable — we would not be praying for those people in church.
Now a few words about Donald Trump:
Interestingly, I do see some good signs in Mr. Trump himself. Early on in this movement of Trump Christians have been praying for him and ministers have been surrounding him. The Trump we see now is not the Trump of, say, three years ago. There is a change in him and God is testing him. We may see a large revival yet. It is hard to say what causes revivals except God. But if God is working in Trump he may be working in this movement.
Yes, I do believe Trump has changed from June 2015. He hasn’t been around clergy this often since his days with Norman Vincent Peale.
I do think that God is blessing Donald Trump with the strength and the voice to give two or three rallies per day with truth and enthusiasm. I do believe that God is keeping him and his family out of harm’s way. I also believe that Donald Trump’s candidacy is no accident; it was meant to happen in 2016.
Furthermore, I can think of no candidate who could have borne the relentless, daily slings and arrows from Democrats, the GOPe and Big Media like Donald Trump.
Finally, I believe — unlike other serious churchgoers I know, whether Evangelical, mainline Protestant or Catholic — that this year’s presidential election is one of spiritual warfare rather than politics.
In a choice between Good and Evil, there is only one option on November 8.
(Image credit: The Conservative Treehouse)
J Vernon McGee (1904-1988) was a pastor, author and radio show host.
He received his Bachelors in Theology from Columbia Theological Seminary and went on to earn a Masters and a Doctorate from Dallas Theological Seminary.
He was ordained into the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUS), which eventually merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to form the present day PCUSA in 1983.
McGee served at four PCUS churches in the southern United States before he and his family moved to Pasadena, California, where he took a position at the Lincoln Avenue Presbyterian Church.
In 1949, he was appointed pastor of the Church of the Open Door in Los Angeles, California. There he became an independent Evangelical pastor.
The church is now in Glendale, California because of earthquake damage to the original building, which had to be razed. The Church of the Open Door is best known for its ‘Jesus Saves’ neon sign which is now on top of the Ace Hotel in Los Angeles.
McGee retired from the Church of the Open Door in 1970. In 1967, he had begun a radio programme called Thru the Bible. After retirement, he continued the broadcasts, which cover every book of the Bible.
He was also a well known public speaker. During that time, McGee was suffering from cancer. That said, his death in 1988 was brought on by a heart problem, thought to have been resolved in 1965.
Today, his ministry continues and broadcasts of Thru the Bible can be heard around the world in more than 100 languages. In North America, over 800 radio stations broadcast it and, elsewhere, one can enjoy the programme via radio, shortwave, and the Thru the Bible ministries website.
Without further ado, let us move on to McGee’s application of Matthew 7:6 in real life.
Here is the verse (ESV):
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
Some may find the KJV more familiar:
Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
Now for McKee’s anecdote. This is helpful for reprobates who have turned their lives around with the help of divine grace and the Holy Spirit. Their problem comes from mockers who remember their past (emphasis mine):
I remember a Tennessee legislator friend of mine who was a heavy drinker. He was wonderfully converted and is a choice servant of God today. The other members of the legislature knew how he drank. Then they heard he “got religion,” as they called it. One day this fellow took his seat in the legislature, and his fellow-members looked him over. Finally, someone rose, addressed the chairman of the meeting and said, “I make a motion that we hear a sermon from Deacon So-and-So.” Everyone laughed. But my friend was equal to the occasion. He got to his feet and said, “I’m sorry, I do not have anything to say. My Lord told me not to cast my pearls before swine.” He sat down, and they never ridiculed him anymore. (McGee, J V: Thru the Bible Commentary: Nashville: Thomas Nelson)
A good answer to remember should the occasion arise!
A John MacArthur sermon I cited yesterday has a lovely explanation of marriage.
Excerpts follow from his exposition of Matthew 19:10-12, ‘Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce, Part 4′. Emphases mine below.
Leaders of every youth group from secondary school through university would do well to borrow from this sermon. Too many of us do not fully appreciate matrimony.
MacArthur sets out the main points of marriage. Each begins with a ‘P’.
Children are an heritage from the Lord, so there is marriage to have children. Procreation … Nothing is more clear than you two are one when you see your selves in that one that is born of your union.
It’s for pleasure. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honorable in all and the bed is undefiled.” The bed is undefiled, you can’t do anything in that place that is defiling. Great liberation, 1 Corinthians 7 says, your body is not yours, and her body is not hers they belong to each other and the Old Testament … from Proverbs, talks about the satisfaction of the physical relationship, the pleasure.
It’s for purity. In 1 Corinthians 7:2, the Bible says, that for fornication let every man have his own wife.
This is the verse (ESV):
2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
I love this. Ephesians 5 says that the man is to nourish, cherish, provide for, care for, be like a savior to his wife.
… marriage is a provision of security, it’s a provision of carrying and nourishing and cherishing. Providing for[;] in fact, it says, if a man doesn’t provide for his own household, he’s worse than an unbeliever.
It’s for partnership. When God made Eve, he said he made Adam a what? A helper. A helper. Somebody to come along side and help so you don’t do things alone, you do them together. There is strength in that fellowship, isn’t there. And I confess to you that my wife is strong where I am weak and that I tend to be strong where she is weak and that’s the way it ought to be. She tells me when I need to be told and if she didn’t, she wouldn’t be strength to my weakness. She has wonderful ways of reminding me of my weaknesses. In fact, I can hear the speech coming before she gives it. I know, speech number 8, you don’t have to give it. But there is real partnership isn’t there, real partnership. I mean, I go here and I work here and I study and I do the things I need to do and she’s home providing all the home needs all that the children need, all that I need to be free to do what I do. It’s real partnership. And I provide all the resources that she needs to do what God has ordained for her to do and so that’s partnership.
And then finally, marriage is picture. It’s picture and what is it picture of? It is picture of Christ and his what? Church. Ephesians 5, it is a graphic demonstration in the face of the world that God loves and has an ongoing unending relationship with the bride whom he loves. And for whom he lives and dies and I dare say that the whole metaphor of marriage of a symbol of Christ and his church has lost its punch because the church is so rife with divorce and fouled up marriages.
Some psychologists did a study and came up with a theory that you are what you are because you are adjusting to the most important person in your life. Whoever the most important person is in your life, that’s the person you are trying to please. Very simple for the Christian, isn’t it? Who is the most important person in our life? Christ. That settles the issue, really, because now we can say, I receive it, if you say it. It’s God’s order.
If more of us heard, read and heeded those succinct yet necessary messages about marriage, we would have fewer divorces and many more happy unions.
Yesterday’s post showed to what extremes his views have been taken by other Protestant clergy and laymen, including church discipline. Yikes!
Yet, not one of them is warning Christians against voting for Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, both of whom are pro-choice. Clinton could also be asked any number of questions on unresolved topics over the past few decades.
Therefore, we appear to be receiving a particular sort of message from Moore and those who agree with him.
Unpacking the message
What a number Southern Baptists saw in Moore’s message was the mention of their denomination. Therefore, many of them are taking to heart the advice not to vote for Trump.
Some Evangelicals saw that his article, or citations of it elsewhere, concerned them. Gosh, they thought, it is time to sit up, read and reconsider.
Moore crafted his message cannily and cynically. In essence, he implies that white Evangelicals are inherently racist, beginning with the title, ‘A White Church No More’.
The body of his op-ed piece — which might have been more relevant in the early 1970s rather than now — includes insults to the intelligence such as:
If Jesus is alive — and I believe that he is — he will keep his promise and build his church. But he never promises to do that solely with white, suburban institutional evangelicalism.
No one ever said He did.
The question is whether evangelicals will be on the right side of Jesus …
The Bible calls on Christians to bear one another’s burdens. White American Christians who respond to cultural tumult with nostalgia fail to do this. They are blinding themselves to the injustices faced by their black and brown brothers and sisters in the supposedly idyllic Mayberry of white Christian America …
A white American Christian who disregards nativist language is in for a shock …
Mayberry, for my readers who are not from the US, refers to two 1960s television shows that took place in a fictional small town of the same name: The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R.F.D. There are very few Mayberries left. America is widely integrated today.
Moore is barking up the wrong tree.
I attended integrated churches — Catholic and, later, Episcopalian — in the US in the 1970s and 1980s. We had Hispanics in the former (suburbs) and blacks in the latter (metropolis). The white congregants made them feel most welcome. They played prominent roles in the guitar Masses (Catholic) or were ushers and greeters (Episcopalian).
I also once attended one of the first big-box Evangelical churches in the area where I lived in the 1970s. There were several black families, all greeted and treated like anyone else in the congregation.
No one cared what colour anyone else was then, nor do they now.
Moore’s Wikipedia entry says that prior to entering the ministry, he was an aide to a Democrat, Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi.
On this note, in 2015, Moore interviewed some of the presidential candidates at a missions conference during the summer. Interestingly, he did not issue invitations to fellow Southern Baptists — Republicans — Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz. Yet, he invited Methodist Hillary Clinton, a Democrat. She declined.
Regardless of his politics now, deep down he appears to be playing a Democrat game. So do the other men mentioned in this post; go to the linked essays therein and read the comments.
In 2016, as the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, Moore opposed the views not only of Trump but also Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton. He objected to Cruz’s call for a religious test for refugees wishing to enter the United States. He opposed Clinton’s pro-choice stance.
Then, in March, he wrote, also for the NYT, that Christians should vote for a third-party candidate if faced with Clinton and Trump.
Now — in May — he mentions only Trump and gives Clinton a pass.
There is also the matter of churches making money off of resettling refugees and immigrants arriving in the United States. I saw a news show recently that said that immigration officials know where to direct newcomers. There is a list of local churches and charities who will take them in immediately and begin their resettlement.
Voluntary agencies (Volags) — religious and secular — helping out in this regard are paid by the US government, i.e. the taxpayer. Refugee Resettlement Watch has more, including the following:
Below are some of the sources of income for Volags:
a. $1,850 per refugee (including children) from the State Department.
b. Up to $2,200 for each refugee by participating in a U.S. DHHS program known as Matching Grant. To get the $2,200, the Volag need only show it spent $200 and gave away $800 worth of donated clothes, furniture or cars.
c. The Volag pockets 25% of every transportation loan it collects from refugees it “sponsors”.
d. All Volag expenses and overhead in the Washington, DC HQ are paid by the U.S. government.
e. For their refugee programs, Volags collect money from all federal grant programs – “Marriage Initiative”, “Faith-based”, “Ownership Society”, etc., as well as from various state and local grants.
The program is so lucrative that in some towns the Catholic Church has lessened support for traditional charity works to put more effort into resettlement …
Public money has thoroughly driven out private money.
Therefore, voluntary refugee and immigrant agencies — including churches — make a lot of money from the taxpayer. Readers may consider this at their leisure.
Evangelical churches in the United States
It is unclear as to why Moore works on the presumption that white Evangelicals are, by definition, anti-immigrant.
Evangelicals are truly a broad church and have different affiliations. Some, like the ELCA, are Lutheran. Others are Pentecostal. Others are independent but affiliate with broader Evangelical groups with similarly-minded theology.
Some are inclined towards the Democratic Party, even when they interpret the Bible literally. Others lean Republican but are openly accepting and welcoming of all who attend their churches.
I have read a lot of Evangelical commentary since I started this blog in 2009. I have not read one racist comment from anyone — layperson, elder or minister.
Why Trump is winning the Evangelical vote
Like every other American, Evangelicals also need to put food on the table and clothes in the wardrobe.
They have homes and health insurance to pay for, cars to run and jobs to keep — or find.
Evangelicals are concerned about the future, especially that of their children and grandchildren.
Trump is the only candidate who talks about job creation and improving the economy. Is it any surprise that people, including Evangelicals, like that message?
For the record
For the record, a Trump insider says the billionaire changed his mind about abortion once his youngest son Barron was born ten years ago. He sometimes tells the story as being about an anonymous third person, because it was an intensely private journey for him to make.
As for enemies foreign and domestic, Trump is the only candidate to point out that terrorism is an issue. He has said in a number of his rallies that he has Muslim friends and business associates in the US and in the Middle East. His proposals for immigration or travel among this religious group have always included either the words ‘temporary’ or ‘until we figure out what’s going on’. Note that, only a few days after he first said this in December 2015, the San Bernardino attack took place. He spoke of Brussels’s dire situation in January. Two attacks on that city took place in March. Meanwhile, the Belgian and French security forces already knew there was a hotbed of extremism in parts of Brussels. That became clear when Paris was attacked on November 13, 2015.
Also note that the no-fly list has been in place since Bush II’s administration. A Muslim family from the UK were banned from flying to the US just before Christmas — under the Obama administration — because Homeland Security suspected a family member of having links to extremists.
With regard to immigration, Trump is careful in his speeches to specify that he supports legal immigration. Can he help it if people like Moore and the media take it out of context? And, yes, there is a rape epidemic affecting Mexican women crossing the border into the US. Even PBS has pointed that out. Why can’t Trump?
Personally, I do not care for whom you vote. That is your business.
However, let’s not be taken in by people saying voting for this or that candidate is immoral and is subject to church discipline. That is absurd and wrong. Voting is an intensely private matter. Let’s nip this in the bud — now!
Singling out one candidate when the others are all equally sinners in one way or another is, in and of itself, morally objectionable.
You can read what clergy have to say at Time.
As we are in Easter Week, recalling in joyful hope Christ’s rising from the dead, let’s remember Resurrection theology, which keeps our minds on eternal life.
Most of the following posts excerpt the sermons of Revd James A Fowler of Christ In You Ministries. He is a proponent of exploring the deeper meaning of the Resurrection and asking how we view it in our lives as Christians.
May you find these sermons and reflections uplifting in your Christian journey!
I hope that those who have Easter Monday as a holiday are enjoying it! We in Britain are.
Yesterday’s post had as a source a sermon by John MacArthur about Acts 10:34-43.
‘The Why, Who and How of the Resurrection’, which he gave in 1996, begins with a summary of articles about Jesus which appeared in Easter editions of Time, Newsweek and US News and World Report.
I won’t go into their vile, false stories, which you can read for yourselves in the sermon.
This is MacArthur’s explanation for such falsehoods (emphases mine):
… they do not like the Jesus of the New Testament because He confronts their sin and He threatens judgment. And consequently, they, wanting to hold to their sin, invent a Jesus more to their liking.
A lot of Christians — especially clergy — do this, too. We have liberation theologians, social gospel proponents and others who say that Jesus came to change the temporal world.
As MacArthur points out:
The historical Jesus reached a living end and because He lives we can live also and escape hell with our sins forgiven. The only thing that sends sinners to hell is their sins and God says I’ll forgive them if you’ll believe in Jesus Christ. What a gift.
I’ll tell you one thing, if you miss the real Jesus and His salvation, life will be a dead end.
It will indeed.
I hope and pray that we remember Christ’s resurrection from the dead not only at Easter but every day with thanks to God.
My past few posts have discussed hell:
Hell on low — or no — heat (20th century history)
J C Ryle on hell (19th century, first Anglican Bishop of Liverpool)
The second one in the series has several quotes from 20th and 21st century pastors and theologians who have downplayed hell and questioned eternal punishment in the life to come.
I think Hell often gets downplayed because it is so difficult to imagine. The mind cannot rightly comprehend an eternity of suffering so it comes up with ideas that are more familiar to it such as a temporal prison sentence or that it simply doesn’t exist at all. In a way, this is how heresy springs up: we cannot fully comprehend so we make it something we can comprehend.
That is very true. Oddly, sinful man has no difficulty imagining heaven as being both beautiful and eternal. Yet, when it comes to divine and just punishment, suddenly, many of us consider that unthinkable.
It is impossible to comprehend God. And, because we cannot comprehend His plan and His ways, we cannot comprehend how offensive our sins against Him actually are.
I hope you will be encouraged to read all three articles in full.
God’s offence at our sin
Tommy Clayton wrote ‘Is God a Monster?’ in which he explains God’s view of sin.
Clayton was not always a Christian. He used to find divine judgment in the Bible unfair, extreme and arbitrary.
The Bible has several examples of people who died because they disobeyed God. Most of these are in the Old Testament, but the New Testament also has one case (not included in the three-year Lectionary, incidentally):
Lot’s wife. God turned her into a pillar of salt as she was leaving Sodom. Her crime? A backward glance (Genesis 19:26) …
- Nadab and Abihu deviated from the priestly procedures. God consumed them with fire (Leviticus 10:1-2).
- One man gathered wood on the Sabbath. God commanded Moses to stone him (Numbers 15:35).
- Achan took a few forbidden items from the spoils of Jericho. God commanded Joshua to stone and then burn Achan along with his entire family (Joshua 7:24-25).
- Uzzah kept the ark of God from falling into the mud by reaching out his hand and taking hold of it. God immediately struck him dead (2 Samuel 6:6-7).
- Ananias and Sapphira lied to the apostles. God killed them both in front of the entire church. (Acts 5:1-10).
If we find ourselves asking if God is a monster, Clayton exhorts us to consider our imperfect and sinful lack of comprehension:
Our flesh wants to cry out in protest, “That’s not fair!” But responses like that reveal our failure to grasp the depth of sin. We see only actions—a devoted father gathering firewood to keep his family warm; a zealous Israelite anxious to keep the Ark of God off the ground—but God sees things differently, more clearly, than we do. He sees our sin as insurrection, rebellion against His holiness (Exodus 31:14; Numbers 4:15). What’s more, He sees the hidden motives and intentions at the core of our actions (Matthew 5:28; Hebrews 4:12) …
The Bible describes our sin as “rebellion,” “ungodliness,” “lawlessness,” “wickedness,” and an “abomination” (Leviticus 26:27; Isaiah 32:6; 1 John 3:4; Ezekiel 18:27; Proverbs 15:9). Sinners then, are traitors, refusing to love, thank, serve, and obey the God who gave them life, breath, and every good thing.
Sinners spurn God’s love, despise His sovereignty, mock His justice, and view His commands with contempt. They are thieves and murderers, stealing God’s glory and assaulting His holiness. In fact, as Martin Luther once remarked, if sinners had their way, they would dethrone and murder God, which is exactly what they did at Calvary (Acts 2:23). Viewed through the lens of Scripture, sin appears exceedingly sinful (Romans 7:13).
Clayton makes an excellent point about humanity’s anger with God when they should be angry with themselves over repeatedly offending Him:
I find it ironic that those who protest the idea of eternal, conscious torment deride the doctrine with words like, “cruel,” “morally revolting,” “monstrous,” and “repugnant.” Why don’t they employ the same terms of outrage to describe sin? Simple: they fail to see as God sees. God finds our sin “cruel,” “morally revolting,” “monstrous,” and “repugnant,” and He’s absolutely right. If we can’t see our sin as God sees it, it stands to reason that we don’t see the just judgment of hell like He sees it either. We’re just going to have to trust Him.
We’ve all assaulted God (Romans 3:23), and we all deserve hell. Reject Christ, and hell is exactly what you’ll get. God will rise up in judgment and cast all unbelievers into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), and all creation will praise His justice. To accuse God of injustice for sentencing sinners to hell is the height of arrogance and audacity.
This reminds me of an atheist who said to me several years ago, ‘Hell doesn’t apply to me, because I don’t believe. Hell is your thing, not mine.’
Hmm. We’ll see. One must pray for such people that divine grace imbues their hearts and minds.
Annihilation or temporary punishment
In contemplating the eternity of hell for any length of time, one can understand how the Catholic Church devised their unbiblical doctrine of purgatory and all the short little prayers that one could say which are said to reduce the time therein.
Among Evangelical Protestants, the notions of annihilation and temporary punishment are not uncommon. In ‘Is Hell Really Endless?’ Travis Allen takes proponents of both errors to task for misinterpreting — either accidentally or deliberately — the word ‘eternal’ in Scripture.
One view of hell that seems to be making a strong resurgence today among evangelicals is Annihilationism. There are slight variations, but it essentially teaches God will eventually snuff every unbeliever out of existence. Some Annihilationists make room for divine wrath, but they don’t allow it to extend beyond the lake of fire. In other words, they won’t allow God the full force of His judgment, which is eternal, conscious torment. For them, the lake of fire is what completely consumes and finally destroys sinners. Whether they see death as the end, or whether they see hell’s torments as limited in duration, the result is the same—a denial of the endlessness of hell.
… For no good exegetical reason, some Annihilationists have understood the word “eternal” to refer, not to a duration of time, but to the quality of God’s judgment. It’s eternal in quality, even though it has an end. Other Annihilationists say “eternal” refers to the effect of divine judgment. That is to say, God’s judgment results in death—as in extinction, annihilation—which is a state of non-being that lasts eternally.
If you’re having a hard time bending your mind around that, you’re not alone. It’s hard to conceive of a sinner experiencing an eternal quality of judgment without it lasting forever. Matthew 25:46 clearly teaches that the duration of punishment and life are alike, both eternal.
Allen cites John MacArthur’s explanation of the word ‘eternal’:
Punishment in hell is defined by the word aionios, which is the word eternal or everlasting. There are people who would like to redefine that word aionios and say, “Well, it doesn’t really mean forever.” But if you do that with hell, you’ve just done it with heaven, because the same word is used to describe both. If there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven. And I’ll go one beyond that. The same word is used to describe God. And so if there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven, nor is there an everlasting God. It is clear that God is eternal; and, therefore, that heaven is eternal, and so is hell. (John MacArthur, “A Testimony of One Surprised to Be in Hell, Part 2”)
Allen also quotes St Augustine of Hippo who wrote:
To say that life eternal shall be endless, [but that] punishment eternal shall come to an end is the height of absurdity.
We understand our temporal laws easily. Being found guilty of breaking the law sometimes carries with it a custodial sentence which has an end. However, a sentence to hell from God has no end:
the nature of the infraction is measured against the nature of God who is holy and eternal. Likewise, God, who is perfect in righteousness, determines the justice an infraction demands. According to His Word, the punishment for an offense against a holy God is everlasting torment in hell.
In an uncomfortably poignant and penetrating way, the doctrine of eternal hell confronts our loyalty, reveals our true authority, and demands that we set aside what seems reasonable to us and trust in the righteous judgment of a holy God. When we embrace the hard doctrines of the Bible, it becomes one of the most significant evidences of true, God-given faith.
I hope the doctrine of eternal torment sobers you. May it fill you with praise to God for saving you from eternal punishment, for giving you eternal life instead. May it humble you when you realize you’re not getting what you deserve. And may it ignite in you a passion to proclaim the gospel to those poor souls who are unaware of the terror that awaits them outside the mercy of God.
Again, I cannot help but think of the atheist I spoke to several years ago.
Let’s not downplay hell
Tommy Clayton wrote the last article in the series, ‘The Severity of Hell’.
He began with a quotation from the famous 19th century Baptist preacher from London, Charles Haddon Spurgeon:
Shun all views of future punishment that would make it appear less terrible.
The rot was already setting in back then.
Modern views of hell won’t survive the test of biblical fidelity. They’ll allow the sinner to feel more comfortable and complacent by defanging God, making Him appear less severe.
He cites the Evangelical professor and theologian Wayne Grudem who associates an unscriptural belief about hell with a lack of belief in the validity of Scripture and, in the end, shaky faith:
The doctrine of eternal conscious punishment . . . tends to be one of the first doctrines given up by people who are moving away from a commitment to the Bible as absolutely truthful [. . .]. Among liberal theologians who do not accept the absolute truthfulness of the Bible, there is probably no one today who believes in the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment. (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology)
Jesus never presented hell lightly, nor did anyone in the Bible. Clayton reminds us:
Whenever Jesus described hell, He was never flippant or dismissive. He used vivid, terrifying terms to describe the final destination of sinners, shocking and scaring His audiences with frighteningly graphic metaphors. Hell is a place so bad that you should be willing to cut off sensitive, irreplaceable parts of your body to avoid it (Matthew 5:29-30); even martyrdom would be worth avoiding the torment of hell (Matthew 10:28). He always presented hell as a horrific place of intolerable suffering.
His descriptions are consistent with other biblical writers. Daniel referred to hell as a place of shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2). Paul called it a place of endless destruction and punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10). Jude called hell a place of eternal fire and darkness (Jude 7). The Apostle John described hell as a place where sinners suffer everlasting torment, with no rest day or night (Revelation 14:9-11).
Taken together, all those descriptions of hell communicate pain, fear, loss, anger, separation, and hopelessness. It’s utter agony, eternal torment.
John Calvin explained:
By such expressions, the Holy Spirit certainly intended to confound all our senses with dread.
Some agnostics and unbelievers say they would rather be in hell so they can be with a close relative or best friend who predeceased them. However, that is a flawed, human way of viewing eternal punishment.
God does not allow any succour in hell. Those thinking they will be near their loved ones there will actually be very far away from them — forever.
Clayton cites John MacArthur:
This is a reminder to all sinners that while hell is the full fury of God’s personal punishment presence, He will never be there to comfort. He will never be there to show sympathy. He will never bring relief. [. . .] it is both the punishment of God and the absence of comfort. [. . .] That’s hell—punishment without relief (“The King Crucified: Consummation at Calvary”)
And the Puritan Thomas Vincent:
Not only will the unbeliever be in hell, but hell will be in him too.
The people ending up in hell will only be concerned with their own remorse and continuous torment, not with anyone else’s. Hell implies the absence of all things godly, which include love and compassion.
Please ensure that you understand the full import of hell. No one preaches on it anymore, so it requires independent study.
I’ve only heard one fire and brimstone sermon and that was by an elderly Catholic priest, a weekend guest in our parish, in 1972. He wore pre-Vatican II vestments, preached for 20 minutes and said most of the things that Grace To You elders have said above.
To say that hell is the absence of God alone makes eternal punishment appear metaphysical. It sells God’s justice and sovereignty short.
Posts later this week will give us a more human appreciation of the horrors of hell.
Yesterday’s post started with Matthew 13:50, in which our Lord spoke of the ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ that takes place in hell.
In 1982, John MacArthur delivered a sermon on Matthew 13:47-52:
The Parable of the Net
47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
New and Old Treasures
51 “Have you understood all these things?” They said to him, “Yes.” 52 And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
MacArthur’s sermon is called ‘The Furnace of Fire’. In it, he explains the nature of hell.
As I said yesterday, our modern notion of hell has been watered down greatly since the 19th century. Most Christians believe it will be a place of mental torment where the damned long for God forever.
But could there be other sensory elements to hell, ones which mankind would prefer to overlook or to explain away because they are too horrifying to contemplate? MacArthur thinks so.
He says that Jesus talked about how horrible hell would be. The Gospels have many references about eternal condemnation. These can be found in Matthew 5, Matthew 8, Matthew 23 through 25, Mark 9, Luke 6, Luke 12 and Luke 16.
Jesus said more about fire than mental torment, although permanent insanity could well be the end result of going to hell. Yet, many theologians and clergy choose to gloss over this fact. It would be better if they were to say that hell is like Dante’s Inferno and advise us to read it. However, they would probably say that Jesus was using allegory in talking about hellfire. I doubt many believe in hell as Jesus described it.
Degrees of torment
Like Dante, MacArthur believes there will be degrees of punishment in hell (emphases mine):
You have in hell a place of relieved torment of body and soul in varying degrees … In other words, for some people, hell will be worse than others. For all who are there, it will be horrible. It will be ultimate suffering.
There will be no relief for that, but there will be even more severe degrees of suffering for some. It says in Hebrews 10, “Of how much more severe punishment shall they be thought worthy who have trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing.” People who have stepped on Jesus Christ, who have rejected his cross, will know a greater hell than those who have not.
There will be degrees, just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven. We saw that, also, I think, in Matthew chapter 11, when it said, “It will be more tolerable for Sodom than for you.” In other words, it’s only relative. It isn’t going to be tolerable for anyone, but it will appear to be more tolerable for them than for you because of what you have experienced.
You had Jesus Christ in your city, they didn’t. You rejected Him with more light; therefore, hell will be more severe for you. And then you have, of course, that incredible parable in Luke 12 where the Lord says, “To the servant who knew and didn’t do right, many stripes. To the servant who didn’t know and didn’t do right, a few stripes.” So hell will be unrelieved torment of body in soul in varying degrees. And John Gerstner says, “Hell will have such severe degrees that a sinner, were he able, would give the whole world if his sins could be one less.”
MacArthur reminds us that the Bible speaks of darkness when referring to hell:
the Bible defines it as darkness, outer darkness. That is deep-pit darkness, darkness that’s way out from the light, impenetrable darkness, darkness that closes in. And it is darkness without the hope of light forever. Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for the daylight?
Have you ever been in the darkness and longed for someone to turn a light on? To be in that encroaching, encompassing, moving kind of darkness and know that for all the eons of eternity, you will never see light is how our Lord describes hell. Unrelieved darkness forever, with no hope of the light, no hope of the dawn.
Yes, there is fire:
And the Bible also says it is a fire. Now, it is not a fire that we would know as fire, to burn something in this world. But fire is God’s way of describing it because it is a tortuous, unrelieved kind of fire, more terrible than any fire that we would ever know. But fire describes the torment of the damned; blackness describes the torment of the damned, no light, no light ever, ever. No relief from the suffering, the agony and the pain, forever. And there’s only two times in all of Scripture that we have any insight into how people respond to hell.
Torment of the body
MacArthur mentions Jesus’s cautionary story about the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Dives did nothing to help poor, sickly Lazarus who ate the scraps from his table. When Lazarus died, he went to heaven. When Dives died, he went to hell. There Dives suffered from everlasting thirst:
24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’
Abraham refused. The rich man then asked him to send someone who had died to his brothers, so they might be warned of the torment to come. Abraham replied that the rich man’s brothers had Moses and the prophets to warn them. Ultimately:
31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
Torment of the soul
it is a place of unrelieved torment for both body and soul, for both body and soul. Soul being the inner part.
The new body built for hell
MacArthur explains that the human body as God created for life on earth would not be able to resist hellfire.
So, when the Last Judgement takes place, just as those going to heaven will have a new glorified body, those going to hell will have a new body fit for eternal damnation:
When a person dies now, their soul descends into that torment. In the future, there will be a resurrection of the bodies of the damned. They will be given a transcendent body that will then go into a lake of fire. It will be a body not like the body we have now. It will be a very different one. They will be resurrected just like we will, as Christians.
We will be resurrected because this body could never live eternally in heaven, right? We have to have a transcendent body, a glorified body, a different body, and so do the damned. And they will be raised, John 5, they will be raised in new bodies for the single purpose of being punished forever in those bodies.
That’s what the Bible says, tormented forever. They have to have a body to fit that eternal torment. And that’s why Jesus in Matthew 10:28 said, “Fear not them that can destroy the body, but fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” You see, hell is soul and body.
Some people think it’s just bad memories. No, it isn’t just bad memories. It isn’t just the inner thinking processes; it is that body as well. Transcendent, eternal bodies, greater than anything we have on this earth, are going to be given to the damned so that they can suffer in those bodies forever. And that’s the only reason that they’ll have those bodies.
With the present body, man couldn’t endure hell … the body that we have now would be consumed in a moment. So as God fits the redeemed with new bodies for heaven, He fits the damned with new bodies for hell.
The worm and fire forever
We know that the ‘worm dieth not’ and that the fire never goes out. This describes the Jewish Gehenna. Was Jesus addressing His people allegorically or literally?
Now what did He mean by that? When a body goes into the grave, into decay, worms descend into that body. And they begin to consume that body, and the worms will die when the food is gone. So once the body is consumed, the worms die. But in hell, the worms never die because the body, though it is continually being consumed, is never consumed. So the worm never dies.
In other words, the Lord was saying the unrelieved torment of body goes on and on.
it says, also, the fire is not quenched. Now a fire always goes out when the fuel is gone. But the fuel will never be gone. Though the burning goes on, the fuel is never consumed. And so you have unrelieved torment of body and soul.
Do enough of us think about hell or is it something we can explain away?
Is it more than the great existentialist void many of us have been taught to believe?
For all the time we spend rationalising hell, maybe it is time we gave Jesus’s warnings more thought. We — inherently sinful men and women — are telling each other that hell is a state of mind. Our Lord described it differently.
If contemplating the hell He described is a horrifying thought, He meant us to clearly understand it’s not a place we want to spend eternity. Repent, pray for faith and for continual grace.
In ‘A Church for the New Millennium’ he spoke about the incomprehension church growth theorists express with regard to the success of his Grace Community Church.
In other words, how could they increase their numbers without using the seemingly all-essential — in reality, unholy — principles of church growth?
Church growth in that context requires incorporating worldly values into the Church. It is big at Fuller Theological Seminary. I’ve written about it before.
MacArthur has never resorted to such falsehood. Yet, his congregation started from a small, local one nearly 50 years ago and, today, has thousands of people attending on any given Sunday.
He began by explaining the seeming urgent conundrum of modernising the Church. Emphases mine below. There has been a:
Tremendous amount of discussion on what it’s going to take for the church to reach this generation. The generation itself is incessantly being defined and redefined. Familiar terms – yuppie generation, the generation X and all of those kinds of terms are used to describe something of the cultural attitudes and mor[e]s of our society which are moving so very rapidly and churches are scrambling to try to react and find a place of relevancy in the culture under the fear that if they don’t, they will not be able to reach that culture.
It was some months ago now, quite a few months ago, that I told you about a book which I read, which has become very popular among church leaders that essentially says the church is going to be out of existence in the next 50 years if it doesn’t re-invent itself. By the mid-21st century, the church could literally be out of existence unless it redefines itself in terms of cultural expectations.
He rightly said that this was the wrong approach:
The church continually trying to redefine itself under the terms that are defined by culture, puts itself in a very difficult position since culture is going in the wrong direction to start with and it’s going there very, very rapidly.
In his congregation:
We have always believed at Grace Community Church that the church is defined not by the culture but by the scripture. That it is God who defines the church not the society around us. And certainly not the prince of the power of the air, who is the source of the culture, morays attitudes and philosophies so even religious. So we are different than other churches.
I received a great compliment recently from somebody who said[,] you know the thing that’s remarkable about Grace Community Church is that while everything in our society seems to be changing rapidly over the years, you haven’t changed at all. In fact, he said to me you are doing the same things you used to be doing in about the same way you used to be doing them. And I said this is true. And of course, the question comes up aren’t you concerned about being relevant? Well I’m only concerned really about being obedient to scripture and leaving the consequences to the Lord. So you know we’ve never been caught up in this scramble to try to adjust to the culture. And our church has grown and that’s kind of turned us into something of a curiosity.
This has flummoxed Fuller, which offers courses such as Theology and Hip Hop Culture:
We used to have the people from Fuller Seminary come here with the Church Growth classes and because our church was the fastest growing church and the largest church in Los Angeles, they of necessity would bring students here to show them a rapidly growing church and then they stopped doing that because they said we confused the students because we had no regard. We don’t have any information about how churches grow and we grew anyway. And that was confusing so they felt that selective research that reinforced their point was more useful for them and so they stopped coming here.
That is so sad, and I’m posting on it today because it reminds me of a reading from Matthew 13 coming up next (link goes live Saturday night UK time).
To draw a parallel, the Fuller faculty and students were exposed the truth of a good church then chose to ignore it in favour of their own flawed, worldly theory! It is appalling that their students are no longer taken as part of coursework to see Grace Community Church’s authenticity and faithfulness to Holy Scripture. That is a very serious and deliberate oversight on the part of Fuller faculty. It is a sin to twist a divine blessing into a manmade falsehood.
However, Grace Community Church’s natural growth thanks to the faithful preaching of Scripture has puzzled many other adherents of the church growth movement:
This church has been the subject of magazine articles and thes[e]s. Doctoral dissertations have been written on our church and on my preaching. There have been all kinds of reports about our church seminars, newspaper articles, journals, tapes, books, all undertaken to analyze our church. And our ministry ha[s] been examined and analyzed every way possible. Studied, labeled, categorized, copied. We have been blessed. We have been cursed. We have been defended. We have been ignored. We have been endowed. We have been publicized and we’ve even been sued. So just about a little of everything has come against us and the church itself can be rather simply defined in a lot of ways.
The definition includes:
the word church. That’s what we are. We aren’t anything else but a church. That is what we are. By definition we are a church. And if you understand that word means then you understand what this church is. That is the key to understanding Grace Community Church. It is the key to our identity. We are not like any other institution in the world. We are absolutely and utterly unique. And when you understand church, then you have a definition of what we are and what are to be in the world.
And it is really an unchanging definition. It is no different for us in the 20th century than it was in the 2nd century AD. It is not different for us than it was in the 10th century. It is no different for us than it was in the 15th century or any other century. We are defined by a divine designation church, not by anything cultural, not by anything contemporary, not by anything that society developed but rather by the word church, which is biblical.
MacArthur gave this sermon in 2000. It is sad to think that the church growth movement has been around for decades and shows no signs of abating. Fuller isn’t the only institution promoting it. Rick Warren — possibly their most famous alumnus alive today — does, too.
Fuller’s reach is a long one. Many Lutheran churches in America believe there is a winning formula in church growth.
So do Anglican churches here in England, although it is not referred to as such, however, we are seeing an ever-increasing number of ‘programmes’ and the deadly ‘small groups’. ‘Do, please join,’ our clergy and churchwardens exhort. Everyone needs to be ‘involved’!
It doesn’t work. I went to my Anglican church’s midnight service at Christmas last month. It was only a third full. Twenty years ago to the day — 1995 — it was standing room only. Making the C of E ‘relevant’ has brought down numbers dramatically.
Back to the biblical meaning of ‘church’:
The word church in the New Testament is from a Greek word ekklesia that is a noun that comes out of a group verb kaleo, which means to call. So ekklesia is simply the called, the called ones, those called together, those according to Romans 8:28 called according to God’s purpose. We are called together. In Ephesians 4:1, Paul says I therefore the prison of the lord and treat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called. You are the called because you’ve had a calling. And the church is simply the called ones. We are the assembly of the called. This was a very ordinary Greek word by the way. Very ordinary Greek word so it can be any assembly of any people called together for anything …
We are not a human organization built by good people. We are not a human organization designed by well-intentioned people. We are not a human organization basically constructed around some tradition. We are a group of people summoned together by God himself for his purposes. So we can say this the church is an assembly of people called by God. We are an assembly of people called by God …
We have been called by God together. Romans 1:6 you also are the called of Jesus Christ to all who are beloved of God in Rome called together as saints. And you find this in 1 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 1 John and other places. Even Hebrews 3:1 talks about our heavenly calling and heaven is really a synonym for God.
It is not our church. It is not my church. It is not the pastor’s church. It is not the elder’s church. I have to tell you, it’s not even your church. It’s Christ’s church. He ordained it. He builds it. He leads it. We are simply called into it and he is the caller.
And this explains really all the goodness, all the blessing, all the success, all the power, all the things that we have seen by way of spiritual richness. It has all come from God. The weaknesses of our fellowship, the failures of our church on the other hand are the marks of humanness. Where you see us weak and failing is where you see the hand of men and women. The weak human vessels God has chosen do show up in the weak elements of life in the church. We fail because of us, not him. We succeed because of him, not us. So when you come to Grace Church and you want to analyze why it is what it is and when you want to find some pathway to success that might be repeatable somewhere else, you are going to find it very difficult. Because wherever we have succeeded it is because God has done a mighty work and wherever we have failed it is because the imprint of human hands is on this place.
The successes then cannot be easily defined. They cannot be easily analyzed. They cannot be easily canned and they cannot be easily reproduced and repeated because they are the work of God who is the caller of the called. The failures, yes, you can find those and you can certainly can repeat those. People can come to Grace Church and analyze our failures and go back and repeat them. But when they come and try to analyze our success and go back and repeat that, it’s really impossible because the Lord is the one who has caused the blessing and the success. The Lord is behind the power and the impact of the church. And he is not easily defined, analyzed, canned and repeated.
So what I’m saying is that Grace Community Church has been blessed only as we have functioned as God’s called people, not some human organization, not with some unusual level of human leadership or some unusual level of the power of persuasive speech. That is not what has caused this church to become what it is. That is not how we define ourselves and that is no reasonable explanation of the blessing of God. Wherever God moves, the flowers have always bloomed. Wherever we walk, they always die.
what I’m concerned about today is so many people in the ministry who under this pressure to somehow let the culture define them are ceasing to be the church. You can look at some of those places and they may call themselves the church and there is a church in there somewhere. There’s a community of the called in there somewhere not to be confused with what is visible. We never wanted to have somewhere hidden the midst of a visible human organization a real church. We wanted the real church to be visible. The single great goal then for the church through all its life has been to let God be at work and to allow the church to be the church. We don’t want the culture to define what we are. We don’t want the society around us to define what we are. We want to be whatever it is that God wants us to be. That’s what we want to be. Nothing less and nothing more.
Fuller, Warren, their followers and the rest of the church growth movement will never understand that simple, biblical principle.
May we choose our congregations wisely.
On January 6, 2016, the Revd James McConnell was acquitted of charges concerning improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a ‘grossly offensive’ message to be sent via said network.
As Melanie McDonagh, a Catholic columnist for The Spectator put it, the charges were rather ‘obscure’.
In June 2015, the BBC reported that someone filed a complaint about an Internet broadcast of one of McConnell’s sermons in which he referred to Islam as being ‘heathen’ and ‘satanic’ in May 2014.
McConnell, 78, preaches at the Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle in Belfast. The Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service’s procedure is to issue an ‘informed warning’ which, whilst not a conviction, remains on or creates a criminal record and holds for 12 months afterwards. The Public Prosecution Service takes anyone refusing an informed warning to court.
Although Pastor McConnell apologised publicly for his remarks, he refused the warning and ended up in court. His three-day trial took place in December 2015.
Possibly because he had no criminal record before this incident, McConnell’s trial had jovial aspects and lighter moments with Irish banter exchanged between the pastor’s legal team and the presiding magistrate.
McConnell said at the trial that the first he knew of the charge was when a reporter from the BBC rang him. Furthermore, the judge told the court that McConnell had also insulted Henry VIII, calling him an ‘auld reprobate’.
Two of the pastor’s character witnesses were a Catholic priest, the Revd Pat McCafferty, and an imam, Muhammad Al-Hussaini. Although the latter was not called on to testify, he travelled to Belfast to support McConnell in a case he believes never should have seen the light of day.
Dr Al-Hussaini, a senior fellow in Islamic Studies at the Westminster Institute in London, told the Belfast Telegraph:
… this should take place in civic society, rather than within the courtroom. “While there is a public conversation to be had now about how religious leaders should best give witness to their beliefs with truthfulness and at the same time ‘always with gentleness and respect’ as Scripture commands, this is a discussion for theologians and ordinary citizens in civil society, and not the judiciary,” he said. “In a free society people take exception to all kinds of things in cinema, online or other media but, other than material which incites to physical violence, I hope the Northern Ireland PPS will give careful consideration before again entering into vexed questions about what is ‘grossly offensive’ enough to prosecute.”
I suspect that Al-Hussaini is an Ismaili (Shia, Aga Khan leader) Muslim because he enjoys Western society. The Irish Times reported in 2015 that he is one of the sean nós singers at the London Irish Centre. He also plays the fiddle.
He told The Irish Times that the London Irish Centre is his ‘safe space’. He explained that, after the Charlie Hebdo attack on January 7, 2015, he came under severe abuse for opposing extremism and, among other things, received faeces-smeared letters.
Of course, he is equally criticised for loving music, which fundamentalist Muslims say goes against the Koran.
Al-Hussaini reminds me of the Muslims I knew in the 1970s — enlightened, interesting and engaging. I wish there were more of them today, especially in Britain. Even he makes the observation that the strains of Islam practised here are deeply fundamentalist.
On extremism, he had this to say to The Irish Times:
“Extremism seeks to abolish the arts. Isis ban coloured pencils because it is a form of ideological mind-control which the arts frees one from. Arts promote a sense of humanity and expression that is not necessarily constrained by a literalist reading of scripture,” he says.
“So it is in the interests of those who have that particular agenda to sit upon expressions of art, even if they are traditionalist expressions of culture.” In any event, song and poetry is wedded into Arabic culture, “long epic poems, our equivalent of the Odyssey and the Aeneid, that were sung around the Bedouin camp fire.
“People still have the whole of these poems in their heads. There are poetry recitation competitions all over the Gulf. You can become a millionaire from winning one of these, they are so highly valued.”
More power to this imam’s voice — in his lecturing and his singing.
May Pastor McConnell be blessed with a peaceful retirement and provide good counsel to younger ministers and the congregation at Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle.
I notice that his acquittal took place on Epiphany. Wise judgement prevailed.