Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Fear Factor, part 3.

This is the last post on what I've called "The Fear Factor" in my church here. It's basically a repeated emphasis in church teaching and practice: an abundance of veiled or open threats, reminders of potential punishment and urging to live in fear of God; in fear of His wrath, judgement, and punishment. Somehow this is supposed to be the normal motivation for living in fellowship with God and man.

"Fear of hell
is a good motivation to trust in Christ. However, once we trust in Him, we know that we will never perish (Jn 3:16), and that we never need fear hell again. To continue to fear hell is to doubt that Jesus has forgiven us.
(There are many) powerful reasons to obey God. Assurance of salvation doesn't promote sin. An earthly parent can motivate his or her children to obey without threatening them with hell. So can our Heavenly Father." (Bob Wilkin)

One of the things that amplifies and enables the Fear Factor in this church is a lack of actually studying the Bible. There is a lot of of repeating verses and passages that can be made to sound threatening - without trying to discover what is actually being taught in the passage quoted. This leads to misquoted verses like “only the pure in heart shall see God” (Mat.5:8) and "if we don't judge ourselves, God will judge us with this world!" (1Cor.11:31-32) being preached as passages on how to have assurance that you will be in heaven, and not end up in hell.

As I can, and to the extent that I can, without causing controversy, I try to teach on important distinctions made in the New Testament that are essential for healthy doctrine and practice. Last Sunday I taught a little about the difference between the Judgement Seat of Christ and the Great White Throne judgement. It might have seemed rather advanced teaching to some of our church members, but I was tired of hearing references where the two events were lumped into one horrifying event where our good works as children of God will be what determine whether we end up in heaven or hell.

As a part of that message, I read from I Jn.4, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgement: because as He is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1Jn. 4:17-18)

However, during the wrap-it-all-up final message, one of the deacons summarized my message in just a few words, giving it a completely opposite twist. “Brother Will reminded us of the importance of a life of good works and keeping our hearts pure before God as what is needed to avoid judgement. Like the apostle John says: ‘If our own hearts judge us, then God does all the more!’” And so the Fear Factor was firmly re-established in the hearts and minds of those present, lest they go away confident that they are a beloved child of God, whether or not they live a perfect life.

If I adore You out of fear of Hell, burn me in Hell!
If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,
Lock me out of Paradise.
But if I adore you for Yourself alone,
Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.

I don’t have the answer to the dilemma I find myself in, as I minister to people while disagreeing profoundly with so much of what they cling to. Sometimes I want to stand up and shout that our problem isn’t uncovering some tiny mistake made 5 years ago that God is still punishing the church for - the true problem, the astoundingly Large problem, the Elephant In The Room that no one acknowledges - is that we are attempting to justify ourselves before God on the grounds of our works! Christ did everything needed - and HE took our punishment in full, on the cross... “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God ...who made (Christ) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ...and when (Christ) had offered for all time this one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, for by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy!” (1Pet.3:18, 2Cor.5:21,Heb.10:12-14)

However, I’m not usually given to shouting. It generally doesn’t do much good. I do wonder how much effect we are having here at this point, and how much longer I personally can continue to endorse a system of Churchianity that I am finding I object to more and more.

Let me not love Thee
From fear of wrath
Let me not see Thee
From hope for gain
Let me look on Thee
For the beauty of Thy face,
Beauty I cannot see
With my eye
Beauty I cannot know
With my mind
Beauty I can feel
Within my heart,
Where Thou hast built
Thy marble temple
Where Thou hast lain
Red-yellow flowers
Where Thou hast hid
The treasure of Thyself.
(Song of Rabia-I-Basra)

By the grace of God we are where we are, at least for now, and my hope and prayer is that we may impact this church through friendships and conversations, through believers here observing our life and family. I pray that at least the possibility of a relationship with God based on Grace and Love might begin to cross their minds. I hope and pray that God will work in their hearts - that our emphasis of Christ alone as the Source of salvation, life, hope and strength may cause them to reflect upon the question of where their own hope truly lies.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death ...what, then, shall we say in response to these things?

If God is for us, who can be against us?


There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” 1Jn. 4:18


DaDaHaZaReJe said...

I hear the ache in your words and am moved to pray - for those dear ones so caught up in that fear, for you, and for the ones right here who are caught more subtly but who are just as entangled and fearful. And I'm moved to praise our wonderful God who has freed us to live in hope and peace!

Nathan said...

No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.

It's quite the dilemma. Do you drizzle your new wine in old wineskins and hope they don't burst, or let the old wineskins enjoy their old wine, and search out new wineskins? Ideally you could do both, but that's not always easy...