Monday, June 14, 2010

Hellfire and brimstone preachers......... good, or harmful

If you're not familiar with the term, it is someone who preaches firey messages full of what will happen to people if they don't go to the altar, usually ending with a long altar call and scary stories about people who stood through similar altar calls and did not go, only to be hit by a bus and killed upon exiting the church. Ok, that last part was exaggeration, but you get the point.

I've admitted it before..... I have struggled as far back as I can rememeber, to truly believe that God loves me. Many have been the times that I thought that I did, but then I'd have the rug pulled out from under me, and the doubts would come flooding in again. "If God loved me then why......" - and so forth.

There are several factors that have played into this issue, and I was thinking about this one, so I decided to blog about it and see if anyone wants to comment about it. I think one factor is being "scared" into going to the altar so much as a teenager/young adult.

Young people are often up and down a lot spiritually - struggling with becoming an adult, and having struggles wih varying issues. So in that regard, I was a typical teenager growing up in an evangelical church. One month doing all I knew to do to live as a Christian, and the next having stumbled and fallen - and giving up.

And then would come revival services or campmeetings. The preacher would preach a stirring message on hell or something along that line, and as I said before, end with a long altar call complete with the "scary story" about someone who didn't go to the altar on one such occasion, and the next day, or later that week or month - was killed in a tragic accident. Or even better..... make the announcement that  for someone sitting in this very service, it would be their last oppurtunity to get right with God.

So, time after time being in that kind of servce, knowing I wasn't where I needed to be, I would be scared into going to the altar. Looking back, I wonder how many times I actually went because I felt conviced by God, and how many times I went because of emotion - the emotion of fear. Emotions are strong - and arousing fear in someone can get them to do a lot of things - like going to the altar.

The argument could be made that if sinners go to the altar, it shouldn't matter what methods are used to get them there - and there may be some truth to that. But...... if people are scared into going to the altar, and don't go because they want to, and out of a desire to do what is right - are they going to actually become a Christian - and live a Christian life? I know in my case, I usually "fell off the wagon" the next day, week, or month. And I saw people who were outright sinners be scared or talked into going to the altar - and so many of them didn't last. The experience they got at the altar was simply a band-aid, put on because they were scared into going to the altar.

Now, don't get me wrong - I don't think hell is talked about enough - what it is like, and the reality of it. It is more than a curse word appearing in Christian fiction books - and other places. (sorry, had to slip that in!)

But.... does it do any good to scare people to the altar? And when they are scared into going to the altar, will they truly get the salvation experience, and will they last? And.... is there a danger of giving people the wrong view of God - that He is a vengeful and hateful God just waiting to cast people into hell?

The opposite view can also be damaging.... to so portray God as love that the view of a God of wrath is not shown, and people view Him as a loving doting grandfather - so a balance is needed.

So - comments anyone?


Christa said...

Harmful in the long run, I think. I am sure that sometimes there are those that get through in that setting, but I know too many that have went out of emotions and no commitment, and it didn't last. They usually seem to drift away as they are embarrassed to be continually going, but maybe never understood the meaning of a predetermined commitment to make it last. Too many weak ones that are determined, but weak, are tempted to doubt their experience, causing them to run to the altar again, and fall into confusion. I think the harm is greater than the help.

Annette said...

I just came across a YouTube that will answer your question about love, real love.
I posted it on the right side about 1/2 way down on my blog at A Well-Watered Garden, it is long a little over 10 min but really good.

Kim M. said...

If nothing happens in the heart then it was fruitless.

Steve-n-Deb said...

As you know, I've pushed against a religion that is too based on emotion. Hellfire preachers are pushing an emotional religion. So are the love and acceptance preachers. A balance between the God of justice and the God of love is Biblical. When we were young, the justice was emphasized. Now, the love is emphasized. We really need a balance.

I heard a story about a man who told the preacher, "If you had given an altar call tonight I would have gone to the altar." The preacher offered to pray with the man right there, and the man said that he was no longer willing. The preacher said that if the interest in becoming a Christian could disappear that fast, the desire to stay a Christian would have disappeared just as soon. I think you get the point.

Overall, I think that hellfire preaching should be used sparingly or it will be harmful.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the other comments, especially Steve-n-Deb. My dad (a Pastor) always says,"It's the Holy Spirit who does the work in the hearts and he can do that work without emotional tactics." That would include both extremes. Our emotions are certainly involved in decisions, but a true surrender to a holy, loving God is a heart surrender, not an emotional surrender. Otherwise it won't last and Satan used it to discourage us. I think the Psalms are invaluable to help us have a correct view of God in all of his Holy, Righteous, Merciful, Lovingness.