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Written by: C. W. Booth

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Contemporary Gospel of Relevancy

In the past twenty years I have had the opportunity to attend church services at almost two dozen local churches. At the majority, the music "ministry" provided performances that were deafeningly loud, decidedly hard rock in tempo and style, and almost never invoked a piece of music that had aged beyond ten years.

When asked why these music leaders had chosen this approach, the response was universal: "Today’s church needs to be relevant to the unsaved."

Apparently, relevance is the new standard, the definition of high quality, against which all church and worship activities are measured. Further, in this new model, contemporary audiences only consider contemporary lyrics and genuinely modern music to be relevant. So, art which is very young is relevant, that which has aged more than a decade is irrelevant and falls outside the quality standard of the contemporary church.

My problem with all this falls on the assumption that relevancy is permitted to be a standard of measure for anything spiritual. What passage of the Bible describes "relevancy" as a standard by which to judge those who are fit to serve in ministry, or the music that delights God’s heart, or the message that the church preaches? With all due respect, I ask, where is relevancy described as a spiritual standard?

Inactivity by Christians is condemned by the Word. Lack of caring for the health and welfare of others is equally rebuked in Scripture. Hypocrisy is chided in the Bible. These actions and attitudes fall below the standard of conduct found in God’s Word. Yet, the standard of conduct is never found to be "relevancy" but love and holiness.

Look at this from a fresh perspective. Our gospel message was last updated by its author almost two thousand years ago. That message of faith was first written almost four thousand years ago. Is the message of faith irrelevant simply because it has not been revised or expanded upon for thousands of years? To answer "Yes" to that question is to find oneself without a means of eternal salvation.

If the Bible is still relevant, if salvation is still relevant, then what the Word says matters. And it no where talks of worship needing to be contemporary to be relevant. Nor is relevancy held up as a way to measure the success or validity of worship. More pointedly, engaging in worship is only possible by the saved, those who have acknowledged and embraced the truth (and relevancy) of a two thousand year old message. The unsaved will not, cannot, worship until they have given up their contemporary unbelief as irrelevant and turned in faith to the ageless Creator as all important and all significant.

Therefore, when worship services pander to a single style of music (today that would be loud rock) that is indistinguishable from the unsaved culture, and turn to lyrics that are virtually devoid of deep biblical theology (theology being deemed irrelevant because it is too difficult to understand and not fun enough) then such services have themselves become spiritually irrelevant.

1 Corinthians 14 instructs that all aspects of the worship service are to be edifying, understandable, distinct, instructional, explanatory of God, and encouraging, while also refuting bad doctrine and calling attention to the evils of sin. Cultural relevancy, fun, and having music that is indistinguishable from the world are not standards mentioned in this passage.

Are those churches "wrong" for using only contemporary rock music and modern lyrics? Not necessarily. However, their reasons for doing so, their philosophy, their intent, and their understanding of the very concept of worship are wrong. Relevancy is not our standard or our goal. We must rid ourselves of that very notion. To instruct others in the way of Christ, to reach out our hand and to actually help others up out of their gutter, to explain to them the deep things of God, to help them change into an image of Christ, that is THE standard by which to measure worship.

The only important question to ask of your worship service is this: Does your worship change the nature of the person who comes?

Relevancy is not the gospel. And whether we like it or not, the gospel is already relevant, even without rock music added.

 

 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Do You Believe in Soul Sleep?

A dear Christian brother and I just concluded a rather lengthy email discussion. He had just recently converted over to the belief that the orthodox Christian doctrine of Hell as an everlasting tormenting punishment is wrong. He now favors a doctrine that he considers to be more in keeping with God’s attributes of love, gentleness, kindness, mercy, and forgiveness. This doctrine is called "soul sleep."

Now, soul sleep has numerous variants. In the purview of the Christian brother noted above, he sees all persons as going into soul sleep when they physically die (a state he defines as nonexistence). At the end of the age everyone will be awoken from death in a bodily resurrection to participate in the great judgment. When unbelievers are found not to be written into the Lamb’s Book of Life, a sentence of guilty is pronounced on them, they will become terrified for a few moments as they are ushered to the edge of the lake of fire, then, when they are pushed in, their body and spirit instantly vaporize into nonexistence, releasing that person from all guilt, regret, pain, anxiety, fear, terror, tribulation, and responsibility. They no longer exist on any plane. They have no thoughts, no loneliness, no sorrow--only peaceful and pain-free nonexistence.

Why? I asked him why he prefers that concept of Hell over the orthodox view. He replied that God is love and would never tolerate a person to be tormented in a lake of fire forever. It is too terrifying and unkind a prospect, he said.

He further went on to describe how the Bible can be made to conform to this doctrine. If you assume that when unbelievers are euphemistically said to be made to "perish" and be "destroyed" in the "second death" that it really means that they are annihilated in body and spirit, then you have the biblical foundation of the doctrine of soul sleep. Their complete annihilation, or total nonexistence, is like their spirit / soul has simply gone into eternal sleep, never to awaken or be self-aware again. No torment, no suffering, no everlasting punishment.

So what is the problem? To my mind, aside from the numerous Bible passages that talk about Hell’s fire always burning but never consuming the bodies of those thrown into it (remember the supernatural fire of God that burned the bush in front of Moses but never actually reduced the branches to ashes?), that the lake of fire is a place of "everlasting torment," that not even the worms will die that infest those who are sent there, aside from all those references, the idea of soul sleep is neither terrifying nor punishing. Let me explain.

On this earth, many Christians have been burned to death by other people. It is, sadly, a rather common form of death, if not painful and ugly. Equally sad, many unsaved firefighters have burned to death over the years. Now imagine that one particularly unsavory individual, a mass murderer who has killed thousands by burning them to death, himself dies a slow gruesome death at the hands of his would-be victims, and goes into soul sleep (nonexistence). God resurrects him at the end of the age, and he is judged guilty of being a non-believer and worthy of Hell. In a terrified voice he asks, "What punishment will you sentence me to in Your wrath for all the evil I have done?" God softly answers, "Why, just the same as every other sinner, no more, no less, you will be instantly vaporized in the lake of fire, after which you will not exist, you will feel nothing, think nothing, regret nothing, nor experience sorrow or loneliness." Our murderer replies, "That is wonderful! My first death was far more slow, painful, and terrifying than this. Most of my murder victims suffered more than this at their first death. And I do not even need to lament for even a moment all the evil I have done in my long life! Thank you for this favor Lord!"

So very many times Paul, Jesus, and the biblical authors described Hell as "everlasting torment," "eternal punishment," and "repayment" from the righteous wrath of a vengeful God. Being sentenced to Hell is also described in the Bible as being a tribulation and so terrifying as to cause those in Hell to constantly weep and gnash their teeth. But if the lake of fire, the second death, is nothing more than total annihilation of the conscious spirit with less pain than almost anyone’s first death was here on earth, how is that punishing or terrifying?

Something is very wrong with this picture of soul death. Are human spirits so easily annihilated? Do sinners really have no need to fear actually experiencing God’s wrath? Was their earthly death really more horrific than will be their second death?

And what incentive is there to preach to the unsaved? After all, no one is really going into an eternity of torment, only peaceful and pain-free nonexistence. So, they miss out on a blissful eternity with God, they will never know it, lament it, or regret their decision.

While it may be hard to think of eternal torment (Revelation 20:10, Jude 1:7, Mark 9:48, Isaiah 66:22-24, Daniel 12:2) as being an appropriate punishment against unbelievers for rejecting the sacrifice that Jesus Christ gave of Himself, God reveals to us that it is holy, righteous, and just for Him to do so. So let us work all the harder to spread the Word of the gospel that some may be won away from that terrifying expectation of wrath to the redemption God Himself has provided.

Those who reject Christ (who have trampled under foot the sacrifice of God’s own Son and have thus "insulted the Spirit of grace") have committed the one sin that God never forgives. And should not an eternal sin warrant an eternal punishment?

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY." And again, "THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

"Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"-

(Mark 3:28-29)

"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him. (Luke 12:10)

---

[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online February 19, 2009. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the February 19, 2009 post entitled: Do You Believe in Soul Sleep?

Begin Comment 1 from Commenter One:

What would prevent us sinners from going absolutely nuts with wicked fun on this planet if we knew that the only *punishment* from God was going to be amnesia? Oh yeah, real scarey. Soul sleep. NOT!

Posted 2/19/2009 5:14 PM by j

End of Comment

Begin C. W. Booth’s Response to Comment 1

I love that statement: "What would prevent us sinners from going absolutely nuts with wicked fun on this planet if we knew that the only *punishment* from God was going to be amnesia?"

Posted 2/19/2009 5:34 PM by C. W. Booth - reply

End of Response

Begin Comment by Commenter Two

Seems to me that "soul sleep" is just wishful dreaming. Like you said, if the second death is pretty much the same pain as the first death, what's to be afraid of? I think some folks hugely underestimate the part of God that is holy and just and that hates wickedness. I don't think they get this concept of holy wrath.

Posted 2/19/2009 6:32 PM by R

End Comment by Commenter Two

Begin C. W. Booth’s Response to Commenter Two

R, to that same point, think about how "unfair" it is that so many people have been tormented in Hades (the temporary holding pit for the spirits of the unbelievers who have died since the beginning of the world, which Jesus called a place of extreme waterless heat and torment). Those folks have had to endure thousands of years in the torment of the Hades pit awaiting final judgment, only to be annihilated instantly at the judgment, while those who die right before the judgment are only there for "days," even though they may have been more wicked. They too are annihilated instantly at the judgment but did not have to endure a long stay of torment in the Hades pit.

It does not ring true at all that everyone's punishment is identical.

I really like that line: Can it really be that the only punishment from God for years of sinning is to get amnesia?

Posted 2/19/2009 6:48 PM by C. W. Booth - reply

End of Response

Begin Comments from Commenter Three

I have heard of this theory, that the fires of Hell are only temporary. The theory says that the Greek word "aionios" never used to mean eternal, but only meant a long time, like a hundred years. So when Jesus says some people will be tormented for "aionios" it means they will only be punished for a hundred years. But that silliness is easily disproved with textual analysis. In the very same sentence that "aionios" torment is decreed on the wicked, it describes life with God for the righteous as also being for "aionios." So if life with God is only for a hundred years, then the punishment is only for a hundred years, but if life with God is for eternity (never ending), then the torment is for eternity (never ending). Is our salvation temporary or never ending?

Matthew 25:45-46 "Then He will answer them, 'Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.' (46) "These will go away into eternal (aionios) punishment, but the righteous into eternal (aionios) life."

Posted 2/20/2009 1:23 AM by A

End of Comment

Begin Comment from Commenter Four

I don't agree with "soul sleep" for the reasons you listed. Besides, this is just another effect of "post modern" stuff that says that the Christian God can only be a loving God .......... never mind his wrath, holiness, justness and anger!

Posted 2/20/2009 1:28 AM by n

End of Comment

Begin C. W. Booth’s Response to Commenter Four

N wrote, "Besides, this is just another effect of "post modern" stuff that says that the Christian God can only be a loving God .......... never mind his wrath, holiness, justness and anger!"

Nicole, at what point does our distorted view of God become critically dangerous, or to put it as Jesus did, when does it begin making others into sons of hell?

Posted 2/20/2009 10:54 AM by C. W. Booth - reply

Begin Commenter Five Comment

I was given another definition of soul sleep. I was told it meant that when we died our souls were in a sleep like state and didn't come to life again until our bodies were resurrected. Which of course doesn't line up with to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. As to your article--I'm with you!!!

D

Posted 2/20/2009 4:22 PM by d

End Comment

Begin C. W. Booth’s Response to Commenter Five

D wrote: "I was given another definition of soul sleep. I was told it meant that when we died our souls were in a sleep like state and didn't come to life again until our bodies were resurrected."

D, yours is an accurate definition of the first half of that false doctrine of soul sleep. But the second half of the doctrine states that soul sleep is ALSO the final state of the unbeliever after judgment, after he is annihiliated in hell. In this way, those who believe in soul sleep avoid the tragedy of Hell entirely--no torment, no punishment, no pain, no loneliness for anyone. All is happy happy for everyone. Well almost. I wonder if God is happy happy with this doctrine of soul sleep since it is His justice that demands that unbelief be punished?

Posted 2/21/2009 1:15 AM by C. W. Booth - reply

End of Reply

Begin Comment by Commenter Six

It would seem that the soul sleep is another attempt of the evil one to undermine the Word of God. Yes the adversary is every ready to use fallen man's humanistic reasoning to assail the Word. The Bible is clear in that God can destroy the soul (Matt 10:28) but taken in context the teaching is that you need to fear God rather then men because He is able to kill the soul in hell. The Word does not support the teaching of soul sleep. It is just another of many attempts to get around the righteous judgment of a holy God.

I usually get strange looks when I say "the falling away from the Word we see in the world today would seem to be coming from a delusion somewhat similar to the strong delusion spoken of in 2 Thess 2:8." The Christian community has many who are gullible when it comes to bad doctrine. There was always bad doctrine through the ages but since the infusion of liberal theology into mainline denominations in the 19th century churches have increasingly fallen away by the rationality of humanistic thought.

Posted 2/23/2009 5:55 PM by S

Begin C. W. Booth’s Reply to Commenter Six

To S: Our brothers in Christ who hold to a doctrine of soul sleep would actually agree with you that God can destroy the body and soul in Hell. In fact, they argue that this is precisely the last phase of soul sleep. The total annihilation of the soul in Hell is the irrevocable form of the oblivion of soul sleep: nonexistence. To them, it is preferable to think that God annihilates the soul of the unsaved (sending them into the unawareness of soul sleep) instead of tomenting them in Hell everlastingly. While that concept certainly has a certain ring of "spirituality" to it, Scripture indicates that God's nature of justice will not permit it. It seems the eternal sin of rejecting the Holy Spirit's convicting influence is unforgivable and requires an eternal punishment.

In short, death is never "the end."

Posted 2/23/2009 11:04 PM by C. W. Booth - reply

End of Reply

 

 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Do You Honestly Believe the Unsaved Deserve Everlasting Torment in Hell?

This is a follow-up to my previous post: http://www.xanga.com/craigwbooth/693249014/do-you-believe-in-soul-sleep/

So, that’s the question. Please specify if you are a born again Christian, or some other faith, or no faith at all, and tell me, Do you honestly believe that people who have rejected Jesus as Savior deserve the everlasting torment of Hell?

I have been wondering how many Christians still hold to the orthodox view of Hell as a place of eternal punishment for not believing in Jesus. Speak up, I would very much like to know.

---

[Note: the above essay was originally posted as a blog entry which I wrote and put online February 19, 2009. As such, it was subject to public commentary as is customary with blogging. As a practical matter, I normally delete the comments entered on the blog site when building this essay archive. If you wish to read the comments posted by others about the essays, you are invited to go online, read them, or post your own comments.

However, on a few occasions the comments and perhaps my own responses to the comments are so core to understanding the essay, or the implications of the essay, that I have chosen to incorporate them, as I have done below.]

Comments to the February 19, 2009 post entitled: Do You Honestly Believe the Unsaved Deserve Everlasting Torment in Hell?

Begin Comment from C. W. Booth:

My own answer: I admit that I probably do not have the sense of justice that God has, and I certainly am not perfect in holiness as God is holy, and I cannot begin to understand what it means to be God and to give your life for beings you created but who reject you as God. Therefore, I cannot view this from God’s all wise and perfect perspective. Not even close. Therefore, my "feelings" are irrelevant, and I must accept that when God in His Word says the everlasting torment of Hell is deserved by those who have rejected Jesus, I must say, Amen! It is one of those things I assume I will more fully understand in Heaven.

Posted 2/19/2009 10:21 PM by C. W. Booth - reply

End of C. W. Booth’s Comment

Begin Comment from Second Commenter

Born again Christian, yes. If God said it, and God did say, then I believe it. Yup, I am sad for those folks at the moment, but I must believe God knows best.

Posted 2/19/2009 11:55 PM by j

End of Comment

Begin Comment from Third Commenter

If the Bible is to be believed, and if Jesus is the Saviour - someone to believe, and if you reject the idea that Jesus was a liar or alunatic, then you HAVE to believe in the Biblical teachings of hell and everlasting torment. It's not "nice" to think of, but you said it well in that we can't possibly begin to understand the mind of God - a Holy, Perfect and Just God. You can't pick and choose what to believe in the Bible. The ultimate hypocrisy is "christians" who believe in Heaven but disbelieve Hell.

Posted 2/20/2009 1:31 AM by n

End of Comment

Begin C. W. Booth’s Response to Third Commenter

N wrote, "The ultimate hypocrisy is "christians" who believe in Heaven but disbelieve Hell."

As this discussion progressed with my friend, I often kept coming back to this question in my mind, "What are we being saved FROM if there is no etneral punishment?"

Posted 2/20/2009 10:58 AM by C. W. Booth - reply

End of Reply

Begin Comment by Commenter Four

I am a beliver and I believe in Hell as a place of eternal torment for the unsaved.

Posted 2/20/2009 4:17 PM by d-

End of Comment

 

 


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