Hellfire and Brimstone or Love

Recently I read an article that has challenged the theology side of me. In Matthew 19:24 we read: “Again I tell you, [so we’ve been told this before but we need another telling] it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Why? Is it their money? No. Here’s the answer: “For the love of money is the  root of all evil.” (I Timothy 6:18 KJV.)

There is nothing inherently wrong with being rich. The Puritans had a good handle on this. If you work hard because this is what God wants you to do, wealth is a byproduct of your hard work. You have no need of feeling guilty over this. This kind of wealth can do mighty good. But, if like Scrooge, your work is driven by and for the money nothing good will come of it.

Matt Walsh is not writing about money in his essay, “One Terrible Lie That Is Destroying Christianity In America And Leading Souls To Hell”.  (His essay can be found HERE.) It is, however, the same emotion as love of money, it’s the love of the stress-free life.

Thanks to the Puritans who had a great and strong faith, they helped build arguably the greatest nation on earth, the United States of America. This was in the 1600s. By the 1700s that faith had taken a beating over time and would not be the strength the Colonies needed for the next great transition, the many Colonies into one nation. If you’re thinking we didn’t need that Christian faith you’d be mighty wrong, we did. Either chance or God (for me it was God but I gave you an option in case you aren’t religious) brought to America a religious awakening led by three men: Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitehead. Jonathan Edwards woke Christians up with his fiery sermon, Sinner at the Hand of an Angry God. Americans and the church needed a wakeup call as their Christian faith and morality had gotten mushy and worthless for battle. Hellfire and brimstone is a harsh whipping stick but when you need hell scared out of you it’s what it takes.

Over 200 plus years later Christians and the church have gone back into a slumber. This in part can be attributed to the fact that until recently the American church and Christians have been at peace in America. It didn’t cost us our life, our businesses to be a Christian. (That’s changing now). We began to reinterpret the Gospel message into a psychobabble message of God wanting us to be blest, to be positive in all things; I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay, God bless us all.

According to Walsh in his essay, the great Christian lie is this: “A Christian ought to always think positive and be optimistic. He shouldn’t think about his sin or worry much about repentance.”

While it began in the late 1800s the “prosperity message” from a few Christian evangelists began in earnest in the 1960s and beyond. Preachers like Oral Roberts, Robert Tilton, Joel Osteen, and Kenneth Hagin gave Christians the message of “name it and claim it” as I always called it. Prosperity. God wanted us all to prosper. In fact, our goal as Christians was to prosper so we needed to clear away every thought but positive thoughts so we could become what God wanted us to become, rich and happy.

This comes from what I see as a false presupposition that when Christ came the Kingdom of God came as well. In Matthew 3:1-2 we read: “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [near].” He was speaking of Jesus. In Matthew 4:17 when Jesus begins his ministry we read this: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand [near].”

A movement in modern evangelism changed the words of John and Jesus from “at hand” or “near” to “here”, present now. The Kingdom of God came in Jesus Christ with all the benefits of it now for us to appropriate because they are ours now. We just have to grab onto them.

In his essay Walsh is reacting to what he sees as a psychological sermon not a theological message. He writes:

“Some Christians have adopted this idea explicitly. I have heard it said — by layman and pastor alike — that God “cannot see our sin” because Christ’s blood covers it, and so we need not concern ourselves with repentance. Just as one brief example, here is Rick Warren telling his followers that they should just “relax” because God “does not see” their sin. He does not say anything about repentance.”

From this message Walsh is responding to the church making Jesus the God of love and the God in the Old Testament the God of vengeance, anger, hellfire and brimstone. Rather than walk the fine line between love and anger we relegate anger to the past (it was necessary then but not now with Jesus) and love. We are once again realigning life into categories of either/or. The Jesus we want to make ruler of life is the one who when the adulterous woman was brought to him he drew pictures in the sand and calmly responded to her:

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”“No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:10-11)

Walsh mentions specifically a message by Rick Warren (a man I respect) as representing a psychologically driven message of God not seeing your sin. In Warren’s message he writes this:

“When I come to Christ and say, “God, here’s my life — everything I’ve ever done wrong, every time I’ve ever made a mistake, all those stupid things I’ve done. I want to put my life in Jesus Christ.” Jesus wraps me with his love, and God looks at Jesus and sees that Jesus is perfect. He doesn’t see my sin. That’s what it means to relax in God’s grace.”

Warren is right as far as he goes, but he does stop short. Warren builds his message off Romans 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” But he leaves out the rest of that verse: “who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”

Let’s face it, the Bible message is both/and. Modern Christians, at least those who have it relatively comfortable to be a Christian, seem to go by the adage that “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Truth is, both Warren and Walsh are right. Sometimes honey is what you need, other times vinegar is the medicine required. You might want to keep in mind these verses from the Book of Revelation, chapter 3:

14 “And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceanswrite,

‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: 15“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. 16So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot,I will vomit you out of My mouth. 17Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—18I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. 19As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. 20Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. 21To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.

Repentance is not just for being a sinner which now gets us into heaven, it’s for our daily sins and that we stop them because they have negative consequences in the here and now. Walsh is right, we can’t hide under Jesus’s umbrella, we still need to seriously repent, to feel shame and guilt for our wrongs.

Solomon wrote that there is a time for everything. There is a time for love, but there is also a time for guilt and shame for only that will stop our slide into sin. It’s what our forefathers and mothers needed. I think it is what our modern church needs as we Christians are quickly becoming unrecognizable from nonChristians.