I am taking a break from my usual story format to talk about what’s been heavy on my heart the past few days: the state of the Church in America.
A few years ago, I volunteered at my home church to lead a group Bible study in my local community. Because of my inexperience, church leadership chose to team me up with another couple. I phoned the couple at home and spoke to the husband (I’ll call him Thomas). We agreed to have lunch together one afternoon at a local deli to meet for the first time and talk about the possibilities.
The day of our meeting, I ate my club sandwich, said few words, and mostly listened. As I payed close attention to Thomas’s words, I became increasingly alarmed by what I heard coming from his mouth. Thomas quoted the writings of Rob Bell, a well-known leader in emergent church movement. Bell’s writings question the existence of hell and even suggest universal salvation (aka all men will be saved). Stunned by what Thomas was saying, I very clearly stated that I disagreed with both him and Bell because it went against the teachings of the Bible, and then made a hasty retreat to my car. After praying about it, I phoned church leadership to say I wouldn’t be working with Thomas and his wife because I believed that they would be teaching false doctorine. I can only hope that my phone call served as the warning I hoped it would be.
The fact that the existence of hell could be questioned by Bell, Thomas, or anyone else claiming to be a Believer is, quite frankly, beyond me. Here are some New Testament references that make hell’s existence painfully clear:
- Hell is a fate worse than being drowned in the sea (Mark 9:42).
- It is worse than any earthly suffering—even being maimed (Matthew 5:29–30; Mark 9:43).
- The suffering never ends (Matthew 25:41; Mark 9:48).
- The wicked will be “burned with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12).
- Those in hell will be thrown into the fiery furnace and will experience unimaginable sorrow, regret, remorse, and pain. The fire produces the pain described as “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
- The intensity of the suffering seems to be according to the wickedness of the person’s behavior (Romans 2:5–8).
- Hell is utterly fearful and dreadful (Hebrews 10:27–31).
- This punishment is depicted as “coming misery,” “eating flesh with fire,” and the “day of slaughter” (James 5:1–5).
- Those in hell will feel the full force of God’s fury and wrath (Revelations 14:10).
- They will be “tormented” with fire (Revelation 14:10–11).
- This suffering is best understood as endless since the “smoke of their torment rises forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11).
- This suffering is constant because it is said that those in hell “will have no rest day or night” (Revelation 14:11) and
- “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
References from http://theresurgence.com/2011/03/14/to-hell-with-hell (Yes, I read every word of this source and believe it to be Scripturally sound! 😉 )
Universal salvation is also simply not Biblical. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) While the invitation for salvation is universal (John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”), only those that believe Jesus and His message of repentance and forgiveness of sins will be allowed to “come to the Father”. For those that doubt this fact, I ask: “If there was another way to heaven, then why would Father God send His Son Jesus to die?”
Thomas, like many others today, believed lies he had heard in the marketplace of ideas and then quickly began perpetuating those deceptions. Instead of getting his truth from the Bible and Bible alone, he believed what somebody else said the Bible teaches. Even more damning, Thomas lazily never took the time to compare the teachings of Rob Bell to Scripture itself. Unfortunately there are millions out there just like Thomas being deceived. Instead of researching Scripture for themselves, folks take the easy yet very dangerous road of passivity. These ill-informed fools let wolves, disguised in sheep’s clothing, feed them lies to their ultimate destruction. (Yes, I said fools. Research the Biblical definition of a fool! Read Proverbs!)
Rob Bell’s teachings on universal salvation and no eternal punishment are a whole lot more appealing to a person steeped in today’s “PC” culture where pluralism, multiculturalism, and diversity are held in higher esteem than truth. The Bible predicts times like these. Paul’s warning to Timothy is absolutely true of the American church: “For the time will come when people 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.” The “Christianity” described in pulpits across our country is a watered down more palpable religion- but it is not the Christianity of the Bible. I admit that there are many times I don’t want to hear the truth because the truth means I have to change! However, I have learned through time and experience that choosing to be wise and heed the truth will lead to joy, peace and LIFE!
An argument I’ve heard from those struggling to believe (or not wanting to believe) the Bible is this: “The Scriptures we read today cannot be trusted. Like a game of telephone can change a message, time and translations have changed the contents of the Bible.” When I hear someone say this, I roll my eyes. Instantly I know that the person spouting this silliness has done absolutely no research. It is simply NOT true that the Scriptures have changed over time. The Bible, unlike any other document, can be counted on! Nabeel Qureshi, a former Muslim now convert to Christianity says it succinctly:
“First, while there are indeed many variations of the Bible obtained from more than 5,000 Greek manuscripts, there is such a large amount of early manuscript evidence and such a concordance between those manuscripts that we can reconstruct the Bible and be certain of about 95% of the original content. Second, no doctrine of the Bible is in jeopardy by any of the variations. Third, there are so many quotations of and references to the New Testament from the ancient world that we can reconstruct practically all of it from early quotations alone. Fourth, there are multiple fragments of manuscripts that can be dated to within a couple of centuries after Christ’s death which we have in our possession even now (the earliest dating to less than 100 years after Christ, 125 AD). Fifth, whole copies of the Bible are available from around three centuries after Christ’s death. Finally, the previously mentioned estimate of 95% accuracy was a conservative one; in actuality it is closer to 98 or 99%.”
(Side note: Do a YouTube search for Nabeel Qureshi to hear his testimony. It’s AWESOME!)
While I can roll my eyes at the foolishness of the less-than-studious, the heartbreaking fact is that when baby Christians or struggling Believers hear the enemy’s lie that Scripture might be unreliable, it can shake the very foundations of their faith. Instead of approaching the Bible as the source of truth, they question its contents and worse lose faith altogether!
Getting God’s children to question His Word is not a new trick of the enemy. In fact, it is the oldest trick in the book. Way back in the Garden before the fall, the slimy serpent slithered up to Eve and began to weave a web of deception. Satan said to her, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1). God had given clear concise instructions about what Eve and her husband, Adam, could and could not eat. In Genesis 2:16-17 God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” However, we see in Genesis 3 that during Satan’s fateful encounter with Eve, he got her to scrutinize something she should have just believed. With a simple question, “Did God really say…?”, Eve began to doubt her Father. Seeing Eve’s weakness, the lying serpent went for the jugular and blatantly refuted the truth of God’s Word. Satan said to Eve, “You will not certainly die… for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Eve believed Satan over God. She ate, Adam ate, and the rest is painful history. As time did then and will always do, it proved the Lord’s Word true. Eve did die, and both she and her husband experienced excruciating separation from their Creator.
The devil is doing the exact same thing today as he did in the Garden when he tries to get us to doubt God’s Word.
“Did God really say that hell is real?” (Yes, He did, brothers and sisters!!)
“Did God really say there is only one way to heaven?” (Yes!)
“Is Scripture (God’s Word) really true or has time changed its contents?” (Yes! It’s true!)
“Is it really a sin to sleep with someone when you’re engaged? Surely it’s not that big a deal!” (Yes, it is a sin. Matthew 5:28, Revelation 21:8)
“Is homosexuality really a sin? After all, love is LOVE!” (Yes. Homosexulaity a sin. Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9)
Here me when I say this: YOU CANNOT PICK AND CHOOSE WHICH PORTIONS OF SCRIPTURE TO BELIEVE. It is all true and you can put your faith in every jot and tittle! And that’s the bottom line- it all comes down to faith. Do you believe that God can preserve His Word through time? (I do! He is Able!) Do you believe Jesus when He says that hell is real? (I do- and this knowledge lights a fire under my feet to tell the world about the Good News of the Gospel!) Do you believe Christ when He says He is the only way to heaven? (I do! The road is narrow just like Christ said! Matthew 7:14) Do you believe God when He looks at sin and unflinchingly calls it what it is: sin? (Yes. And when I fail and stumble, I must seek His forgiveness. He promises to be faithful and just to forgive me when I confess my sin! 1 John 1:9)
Listen, you may not like everything God says when you start exploring the passages of Scripture. It may feel uncomfortable to hear Jesus’ Words when He speaks about relevant issues. But God’s not going to change His mind about things, and He is just as radical today as He was when He walked the earth. Following Him can be hard!
When Jesus began His public ministry, He quickly developed quite a following. He was a cool dude! He healed the sick, fed the multitudes, took on the Pharisees with authority, and was kind to children and sinners. Who wouldn’t want to be around a guy like that? Crowds followed Jesus around just to see what He would do next- that was until these same followers heard Jesus teach about His body and blood by the Sea of Galilee one day. After hearing His strange words, they said to themselves, “This is a hard saying; who can hear it?” In frustration, these followers turned back and stopped following the Master. Jesus then turned and asked the twelve disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Simon Peter, in bold faith answered Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69)
I ask you now as Jesus asked the twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Do you believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God? Can you accept His teaching? ALL of His teaching? Do you believe His Words lead to eternal life even if they are hard? Christ asks His disciplies to count the cost because Jesus knew it wouldn’t be easy for us! (Luke 14:28)
I’m afraid for the Church in America. We are entirely too tolerant. We don’t stand for truth! We lazily go to man to teach us and not to God and His Word. I’m afraid that when folks are confronted with the truth of Scripture, they too will turn back and stop following Jesus. They’ll say just like the crowds at the Sea of Galilee said to Christ, “It’s too hard! Who can hear this?”
Yesterday, as my husband drove my kids and I home from school, I stared out my passenger window with a heavy heart as I pondered the moral decline of America. Things that once caused us to blush are now championed. Monogamy is scoffed at and labeled archaic, and promiscuity is lauded as the “natural state” in university lecture halls. Christians who believe that the Bible- the whole Bible- is true are called bigots, closed-minded, and (gasp) old fashioned (‘cuz God forbid we not be trendy hipsters! Can you sense me rolling my eyes… again?). As the car followed the curves of the well traveled roads home yesterday, I grieved over America’s choices. I lamented for my children’s future. “What kinds of persecution will they face?” I thought. “How much hate will they have to endure in the name of “tolerance”?” I sighed over the inevitable coming suffering in the United States because of our disobedience.
As I continued to turn these thoughts over in my mind, what saddened me even more than the state of the country was the state of the American church! Almost daily now I hear and read words of professing Christians like Thomas denying parts of God’s Word because today’s culture teaches and accepts different messages (“Did God really say…?” I hear Satan laugh in victory as the deceived masses reject eternal truths). Though my children attend a Christian school, even they are sometimes considered “weird” because of their holy choices. Several acquaintances of mine go to church on Sunday and claim to know Jesus as Savior but then live exactly like the unbelieving world the rest of the week. This is incongruent. The life of a Jesus follower should be different and a testimony to the rest of the world (Matthew 5:16)! Frequently when “on the fence” Christians are rebuked for their ungodly choices, they retort, “But who are you to judge? Jesus even said to not judge!” Again, this shows their lack of knowledge of the scriptures. Let’s look at the entire teaching they are quoting out of context:
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Clearly, Jesus is speaking specifically to hypocrites. He instructs the hypocrite to take the plank out of his eye so he can then help remove the speck from his brother’s eye. Notice that even the hypocrite, after he is healed of his problem, is given the okay to assist his brother! Who better to help a man struggling with addiction than a fully recovered alcoholic? Who better to teach the religious about grace than Paul, formally a Pharisee called Saul?
To say we aren’t to judge behavior at all again ignores much of the New Testament! To name only a few verses:
- We are commanded “be not deceived” (this requires judgment Matt 24:4, Luke 21:8, 2 Thess.2:3; Eph.5:6; Colossians 2:8).
- Test spirits (to test requires a pass/fail judgment) (John 4:1)
- Apostle Paul accused the believers at Galatia of being “foolish” and “bewitched” (Gal.2:1) because they did not judge well.
- Jesus congratulated the church at Ephesus for rooting out false apostles (Rev.2:1-3).
- The Apostle Paul says that he “did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears” about the false teachers who troubled the church at Ephesus both from within and without. (Acts 20:28-31)
- Jesus Himself said, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)
- The entire book of Titus!
I believe that the American church, with few exceptions, is exactly like the Church of Laodicea. Jesus says to us in an impassioned rebuke and plea (Revelation 3:14-22):
“These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Do you have ears to hear, my Dear Reader? Will you not be earnest and zealous for Jesus? Will you repent with me for our lack luster faith? Will you lock arms with me in opposition to the current of moral relativism so we can march upstream together on the side of the absolute truths in Scripture? Will you cry out with me in righteous anger against the tide of lies that is washing over this country like an evil black cesspool? Will you call the prodigals to come back home at all personal costs? Will you not run the race with purpose and steadfast conviction so that Christ will see our work and be pleased?
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Yes, God really said it. And I believe it. Do you?