Shoot the Messengers (Why Fire and Brimstone Preaching is Evil)

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In what is often seen as the most famous sermon in American history, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (1741) Jonathan Edwards paints this vivid portrait of our Father in Heaven;

The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked; his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times so abominable in his eyes as the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

Jesus told us to spread the Good News. He told us that people would know us by our love for one another. Jesus was a man of forgiveness, peace, compassion, non-violence – love. When asked what God the Father was like, he told his disciples that because they knew him they would know the Father, that they could see the Father by seeing him. He called our Father abba, or daddy.

Of course, God the Father is not a man in flowing robes with long curly blond hair, light complected and with blue eyes. (Neither was Jesus) But you get my point. And we should get Jesus’ point as well. The only part of the Father that Jesus could reveal to us was that of God’s nature, his ‘personality’. He did this through what he said and more importantly what he did, especially what he did for us on the cross.

So why have we had to endure the terrifying and vile language of those such as Edwards and his spawn? Of course, Edwards was not alone. Many, perhaps most, leaders in the Christian (and Muslim) church have preached of hell and damnation. The medieval Roman Catholic church was so obsessed with God the torturer and inquisitor that they nobly and piously followed his ‘example’. At the First Great Awakening (1730-1740) there was a great upsurge in Protestant fire and brimstone rhetoric which has lasted to this day, though there have been those who have long stood apart from this philosophy, such as the Quakers.

Rabbis Michael Shevack and Jack Bemporad, in a book called “Stupid Ways, Smart Ways, to Think About God”, have coined the phrase “Marquis de God”. They suggest that he’s regarded by many as the ‘proverbial God of wrath, ready to show how much he cares by punishing you, the Marquis de God, despising sinners so much he exterminates them”.

(Not very long ago there was a church convention being advertised on the radio, a convention devoted to discussing the qualities of hell. Somehow their researchers had determined that the fires of hell burned at more than 2,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit! Yet no one would die in those flames, they would merely burn like candlewicks for all eternity. What type of monster is their God?)

But where do we get these crazy ideas? Even more importantly, why do we embrace them?

I don’t believe it is because of anything that is expressly stated within the Bible. Many of these hellish concepts are not biblical in the least, having been tacked on throughout the ages. I have heard many say that this is the result of a natural tendency on our part to project ourselves onto the nature of the deity, subconsciously endowing him with all the malevolent characteristics that we naturally abhor in ourselves and others. But, I think it is more sinister than that.

Throughout history there have been leaders – pharoahs, kings, queens, presidents, dictators- who have been more than willing to stretch the truth beyond any rational breaking point merely to maintain their rule of authority. This is a natural tendency of man and we know that power will almost always corrupt the powerful. Jesus’ message always stressed the strength in our weaknesses, our brokenness above the whole and strong. Yet the Church has always had a way of forgetting that particular thread that runs through the Gospels and even the Bible as a whole. The Church becomes strong and rules the rulers of the western world. Even after splintering into 10,000 limbs that live apart from each other, each individual denomination strives for dominance over the others. Our leaders become popular, powerful, rich and famous, bending the ears of millions as well as those who rule those millions.

Like all leaders who begin to doubt their abilities to govern based upon the merits of their philosophies, they inevitably resort to fear as the primary incentive for loyalty. In the past the Church has used the threat of horrifying torture, both in this world and in the next, to keep people in line. Protestants generally have relied solely upon the threat of eternal torment in the after-life(although they have been known to burn a heretic or two themselves).

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“As the souls of heretics are hereafter to be eternally burning in hell, there can be nothing more proper than for me to imitate the divine vengeance by burning them on earth.”

~ “Bloody” Mary, Queen of England, 1553-1558

Today the stick is still used more often than the carrot. Sure Joel Osteen and friends preach the Gospel of prosperity, but they are only using reverse psychology. If you don’t do things their way you will not only miss out on prosperity but you will very likely remain mired in the trap of poverty. Even some elements of the liberal wing of the Church have found success in using scare tactics to meet their agenda, using the threat of global warming to frighten people into embracing a socially active Gospel.

To what good is it to preach the Gospel if we are not at least trying to live the Gospel? And how are we living the Gospel, how are we emulating Jesus, when we bully and scare people into turning towards God? How many of us, because of this style of ‘evangelizing’ know the message with our heads but not by heart?

When it comes to spreading the Good (or the Bad) News it would appear that the messenger may actually be the message.

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  1. #1 by Colin on July 1, 2010 - 4:55 am

    Christian, are a Christian? Christians believe in a heaven and a hell. They are real places? Your thoughts and ideas seem to be all over the place and seem to have been plucked right out of what *you* think God and Jesus are. The bible gives us the truth and I don’t argue with that no matter what I think of Heaven, hell or anything else. What I think they are is not important. The Bible tells us (God who gave us the bible) what these places are and that is what I believe. What I think they maybe is just irrelevant and contradictory because the word of God tells us about these places.

    If you don’t believe what you are given in the Holy Scriptures then what is your baseline. Jesus tells us that he is *the only* way into heaven. If you are basing your beliefs on other scriptures that are contradictory to what is in the bible then you have no true baseline. It just means that you believe in whatever sounds great to your ears.

    That isn’t faith or belief but self righteousness. Jesus tells us to love our enemies not just those close to you so I can tell you that I would give my life for you if need be.

    every blessing,

    Colin

  2. #2 by Christian Beyer on July 1, 2010 - 9:22 am

    As the cardinal in Monty Python said: ” No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” Which I find funny until I remember that the questions the inquisitors asked are the same ones you demand an answer of me. Questions that cannot always be answered with a simple yes or no.

    Your two questions are really five questions. The implication here is that if you cannot respond in the affirmative to all of them then you cannot agree to any of them. Which is not true.

    Let’s take your first set of questions:

    Was Jesus born of the Holy Spirit? If you meant to ask if Mary was a virgin and Jesus had no human father, then I would say, no, I don’t believe that. Was Jesus in some way imbued with God’s spirit? Yes.

    Was he God’s Son? I think so. But what does that mean? For the people at that time and place to say that a person was someone’s son was to say that they had the character of the person. So yes, Jesus was the son of God.

    Did he defeat death? Do I believe in a resurrected Jesus? Yes. Do I believe that it had to happen just as the Gospels (inconsistently) tell us? No, but that doesn’t invalidate my own personal experience with the risen Christ. For me, the risen Jesus is in some way divine. But he’s not found in a book.

    Question(s) number 2: Part one – I don’t really know what “all authority over heaven and earth” means. If Jesus was God, co-eternal with the Father, then why would he need to be GIVEN any authority? And if he was given ALL authority, then he would now be greater than the Father. Yet we know from John 14 that Jesus held the Father to be greater than he was. It’s kind of confusing, isn’t it. Maybe Jesus was saying that we need not doubt the truth of his teachings, nor question his “Way” – that his authority in this area comes from God. Or perhaps he was saying that now he was God and we need to worship HIM along with the Father. Who knows?

    But do I believe in the Final Judgement – Jesus apocalypse – his violent return, Armageddon, etc etc as found in the Revelation of John? No. It’s based upon Jewish messianic tradition – a tradition that Jesus did not fulfill. Which was very disappointing for them (and for us) because we crave vengeance and just desserts. Red letters aside, these words that were ‘spoken’ by Jesus are (perhaps) from the dream of a man that you and I know almost nothing about. His Revelation was coded allegorical language meant to describe the current situation of Christians in the Roman Empire and to provide them with inspiration during difficult times. During those times Christians and Jews were expecting the Apocalypse to happen at any moment. It never did. It never has. It likely never will. To think so is to read this book very figuratively and change the scenario every generation or so until we have Hal Lindsey reading attack helicopters into the text.

    I’ll bet those weren’t the answers you wanted. I guess the rack is next. 😉

    • #3 by Colin on July 1, 2010 - 11:07 am

      Christian, The Inquisition was set up because of “revolt against the Roman Catholic Church”. We don’t need to go there and I would never condone someone to use a rack. Just because I ask for what you are basing your truths on doesn’t make me part of the inquisition. I equate the inquisitors as the same people as the scribes and priests of Jesus day who had him crucified.

      You say that you don’t believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ even though this is given in prophesy in the old and confirmed in the new testament. You believe in a loving God but a God who will not pass judgement on people for doing evil. Remember we are called to love everyone so that they can turn to Jesus but Jesus, every prophet and God Himself tells us in His word that one day he will pass Judgement. You have picked and chosen what sounds nice to your ears!

      We are, again, warned in scripture not to do this but you choose to ignore scripture. You may as well write a book on what you think is right and then we can follow your teachings instead of the bible. You don’t believe that judgement will come upon the earth. Which means you don’t believe any apostle that Jesus ordained to preach the gospel. The Gospel talks of the “New Kingdom” and the “New Jerusalem” which ascends out of “Heaven” but you don’t believe in any of that. Tell me where has Jesus risen to? You are a deceiver?

      I will say one thing and then leave you in your imaginative world :

      [2 Peter 3]
      NIV
      [9] 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. [10] 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.

      My God is a Loving, Holy and Just God.

      • #4 by Colin on July 1, 2010 - 11:49 am

        Putting it another way Christian,

        Get your head out of the clouds and stop telling people nonsense and start telling people the real gospel. What you are teaching at the moment is some off the wall nonsense that wont save anyone…at the very least it is utterly irresponsible to use the word of God in such a pick and choose fashion.

        It may sound nice to talk about the wind, the sun and all other things as a new age fringe cult but the reality is Jesus Christ came to take away our punishment that we deserve for our sins. The punishment is the lake of fire and if we don’t turn to him that is where you go. Teaching people that there is no punishment for sin means that you deny the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

        Just wrong…wrong! You are spreading nonsense!

      • #5 by Christian Beyer on July 1, 2010 - 11:55 am

        OK, thanks, Colin. (Was I talking about the wind and the sun? You must have me confused with that notorious New Ager, Francis of Assissi.)

  3. #6 by Christian Beyer on July 1, 2010 - 12:24 pm

    BTW, Colin. You can’t be the same Colin who writes and speaks for Pendle Hill, the Quaker website, can you? Because your theology doesn’t sound too Quakerish.

    • #7 by Colin on July 2, 2010 - 4:40 am

      I am not a quaker. I am a believer in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That he died for our sins on the cross and rose again three days later from the grave through the grace and power of the Father, he now is risen to the throne of our Father in Heaven and is seated on His Throne. I don’t believe that this world is Hell or Heaven. This world was created but because of the sin of man (documented in Genesis) it came under a number of curses, one of which was “the curse of the ground”. This world has fallen away from God because people have turned from God and have most people today have rejected the sacrifice that Jesus Christ has done for us *or* they don’t believe it (no faith).

      I believe that the bible is the word of God. All of the bible was not written by mans interpretation but was given by the Holy Spirit through revelation with man.

      [2 Peter 1]
      KJV :: [20] Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. [21] For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake {as they were} moved by the Holy Ghost.
      NIV :: [20] Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. [21] For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

      If I doubt the scriptures then I doubt the apostles who were taught by Jesus. So in effect I then doubt the teachings of Jesus (remember Jesus taught the apostles about the lake of fire). If I then reject the teachings of Jesus I then reject the teaching of God. Those who pick and chose from the bible argue with God on the truth. There is only one Spirit in this world that argues with God on the truth and that is the enemy who will teach you that “there is no hell so don’t worry about it” – hey most of the world believe in that way anyway so this will just stop them worrying about it altogether. Yeah if there is no hell – no punishment required for sins, hey no punishment required for sins then “Why did Jesus Christ die on the cross?” Preaching no lake of fire is preaching no punishment for sin. It just contradicts the teachings of Jesus Christ, His Life and His Death and Resurrection.

  4. #8 by Christian on July 2, 2010 - 5:18 am

    OK. Succinctly put. But…why do you think that Jesus told his disciples about this lake of fire?How is this known?

  5. #9 by Christian on July 2, 2010 - 5:36 am

    From what I have learned, we have three sources for this fiery lake, in order: ancient Egyptian mythology, the Revelation of John of Patmos (not the apostle, btw) and Lucia Santos who got it from the Virgin Mary. In no canonical text does Jesus say this, enen allegorically. Nothing in the Torah, Tanak or anywhere else in the NT.

    • #10 by Colin on July 2, 2010 - 6:31 am

      Lets not play word games:

      A Lake most seen as a large basin of water. A lake of fire will be a large basin of fire. (A containment of fire!). How big this is I have no idea but suffice to say we can describe a large containment of fire as a lake of fire. If you study the greek word used in Revelation given by John then it describes a “pouring out” or “lake” so the lake of fire is a “pouring out of fire” if you want to look at it in those terms.

      So then knowing what I have just described tell me what is Jesus describing here

      Mat 25: [41] Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into *everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels*

      and then in Revelation what is being described here:

      Rev 20:10 And the *devil that deceived them* was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet [are], and shall be tormented day and night *for ever and ever.*

      Rev 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. *This is the second death.*

      20:15 And *whosoever was not found written in the book of life* was cast into the lake of fire.

      Revelations lines up completely with what Jesus taught in Matthew 25. And lets look at some other evidence. You say that Jesus never mentions the words “lake of fire”. That isn’t true. The Book of Revelation is the “Revelation of Jesus Christ” for we are told right at the beginning of Revelation:

      [Revelation 1]
      KJV :: [1] The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified {it} by his angel unto his servant John: [2] Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw.

      So lets see…you are saying that the book of Revelation came from the mind of man. Yet here we are told that “GOD GAVE IT TO JESUS CHRIST and that the revelation was SENT and SIGNIFIED (signed with authority) by HIS ANGEL.

      I will tell you the source of the “lake of fire” it is of God to those who reject salvation to Jesus Christ and it is to those who are cursed ….
      Mat 25: [41] Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, **ye cursed , into everlasting fire **, prepared for the devil and his angels

      And let me give you the same warning that was given by Paul the Apostle (Who received direct revelation from Jesus Christ Himself on the road to Damascus)

      [Galatians 1]
      KJV
      [6] I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:
      [7] Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.
      [8] But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.
      [9] As we said before, so say I now again, If any {man} preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
      [10] For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

      So then by telling people that there is no punishment for sin by denying that there is a lake of fire contradicts what Jesus Christ taught. It is a false Gospel. And the above warning means that those who preach a false gospel are of the accursed and the cursed are thrown into the lake of fire.

      Am I telling you this so that I can take great gratification in condemning you….NO, NO, NO, NO Never…never….never!!!! I am telling you this so that you can REPENT BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE and SAVE YOURSELF from this LAKE OF FIRE WHICH IS A VERY REAL PLACE WHICH HAS BEEN PREPARED AND IS RIGHT NOW BURNING waiting for the time spoken of in Revelation. This time will come. Repent Christian, pull yourself away from this teaching that there is no lake of fire!?

  6. #11 by Colin on July 2, 2010 - 6:42 am

    Christian, publicly repent of this website and tear down this nonsense and get yourself back into fellow ship. I agree that churches (are definitely not perfect). If we read the accounts given in revelation of the letters sent to the Churches by Christ then we can see that there are problems in some of the churches.

    Remember the tares and the wheat. Jesus said that churches would contain, believers and none believers but we don’t know completely who they are until the end. Leave that to Jesus to sort out but get yourself back into fellowship and sing praises before Jesus Christ and pray daily for salvation of all the lost.

    You said in a previous post that you cannot love me because you don’t know me. I say to you that I can love you because I want to sit and bathe in the waters of life with you swimming at the die with joy which flow from the throne when the new heaven and new earth are created (Revelation 21).

    I love you Christian because you have been created in the image of God. Don’t let yourself be deceived. Come back from wherever you are. Most of the institutions have got it wrong (like you say) but we, in the love of Jesus Christ, don’t have to follow institutions but we do have to follow His word. Stop preaching this false Gospel and come back…

    • #12 by Colin on July 2, 2010 - 6:44 am

      A few typos in that last post (I really do want you to swim and bathe in the waters of life in the new kingdom 🙂

  7. #13 by Kevin on April 17, 2012 - 1:40 pm

    I was brought to the attention of life matters, or death matters, as a child. I was taught by my uncle a “fire and brimstone” teacher. He taught me Gods vengeance and wrath first. If i remember correctly, the first book of the Bible i ever read was Revelation. Ive come A LONG way since then. I read and studied the Bible myself, and ive cried in church while singing. That turned me away from God somehow, along with some sins i committed. I turned satanic and searched for bad things for a time aswell. It scared me for some reason, because I knew i was only supposed to Fear God, but that scared me, and i turned back to Jesus recently. I will never again turn away from God, no matter how atrocious a sin i commit. I know i have Jesus’s blood as my forgiveness, and i also know that still that isnt an excuse for me to sin, because it hurts to sin now, Thank God.

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