Friday, November 25, 2011

Going To Hell?

As the Evangelical churches continue to follow in the path of their Mainstream brethren, they are starting to question the existence of Hell. Is it real? Does the Bible really teach that? Can I and my loved ones be saved when our lives are indistinguishable from those around us?
Okay, I threw that last one in there, but it’s important. What happens when a church, which has traditionally seen itself as a moral leader—the moral leader—starts taking its cues from the world around it? Doctrines of election and Hell start to become a problem. Who is saved and what happens to those who aren’t?

The traditional Reform answer follows a determinist understanding of God and the universe. Even before creation, God determined who would be saved and they cannot be unsaved. By implication the rest are unsaved, were always unsaved and cannot be saved. These days Protestants don’t make too much of this. It’s not a popular idea. It’s been said that most Protestant clergy are determinists and most Protestant laity are Arminians; that is, they believe in free will. (In Pentecostalism both our clergy and laity are Arminians.) Imagine a Venn diagram. There is one big circle and one much smaller circle. The smaller one is almost eclipsed by the larger one, but a little of it sticks out. Mark the big one U, the area of the small one within the big one H, and the part of the small one that sticks out S. The U represents the unsaved, the S saved, and the H those who think they’re saved, but aren’t. The H stands for hypocrite—though to be fair many of these are just ignorant. They earnestly believe they are doing the Lord’s work, walking the walk, but they aren’t (Matthew 7:23).

Now some may object to this characterization and I would reply that, first off, for a summation of less than 200 words, it’s not bad, even if it misses some subtleties. More importantly, it is not misleading. Arminianism sprang from the realization that the Reform view of election produced a God at great odds with the one of the New Testament. A God that condemns people to Hell for sins they had no choice but to commit. Arminianism teaches free will, not to praise human agency, but restore to us an understanding of God that loves, and died for, everyone.

If Reform Christians are uncomfortable with their determinist heritage, adopting an Arminian perspective would seem an obvious alternative. Instead, two other ideas have been popularized. One is called Eternal Security. The Classic Reform view recognized that not everyone who said they were Christian truly was, and that the truth would show itself in their lives. Sociologist Max Weber argued that the psychological unrest caused by this teaching gave rise to the Protestant work ethic. Referring you back to the mental Venn diagram you’ve drawn in you head, advocates of Eternal Security want to erase the line between the Saved and the Hypocrite. All you have to do is accept Jesus as your saviour and you’re saved. Nothing else matters. The other idea is called Universalism. Now if Reform theology teaches that if it’s not God will that any perish (2 Peter 3:9), yet people do, then God’s actual will must be that none of His elect perish and cannot but be saved. Universalism takes this idea a step further. If it’s not God’s will that any perish, then no one perishes. Human agency and the life you lead are irrelevant. There is just one big circle marked S.

The important thing here isn’t to save Hell. It is to save the scripturally based teaching that the life you lead matters. Just as Jacob Arminius realized that the Reform view of election produced a morally stained conception of God, we have to realize that in a world without consequences most people will never do more than they feel they have to. No more than what everyone else is doing. Ironically, while these teachings proclaim God’s grace, they deny its ability to transform the lives of believers. The Church is meant to be a city built on a hill, a light unto the whole world, and holiness is not meant to be something for the special few.

Friday, November 18, 2011


If there’s one sin you never hear preached against, its gluttony. Gluttony is a lack of self-control when it comes to appetite; particularly, when it comes to food. We’re fine when it comes to attacking the works of the flesh, condemning sexual immorality, we refrain from smoking and drinking. Our body is a temple. But turn down that second helping? Forget about it.

Now I am a skinny guy myself, though I am not as thin as I was before I remarried, but if I told you the Bible condemned drunkenness, you wouldn’t be offended. If I preached self-control, you’d acknowledge the Bible has a lot to say on that. But what if I told you the Bible says “to put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite” (Proverbs 23:2)?  Or that the gluttonous will come to poverty (Proverbs 23:21)? Paul wrote that we are the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16) and that, whatever we ate or drink, it should be to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), but for some reason we just won’t connect that to food.

And we really should. God’s people are a fat people, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. For most of us fellowship means eating together. Even when we’re engaged in another activity, there’s food on the table. I am not the only one to notice this. Recently the New York Times profiled a program initiated by Rick Warren. Called The Daniel Plan, it focuses on healthy eating and weight loss. It’s not easy to lose weight, but if God wants us to do something, he will give us the power to accomplish it:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Corinthians 10:13

God loves you and wants you to live a long, healthy life. That’s not going to happen if you’re at risk of heart attack, or diabetes, or any of the many problems caused or exacerbated by excessive weight. But it doesn’t have to happen. Bring God into the picture.

Friday, November 11, 2011


I don’t know how your summer’s been, but things have been very busy at this end. My church has been going through a lot of transitions, including a new pastor, and I’ll tell you that story once the dust finally settles.In the mean time I’ve been doing some word studies and thought I’d share one with you.

Meekness. We’ve all heard of it. The meek will inherit the earth. Jesus said it Himself. In looking into the subject, I noticed something unique about this virtue: it the only one that makes writers feel apologetic. Don’t worry, they all say, being meek doesn’t mean being weak.

No one ever says humility isn’t weakness, or patience isn’t weakness. And let’s face it, when you are being meek (which means gentle, humble, lowly) people will interpret it as weakness. I can personally think of many times when people have not given me the respect they do others simply because they know I will not bite their head off. So, what’s so important about meekness? Why did Jesus say, “Blessed are they meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5)?

He was quoting from Psalm 37, verse 11. It’s long, for a psalm, so I’ll only quote the first eleven verses:
Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.
Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.
For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.
In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.
That’s the English Standard Version. In the King James the last verse reads:
But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.
It goes on for forty verses, but the point is made: trust God, do right, He will take care of the wicked. And that’s what a meek man does, he trusts the process: God said it, I believe it. It’s not always easy. Circumstances and people, outside the Church and inside the Church, will goad you. It can take a lot out of you, being meek, but there are rewards beyond a promised inheritance. The meek are promised salvation (Psalm 76:9, 149:4), renewal (Isaiah 29:19), and protection from the wrath of God (Zephaniah 2:3).

Meekness is listed as a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23. The fruit are Christ-like, God-like, attributes that are to grow in our lives. How is God meek? In every exercise of His mercy towards us. Of His patience. He believes in the process, that the victory of Calvary is sufficient for us, and that we will avail ourselves of it if He only gives us the chance (2 Peter 3:9). He knows there is evil all around us, and that even those who serve Him and profess Him sin, but He doesn’t let that define the situation. His meekness is seen when He believes in us, and ours is seen when we believe in Him.