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Yeshua Explored

Hell and evangelicals

todayJune 8, 2014 2

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So, what do modern denominations think of Hell?

For the Baptists, I went to the American equivalent, the Southern Baptists. Their website was frankly not very visually stimulating, but I was able to get a full statement of beliefs with one mouse click. I was also able to easily view a whole batch of sermons on the subject of Hell. The sermons were all good and biblical, although the official statement of faith was a bit sparse.

The unrighteous will be consigned to Hell, the place of everlasting punishment.

As for the Methodists, John Wesley their founder certainly did believe in a literal Biblical Hell. He wrote a sermon, “Of Hell” that was crystal clear on the subject.

As for our pains on earth, blessed be God, they are not eternal. There are some intervals to relieve and there is some period to finish them. When we ask a friend that is sick, how he does; ‘I am in pain now,’ says he, ‘but I hope to be easy soon.’ This is a sweet mitigation of the present uneasiness. But how dreadful would his case be if he should answer, ‘I am all over pain, and I shall never be eased of it. I lie under exquisite torment of body, and horror of soul; and I shall feel it for ever!’ Such is the case of the damned sinners in hell. Suffer any pain, then, rather than come into that place of torment!

But what of today’s Methodists? Again I had to go to the American website, that of the United Methodist Church. I needed three mouse clicks to get to their ‘basic affirmations’ only to discover that statements on Heaven and Hell were missing and I would need to buy a book to find out more.

Now for the good old Church of England. The closest I could get to a firm opinion from the Anglicans was a 1995 report from their Doctrine Commission, entitled ‘The Mystery of Salvation’. It was a 225 page report, but only one page hit the headlines – the part of the report where Hell was examined. Here’s what they said:

‘Hell is not eternal torment, but it is the final and irrevocable choosing of that which is opposed to God so completely and so absolutely that the only end is total non-being.’ [p.199]

Oh dear. I will comment on this a little later.

Two more denominations, the Pentecostals, who seem to revert to a more Biblical understanding:

We believe in the bodily resurrection of all men, the everlasting conscious bliss of all who truly believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and the everlasting conscious punishment of all whose names are not written in the Book of Life. (Assemblies of God)

THE FUTURE STATE: We believe in the resurrection of the dead and in the final judgement of the world, the eternal conscious bliss of the righteous and the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked. (Elim)

Now for the leading Evangelical organisation in the UK, the Evangelical Alliance. They produced a report in 2000 entitled, ‘The Nature of Hell’. It was not an unsubstantial document and it had 22 conclusions. Here’s the thrust of their argument:

Hell is separation from God.
Hell involves severe punishment, though Scripture used is often metaphorical.
Hell is a conscious experience of rejection and torment.
Hell involves degrees of punishment and suffering in hell related to the severity of sins committed on Earth.
Hell is a realm of destruction, which could be of actual existence of individual sinners or to the quality of their relationship with God.
Hell is eternal though not necessarily as a ceaseless conscious experience.
Hell can involve conditional immortality (more of that in a later article).

Before we unravel this doctrinal ball of yarn it is worth noting the opening two statements of their report:

In the contemporary interpretation of Scriptural teaching on Hell, as on other doctrines, we look to the Holy Spirit to illuminate us and lead us into the truth.

This seems to be a cop out, in that it implies that there is something special about contemporary society that the Holy Spirit feels the need to re-evaluate interpretations of Hell that have served the Church well for 2000 years.

In reflecting on the doctrine of Hell, we look for practical application to the church’s urgent task of mission and evangelism.

Truth is truth, irregardless of its practical applications. Is compromise to be acceptable if it pulls in more people to the Kingdom?

The problem for the writers of this report is their need to accommodate the various views in the broad sweep of evangelicalism. They recognise that the interpretation of Hell as eternal conscious punishment is the one most widely attested by the Church in its historic formulation of doctrine and in its understanding of Scripture.

More next week …

Steve Maltz

(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again,)

What happens when we die?

Written by: Miriam Emenike

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