Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Forgetting about Hell

Forgetting about Hell

Hell isn’t some medieval fairytale. Hell isn’t a marginalized concept, referenced once or twice in the Bible. Hell is real, and the idea of Hell is spread throughout the Bible. Hell can be looked at and thought of as a reason believers modify their behaviors. Avoiding sinful choices, proactively serving in acts of kindness, ect. Forget about the personal motivation Hell offers to the believer, to stay on the straight & narrow and to be a good neighbor. Think for a moment of what those who have no hope, what they have to look forward to: damnation. And, those are real people that we have an obligation to.

At one time our movement was known for explosive numerical growth. After WWII, we were reportedly the fastest growing movement in America. We reached national recognition for our evangelistic efforts. By the 1980’s, though, statisticians and church-growth experts noticed our numbers plateaued, and ever since the turn of the century we’ve entered a continual decline. What happened?

I don’t know all of the reasons why, along the way, we went from being the fastest growing movement in America to a movement that is in decline. I have a hunch part of the reason we don’t reach-out to lost people as we once did, is because we we’ve lost sight of Hell. If we, in the Churches of Christ really believed there was a Hell, and that definitive doctrine of an eternal lake of burning fire exits, we would be focused wholeheartedly on persuading people to become followers of God. What else would matter?

Since we aren’t as evangelistic as we used to be, I see only two possibilities: A. Either we are cold-hearted people who could care less that countless multitudes of faceless people will burn forever (not to mention the people know at work, school, or our next-door-neighbors). B. Or, we don’t believe Hell exits. I see no alternative.

Most people will simply ask, Aren’t we really just complacent? No. Complacency is a byproduct of a bigger problem; so mere complacency simply isn’t it. Others might ask, Aren’t we simply being “seeker-sensitive” taking the sting out of the message to be more appealing? No, because we rarely adapt our congregational-setting to meet the “cultural” needs of those we want to reach; our comfort-zone hasn’t stretched too much through the years. Since we aren’t cold-hearted people; I see too many examples of caring concerned believers serving & extending love, we must have concluded that Hell isn’t real.

But, I don’t really think as a movement we’ve totally lost the belief that Hell is real. Instead, when it comes to talking about Hell, there’s a troubling perspective I’ve noticed that really bothers me. I think we’ve exchanged the names on the docket for who’s going to Hell from those who we don’t share our faith with, to those who we disagree with.

I hardly, if ever, hear fellow believers talking about how sad it is that “lost people” will suffer in Hell. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard someone claiming to be brokenhearted over the fate of lost souls. I hear more about Bible believing people we disagree with being in danger of Hell far more often than I ever hear about the dangers awaiting the unevangelized. In other words, when “we” talk about Hell, we forget about lost people we have a responsibility to, who have never tasted salvation. No, instead, whenever I hear about Hell, the conversations are typically restricted to other Christians who are going to Hell because of (you fill in the blank).

So, I think we still believe in Hell, but I fear we are forgetting about Hell. I also believe we are authentically a loving people, who if we thought about it, we wouldn’t want anyone to suffer in a lake of fire for eternity. We are forgetting about our responsibility; we’ve been entrusted with the truth and we are supposed to distribute it freely...

If you think I’ve gone off the deep-end so far, then sit down for this last point: Hell is a unifying doctrine. Hell reminds us as believers that God is Holy and sin has consequences. Hell reminds us we are partnering with God to help snatch people from the fire and that our role in helping God reach people here on earth is bigger than the petty disagreements we bicker over in our auditoriums or conference rooms.

I remember visiting a family member who had two bluetick coonhounds. I noticed that they would snap and growl at each other when they were caged up in their pen. I went coon hunting one night with him and his dogs. I saw those two coonhounds, outside that pen, doing what they were bred for, and that made all the difference. That night I discovered that the “hunt” brought out the best in those dogs as they joyfully worked together. The next day though, when they were locked up in their pen again, those dogs were right back at it, growling, snapping, and fighting. I’m sure there’s a lesson in that dog pen, somewhere...?

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