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Insecure leaders are dangerous to any organization. They are especially hazardous in church settings. Quick clarification, every leader has areas of insecurity. And, leaders have seasons of insecurity that aren’t permanent. Usually, because of extremely traumatic circumstances, exhaustion, or feelings of displacement in a new position, role, or environment. This article is addressing chronic toxic insecurities in leaders. Toxically insecure leaders destroy lives, organizations, and almost everything they touch if they don’t recognize their internal condition and correct it.
If you’re a leader, check yourself for these symptoms. Better yet, ask your spouse or someone you respect if you are showing any of these symptoms. If you are, it doesn’t have to be terminal. You can adjust, grow, change, and become a truly dynamic leader. Facing our flaws is always challenging, but it pays big dividends later on.
Maybe you’re concerned someone close to you is a toxic leader. If so, please understand a toxically insecure leader will display at least three or more of these symptoms. Be careful not to misdiagnose a leader because they exhibit one or two of these symptoms from time to time. However, if you find that you are working with or for a toxically insecure leader, you would be wise to distance yourself if and when possible. Otherwise, you will be pulled into their injuriousness as either a collaborator or a victim.
King Saul is a prime biblical example of a genuinely toxic insecure leader. He was anointed, impressive, loved, and gifted, but his unbridled jealous insecurities prompted him to hate David. King Saul’s insecurities sent him down a twisted path of self-destructive behavior. Tragically, when a leader like Saul falls prey to their insecurities, they can unleash a whirlwind of hurt. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Below are ten common symptoms found in toxically insecure leaders. However, along with each symptom, there is a helpful prescription listed.
1. Insecure Leaders are Easily Offended
Not only are they offended easily by genuine affronts, but insecure leaders are angered by a seemingly endless list of perceived slights. Insecure leaders continuously feel as if they are being disrespected, attacked, taunted, or rejected. The insecure leader’s posture of offense reveals selfishness as their deeper character flaw. Because they view everything through the lens of self, they filter everyone’s actions as being about or directed at them. Insecure leaders speak and act against their real or perceived offenders often. They go on long crusades demanding respect or diminishing those who seemingly refuse to admire them.
The Prescription for Easily Offended Leaders
We overcome offenses by looking up to God. It really is that simple. The apostle Peter reminds us that it is an honor to suffer offense – even unjust offenses – if we are mindful of God (1 Peter 2:19). To be sure, Peter’s readers were dealing with offenses more severe than the kind Westerners typically face: physical abuse (1 Peter 2:20), ridicule (1 Peter 4:4), fiery trials (1 Peter 4:12). But learning to overlook the most significant offenses usually begins with learning to forgive the smallest. Enduring slander begins with enduring a sarcastic remark. Enduring a beating begins with enduring a cold shoulder. Being mindful of God in everyday offenses trains us to be mindful of Him when the worst comes.
Offended leaders must rest in the knowledge that God sees all offenses (Hebrews 4:13), God will settle all offenses (Romans 12:19), and God can satisfy us amid offense (Isaiah 58:11). When offense comes, it’s always tempting to allow bitterness, revenge, fantasy, distraction, pleasure, or self-justification to bring temporary satisfaction to our grievance. But only God can fill us with joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 1:8). Only God can call us back from darkness (1 Peter 2:9). We can always rise above offense by lifting our eyes to God.
2. Insecure Leaders Pass the Blame
Confident leaders are comfortable accepting responsibility for their mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes, drops the ball, and gets it wrong from time to time. But insecure leaders find creative ways to blame others for their failures. They pass the buck to anyone or anything they can find. Because insecure leaders refuse to acknowledge their own mistakes, they never learn to correct them.
Furthermore, individuals forced to take blame unfairly on an insecure leader’s behalf are deeply wounded. Understandably, this creates constant turnover and turmoil in the leaders serving underneath an insecure leader. At the root of the blame game are an insecure leader’s ego and pride. Passing the buck begins by uprooting pride. Once pride is gone, humility can confidently take its place.
The Prescription for Blame Passing Leaders
God resists prideful leaders who lack humility (James 4:6). On the other hand, God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6). Thankfully the passage of Scripture doesn’t stop there. It goes on to provide us with the exact prescription for curing pride:
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.James 4:8-10 ESV
3. Insecure Leaders Tear Other People Down
Insecure leaders can’t help themselves from tearing other people down verbally, not necessarily to their face, but behind their backs. They are careful to couch their criticism as concern or something innocuous, but they intend to tear down their perceived competition. Insecure leaders feel threatened by talented, gifted, or well-liked people, and they make it their mission to belittle those people cleverly.
The Prescription for People Bashing Leaders
There are two self-serving reasons to stop tearing other people down, whether it be overtly or subtly. First, people just don’t like or trust people who manipulatively bash other people. People bashers tend to think they’re super slick in how they do it, but people quickly catch on to it. Secondly, the absolute fear of God should be a strong motivator to stop tearing others down. Especially if they are godly people. In the book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul wrote: Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up… (Ephesians 4:29 ESV)”. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He continues with an ominous warning: …do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… (Ephesians 4:30 ESV). To grieve the Holy Spirit is to invite the judgment of God. If nothing else, selfishly avoid God’s wrath by lifting others up rather than tearing them down.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.Ephesians 4:31-32
4. Insecure Leaders Avoid Necessary Risk
An aversion to necessary risks often paralyzes insecure leaders. This one is tricky to spot in a leader because sometimes, risk aversion is wisdom. However, good leaders know risk is unavoidable, healthy, and necessary from time to time. We might call it a leap of faith, or stepping out by faith, or moving forward. Insecure leaders avoid these steps of faith to the detriment of the people depending on them for guidance.
A Cowardly Confederate General
Bright red blood contrasted sharply with the brilliant white snow on a bone-chilling February morning in 1862. Confederate troops under the command of General Gideon Pillow were trapped in Fort Donelson near Dover, Tennessee. General Ulysses S. Grant’s federal troops had them nearly surrounded, and union reinforcements were arriving regularly. General Pillow and his officers knew if they didn’t fight their way out, they would be starved out or frozen out by General Grant.
Federal ironclad boats steamed up the Cumberland River to shell the confederate fort into submission. But southern cannons barraged the ironclads so mercilessly they were forced to retreat. This long-range victory heartened the southern soldiers and emboldened them for battle. The plan was to break through enemy lines and regroup with reinforcements in Nashville. General Pillow realized it would be a bitter fight, but he was shocked to see more union soldiers than expected just over the hill’s crest directly between them and their escape route.
Deafening rebel yells pierced the frosty air as Pillow’s men fiercely charged union lines. After only an hour of fighting, it was almost impossible to see snow because of the crystalizing crimson stains. Miraculously, Pillow’s men busted through federal lines opening up a clear path to Nashville. The breach was only temporary and needed to be exploited by rebel troops quickly. General Pillow needed to give fearless and decisive leadership. But the confederate leader was frozen by more than just the icy winter temperatures. Fear paralyzed General Pillow, causing him to retreat to the fort’s temporary safety rather than continue fighting to ultimate victory.
Pillow’s cowardly decision caused 14,000 confederate troops to be captured and imprisoned by General Grant. Many historians consider this a turning point in the Civil War in favor of the union army. Ironically, General Pillow was able to escape during the night and avoid capture. He left subordinate officers behind to face the wrath of General Grant. This story is a classic example of a fearful, toxically, insecure leader.
The Prescription for Fearful Leaders
The psalmist said: I sought the Lord, and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4 KJV). The prescription for fearful leadership is God-centered leadership. Leaders who pursue God and strive to follow His direction are delivered from fear and filled with confidence. It sounds overly simplistic, but it’s not. It’s common sense once you understand that God knows the future, and if we know God intimately, He guides us into the future. Great leaders aren’t without worries, but their faith in God overwhelms their fear.
Don’t let fear overwhelm your faith; let faith overwhelm your fear (Psalm 34:4).Tweet
5. Insecure Leaders Attack Questioners
Confident leaders encourage and invite questions because they relish the opportunity to cast their vision. Conversely, insecure leaders view most questions as insults to their intelligence and authority. Often, insecure leaders will berate, avoid, or ignore questioners even from those closest to them.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Attack Questioners
James 1:19 tells us that we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. Even good leaders lose this ability over time if they don’t carefully guard against the mentality of using their authority to silence questions and input from others. But the solution to this problem is simple and self-serving. Leaders who shut down questioners and run over input are robbing themselves of knowledge, and knowledge is power. Allowing others to speak doesn’t mean you have to accept what they say or agree with their advice. If a questioner has a legitimate need for clarification, give it. If a questioner has a real concern, hear it. You can learn a lot from the things people ask and say out loud. Listening gives leaders a distinct advantage in moving forward. Listeners understand trends, anticipate problems, realize needs, inspire loyal followings, and find unusual opportunities.
Leaders who listen understand trends, anticipate problems, realize needs, inspire loyal followings, and find unusual opportunities.Tweet
6. Insecure Leaders Rarely Offer Thanks or Congratulations
To the insecure leader, saying thanks is acknowledging they needed help. Giving a compliment distracts from their achievements and spotlights someone else in their way of thinking. They’re uncomfortable with both scenarios, so they rarely say thanks or give genuine compliments. This leaves their team feeling totally unappreciated and disrespected.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Rarely Offer Thanks or Congratulations
Learning to express thanks and compliment others when deserved is a sign of strength, not weakness. Rewiring your brain to think this way might be difficult, but it’s necessary. A further benefit of a verbally thankful and complimentary leader is the positive impact on the people around them. Morale is boosted; productivity increases, loyalty skyrockets, and the leader’s visions are carried out faster. Try it, and you’ll see immediate positive results.
Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.Romans 13:7 ESV
7. Insecure Leaders Take Credit for Other People’s Work or Ideas
Insecure leaders are more than willing to steal somebody else’s great idea or take credit for others’ accomplishments. Leaders ready to steal credit have allowed their insecurities to turn them into liars and frauds. Any leader that sinks to this level is beyond toxic. They are intentionally venomous and should not be trusted under any circumstances. Run!
The Prescription for Leaders Who Take Credit for Other People’s Work or Ideas
A leader willing to lie and steal another person’s credit has no other recourse but to repent before God. And the offending leader must make it right with those they have harmed (Matthew 5:23-24). The Apostle James doesn’t mince words when calling out selfishly ambitious people who play games with the truth. You’ll notice in the text below he calls them unspiritual and demonic. Nothing short of spiritual reconciliation with God and those offended will help a fraudulent leader.
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.James 3:14-18 ESV
8. Insecure Leaders Shoot Down Good Ideas
When insecure leaders are presented with good or even terrific ideas, they often shoot them down (or steal them, as we just covered in the above point). They just can’t stand the thought of someone else having a better or idea or solution. This ultra-selfish leadership style harms everyone because it stifles creativity, productivity, ingenuity, and originality. If a leader always shoots down fantastic ideas without a reasonable explanation, they’re leading from insecurity; however, if they have plausible reasons, they probably do not lead from insecurity.
The Prescription for Leaders Who Shoot Down Good Ideas
The Bible often speaks of obtaining lots of good advice from wise counselors (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 12:15, Proverbs 15:22, Proverbs 20:18) before making a decision. Insecure leaders must break the habit of desiring to be the smartest person in the room. Instead, great leaders understand that any organization is built on the successes and intelligence of everyone involved. Understand that an organization that consistently shoots down really good or even terrific ideas without reason will be mediocre at best.
9. Insecure Leaders Run from Needed Confrontation
Most people don’t enjoy confrontation or uncomfortable moments where they look like the bad guy. They want the glory, not the gloom. But insecure leaders take that mentality to a whole new level. They often delegate confrontational moments to their subordinates because they lack the confidence to face a conflict head-on themselves. Or they simply leave problems unsolved, unconfronted, and unresolved rather than face needed conflict. Confrontation avoidance can significantly harm an organization over time.
The Prescription for Confrontation Avoiding Leaders
The goal of all healthy necessary confrontation is to be assertive, not aggressive. At the root of chronic conflict avoidance is the fear of rejection. For many leaders, this is a deeply ingrained fear that’s hard to overcome. But the fear of rejection must be overcome, or it will destroy the leader and the leader’s team. Addressing the fear of confrontation and rejection begins with baby steps. Start by reevaluating self-worth and reimagining outcomes of conflict (many positive things come from necessary conflict).
10. Insecure Leaders are Easily Flattered
A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.Proverbs 29:5
Flattery is a lie, masquerading as encouragement, from a selfish motive to manipulate the hearer to achieve the flatterer’s covert purpose. Whether or not flattering words have truth in them, their goal is deception. A leader easily seduced by flattery is foolish and will make unwise decisions. Insecure leaders enjoy the temporary buzz flattery produces because it artificially inflates their wounded egos.
The Prescription for Easily Flattered Leaders
Flattery is the enemy we all love. It feels good going down, but the poison of it doesn’t take long to kick in. That’s why people say flattery is like gum; chew it but don’t swallow it. We shouldn’t believe every good thing we hear about ourselves, nor should we believe every negative thing we hear about ourselves. Learning to overcome flattery’s deceitfulness involves a few paradigm changes: One, learn to value truth over desired truth through prayer. Two, be wary of people who praise excessively. Three, discount those who tear down others to build you up. Four, confront the love of flattery in your own heart and learn to recognize that weakness. When leaders understand their propensity to be manipulated by flattery, they begin to build an immunity to it.
Satan’s Hellish Scheme
If I were Satan and wanted to influence people to be less concerned about their eternal soul, I would stir up lots of confusion about Hell. And, that is what he’s done. Hell was a relatively non-controversial doctrine for centuries. It’s one of only a handful of universally agreed-upon doctrines in history. Of course, post-modernism is defined by disagreement and predisposed to disregard Truth. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that Hell became a hotly contested, controversial theology. However, Satan’s misinformation campaign is silently creeping its way into apostolic thinking like a spider stalking prey. This confusion about Hell is deeply concerning, and it’s time to shed some light on Satan’s hellish scheme.
Why Are People Confused About Hell?
Before we dive into specific false doctrines, we need to understand why we’re having this problem in the first place. Somehow, preaching about Hell became taboo. I believe this happened and is happening for several reasons: 1) Preachers are unprepared to defend the paradox of God’s love and judgment. 2) Preachers are afraid modern hearers can’t handle the truth about Hell. 3) Some preachers haven’t “settled” a theology about Hell in their hearts. 4) Preachers are afraid of being labeled wild-eyed lunatics. 5) Many ministers don’t believe in “scaring” people into Heaven. 6) They sense that Hell is a taboo subject and simply give in to peer pressure. 7) Some preachers wanted to distance themselves from genuinely distasteful, hellfire preachers. 8) Preachers are being influenced by mainstream misinformation about Hell that isn’t rooted in solid biblical exegesis. When preachers are silent, saints become vulnerable to every wind of false doctrine.
Sadly, saints ingest lots of false doctrine via “Christian” television, radio, social media, and literature. They read, see, and hear misinformation all the time. Christians who are not comfortable seeking out their own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) are highly susceptible to believing misinformation about Hell (or anything else for that matter). It’s easy to blame preachers; however, saints are responsible for growing in God’s Word themselves without being spoon-fed every vital thing from a minister. Listen to the frustration in the Apostle Paul’s writings as he reprimands saints in the following passage for their lack of biblical knowledge and understanding:
” …you have become dull in your [spiritual] hearing and sluggish [even slothful in achieving spiritual insight]. For even though by this time you ought to be teaching others, you actually need someone to teach you over again the very first principles of God’s Word. You have come to need milk, not solid food. For everyone who continues to feed on milk is obviously inexperienced and unskilled in the doctrine of righteousness (of conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action), for he is a mere infant [not able to talk yet]! But solid food is for full-grown men, for those whose senses and mental faculties are trained by practice to discriminate and distinguish between what is morally good and noble and what is evil and contrary either to divine or human law (Hebrews 5:11-14, Amplified Bible).”
Finally, the Devil knows his time is limited. He’s intensifying and strategically honing his attacks. Although Revelation 12:12 is speaking of a future event prophetically, it gives insight into how the Devil operates: …rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them. Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! for the Devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time (Revelation 12:12). When Satan is running out of time, he hits harder. Time itself is wrapping up, and even if the Church isn’t fully aware of it, the Devil is.
Why Does It Matter What People Believe Concerning Hell?
Technically, it might be possible to have an incorrect understanding of Hell and be saved, but false doctrine damages other essential areas of our walk with God. For example, if Hell isn’t a real, painful, never-ending place, why in the world would we need to evangelize? Without a correct belief in the horrors of Hell, we are unlikely to carry a real burden for the lost or take the Great Commission seriously (Matthew 28:18-20). After all, what do people need to be saved from in the first place?
It is correct that people are not likely to be terrified into a good relationship with God. However, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). That word fear is best-translated reverence. Which means awe mingled with healthy fear. I respectfully submit that our culture (religious and non-religious) has lost its sense of reverence for God. Wisdom begins with fear, which leads to a proper understanding of God (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). We can’t know God without reverence (fear mingled with awe). An improper view of Hell results in a wrong knowledge of God. All false doctrines have ever-expanding unintended consequences. So, while it might be correct that people will not serve God long-term out of fear because ultimately, we must fall in love with the Lord, the beginning of our relationship with God must include some healthy fear. If we bypass reverence on the way to love, our walk with God will be off-balance.
If we bypass reverence on the way to love, our walk with God will be off-balance.Tweet
The Terror of the Lord!
Consider this passage of Scripture where the Apostle Paul speaks briefly of death: …to be absent from the body, … [is] to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). He continues by saying that we labor to be present with the Lord in death (2 Corinthians 5:9). Then Paul pens these politically incorrect words:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God… (2 Corinthians 5:10-11).”
Paul is carefully emphasizing that we will all stand before the Lord in judgment for the things we have done in this life. And, because we have this holy fear of God, we are motivated to reach people with the Gospel so they can stand before the Lord blamelessly. Genuine Christians are highly determined to reach lost people because they understand the fearsome judgment of God. If God’s adjudication is not dreadful, there is little reason to feel an urgency about evangelism. Indeed, it makes sense Satan would create an aura of confusion around the subjects of God’s wrath and Hell.
We All Need A Healthy Fear of Hell
Look at this often-overlooked passage where Jesus startles His audience:
“Dear friends, don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that. But I’ll tell you whom to fear. Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then throw you into Hell. Yes, he’s the one to fear (Luke 12:4-5, New Living Translation).”
I love how Jesus started gently and then… Wham! He pounced like an old-time preacher (actually the old-timers were preaching like Jesus), telling them to fear God and shun Hell. The word throw could also be translated hurl, which gives a little more gravitas to the message: …Fear God, who has the power to kill you and then hurl you in Hell…. Yeah! That’s pretty terrifying. But Jesus didn’t end the sermon with fire and brimstone. He gave us a beautiful example to follow in our preaching and teaching. Watch how Jesus brought that gut-wrenching thought back around to the overwhelming love of God:
“What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So, don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows (Luke 12:6-7, New Living Translation).”
This snippet of Jesus’ preaching shows us precisely how to strike a balance between fearing and loving God. Indeed, as we realize just how majestically awesome God is, we grow to love Him more. But if one views God as the great-big-cuddly-teddy-bear in the sky, one is more likely to disrespect and disobey God. It can’t be helped; we keep circling back around to Proverbs: …the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 9:10). We all need to begin and end with a healthy dose of fear. We just can’t be saved if we don’t fear God and Hell.
Common False Doctrines About Hell: Metaphorical View
The metaphorical view of Hell is growing in popularity despite its lack of biblical support. In the metaphorical doctrine, the unsaved will spend eternity in Hell. But the extreme pain and environmental conditions described in the Bible are not interpreted literally. The biblical descriptions of fire, heat, bondage, darkness, thirst, worms, pain, flogging, fire, etc. are considered symbolic. Proponents of this doctrine believe separation from God to be the ultimate pain of eternity. To them, the only agony endured in Hell will be the agony of complete Divine divorce. As Billy Graham once stated: I have often wondered if Hell is a terrible burning within our hearts for God, to fellowship with God, a fire that we can never quench. Billy Graham leaned towards the metaphorical view of Hell.
Common False Doctrines About Hell: Purgatorial View
The Roman Catholic Church is unique its purgatorial view of Hell. According to this doctrine, everyone is judged by God immediately after death. Only a small minority of saints will go directly into Heaven. God will send most people to purgatory, a place of punishment (basically a temporary Hell). Most Catholics believe that people are released by God from purgatory into Heaven after a certain length of time. Purgatory is like a cosmic prison sentence ending with a ticket into paradise. There is not one iota of Scripture supporting this false view of Hell.
Common False Doctrines About Hell: There Is No Hell
A small minority of Christians claim there is no Hell at all. In their doctrine, unsaved people cease to exist at death. They incorrectly cite Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord. They interpret this Scripture to mean that death is the ultimate and final wage of sin. They are fond of saying death always means literal death in the Bible, and therefore Hell as a place should never be taken literally.
However, they overlook Luke 15:24: For this son of mine was dead and is alive again (New International Version). They ignore the symbolic use of life and death repeatedly used in Romans 7. Also, they fail to contend with Scriptures like Genesis 2:17: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. In this passage, God was speaking directly to Adam and Eve. We know Adam and Eve eventually did the exact thing God told them not to do, but they didn’t instantly fall over dead. Did God lie to them? Of course not, they died spiritually on that fateful day, and literal death entered into the world as an inescapable reality.
All this and more affirms safely interpreting Romans 6:23 to mean the wages of sin is spiritual death and eventual literal physical death. However, even if you are uncomfortable with this interpretation of Romans 6:23, it does nothing to prove Hell is not a real place. Literal death is an attached consequence to original sin from Genesis 2 and on. We know from a vast array of other Scriptures that death is the precursor to judgment, and judgment is the precursor to Heaven or Hell. This doctrine misinterprets one Scripture, and blatantly ignores obvious passages describing Hell’s realities and eternal damnation.
Common False Doctrines About Hell: Hell Isn’t That Bad
In his classic book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis envisions Hell as a dreary, bothersome, almost pleasant place, whose inmates can take a day trip to the outskirts of Heaven. This biblically illiterate view of Hell seems to be pop culture’s favorite. Pop music often refers to Hell as a kind of eternal party for the naughty. Nearly everyone casually and exhaustively uses Hell as a curse word. Television and movies like to portray Hell as an obnoxious, almost silly place of torment-ish. For many, Hell might even be considered preferable to Heaven.
Common False Doctrines About Hell: Hell Is Only Temporary
This false doctrine is the evangelical version of purgatory. The lost are sentenced to Hell for a particular length of time, depending on their sinfulness while on earth. When the sentence has ended, the sinner experiences a second death, and their soul is extinguished by God forever. Adherents to this doctrine abandon belief in the immortal soul, and they are forced to become extremely creative with several passages of Scripture. A spin-off of this doctrine believes (much like Catholics) that after a severe sentence is completed, the fire purified soul will be admitted by God into Heaven. I concur with this comment by Stanley Horton: It is hard to see why the Cross would be necessary if the lake of fire could provide another means of salvation.[i]
Is Hell A Divine Overreaction to Sin?
“In no way does man reveal his littleness more effectively than when he exhibits surprise over the fact that there are realities in the universe which he cannot understand. The permission of sin in the universe by a sovereign, holy God who hates sin to an infinite degree, the damage it does to uncounted multitudes of beings—angels and men—whom He loves with a Creator’s love, and the fact that sin must demand of God the greatest sacrifice He could make, all this only tends to enlarge the mystery involved.”[ii]
“In no way does man reveal his littleness more effectively than when he exhibits surprise over the fact that there are realities in the universe which he cannot understand.” -Lewis Sperry ChaferTweet
Wrestling with the profound weight of Divine retribution upon sinful humanity is troubling. It requires a great deal of humility to accept our inability to understand how evil sin is and how it conflicts with God’s absolute holiness. We know because Scripture revealed it, that God’s holy answer to unrepentant sin is perdition and retribution. Serving the Lord with real honesty requires growing comfortable with the mysteries of God. Human arrogance assumes that it can always find the answer or solve the puzzle. However, in God’s economy, we aren’t guaranteed every answer to every question, at least not in this life. Deuteronomy 29:29 applies nicely: The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
It requires a great deal of humility to accept our inability to understand how evil sin is and how it conflicts with God’s absolute holiness.Tweet
Trying to understand why God will punish sin with eternal suffering isn’t wrong. Job indeed sought understanding in his torment, but he did so without sinning or charging God foolishly (Job 1:22). Consider this: “Sins may be committed by unbelievers or believers, both of whom are injured by it and require grace. Sins may be committed against God, others, self, or some combination. Ultimately, however, all sin is against God (Psalm 51:4, Luke 15:18, Luke 15:21).”[iii] God alone reserves the right to avenge sin (Psalm 94:1, Romans 12:19). But we can take comfort knowing that He takes no pleasure in punishing sinners (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). The reality of Hell, combined with the revelation of God’s overwhelming love, should elucidate just how grave sin is. It’s not merely that God refuses to be compatible with sin. Instead, God’s unchanging nature makes it impossible for Him to coexist with evil (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, Hebrews 13:8). Humanity is grossly underreacting to sin; God’s response to sin has been consistent since the beginning of time.
The reality of Hell, combined with the revelation of God’s overwhelming love, should elucidate just how grave sin is.Tweet
It’s not merely that God refuses to be compatible with sin. Instead, God’s unchanging nature makes it impossible for Him to coexist with evilTweet
Humanity is grossly underreacting to sin; God’s response to sin has been consistent since the beginning of time.Tweet
Will There Be Different Levels of Punishment in Hell?
I believe the Bible affirms there will be varying degrees of punishment in Hell (Matthew 10:15. Matthew 11:22, Matthew 12:36-37, Luke 12:47-48, Romans 2:5, Hebrews 10:26-31). All the lost will suffer for their sin; for some, that suffering will be worse than for others. Hebrews 10:26-31 is one of many compelling passages indicating various degrees of judgment:
“…if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged 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 fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (English Standard Version).“
People who do not believe in various punishment levels for individuals in Hell reduce the throne of judgment into a sham where God pretends to be fair. The Bible is clear that God will be so entirely just in His decisions that not one person will claim unfair treatment (1 Peter 1:17, Romans 2:11, Colossians 3:25, Romans 3:19, Revelation 19:1-2). God will judge in absolute righteousness (Acts 17:31). His decisions will not be limited to who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell. God will also assign punishments in perfect fairness. Every lost soul will receive a personalized sentence directly from their Creator.
What Criteria Will God Use to Determine Levels of Punishment?
The Gospel Coalition lists three biblically sound considerations: 1) The extent to which a person has abandoned himself to sin (Matthew 5:21, Romans 2:5, Revelation 18:6-7). 2) The extent to which a person by example and influence led others to sin (Matthew 18:5-7, Mark 9:38-47, Matthew 23:13). 3) The extent to which a person abused their exposure to revelation and opportunity (Luke 12:47-48, Romans 2:12, Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:22-24).[iv] I believe that age and mental capacity will also be taken into consideration by God (Genesis 18:25). Furthermore, God will evaluate things we have never contemplated in this world (Psalm 19:7-14).
There is No Hope in Hell!
There is no biblical basis for holding onto any hope that grace will extend past this life into eternity. As Chafer eloquently points out:
“Such a case should not be considered as being without precedent. Uncounted legions of angels have sinned, and for them, there is not the slightest intimation to be found in the Bible, which extends to them a ray of hope. By Divine decree, these angels are already consigned to the lake of fire, not under a possible proviso that this doom will be averted if, in the meantime, they repent; but they are arbitrarily, unrevokably consigned to retribution and that without remedy. Since God has said, without condition, that the fallen angels will be cast into the lake of fire, He would be found untrue should the destiny of the fallen angels be otherwise.” [v]
Chafer continues by pointing out the utter lostness of the Gentiles from Adam to Moses. Their pagan plight is chronicled in Romans 1:18-32, as those who willfully rejected God. Three times in one context, Scripture declares that God abandoned them to their sinful ways. Ephesians 2:12 shows just how emphatically God discarded the Gentiles before the New Covenant: …at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. No more decisive terms could be used than men being without Christ, without promise, without God, and without hope.Furthermore, God destroyed the entire earth with water, and at least two cities with fire because of humanity’s iniquity; all this judgment came before God gave mankind a Bible or a Messiah.[vi] Chafer concludes with a mind-altering thought: The result of any unprejudiced investigation into God’s revealed truth respecting fallen angels and God-rejecting Gentiles of past ages will be a conviction that the marvel of it all is not that sinners are lost, but that they are ever saved.[vii]
“…the marvel of it all is not that sinners are lost, but that they are ever saved.” -Lewis Sperry ChaferTweet
Does Hell Just Mean the Grave?
It’s essential to address one final objection often raised against Hell being a place of eternal torment. There’s a convoluted idea floating around, which asserts that the Hebrew word Sheol (the KJV sometimes translated Sheol as Hell, sometimes as the grave, and sometimes as the pit) always means the grave and does not refer to the afterlife at all. Others erroneously contend that Sheol always refers to Hell (if you’ve Googled articles about Hell, you’ve likely read an article fervidly arguing this fallacy). One is used to undermine biblical teachings regarding Hell, and the other is an overzealous attempt to uphold orthodox teachings about the afterlife. Horton handily dismantles the myth that Sheol only means the grave:
“Actually, Sheol is often described as a depth that contrasts with the height of Heaven (Job 11:8, Psalm 139, Amos 9:2). Often, the context refers to God’s anger or wrath (Job 14:13, Psalm 6:1-5, Psalm 88:3-7, Psalm 89:46-48), and sometimes to both wrath and fire (Deuteronomy 32:22). In some cases, the references are brief, and it seems it is treated simply as the place or the state of the dead. In it, the dead are called rephaim, what we might call “ghosts” (Isaiah 14:9, Isaiah 26:14). Other passages refer to some of the dead as elohim, in the sense of “powerful spirit beings” (1 Samuel 28:13). But very often, it is clear that Sheol is the place for the wicked and “all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17, Psalm 39:12–13, Psalm 55:15, Psalm 88:11–12, Proverbs 7:27, Proverbs 9:18, Isaiah 38:18). Where the New Testament quotes Old Testament passages referring to Sheol, it translates the word by Hades, which it sees, not as the vague place pagan Greeks talked about, but as a place of punishment.”[viii]
Interestingly, in Acts 2:27, Peter quotes Psalm 16:10, clearly understanding Sheol as Hades. It’s perfectly proper to link the Old Testament (Sheol) and New Testament (Hades) verbiage together with the word Hell. Also, it’s incorrect to assume ancients did not believe in the afterlife. Enoch and Elijah did not taste death because the Lord took them directly to Heaven (Genesis 5:24, 2 Kings 2:11). David believed he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever (Psalm 23:6, Psalm 16:11, Psalm 17:15).” David speaks of being redeemed from Sheol’s power (Psalm 49:15), indicating his desire to be with God rather than in Sheol in death. The psalmists Asaph spoke of being received into “glory” at death (Psalm 73:24). Another phrase seems to indicate Old Testament saints expected an afterlife. God told Moses that after he went up the mountain and looked across to the Promised Land: You too will be gathered to your people, as your brother Aaron was (Numbers 27:13). But Aaron was buried at Mount Hor, and no one knows where God buried Moses (Deuteronomy 34:5–6). Therefore, being “gathered to one’s people” does not refer to the grave.[ix]
How Does the Bible Describe Hell?
Jesus intimated that Hell was initially designed for Satan and other fallen angels (Matthew 25:41). Revelation 20:14 reveals that Hell will contain a horrific lake of fire. After the Final Judgment of God (Revelation 20:11-15), the lost will experience continual and unimaginable suffering and torment. In contrast to Heaven, where there will be no more tears (Revelation 21:4), there will be dreadful weeping and gnashing (or grinding) of teeth in Hell (Matthew 8:12). This gnashing suggests, among other things, the pain will perpetually cause people to grind their teeth in agony (Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, Matthew 24:51, Matthew 25:30). Numerous times Jesus mentioned hellfire or the fires of Hell (Matthew 5:22, Matthew 29:30, Matthew 18:19, Mark 9:43-47). Jesus called the fire everlasting, leaving no doubt that Hell’s torments are eternal (Matthew 25:41). Jesus underscored the seriousness of Hell, saying it would be better to cut off your hand or foot or pluck out your eye, rather than use any of those things sinfully and be cast into Hell (Mark 9:43-47).
Some find it troubling that Jesus mentions outer darkness in the context of Hell (Matthew 22:13). 2 Peter 2:4 references chains of darkness, and some also find that hard to reconcile with the fiery images of Hell the Bible typically evokes. But this is hardly proof of biblical errancies, the afterlife will defy our sense of logic, and it isn’t beyond the realm of possibility that God created dark hellfire. Beyond that, we know that Hell will be large and is ever-expanding (Isaiah 51:4). Scripture doesn’t specify that every square inch of Hell will be fiery or that every square inch will be dark. Hell may have significantly different regions throughout its length and breadth. We probably know less about Hell than we know.
In Mark 9, Jesus abruptly ends His ominous comments about Hell by mentioning worms that never die and fire that never goes out (Mark 9:48). The word translated Hell in Mark 9:43 is the Greek word Gehenna, which comes from the Hebrew name for a place called the Valley of Hinnom.[x] Jesus used this place to paint a vivid mental picture of Hell. Gehenna was Jerusalem’s giant garbage dump located on the southern outskirts of town. In the past, children were sacrificed to idols by pagan parents in Gehenna (2 Kings 23:10); in Jesus’ day, it was a place burning with constant fires to devour the city’s trash. The things burned there included everything from household trash to animal carcasses to convicted criminals (Jeremiah 7:31–33). Jesus was quoting from Isaiah 66:24, and the worm mentioned in connection with dead bodies means grub or maggot. Maggots bring the awful imagery Jesus intended to conjure sharply into focus.
The Bible gives us enough information about Hell to know; avoiding it should be life’s paramount priority. Nothing is more crucial than diligently ensuring we enter Heaven and escape the anguishes of Hell. Jesus lovingly and compellingly asked His disciples: What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul? (Matthew 16:26). Then Jesus asked another rhetorical question: Is anything worth more than your soul? (Matthew 16:26). Satan challenged God on this very subject while seeking to destroy the righteousness of Job. Satan argued that a man would give everything he has for his life (Job 2:4). He was wrong about Job, but countless others have traded their righteousness for temporary things. Again, Jesus cautioned us to prioritize heavenly things above earthly things encouraging us to store up treasures in Heaven, not on the earth (Matthew 6:19-21). All of creation and God’s Word compel us to live with eternity at the forefront of our minds.
The Bible gives us enough information about Hell to know; avoiding it should be life’s paramount priority. Nothing is more crucial than diligently ensuring we enter Heaven and escape the anguishes of Hell.Tweet
All of creation and God’s Word compel us to live with eternity at the forefront of our minds.Tweet
How Can I Escape the Torment of Hell?
The ultimate question is, how can a person be guaranteed to avoid Hell in the afterlife? This, of all questions, should be searched after with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Yet, many people think very little about the salvation of their souls. Tragically, one of Satan’s magnificently malicious victories is convincing generations of people that salvation is easy, cheap, and convenient. The average person spends more time searching for temporal pleasures than searching for redemption. Yet, salvation is not found with casual commitment or through convenient conversion. The Bible says that even righteous people barely escape Hell; think of the awful fate awaiting those who have not obeyed the Gospel (1 Peter 4:17-18)? That alone should remove any casual or careless approaches towards the discussion of salvation. Especially knowing it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). The God who created the universe and Heaven and Hell is the only One able to tell us how to be saved. And, He chose to reveal the answer to us through the Bible (His Holy Word).
Tragically, one of Satan’s magnificently malicious victories is convincing generations of people that salvation is easy, cheap, and convenient.Tweet
The average person spends more time searching for temporal pleasures than searching for redemption. Yet, salvation is not found with casual commitment or through convenient conversion.Tweet
The God who created the universe and Heaven and Hell is the only One able to tell us how to be saved. And, He chose to reveal the answer to us through the Bible (His Holy Word).Tweet
There is only one place in all Scripture where people specifically ask: What must we do to be saved (Acts 2:37)? The Apostle Peter gives the most transparent, concise response possible in the following verse: …Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38). That precise formula is the only way to be birthed (John 3:3, 1 Peter 1:23) into the Kingdom of God. At the heart of the Gospel is the teaching that we must undergo our own spiritual death, burial, and resurrection just as Jesus did physically (Romans 6:3-8, Galatians 2:20, Colossians 2:12-13).
Essentially, repentance is our spiritual death (Galatians 5:24, Romans 6:11, Galatians 2:20, 1 Peter 2:24, Romans 6:6), baptism in Jesus’ name is our spiritual burial (Romans 6:3-4, Colossians 2:12-13), and the infilling of the Holy Ghost is our spiritual resurrection (Romans 6:5, Colossians 3:1, Romans 8:8-14). Furthermore, the infilling of the Holy Ghost is first evidenced by supernaturally speaking in unknown (previously unlearned) tongues (languages) just as they did in the book of Acts (Mark 16:17, Acts 2:4, Acts 10:46, Acts 19:6) and every time from then on. And, baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).
Baptism is only salvific when done in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:12, Colossians 3:17, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Galatians 3:27, Acts 10:48, Romans 6:3).Tweet
After we are obedient to the fullness of the Gospel, all the old sinful things pass away, and we become a new creation in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17). We walk in agreement with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16). Meaning, God not only saves us from our past sin, but He also empowers us with His own Spirit to live righteously (2 Peter 1:3-4). The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily. Now that’s excellent news, and we’ve only scratched the surface of what it means to be transformed by the power of God.
The extra good news of the Gospel is that God doesn’t just save us and leave us the same: He saves us, changes us, dwells within us, and continues to strengthen us daily.Tweet
Hell Motivates Christians Morally
Grudem lists four ways the doctrine of Hell influences our lives morally: 1) It satisfies our inward sense of a need for justice in the world. 2) It enables us to forgive others freely. 3) It provides a motive for righteous living. 4) It gives an excellent motive for evangelism.[xi] Engrained in the complexity of human nature is the desire to see justice served. The doctrine of Hell assures us God is in control and that justice will be done in the end. Because that is true, we can forgive without worrying about final judgments. We must love God to serve Him truly, but there are seasons where the fear of Hell keeps us on a righteous path. Finally, the doctrine of Hell should compel us to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel out of concern for the lost (Matthew 28:16-20).
The doctrine of Hell should compel us to go into all the world, preaching the Gospel out of concern for the lost (Matthew 28:16-20).Tweet
I sincerely hope this article has been helpful, informative, and compelling to you. If so, please consider sharing this article with a friend. If you are uncomfortable sharing it publicly on social media, consider printing it out and giving it to a friend or loved one. I realize Hell and the afterlife is an uncomfortable topic for many people to discuss openly. Maybe this article can be a good starting point to open up a dialogue between you and people you know and love. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me, and I will respond accordingly. As always, thank you for reading and may God bless you.
[i] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 654.
[ii] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:427.
[iii] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 280.
[v] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:429-430.
[vii] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology Kregel/Accordance electronic ed. 8 vols.; Dallas: Dallas Theological Seminary, 1976), 4:430.
[viii] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 608.
[ix] Stanley M. Horton, Systematic Theology, Revised; Accordance electronic ed. (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 2007), 609.
[x] David G. Shackelford and E. Ray Clendenen, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, s.v. “HELL,” paragraph 7790.
[xi] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Bits & Bytes/Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 1148.
Episode number two of the podcast is available today. We cover all the information from UNMASKED (Cogent COVID Thoughts) and a little more. Apostolic Voice is now available on every major podcasting platform. Follow THIS LINK for quick access to most platforms. We’re also available on iTunes and you can find us by using THIS LINK. Please consider not only subscribing, but giving a five star rating and a review.
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I closed this episode of the podcast out with a poem by Edwin J. Milliken. First written in 1890, it was actually Sir Winston Churchhill who popularized the poem in the years leading up to WWII. He cited the poem as a poignent warning to wake up and be alert to the dangers of the world. I find this poem eerily relevent for us today. As promised, I’m including the complete, unabridged poem below and the original illustration as well. Enjoy.
Death and his Brother Sleep
Who is in charge of the clattering train?
The axles creak, and the couplings strain.
Ten minutes behind at the Junction. Yes!
And we’re twenty now to the bad–no less!
We must make it up on our flight to town.
Clatter and crash! That’s the last train down,
Flashing by with a steamy trail.
Pile on the fuel! We must not fail.
At every mile we a minute must gain!
Who is in charge of the clattering train?
Why, flesh and blood, as a matter of course!
You may talk of iron, and prate of force;
But, after all, and do what you can,
The best–and cheapest–machine is Man!
Wealth knows it well, and the hucksters feel
‘Tis safer to trust them to sinew than steel.
With a bit of brain, and a conscience, behind,
Muscle works better than steam or wind.
Better, and longer, and harder all round;
And cheap, so cheap! Men superabound
Men stalwart, vigilant, patient, bold;
The stokehole’s heat and the crow’s-nest’s cold,
The choking dusk of the noisome mine,
The northern blast o’er the beating brine,
With dogged valour they coolly brave;
So on rattling rail, or on wind-scourged wave,
At engine lever, at furnace front,
Or steersman’s wheel, they must bear the brunt
Of lonely vigil or lengthened strain.
Man is in charge of the thundering train!
Man, in the shape of a modest chap
In fustian trousers and greasy cap;
A trifle stolid, and something gruff,
Yet, though unpolished, of sturdy stuff.
With grave grey eyes, and a knitted brow,
The glare of sun and the gleam of snow
Those eyes have stared on this many a year.
The crow’s-feet gather in mazes queer
About their corners most apt to choke
With grime of fuel and fume of smoke.
Little to tickle the artist taste–
An oil-can, a fist-full of “cotton waste,”
The lever’s click and the furnace gleam,
And the mingled odour of oil and steam;
These are the matters that fill the brain
Of the Man in charge of the clattering train.
Only a Man, but away at his back,
In a dozen ears, on the steely track,
A hundred passengers place their trust
In this fellow of fustian, grease, and dust.
They cheerily chat, or they calmly sleep,
Sure that the driver his watch will keep
On the night-dark track, that he will not fail.
So the thud, thud, thud of wheel upon rail
The hiss of steam-spurts athwart the dark.
Lull them to confident drowsiness. Hark!
What is that sound? ‘Tis the stertorous breath
Of a slumbering man,–and it smacks of death!
Full sixteen hours of continuous toil
Midst the fume of sulphur, the reek of oil,
Have told their tale on the man’s tired brain,
And Death is in charge of the clattering train!
Sleep–Death’s brother, as poets deem,
Stealeth soft to his side; a dream
Of home and rest on his spirit creeps,
That wearied man, as the engine leaps,
Throbbing, swaying along the line;
Those poppy-fingers his head incline
Lower, lower, in slumber’s trance;
The shadows fleet, and the gas-gleams dance
Faster, faster in mazy flight,
As the engine flashes across the night.
Mortal muscle and human nerve
Cheap to purchase, and stout to serve.
Strained too fiercely will faint and swerve.
Over-weighted, and underpaid,
This human tool of exploiting Trade,
Though tougher than leather, tenser than steel.
Fails at last, for his senses reel,
His nerves collapse, and, with sleep-sealed eyes,
Prone and helpless a log he lies!
A hundred hearts beat placidly on,
Unwitting they that their warder’s gone;
A hundred lips are babbling blithe,
Some seconds hence they in pain may writhe.
For the pace is hot, and the points are near,
And Sleep hath deadened the driver’s ear;
And signals flash through the night in vain.
Death is in charge of the clattering train!
COVID has revealed tons of things, both good and bad, that need to be considered as we move into the future. The following cogent COVID thoughts have been swirling around in my brain for several months. I’m making a conscious effort to only mention things that will be relevant even after the virus itself is gone.
Unmasked: Our Religious Freedoms Are in Jeopardy
2019 seems like the distant past, but somehow, I can vaguely recall certain things that happened way back in the good old pre-COVID days. A particular memory keeps pushing its way to the forefront of my brain; it’s a conversation I overheard between two friends. Friend number one commented about the world’s increasing hostility towards the Church and his concerns about maintaining our freedoms. Friend number two considered this to be the silliest viewpoint a modern Christian could hold. He accused friend number one of nursing a persecution complex. I agreed with friend number one. There was an awkward silence and we all just agreed to disagree.
Today we have churches fighting their state government and the United States government for the right to simply have church. Startling numbers of churches are permanently closing their doors. And, pastors have been fined, harassed, and incarcerated for failing to comply with shutdown mandates. We are seeing the single greatest onslaught against religious freedoms in the history of the United States. COVID unmasked the animosity towards Christianity walking the halls of power at the state and federal levels. The waters are being tested and a stronger wave of discriminatory action towards Christianity is just around the corner.
This unmasking is probably for the best. Maybe it will shake some of us out of our naiveite and call us back to effectual fervent prayer (James 5:16). But one thing is for sure, antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms. And for the non-religious folks out there, my freedom to worship won’t be the only freedom taken. They’ll come for something you care about eventually. If you dance with the devil long enough you will get burned.
“…antichrist spirits are only one pandemic away from stripping us of our freedoms.”Tweet
I’m not trying to stoke fears or be negative. I believe this is a great opportunity for the Church to reach the world with the Gospel. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid (Matthew 5:14)”. We usually think of this as a challenge to let our light shine as bright as possible, and that’s fine. We say things like don’t hide your light. However, Jesus compared the Church to a city set on a hill that “cannot” be hidden. That word “cannot” is translated into English from two Greek words, ou and dynatai, which means …does not have the ability. We could accurately translate that verse to say, “You are the light of the world. A city placed by God on a hill that does not have the ability to be hidden”. The Church is purposefully designed and carefully crafted by God to be set apart (that’s what holiness means) and brightly shining into the darkness. The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world. So, as the world gets scarier the light of the Church will draw hungry hearts to itself as never before.
The true Church can’t hide, blend in, be comfortable in, or conform itself to, the world.Tweet
- ‘They want to shut us down’: Megachurch holds service in defiance of Los Angeles order | Valerie Richardson, The Washington Times
- Defiant Louisiana pastor arrested over coronavirus protest | abc News
- WATCH: Police Raid Church’s Drive-In Service, Issue $500 Tickets to Entire Congregation | Todd Starns
- Florida Pastor Arrested After Defying Virus Orders | Patricia Mazzei, The New York Times
- 1 in 5 churches facing permanent closure within 18 months due to COVID-19 shutdowns | Michael Gryboski, The Christian Post
- One in Three Practicing Christians Has Stopped Attending Church During COVID-19 | Barna
Unmasked: Christian Hypocrisies
My dad (Dr. Talmadge French) made a comment last night during midweek Bible study that is startlingly true: Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor. Taking that thought even further, I’ve noticed throughout this pandemic how quickly we all allowed government officials to have absolute authority over us. Officials told us to wear masks and we all went out and bought masks. They told us to close businesses and stay home and we did. They told us to stay away from people and we did. They told us not to touch people and we did what they told us to do. They told our kids to stay home from school and learn online and they did (my kids still do). They told sports to shut down and they did. It drastically impacted our dress codes, our vacations, our social lives, our finances, and our education.
“Many people are more influenced by their TV than by their pastor.” -Dr. Talmadge FrenchTweet
Why did we fall in line so quickly? We fell in line (almost universally with a few exceptions) even when the “experts” disagreed. We fell in line even though the facts were (and are) difficult to decipher. We made great personal sacrifices. For some people, it will take them years to recover and some will never fully recover. I believe we did it because we perceived those sacrifices as being a greater good than the pain. We sensed the urgency and we pulled together. Perhaps some operated from raw fear, but even that fear wasn’t pure selfishness, it was born out of concern for others as well.
I’ve watched people faithfully wear masks and stay indoors for months who have never allowed their pastor to have any real influence in their lives. COVID unmasked a barren wasteland of hypocrisy in many professing Christians. They make all types of excuses for why they won’t listen to their pastor: He’s too intrusive, too cautious, too demanding, too blah blah blah. The reality is they are more than willing to comply when they think the stakes are high. They just don’t think biblical issues are that important. They don’t really consider sin as important or judgment as immanent. Furthermore, they do believe in authority they just don’t want godly authority.
Unmasked: A Realistic Path to a One-World Government
Prophecy pundits typically point to nuclear warfare or some type of World War III scenario as the catalyst which will bring the world under one global government (Revelation 13:1-18, Revelation 17:13, Daniel 2:44, Daniel 7:24, 1 Thessalonians 2:1-17). While possible, there wouldn’t be much left to govern after massive nuclear strikes around the world. However, this pandemic unmasked how easy it would be for a full-blown epidemic to usher in a one-world government. I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.
I can envision several epidemic scenarios where the people of the world would willingly give up their freedoms without a shot being fired or a bomb being dropped.Tweet
Think of the panic if people were dropping dead in the streets of an unknown and incurable virally transmitted disease. What if one government magically had the cure and would only give it to people who surrendered unconditionally to their authority? This virus could be manmade or not, it doesn’t matter because the opportunity for dominance could be leveraged either way. Even now it isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17). COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.
It isn’t hard to imagine a world where individuals would not be allowed to buy or sell without having some kind of chip or government-issued ID proving they are virus-free (Revelation 13:17).Tweet
COVID revealed a realistic path to the End Times that doesn’t sound like nonsensical conspiracy theories.Tweet
- World Government Summit | As-Salaam-Alaikum, WHO Director-General
- Translating a Surveillance Tool into a Virus Tracker for Democracies | Jennifer Valentino-DeVries, The New York Times
Unmasked: Disregard for Localized Pastoral Leadership
In many ways, the foundations of biblical Church government and the United States government are similar. And, that isn’t by accident, the founders modeled the Bible in numerous ways when crafting the Constitution. For example, individual states were originally intended to be autonomous yet governed and united by the Constitution. The federal government was limited and designed to have minimal interference in the affairs of local governments. Similarly, the Early Church was designed to be locally governed by pastors who were united by adherence to the Holy Word of God. Christ remained the head of the Church while bishops only intervened in local church matters when the Word was being disregarded. Biblically sound apostolic organizations follow this paradigm. Pastors are given leeway to govern their local flock as long as they remain doctrinally sound and morally pure. Most decisions are best made by local leadership because they are connected to the specific personalized needs of their congregations.
So, COVID hit and local pastors were forced to make tough calls without any precedence to lean on. They were deluged with lots of convoluted “facts” being thrown at them from every direction. Some pastors closed down their gatherings and some remain closed. Some waited a little longer than others to close in-person gatherings. A very small number of pastors never closed at all. Some are fighting to reopen. Some did outdoor services, and zoom, and Facebook meetings, and anything else they could do to keep a sense of connectedness. In other words, local pastors did the best they could do for their flocks. They prayed, agonized, sought wise counsel, researched, and listened to the needs of the saints. The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.
The average pastor is working harder this year than in most previous years of ministry. They’ve diligently strived to do the right thing for their local assemblies and to please God.Tweet
Yet, regardless of what decisions local pastors made they were met with unrelenting condemnation at every turn. Facebook “pastors” went completely nuts commenting and criticizing from the comfort of their sideline seats. Pastors clashed with pastors over “right” pandemic protocols. Saints defended their pastor’s decisions by attacking other pastors’ decisions. Or worse, some saints threw their pastor under the bus and sided with a pastor who doesn’t even know their name. I expected worldly cultural commentators to aim their blistering attacks on church leaders, but I admit the infighting took me off guard.
The lack of civility, respect, charity, grace, and dignity in these public disagreements is deeply disturbing. But setting that aside, the complete disregard and disrespect towards localized church government was the real shocker unmasked by COVID. Doesn’t it make sense that local pastors would take different approaches based on the needs and facts on the ground in their community? Wouldn’t we expect different churches to adopt various approaches based on their surroundings? Why would our way be the only way? Looking back, I think every honest pastor wishes they had done at least one thing differently. Zero people had all the right answers in 2020.
It would be helpful moving forward to reestablish the authority of local church leadership in a global, information-saturated world. Anyone with the slightest understanding of ministry understands real-world decisions are complex and vary from place to place. Rarely do cookie-cutter policies work properly in every church. Regardless, lets at least try to recognize in extremely difficult times that no one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor. Let’s give them some grace and trust they are seeking God for the flock He entrusted to them.
No one wants what is best for a local church more than its local pastor.Tweet
- Did America Have a Christian Founding? | Mark David Hall, The Heritage Foundation
- Church Government | UPCI General Board Position Paper
Ep. 4 | Should Christians Dye Their Hair (A Biblical Study) – Apostolic Voice with Ryan French
Poetry is an art form that has the ability to excite our imaginations and expand our thinking with rhythm and rhyme. Honestly though, too often I wade through one-hundred awfully dull poems before finding one little golden nugget. Understandably, the awkwardness, vagaries, and eccentricities of poetry ensures it will never achieve the mainstream popularity of its cousin art form; songwriting.
In my humble opinion (and I mean that sincerely), good poetry should have a meaningful message. And, though the message might be slightly obscured by artistic nuance and emotional flourish it ultimately shines through and becomes comprehensible to the reader. From King David to right now spiritually minded people have gravitated to poetry as a means of worshipful expression.
I’m not a prolific poet. When it flows, it comes like a waterfall that I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to stop it. When it isn’t flowing, I can’t even put one word after another in a worthwhile way. From time to time I’ve shared them here even though it’s a major departure from my usual writings. I hope they’ve been a blessing to some of you. I know there’s at least a few other poetic apostolic souls out there.
Because the poetry has been random and sporadic I’ve compiled them into an easy-to-find list below. Also, if you’re a poet I’d love to read your musings. Or, if you have a favorite poem or poet I’d love to hear about it. I’ll start by sharing a poem I just recently stumbled upon. Enjoy.
BY SCOTT CAIRNS
He did not fall then, blind upon a road,
nor did his lifelong palsy disappear.
He heard no voice, save the familiar,
of the sore perplexed. The kettle steamed
and whistled. A heavy truck downshifted
near the square. He heard a child calling,
and heard a mourning dove intone its one
dull call. For all of that, his wits remained
quite dim. He breathed and spoke the words he read.
If what had been long dead then came alive,
that resurrection was by all appearances
metaphorical. The miracle arrived
without display. He held a book, and as he read
he found the very thing he’d sought. Just that.
A life with little hurt but one, the lucky gift
of a raveled book, a kettle slow to heat,
and time enough therefore to lift the book
and find in one slight passage the very wish
he dared not ask aloud, until, that is,
he spoke the words he read.
Below, I’ve compiled a quick link to the six poems I’ve featured on this blog over the years. I’m very nervous and excited to have recently launched the Apostolic Voice Podcast.
Hey, I’m excited to announce the launch of the Apostolic Voice Podcast. In this first episode, I feature some of the Poetry Collection, talk about the Kindom of God, and even do some dramatic readings. You can listen below or you can find the Apostolic Voice with Ryan French podcast on your favorite platform.
Everything meant to break us made us stronger than we were before.
Every fear meant to freeze us made us braver than we were before.
Every lie meant to ensnare made us wiser than we were before.
Every dream we thought was dead is bigger and better than it was before.
Every sad song became a worship medley in the playlist of our lives.
I remember when we talked and you cried tears of joy and healing was in the sky.
Our hearts soared to spiritual heights as realizations of love filled our eyes.
I remember when you took my hand and asked if we would always be alright.
I knew then that God would always be at the center of our lives.
He took broken puzzle pieces, trampled-twisted; flipped them around, and made masterpieces with them.
Every hurt meant to embitter made us better than we were before.
Every hit meant to bruise made us bolder than we were before.
Every strain meant to drain us made us fuller than we were before.
Every chain meant to enslave made us freer than we were before.
Every fallen tear became a bubbling brook in the landscape of our lives.
I remember when the sun stood still and your eyes grew wide as strong winds beat against us for the very first time.
Life did what life does and pain tried to quench the light but you grabbed my hand and held on tight.
That was far from the last time but it was a beautiful beginning to a wonderful life.
“Every sad song became a worship medley in the playlist of our lives.“Tweet
God takes broken puzzle pieces, trampled-twisted; flips them around and makes masterpieces with them.Tweet
CAN YOU DEFINE REVERENCE?
While contemplating this article I conducted an extremely non-scientific, anecdotal experiment. Basically, I asked several people from various backgrounds (religious, irreligious, and a few in between) to define the word reverence as best they could without googling it or phoning a friend. As you can imagine, the answers were varied, to say the least: Some were spot on (mostly the extremely religious), others defined reverence as some type of fear (mostly the mildly religious), several thought reverence was a title for priests or clergy (mostly the irreligious), and a handful simply didn’t know how to define the word reverence at all. If they were willing to play along, I also asked them to define the words sacred, hallowed, consecrated, holy, and inviolable (if you’re like most people you had to google inviolable). People’s attempts to define these words sorted out in pretty much the same way as it did for the word reverence.
Douglas Rushkoff is a widely acclaimed media theorist, writer and university professor. His name might not be familiar to you, but you’ve used phrases he coined. Phrases like “viral media” and “social currency” originated with Rushkoff. Some of his thoughts on socialization and technology are fascinating. His theories have silently impacted your life in more ways than one.
THE YOUNG & THE IRRELIGIOUS!
Pollsters, social scientists, and statisticians are super interested in putting us all into nice little categories. In reality, humans are far more complex and less monolithic than we have been led to believe. However, it’s increasingly clear from stats that the elderly are much likelier than younger generations to be religious.
Rest assured, many young adults are extremely religious, but there is an ever-widening gap between the religious and the irreligious. Meaning, the “in-betweeners” are disappearing. People are either becoming more religious than ever or joining the growing number of atheists. So, the question is why? Why is this gap ever widening and what can be done about it? From the secular perspective, nirvana can be reached by eradicating pesky religious notions. It’s a naive and ludicrous idea.
THE MEANINGLESSNESS CONUNDRUM
Douglas Rushkoff is one of many vogue atheists who laid the groundwork for secularizing modern young minds. Here’s a popular and particularly nauseating quote from Rushkoff:
“It’s also hard for people to contend with the difficult possibility that we are simply overadvanced fungi and bacteria hurtling through a galaxy in cold, meaningless space. But just because our existence may have arisen unintentionally and without purpose doesn’t preclude meaning or purpose from emerging as a result of our interaction and collaboration. Meaning may not be a precondition for humanity as much as a by-product of it.”
THE MEANINGLESS FALLOUT!
It’s almost painful to read Rushkoff, and countless others like him, trying to deal with the conundrum of meaninglessness that secularism produces. All the pandering platitudes and pointless philosophizing in the world can’t reconcile the awful emptiness that godlessness produces. Rushkoff’s quote reeks of desperation. It’s as if he’s trying to force the square peg of meaning into the circular slot of secularism. To his credit, at least he’s making an attempt to face the nothingness of secularism. He’s honest enough to admit that his worldview relegates us all to overadvanced fungi and bacteria hurtling through a galaxy in cold, meaningless space. His feeble attempt to insert meaning and purpose into this worldview falls flat on its face. Any intellectually honest person knows that if this trendy shift away from belief in God continues there will be a catastrophic fallout in the collective human psyche.
Actually, I suspect that much of the world’s woes are precursors to this fallout. Many societal problems are directly linked to the psychological and spiritual disruption that occurs when humans start thinking of themselves as animals. Higher evolved perhaps, but animals, nonetheless. Even worse, what if large swaths of humanity adopt Rushkoff’s view and seriously think of humanity as being little more than bacteria? At least most people like animals, but no one likes or cares for fungi. Certainly, dangerous ideas have real life consequences.
HOW CAN IT FEEL SO WRONG IF THERE’S NO WRONG?
The repercussions of a perceived godless universe are already being felt in big and small ways. I believe the growing suicide rates are an indication of how a perceived world without eternal purpose affects people mentally. Not to mention, mass depression and substance abuse. Secular thinkers are perplexed by the dilemma of a wildly advanced civilization filled with unhappy citizens. Our world has more wealth, health, comfort, entertainment, and prosperity than any other generation in the history of civilization. Yet, we are plagued with dissatisfaction, disappointment, and disenfranchisement. Predictably, while society encourages and celebrates freedom from religion the warm fuzzy feelings quickly fade into a haze of melancholia.
Take racism for example, an issue that is currently spotlighted in our nation, many agnostic millennials are waking up to the shortcomings of their worldview. For example, without a God there is no such thing as tangible intrinsic human rights or freedoms. If we weren’t created equally by God and we’re just overadvanced fungi what makes racism wrong? What makes anything wrong? Why would euthanasia be wrong? Why would suicide be wrong? Why would hatred, racism, dislike, or injustice be wrong? The very word injustice implies an intrinsic human right, but without God humanity doesn’t have intrinsic rights. Without God the world really is just an animalistic fight for survival where only the fittest survive.
Without God we’re all just little specks looking for some silly bits of meaning in a vast ocean of nothingness. Try as they might, godless philosophers and thought leaders can’t change that reality. Because it’s the logical dead end to a series of agonizingly long and twisted veins of faulty philosophies.
INCUBATION, INEBRIATION, INHIBITION, HANGOVER
Like all philosophies (and sins), there’s a kind of early incubation period. During incubation a new albeit terrible idea basks in the warmth of shiny newness. Of course, there’s nothing new under the sun, but mankind has a gullible tendency to mistake ancient sins for brand new brilliant ideas. The “new” worldview temporarily blooms into an exciting “free” way of life, unshackled by the silliness of past ideologies, morals, standards, or antiquated religious reverences.
For a long period of time the Western Hemisphere has enjoyed the inebriations of heady Rushkoffian philosophies. Secular society has tried really hard to create its own brand of morality from nothingness. The inebriation produces predictable inhibitions. They’ve been comfortably intoxicated with the exhilaration of their “new” notions, but for many the hangover phase is kicking in. The stark realization that most secular “moralities” are poorly imitated holdovers from the Judeo-Christian worldview is unsettling. Morality always unravels without the involvement of humanities Divine Creator.
THE GROWING DIVIDE
There was a time when secularists and Christians agreed that certain things were considered sacred. They treated those things with reverence. For example, most agreed human life was sacred and should be treated with reverence. Most agreed there was something sacred about the innocence of children, and that children should be protected. Most agreed freedom and common decencies were sacred. Family was also considered sacred. But an alarmingly large number of secularists hold their noses in disdain at the very mention of things we used to hold in common.
THE DEATH OF REVERENCE
I could fill lots of paragraphs with examples of how society is cheapening the value of human life. The abortion issue alone could fill volumes of books. Certainly, secular society gives lip service to the sanctity of life, but they are increasingly less interested in protecting the lives of those who are in disagreement with their worldview. And, of course, the slow decline of the family unit has been documented for decades. Society can’t even agree to call biological men, men and biological women, women (and supposedly Christians are the science “deniers”). It’s not even socially acceptable to teach children that a family consists of a biological mom and a biological dad who are married. So, how can we expect the family unit (the basic fundamental building block of society) to thrive.
Furthermore, marriage is viewed more and more as antiquated. Admittedly, if marriage isn’t a sacred covenant between a man, a woman, and God then it is pretty ridiculous. Western cultures respect for the sanctity of marriage bit the dust when gay marriage was legalized and celebrated. To be sure, it was already gasping its last breaths, but it officially died with that legal pronouncement. Culture can’t even define the family properly anymore. Ironically, even morally ambiguous counterfeit Christians got more than they bargained for after supporting the homosexual agenda. Most liberal Christians never dreamed the transgender agenda would be the next culture battle. But if life, and family, and marriage isn’t sacred or definable than sexuality isn’t either. Western society had already been pushed down the slippery slope of letting go of sacred things. Vast groups of carnal gullible Christians became willing conspirators in the destruction of yet another holy and sacred institution, marriage and family.
IT ONLY GETS WORSE
Ok. I’ll admit it! I really like to say I told you so. But this is one situation where I desperately wish my predictions had been wrong. Years ago, on this blog I predicted that pedophilia would become socially acceptable. My prophecy was met with incredulity, mockery, and dismissiveness. I was called a fear-monger and worse. I was told by atheists that children were the last sacred totem. I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at that because I’m fully aware of the massive abortion rates. At that time, science was already definitively affirming the position of anti-abortionists, yet secular culture didn’t care at all. So, why would I believe children are any safer out of the womb than in the womb? I didn’t believe it then and I really don’t believe it now!
A recent TED Talk entitled Why Our Perception of Pedophilia Has to Change is just one of many disgusting examples of how pedophilia is being normalized. Pedophiles are brazenly referring to themselves as Minor Attracted Persons or MAPs. The internet is filled with MAPs going public and beginning their sexual revolution. Much of the so-called scientific research in this area is trending more and more favorably towards the MAPs community. One recent study (The Internalization of Social Stigma Among Minor-Attracted Persons: Implications for Treatment) reports that 5% of the world’s population might be MAPs. The overwhelming reports of child molestation coupled with the bleak knowledge that the majority of child molestation cases go unreported lends credence to the 5% theory. With that kind of percentage, the societal push for destigmatization will only grow stronger. One day soon there will be no social stigma for MAPs.
NETFLIX HITS A NEW LOW
As if on cue, while writing this article Netflix announced the release of a new show called Cuties where little girls are explicitly sexualized in bizarre and repulsive ways. Girls as young as eleven are scantily dressed and perform sexually provocative dance routines. This is hardly a first for the entertainment culture, but it is one of the more unblushingly pro MAPs shows ever released to the general public. It would do us all well to remember how the gay agenda used this same kind of strategy to normalize itself in the public eye. Little by little shows were littered with overt references and subtle instances of homosexuality. Western culture was predictably desensitized over a relatively short period of time. History is repeating itself, but now innocent children will suffer because of our godless culture (godless churches aren’t helping either, but that’s a different blog for a different day).
DON’T PANIC! PRAY!
Keeping all of this in mind, its little wonder secular culture doesn’t value or consider it worthwhile to protect the religious freedoms of Christians or their churches. This long trending cultural shift makes the Church more countercultural than it’s ever been in modern times. I want to quickly look at how the Church should and should not respond to the death of reverence taking place right before our eyes. Of course, it’s easy to feel panicky when the world seems to be in a moral death spiral. But rather than panic why don’t we commit ourselves to prayer as never before? Prayer will stabilize us and make a difference in the world around us. Prayer isn’t simplistic or naive. It isn’t a lesser course of action then other pursuits. Rather, prayer is the action by which all other actions are judged. Nothing else we do could ever match the importance of praying over our world.
BE SUPER SERIOUS ABOUT SACRED THINGS
In response to societies drastic shift away from reverence the Church should contrast itself by intensifying our respect and awe for sacred things. Our gatherings should be filled with a sense of reverence and majesty. I’m not talking about stuffy formalities; however, we must resist the external pressure to approach the things of God flippantly or casually. I’ve long contended our attire is a reflection of our sense of reverence for the house of God. We should oppose societal pressure to approach corporate worship casually in demeanor, attire, focus, and attention. We must prioritize sacred things above the secular. For example, jobs, relaxation, and entertainment should never be prioritized over the sacred. Even family time shouldn’t be prioritized above sacred things. Family time should always be a major priority, but it should be balanced so the sacred isn’t encroached upon. When Christians consistently prioritize the secular over the sacred it signifies the impending death of reverence in their hearts.
You don’t have to go back too far in history to remember a time when American culture kept Sunday’s sacred on a national level. Even the irreligious enjoyed the benefits of work-free Sundays. Now, Christians are caught between the need to be in the workplace and the need to keep the Sabbath. But Christens must have the courage to put God first and trust Him to bless their faithfulness. This is a basic area where Christians must win the battle, or we will not be able to stand when bigger battles move to the forefront. If we can’t prioritize God over our finances how will we prioritize Him over our lives if needed?
BEWARE OF ALPHABET SOUP
Logical fallacies are fake or deceptive arguments that seem irrefutable but prove nothing. Fallacies often seem superficially sound and far too often they retain immense persuasive power even after being clearly exposed as false. Alphabet Soup is a fairly modern fallacy where a person or group inappropriately overuses acronyms, abbreviations, form numbers and arcane insider “shop talk” primarily to prove to people that an individual “speaks their language” and is “one of them”. Secondarily, people use Alphabet Soup to shut out, confuse, condescend, or to impress outsiders. Officially showing someone, they are on the outside looking in. For example, “It’s not uncommon for a KC-113 with ABC to be both GW and YB;” “I had a twenty-minute DX Q-so on 17with a SED-Q12 and a couple of SQ’s even though the QR-JANE was 34 over B10;” or “I hope I’ll keep on seeing my JNT on my HVL until the day I get my WW511.”
You get the picture. Alphabet Soup is a great way to misdirect someone from noticing you don’t actually know what you’re talking about. And, it’s a wonderful way to keep people at arm’s length by intimidating them into assuming you know things you don’t really know. Secularists use this pseudo intellectual insider jargon all the time to make Christians feel feeble or out of touch. They use made up phrases and talk about elaborate unprovable theories as if they are cold hard facts. They blather about billions of years and trillions of eons as if they know something with certainty they don’t even understand partially. It’s a condescending intellectually dishonest way of dominating any form of real debate before it even begins.
REFUSE TO BE MARGINALIZED
We must not allow ourselves to be marginalized or bullied into silence. If you know Jesus, you know more than the most highly educated atheist in the world. Refuse to be overlooked because of your faith. Be vocal, confidant, and unashamed.
Originally, I set out to write an article about irreverent behaviors creeping into everyday Christian life and church services. You know, things like cell phones lit up all throughout preaching. And, one of my biggest pet peeves; talking and joking around during altar services. Empty prayer rooms, grungy casual attire, disrespect towards ministry, disrespect towards elders, immodesty, untouched Bibles, and the list goes on. But while pondering these problems, I realized these are just spiritual manifestations of much deeper cultural problems ineluctably bleeding into the Church. Everywhere I look irreverence seems to be the norm. The dereverencing and dismantling of traditional institutions like faith, family, honesty, and morality are eroding ordinary everyday life. The needed human perceptions of majesty, grandeur and transcendent supernatural accoutrements are sadly lacking even within sincere religious settings. We live in a post-respect, post-truth, post-logic, post-virtue secular society. That secular mindset has imperceptibly influenced unsuspecting Christians.
How has this happened? Well, mostly through secular educational systems that work to legitimize secular evolutionary philosophies and stigmatize religious viewpoints. No longer can Christians unthinkingly hand their children over to be influenced carte blanche by secular educators from preschool to the end of college. Colleges are especially egregious in their cultural brainwashing efforts. This doesn’t mean we should become anti-education, to the contrary, we should be more educated than ever before. However, we must promote positive educational reforms and demand a seat at the table within educational systems.
Beyond that, Christians have allowed secular media to dominate their time and captivate their thinking for far too long. When the elders abstained from television and movies before television and movies were really all that bad, they had spiritual foresight. In the name of freedom and progress, many Christians engage in grotesquely sacrilegious and immoral viewing on a regular basis. I know pointing out television is antiquated. Television is quickly becoming a thing of the past. But the ever expanding web of the internet is far more dangerous than television could ever be. Not to mention the sticky world of social media. It would be incredibly naive and foolish for the Church to ignore the vast powers of all media sources to influence, infiltrate, desensitize, destabilize, demoralize, and stigmatize the holy things of God.
But the Church is shaking itself loose of past naivety. We are learning to recognize what reverence looks like when it is dying. It isn’t too late for the Church. In fact, the only hope for the world is a sanctified Church calling them to repentance and a supernatural Holy Ghost encounter with God.
“But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer (1 Peter 4:7).”
Secularists and others who crinkle their noses at Christianity enjoy pointing to the apparent decline of Christian faith in America. They look longingly at Europe’s seemingly thorough secularization and wistfully prophecy that America is finally following suit. Of course, many iconoclasts realize the death of Christianity is being exaggerated, but they continue the facade to belittle believers. By marginalizing Christianity, they hope to intimidate Christians into silence on cultural issues of importance.
This is actually a very powerful bullying tactic. Many Christians feel as if their belief system is in a hopeless state of decline. Ostracism from mainstream society leaves many Christians either wanting to completely withdraw from the culture wars or compromise completely. Others simply feel adversarial and defensive all the time. Generally, Christians (especially young Christians) are intentionally manipulated into feeling as if they are silly and insignificant. Ironically, agnostics are extremely evangelistic in their attempts to proselytize Christians into their cult of faithful faithlessness.
It’s worth noting that Christianity was birthed from a marginalized minority Jewish culture and established in relative obscurity. Genuine practicing Christians are no strangers to persecution whether overt or thinly veiled. To be separated from the world in inward and outward attributes is a defining characteristic of the Church. Jesus warned us this would be so on many occasions. However, American Christians have enjoyed unprecedented freedom and respect. As our country declines into deeper and deeper polarizations many Christians are left shaken by a perceived unpopularity. But millions of practicing Christians in other parts of the world have never served God without literally placing their lives and livelihoods in jeopardy. Perhaps American Christians are on the brink of learning what it means to be truly unashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sheer numbers are not an indication of what position, philosophy, worldview, or religious theology (or lack thereof) is correct. Packed stadiums, swelling bank accounts, and massive followings aren’t accurate gauges of rightness. History is littered with atrocities committed by majorities that considered themselves virtuous in their evil.
But the dirty little secret is that Christianity isn’t dying, dead churches are dying. Studies are finding that old “mainline” denominations are in sharp decline, while fundamental evangelical churches are holding steady and, in some cases, growing exponentially. Pentecostals (like myself) are particularly interesting in their outlier status of continued growth. Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, and vast swaths of highly ceremonial denominations are losing members at a breathtaking pace. Statistics also show that churches are mostly losing nominal members. Meaning, members who never really had a strong connection to their faith in the first place aren’t maintaining membership in the church they grew up attending irregularly. People are no longer willing to remain connected to dead churches that don’t officiate real, lifechanging, relationships with God. Christians-in-name-only are finally dropping a meaningless title and substituting it with the religion of secularism. The Easter only crowd is ditching Easter, and why wouldn’t they abandon a weak powerless imitation of genuine Spirit-filled faith?
The steady advancement of secularism is separating the genuine from the fake. Squishy middle-ground Christianity is being revealed for the whitewashed tomb it has always been. Fundamentalists have long been derided by so-called mainline denominations, but the Christ of Christianity demands a radical, transformative, countercultural, multicultural, unashamed, uncompromising Church. And, that Church is alive and well.
The Church should prepare for the coming wave of emotionally and spiritually broken refugees. Many are already reeling from the gross hopelessness that secularism produces. It’s not coincidental that spiked suicide rates correspond statistically with increased levels of atheism and agnosticism. As the logical progression of moral relativism smashes against walls of reality countless lives are being catapulted into turmoil. Moral relativism and logical incongruities are being portrayed as a panacea; however, they are only a temporary placebo. As the placebo affect wears off the Church must be ready to administer genuine biblical solutions. If the Church capitulates to the pressure to move away from biblical absolutes under the guise of maintaining momentum or moderation it will cease to be the Church and meet the same fate as the “mainline” majorities of the past.
David, don’t worry about who is bigger or stronger, just make sure you’re representing the one true God fearlessly.
- The New York Times, The Overstated Collapse of American Christianity by Ross Douthat
- Pew Research Center, Pentecostals and Pentecostalism
- Christianity Today, Why Do These Pentecostals Keep Growing? by Ed Stetzer
An unseen microscopic viral enemy is bringing the world economy to its knees and taking lives. Whether you believe the worldwide response has been warranted or irresponsible the impact of COVID-19 is tangible and far reaching. Secular and religious organizations alike have been forced to make difficult choices in these uncertain times. Churches are closing their doors to corporate worship and frantically ramping up live stream capabilities. Even now, we just aren’t sure how long this threat will last.
Because this is all so unprecedented and strange (for modern times) there’s not many resources teaching us how to think or react to the events unfolding around us. Godly saints are especially vulnerable during this time of disconnection between one another and pastoral leadership. Opinions abound, but wisdom and common sense are precious, hard to find commodities. Consider this a starter manual for spiritually navigating these uncertain times. This beginner manual will certainly need to be updated and revised over time, and applied to new and changing situations. However, it’s at least a start as we all prayerfully wait on the Lord.
Gathering Still Matters!
While nobly attempting to remain boldly optimistic, many leaders and saints have overblown the impact of having virtual church. This sends mixed messages to people about the continued need for the Church to gather together for corporate worship on a regular basis. Just because we temporarily can’t have church, doesn’t mean we aren’t desperately in need of having church.
To clarify, I’m all for live streaming and getting the Gospel out with every high-tech or low-tech tool available. However, nothing can, should, or will replace the necessity of the assembling of the Church. Beyond that, live streaming isn’t some sparkling new thing that just materialized because of the Corona pandemic. It’s been around for a long time and it can be a great blessing in certain situations. But, it simply cannot compare to what happens when God’s people get together and unify in faith, fellowship, worship, praise, prayer, preaching, and power.
Yes. The Church is not a building. Yes. The Church should be the Church outside of the building. But everyone stuck at home, watching live streaming in their pajamas while eating Lucky Charms, isn’t exactly an epic unleashing of the Church. It’s great to be positive, but let’s not be silly and trivial about the importance of corporate worship.
Trust Your Pastor In Times of Crisis
I’ll echo what many wise folks have already voiced: Your pastor has never pastored in a pandemic before, and he wants what’s best for the church more than anyone else. Pastors are doing their absolute level best to love, protect, and care for their flocks during this crazy and confusing time. They have to answer to God for the decisions they make during this season. They don’t need Monday morning quarter backs criticizing their every decision.
It’s important to note that God may direct one pastor differently than another pastor. Every church has a different dynamic. If you’ve ever trusted your pastor, trust him during this time. If you’ve ever supported your pastor, support him during this time. Your support means more to him than you can imagine. Either you believe your pastor is a God-called under-shepherd over your life or you don’t. Times of crisis reveal the heart; take inventory of your heart in times of crisis.
Speaking of the Heart
If mass social distancing and quarantines have taught me anything, it’s that we have taken too many luxuries for granted. Other nations struggle with hunger, but we feel majorly distressed if we can’t find our favorite brand of coffee creamer. We are, without a doubt, a spoiled people. We are totally unfamiliar with genuine sacrifice or deprivation.
We take our freedoms for granted, including our religious liberties, because we have been too busy and distracted with luxuries. As a nation, we have trended towards less and less church gatherings, and many Christians casually skip church for silly non-essential reasons.
We Americans make plenty of time for the internet, social media, Netflix, and sports; yet we struggle to find time for prayer and spiritual gatherings. This reveals an American heart problem. We are busy doing everything, except for the things that matter the most. Suddenly, when church buildings are temporarily closed our deep need for spiritual connectedness becomes crystal clear.
Many Christians are learning for the first time that sports are little more than a frivolous distraction from reality. We can and should spend more time with our families. Careers aren’t everything and economies and markets are fickle friends that will betray us without warning. Governments can’t save us or even really protect us from every threat. In other words, uncertain times clarify the things that truly matter in our lives. It gives us perspective. And, hopefully a fresh wellspring of gratitude for God and family is bursting into our national consciousness.
The things we care about most are far more fragile than we realize when the busyness of life jerks us from activity to activity. Maybe, just maybe, God is trying to slow us down long enough to remember to keep the main things the main thing. No. I don’t mean that God sent a COVID-19 plague upon the world. However, I do believe God would have us learn lessons in our crisis moments.
Speaking of Crisis Moments
Many people’s finances are being adversely impacted by the quarantines. Jobs are disappearing at staggering rates. Others are enduring layoffs and having their hours slashed. Businesses and small business owners are going under while others are hanging by a thread. If you aren’t being financially effected, you probably know many people who are being effected right now.
With that said, churches still need supported so they can survive this crisis too. If you still have income (be grateful) and be sure to get your tithes to the storehouse of God. Don’t take a vacation from giving God what is already His. That’s a sure way to lose His blessings over your life.
I’ve heard many reports of churches that are unable to pay their regular bills. Newer churches, and smaller to midsize churches in large numbers are facing financial collapse if things don’t change soon. There’s no government bailout for churches. And the church shouldn’t need a government bailout anyway. Let’s just keep being the Church like they were in the book of Acts. If the Early Church could find a way to faithfully give (without the internet) in the middle of literal physical persecution, we can too.
We Always Do Better Under Pressure
God’s true Church has always thrived under pressure. In fact, we seem to spiritually flourish in tough times and become spiritually anemic in times of ease. That was certainly true of the original book of Acts Church, and we see that same phenomenon in the great revivals and spiritual awakenings throughout history. Tremendous apostolic outpourings of the Holy Ghost were poured out during the Great Depression. Those revivals continued to spread even during the first and second World Wars. History is replete with examples of powerful revivals in crisis seasons and spiritual decline in seasons of prosperity. Just look at the reports from economically depressed, and physically oppressed countries outside of the United States. They have constant miracles, church growth, signs, wonders, and spiritual hunger in those regions. Why? Because the Church thrives under pressure and persecution.
But why does the Church thrive under pressure? And, why does the Church seem to struggle with prosperity? I could get very preachy and talk about how the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), but it’s deeper than just loving money and stuff too much. That’s just part of the overall problem. I think (and I’m preaching to myself), in times of ease we lean to our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6) rather than leaning on the Lord. We rely on ourselves more and rely on God less. Essentially, we take God for granted without even meaning to do so. But times of crisis push us back into the arms of Christ. Pressure keeps us razor sharp and keenly focused on God. When we run out of options and resources, we come sheepishly back to our Creator for rescue. And, He rescues us because He loves us with a deep love.
This Will Pass
We’ll move from this valley to a mountaintop, and dip back into another valley. There’s a time and a season for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Perhaps God will teach some of us how to cry out to Him in our distress and face our fears and faithlessness (Mark 4:37-41). Maybe God will show some of us that we can walk on water and overcome the impossible if we keep our eyes fixed on Him (Matthew 14:22-33). How wonderful would it be if the Church rediscovered the power and importance of prayer meetings like the book of Acts Church (Acts 2:1-2, Acts 4:23-24, Acts 12:5-12, Acts 16:25)? The Church can and will continue to turn the world upside down (Acts 17:6) in the midst of pressure. However, when the pressure passes, let’s keep the lessons and priorities we have learned close to heart.