A Help or Hindrance?
Can we be good without hell? Can
society succeed morally without the weight of eternal torment
being held over its head? This was a theme article in the June 16,
1997 Christianity Today magazine. Mr. Jerry Walls, the author,
purports that the consequence of Divine judgment is a necessary
barrier to moral wrong. Unfortunately he assumes that eternal
conscious torment in hell is the Biblical penalty. It is not.
"For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is
eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23
Is eternal torment an effective
deterrent of evil? The doctrine has had centuries to prove its
ability to tame and sanctify. Sadly, as any history student can
attest, from the time of our Lord's earthly ministry to the
present human history has been filled with an abundance of murder,
robbery and vice. All committed by professed Christians aware of
teachings about hell. The threat of eternal torment, erroneously
preached as part of the Good News, has not controlled evil. It did
not and cannot engender godliness in the world.
The true motivating force to
serve God and righteousness, the one we pray all Christian people
will gain strength from, is love. A love of things Divine such as
righteousness, justice, mercy, peace, joy—these alone will bring
obedience from a fervent pure heart. Other motives, such as fear,
tend to produce Christians "in name only."
Our acquaintance with many
Christians throughout the spectrum of Christianity has shown that
a very small minority gave themselves to Christ because they
feared eternal torment. The scripture 1 John 4:18-19 echoes the
motivation for our commitment to Christ. "There is no fear in
love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath
torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him,
because he first loved us."
In Matthew 13 Jesus painted a
broad panorama of Christian history. The parable of the wheat and
tares describes the course of Christianity from the beginning, to
its culmination in a harvest. A householder sowed good seed in his
field. The anticipated fruitage was corrupted by the householder's
enemy who over sowed the wheat field with tare seed (false wheat)
while the householder's menservants slept. When the blade was
spring up and brought forth fruit, the act of vandalization was
manifest. The true wheat was choked in the midst of overwhelming
amounts of imitation wheat.
Jesus Explained the Wheat and
This lesson greatly interested
the disciples and so they asked Jesus to explain it. What a great
benefit to us that he did! The householder represented Jesus. The
field—the Christian world with its fruitages. The good fruit
represented Christ's true followers, his faithful disciples.
Tares, which outwardly look like wheat, were imitations planted by
The tares were not to be weeded
out until the harvest which would take place in the end of this
world or age (Greek — aion). Jesus' work at the end of the
Christian Age is as Chief Reaper. He will then send his angels
(Greek angelos—messengers), his disciples, to harvest the
wheat at his second advent just as he did at the first. Luke
10:1-3; John 4:35,36
Two Seeds, One True—One
The two fruitages resulted from
two different kinds of seed. Wheat, the true Christian, springs
forth from the Word of God. This is taught in the parable of the
sower. "The seed is the word of God...they which in an honest
and good heart, having heard the word, keep it and bring forth
fruit with patience." Luke 8:11,15 The apostles carried forth
the ministry of Christ, preaching the word of life, sowing seeds
of the kingdom. The Father "begat us with the word of
truth". James 1:18 "In Christ Jesus have I begotten you
through the gospel," said the Apostle Paul. I Corinthians
A sinister turn in church
history occurred when the apostles fell asleep in death (compare
Matthew 13:25). In their absence Satan sought to corrupt the
church. His weapon was error. Just as truth produces a true
Christian, so error produces an imitation. Satan's work of
corrupting God's truth in Christ began even during the apostles'
time. "Every spirit that confesses not that Jesus Christ is
come in the flesh is not of God; and thus is that spirit of
antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even
now is already in the world." I John 4:3
That anti-christian spirit
spread throughout the Christian world sowing tares. Satan hoped to
choke the spiritual life out of God's wheat by surrounding them
with tares. One of Satan's principal instruments to sow bad seed
were the Neo-Platonist Christians. These "philosopher"
Christians sought to apply scientific methods in understanding
scripture. Their "science" was derived from Plato, a
great man—unfortunately also a Pagan.
The unfortunate result of
bending scripture to fit human philosophy was the creation of bad
seed and its fruit—nominal Christians. Human science did no
favor to the church of God. How sad that the apostolic admonition
was not heeded, "Avoid profane and vain babblings, and
oppositions of science falsely so called: which some (believers)
professing have erred concerning the faith." I Timothy
A False Seed Close up
One such false seed was the
Grecian philosophy of eternal torment for the wicked. Neo-Platonic
concepts of the afterlife corrupted the simple truth of the Bible
Hell. The New Testament Hades and the Old Testament Sheol no
longer were perceived as the death state. They were instead
transformed into a place of eternal conscious torment. (Space does
not here permit an adequately thorough discussion of death and
hell. We encourage you to order the booklet "What Say the
Scriptures Concerning Hell?" offered at the end of this
letter. The scriptures on these subjects are fully discussed in
The threat of such enormous and
eternal suffering held over the heads of unbelievers has not, is
not and will not accomplish what God intends for the masses of
mankind. Converted to Christ under pressure many people (who would
not otherwise burden themselves with Christ's cross), have made a
profession of faith.
God's Real Purpose in
Conversion through coercion is
not God's purpose in Christianity. "True worshippers shall
worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh
such to worship him. God is a spirit: and they that worship him
must worship him in spirit and in truth." John 4:23,24 In
other words, God wants our hearts to yield in willing love to Him
and His truth. Many unwilling converts, motivated by fear, have
feigned obedience to Him. That is how a tare is created.
The purpose of Christianity is
to call out a people for God's name. Those called out are God's
elect. The elected ones, found faithful in this life, will serve
as priests and kings of God. Their ministry will be to the
remainder of humanity—those not called and willingly converted
during the Christian Era. See Acts 15:14-17 and Revelation 5:10.
Hell in National News
"The Rekindling of
Hell" (U.S. News and World Report for March 25, 1991) noted
"Record numbers of Americans now believe in a nether world
and in a wide variety of after death punishments." According
to a Gallop survey done in November 1990, three out of five
Americans now believe in hell. However, views of what constitute
hell sharply differ.
Some try to understand hell
philosophically and, through human wisdom, invent the hell of
their choice. Others fall back on creeds of human invention and
hold forth the hell of tradition. Some are returning to the
Scriptures to study them anew. The Scriptures are shedding light
on hell. "Such highly regarded theologians as Clark H.
Pinnock, theology professor at McMaster Divinity College in
Hamilton, Ontario; John R.W. Stott, president of the London
Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and Philip E. Hughes, a
noted Anglican clergyman and author, contend that rather than
suffering endlessly, those who ultimately reject God will simply
be put out of existence in the 'consuming fire' of hell."
"Those who subscribe to
this view—called 'annihilationism'—point to New Testament
passages that speak of 'eternal destruction' and 'the second
death' for those who know not God and to the Old Testament prophet
Ezekiel's declaration that 'the soul that sins shall die.'"
(U.S. News and World Report, March 25, 1991, p. 63). These men are
commendable for turning back to scriptures to understand what hell
is. Hughes interestingly observes "that the traditional
belief in unending punishment is linked to the erroneous belief in
the 'innate immortality' of the soul—a belief, he says, that is
based more on Plato than on the Bible."
On the other hand,
traditionalists "argue that annihilationism takes some of the
punch out of Gospel preaching. 'To tell the unrepentant that the
worst fate that could befall them is extinction,' says Harold O.J.
Brown, a theology professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity
School, 'makes continuing in sin seem less risky.'" And that
is the very point of the parable of the wheat and tares. Wheat,
the true Christian, rejoice to leave sin behind. They love
righteousness and hate iniquity. They are not coerced by terror,
but by love and the beauty of God's Word.
Forewarned is Forearmed
Our hope for all God's people is
that they will be led on to full Christian fruitage by God's Word.
We pray that His people will stand firmly for the truth even
against the majority public opinion or entrenched human creeds.
Remember that the tares in the parable are the overwhelming
majority. Let us all, by the grace of God, receive the Word of God
into good and honest hearts, bringing forth good fruit with