Monday, September 22, 2008

Every Preacher or Priest In Memphis Deserves to be in Hell

So says the sign at the First Baptist Church on Main St. in Memphis. The Voice News has the story:

While one side of the board declared, "Only a few people will find Heaven, the rest will find Hell"; the other side proclaimed in bold uppercase letters, "Every preacher or priest in Memphis deserves to be in Hell!" And that is the message that has folks talking.

Our readers here (both of them) might think that I'm going to blast this guy as some sort of anti-Catholic shmoe. He may very well be. I don't know, and I wouldn't base it off this sign since he includes "preachers" as well as priests. What I do know is that the message on the sign (the deserving hell part) is exactly right.

None of us deserve heaven. This is another one of those oft-forgotten bits of the modern age. It's also very uncomfortable. The issue is that salvation is a gift, entirely gratuitous, and cannot be merited by anything we do. The holiest person you can think of, outside of Christ and the Blessed Mother, was by nature a "child of wrath" as St. Paul says (Ephesians 2) and/or has sinned against God in some way. This is to be worthy of hell. This seems to make some folks squeamish:

"I just want to know where the forgiveness part is," The Rev. James Huff of First United Methodist Church in Memphis said. "It is like he is taking the place of God and putting judgment on everyone who preaches around Memphis. I just feel that that is really not a way to build a church up."

The whole point is that you can be saved, despite deserving hell. Society has a big problem with thinking that just being a nice person means the Beatific Vision is yours for the taking. Pelagianism is all over the place. That's the wonder of God's grace. That anyone goes to heaven at all is a marvel of God's mercy.

I do think that this guy has a point:

The Rev. Joseph Horn of Holy Family Catholic Church in Memphis has also heard from community members. "A lot of people have called me and asked me about (his signs) that are usually pretty negative ... too negative to really change someone's heart, so I don't think they are doing the good that he thinks they are doing," he said. "I know that Jesus would use a lot more grace and love and, you know, a better message than just condemnation because He never condemned a sinner. He always called them to be better. He didn't tell the woman at the well how evil she was. He called her to be better. She knew how bad she was. "We all know how bad we are. We don't need to be reminded on a sign how bad we are - we need to be reminded there is hope for us."

But when was the last time you actually heard a sermon on hell? I know people who have church-hopped for no other reason than the pastor dared to counsel them on the fear of perdition. Nobody is saying that people are better off being terrified of God rather than loving Him, but the message of God's justice and our own inability to obtain salvation without Him has been lost. Jesus issued many condemnations in the midst of his calls to repentance. We should keep that in mind and not let the pendulum swing too far in either direction.


DcDrDan said...

I preached this past weekend on the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. While I didn't use the phrase that we all "deserve hell," (I wish I had. That would have got them to sit up and listen!) I did stress that we don't want God to be fair with us. We don't want Him to give us what we deserve. We NEED him to be as generous with us as the Landowner was with the laborers.

Throwback said...

Augustine called the world a massa damnata- the mass of the condemned (damned). Here's his take in City of God. This is before his Retractations modified his views of Original Sin, but the point is still well-taken:

Hence the whole mass of the human race is condemned; for he who at first gave entrance to sin has been punished with all his posterity who were in him as in a root, so that no one is exempt from this just and due punishment, unless delivered by mercy and undeserved grace; and the human race is so apportioned that in some is displayed the efficacy of merciful grace, in the rest the efficacy of just retribution.