Saturday, June 12, 2010

Is Hell Real? An Answer to the Emerging Church

I recently read an article on that should make any Bible-believing Christian's hair stand up on end. The article is entitled "The Problem With Hell" and was written by David Allis, a professed minister of Christ. The article gives a short synopsis of the "traditional doctrine of hell," then goes on to list thirteen reasons why the traditional view of hell should be challenged. The problem is, none of Mr. Allis' reasoning is scripturally-based. Rather, it appears to be the product of wishful thinking and a careful remodeling of our Heavenly Father into something more resembling Santa Claus than the God of the Bible.

Here are a few of the reasons Mr. Allis gives to support the idea that the doctrine of Hell should be reexamined (parentheses represent a paraphrase of the supporting arguments given by Mr Allis):

1. Is Hell compatible with the nature of God? (The idea of hell seems incompatible with a loving God)

You've got it confused, Mr. Allis. Sin is what is incompatible with the nature of God:

The LORD detests the way of the wicked
but he loves those who pursue righteousness. (Proverbs 15:9)

He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. (1 John 3:8)

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Unrepentant sinners cannot enter into the presence of God, and I know of no one who doesn't somehow fit into the list given in 1 Corinthians 6, myself included. You have it almost right a few paragraphs down in your article: Hell is the place for people who have steadfastly refused to enter into communion with God by placing faith in His Son. Christ Himself explains this in Matthew 13, when He tells us that at the end of the age His angles will "weed out of His kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil." Reading a verse further on we find their fate: They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:42).

Christ lays out God's standard for righteousness clearly in the Sermon on the Mount: It is an impossibly high standard; a standard that none of us can meet, but that has been met on our behalf by the Son of Man.

2. God desires to save everyone (and only 5 - 20% of people throughout history would fall into the category of the "saved" according to Christian understanding).

Mr. Allis correctly cites 1 Peter 3:9 as evidence that God desires that all men be saved, but leaves out the critical context that surrounds it:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:8-13)

While the view that God desires all men to be saved is definitely scriptural, the supposition that God would compromise His position on sin and judgment simply because the majority of people refuse His voice is not:

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)

So you see, it isn't news to God or any student of the Scriptures that there may well be more people in hell than in heaven after the judgment.

3 & 4. Will [Christians] know [about their loved ones in hell]? [How can Christians be] having a party while our loved ones suffer?

Mr Allis goes on to ask if the Christ we follow wouldn't "go downstairs (into hell) to do something to help those He loves but are suffering" and even offers to go with Him and help! Here Mr. Allis clearly ignores the teaching of Christ found in Luke 16, which explains that an impassable gulf is fixed between heaven and hell, as well as the teaching of Revelation 21. Those who are in heaven will be in the awesome presence of God. There will be no room for mourning, and all tears will be wiped away. Those in hell will find that they put themselves there and that they had at least some opportunity to avoid their fate. Christians who are worried about this possibility should spend more time witnessing to their loved ones and less time fantasizing about Santa God.

5. Hell is inconsistent with God's salvation efforts to date (That God would send His son to die for us, then suddenly stop His efforts to save us after we die doesn't make sense)

Again, Mr. Allis insists on ignoring the clear teaching of scripture:

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)

Scripture is clear on this matter; each of us has one life to live. Along with the many attributes rightly ascribed by Mr. Allis to God (merciful, loving, all-knowing, all-powerful) are a few others: righteous, just, and jealous. God's love and mercy are amply demonstrated by Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. God's justice will be as amply demonstrated on the day of judgment:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. (Revelation 20:12-13)

6. The Scriptures aren't clear (on the matter of hell)

Really? I don't think it gets much clearer than this, Mr. Allis:

And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
(Revelation 20:10)

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14-15)

7. The Problem of Religious Luck (essentially that our character depends on the circumstances in which we are raised and which are outside our control, so only the "lucky" will be able to respond appropriately to the Gospel)

And here we have finally gotten to the root of the problem: Mr. Allis is mistakenly trying to reconcile the truth of Scripture with the lies of humanism. While humanism teaches that people are basically good, or at least neutral from birth, wanting only for nurturing circumstances to become better, Scripture is absolutely clear on the opposite:

The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)

As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11)

Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward and speak lies. (Psalm 58:3)

If Scripture is not somehow enough, the multitude of testimonies from people who have grown up in sexual slavery, from eunuchs, from murderers, from those who have themselves traded in slaves, and even from those who have come out of the church of Satan to become believing Christians and evangelists give the lie to this idea.

Mr. Allis goes on to write that all this teaching about hell seems more damaging than helpful to the cause of the Gospel, that the idea of hell represents a lowering of the standard of God's love to a level less than that of humans and to reiterate that the concept of hell just doesn't seem consistent with a loving and merciful God. It is a sure bet that there are many people out there longing to hear the "good news," as taught by men like Mr. Allis. The scripture warns that us this will be so:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

Make no mistake, friends: hell is real and awaits all who reject the truth of the Gospel and the call of the Holy Spirit, who testifies about the Son of God (John 15:26). The real good news is here:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

That the Creator and Lord of the universe would love us enough to die for our sins, and that he will confess us before the father, if we confess Him before men is the true good news.