Friday, September 29, 2017

Air Conditioning Hell. . .

Got your attention, right?  Okay, I am not going to write about air conditioning hell.  That would be foolish.  But who could argue that we have effectively done the same thing by eliminating hell from our vocabulary, teaching, and preaching?  Of course we have.  Hell is hardly talked about anymore and if it is, it is joked about as if it were not real.

What I am not suggesting is that we preach fire and brimstone again.  I am not in favor of squeezing out the Gospel in order to preach more of hell and its fire.  What I am hoping is that there is a way that we can talk again about the reality of hell and about the consequence of unbelief.  Ours is not a weak and frail God who will forget our sin.  Ours is a God whose wrath over sin is as permanent as is that sin.  Without the blood of Christ to cover those sins, they remain and stand as testament against the sinner.  Having rejected the blood of Christ or our guilt, the sin remains and God's wrath remains.  It is the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin.  Christ died for all, to be sure, but those who reject the righteousness of His life as their new baptismal clothing and who distance themselves from the suffering and death that paid sin's debt benefit nothing from His once for all sacrifice.

It is as if we have become embarrassed over hell.  Have a couple of generations with a new lectionary helped us to forget the mentions of hell in the Scriptures?   Have we skipped over this in catechism?  Have Bible studies focused on personal interest or benefit skipped over this topic?  I am not sure it matters but it is as if we have had amnesia when it comes to hell.  We believe life is good and Christian life is better but we all go to God as spirits when we die and it is all good.  At least that seems to be the common idea about what happens to the dead.  Is it because that is what we want to believe or what we have come to believe without any real mention of hell anymore?

I have to admit I find it distasteful to talk about it.  It is even harder to sing about it.  Even I was taken aback when a missing stanza was restored to Lift High the Cross in Lutheran Service Book.  We love to sing about lifting high the cross, proclaiming the love of Christ, and then about stanza 5 it all comes to a screeching halt with:
5 Let every race and every language tell
of him who saves our lives from death and hell.
Hell?  Ouch.  You mean that outside of Christ there are consequences?  More than judgment and some stigma but real pain and suffering?   Where weeping and gnashing of teeth will never end?  What?  Really?

Of course it is distasteful.  Only a demented personality would enjoy the prospect of eternal pain and suffering.  But air conditioning hell will not make it pleasant, avoiding it will not make it go away, and ignoring it will not make it disappear.  Only the preaching of the Gospel, the power of the Spirit, the gift of faith, and the blood of Christ that avails for sin can take hell from us.  Failing to talk about hell does no one any favors -- not the unbeliever secure in the grasp of sin, not the Christian wavering in the face of temptation, and not the power of the Gospel preached, taught, and sung. 


Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Peters: "I have to admit I find it distasteful to talk about it. It is even harder to sing about it."


Politically correct Lutheran churches don't even sing about the Pope and the Turk anymore!

Anonymous said...

The temperature in Hell has been debated for centuries.
Think of it as an eternal flame which causes you to sweat
and stew over the life you lived without God on this earth.

Anonymous said...

Pastor Peters wrote: "Hell? Ouch. You mean that outside of Christ there are consequences? More than judgment and some stigma but real pain and suffering?"

It is obvious where certain people are going in the afterlife who claim Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism as their religion in this life.

It frightens me to think about immediate relatives who were confirmed in the Church but stopped attending in their teens or early twenties. What assurance of salvation do they have? And no - None of the church dropouts I have ever known were ambitious enough to study religious materials nor pray on their own at home.

Many leave the church out of a sense of apathy and a feeling of "what difference does it make." Others leave with a sense of emptiness because they are convinced that Church has turned into a semi-private community center with a veneer of "feel good, non-denominational megachurch religion." Some people leave because it functions as a dysfunctional social service agency.

I have relatives who left the LCMS because they did not like to see the congregation frittering away offering money on dubious RSOs (or even on non-Lutheran charities!) They felt they were leaving not so much God, but a dysfunctional bureaucracy. Such a mindset carries over to their kids, who grow up with no religious and learn nothing except that they should "be polite" to friends and strangers.

Oh, and by the way, good luck finding small group studies that speak about Hell and about our genetic disposition as human beings to do evil things.

Anonymous said...

Non-denominational congregations are best known for their silence (apathy) regarding controversial issues. Observe how these mega-churches thrive while traditional denominations shrink and wither away. In 100 years, the nondenominational churches will be the only Christian churches still in existence.

Jonathan Fisk is right. The Church is dead.

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