Inevitable logic compels those who deny the existence of an eternal hell to invent a temporary purgatory. The problem of unequal justice upon earth in relation to punishment and reward perplexes the mind that rejects the biblical revelation of the fashion of life to come. What must be done with those guilty of unrepented sin?
In a recent issue of a popular denominational magazine a writer asserted that we “have to rediscover the moral equivalent of hell.” His sense of justice recoiled at an equally cordial welcome in heaven for infamous men like Hitler and Stalin and saints like Paul and Augustine. In his own way, the above writer would solve the problem by proposing a consideration of “the redemptive and cleansing possibilities of hell.” The fires of this temporary hell are a “burning shame” and “searing regret,” a source of redemption, and, as such, a “Protestant” purgatory.
The horror of the Roman Catholic purgatory, however, should cause serious hesitancy in proposing as a moral equivalent of hell, the suggested temporary purgatory, for the satisfying of a sense of justice. Roman Catholics have been robbed of peace, consolation and hope, enjoyed by those who rest on the promises of Scripture. Roman Catholicism denies the infinitely meritorious sacrifice of Christ, and has insisted that the sinner make additional satisfaction for his sins. Only by enduring the painful, agonizing fires of purgatory can the half-pardoned sinner qualify himself for the favor of God. He must justify himself by fire, and to the torment which he endures is added the anguish of loved ones on earth who are driven to purchase candles and masses to buy his release. One shudders at the thought of what needless tortures the invention of a Protestant purgatory could bring.
Actually, limiting the torment of hell to soul and mental anguish does not lessen but rather increases suffering. Often the teaching of hell is rejected because the thought of literal fire is abhorrent. Yet, mental agony can cause more pain than a literal flame. The book of Proverbs states, “The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?” Mental institutions are filled with broken spirits. A wounded conscience has caused more suicides than physical ills. Burning shame and searing regret intensify rather than soften the horror of purgatory.
The “Protestant” invention of a place to purge souls, of course, denies the necessity of the vicarious Atonement of Christ. If a “burning shame” and “searing regret” cleanse and prepare the soul for heaven, then the entrance of the Son of God into history was futile and vain. One may seriously question the wisdom and goodness of God in sending forth his Son to be born of a virgin and to die on Calvary’s Cross, if all that God needed to see in the soul of man was remorse and contrition. We must silence the prophetic voice of Isaiah who claimed that the Servant was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. We must hush John the Baptist’s declaration, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” We must still the message of Peter that we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot.
Part of the attempt to abolish the biblical eternal hell comes from a desire to vindicate the love of God. The assertion has been made that if love is love and God is God, heaven can’t be heaven until hell is empty. God, according to this view, is made to be something of a Moloch who demands his creatures to pass through fires of purgatory before reaching the golden shore. But those who reduce the being of God to love and ignore his justice are still on the sharp horns of a dilemma even with the invention of a temporary purgatory. If God’s justice does not demand full satisfaction for sin, what particular attribute of his demands remorse and contrition, activated by purging fires?
Classical liberal theology stressed the subjective element of the Atonement; its sole aim was the moral transformation of the sinner. The sight of the Cross, it was asserted, fills the sinner with remorse for his sin, impels him to repent, and places him upon the path of righteousness. (The crucifixion led one sinner, Judas, to hang himself.) A classic example of the effect of remorse and contrition is portrayed in the life of Martin Luther. He describes his experience by saying that at times he suffered such violent and hellish tortures that had they lasted even ten minutes he would have perished and his limbs would have turned to ashes. He painfully realized that he was utterly incapable of proper repentance and that his penitence did not achieve righteousness. He saw nothing worthy of salvation in his agonizing remorse, and it was his subjective experience that finally drove him to accept the objective righteousness offered in the Gospel. Luther found his justification, then, not by the fires of contrition and repentance but by the faith in God’s Son.
That personal repentance does not satisfy either the individual soul nor the holiness and justice of God was recognized by the theologian, Dr. McLeod Campbell. He found the atoning fact in the Lord’s sympathetic repentance for man. Since man was incapable of an adequate repentance, Christ drank the cup of repentance for him. This idea finds no correspondence in Scripture and does not satisfy the justice of God nor the awakened conscience. Repentance, personal or vicarious, does not answer justice either in the court of men or of God. The wounded conscience cries out for punishment of its sin or an adequate Atonement. Were Christ’s sympathetic repentance sufficient, of course, there would be no need of the fire of purgatory to activate repentance on the part of the sinner.
The important question in this matter is whether purgatorial fires would really actuate godly sorrow. Penitence merely to avoid the consequence of sin would not be considered genuine sorrow. Dives (Luke 16:19–31) has been pointed out by some writers as an example of the redemptive quality of hell. In hell, they assert, he developed great concern for his five brothers and pleaded that Lazarus be sent to warn them about the place of torment. But in truth, this was not love; it was a hellish artifice, placing responsibility for his incarceration upon God with the deceptive implication that he had not been sufficiently warned. Abraham informed him that his brothers had already had sufficient revelation concerning the life to come from Moses and the prophets. But Dives revealed an intransigent impenitence when he argued, “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.” Abraham’s reply to him was that if they refused God’s revelation given to them through Moses and the prophets, nothing would move them to repentance. The entire story of Dives demonstrates sharply the futility of expecting genuine repentance in hell.
The day may come when some theologian will speak of the redemptive quality and transforming power of death. However, the logic of the continuity of mind and character of life here with that which one experiences hereafter is still generally conceded. The unconverted, impenitent sinner enters the next life in his unregenerate state. What, then, in this newly invented purgatory would lead the sinner to godly repentance, if upon earth the goodness of God did not lead him to that act? (cf. Rom. 2:4). Would torment induce the sinner to contrition? Liberal theologians have spoken scornfully of repentance motivated by fear of hell, and surely godly sorrow implies more than a desire to escape retribution. But if “searing regret” and “burning shame” are to define genuine repentance, the question remains whether remorse and the works of remorse constitute redemption.
The word “redemption” is often used in a loose and popular manner to signify “deliverance” without any reference to price, or to specific means by which deliverance is accomplished. Suggestion has been made that redemption may be obtained merely by an act of repentance. The term is so well defined in Scripture that the wrong use is inexcusable. Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines redemption as, “everywhere in N.T. metaph., viz., deliverance effected through the death of Christ from the retributive wrath of a holy God and the merited penalty of sin.” Webster’s New International Dictionary defines the word, “In Christianity, deliverance from the bondage and consequences of sin, especially as through the reconciliation (atonement) effected by Christ.”
Scriptures substantiate the above definitions by an overwhelming array of passages. “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood” (Rom. 3:24–25); “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13); “In whom we have redemption through his blood.…” (Eph. 1:7); “Who gave himself a ransom for all.…” (1 Tim. 2:6); “Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity.…” (Titus 2:14); (cf. also, Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:12; 1 Pet. 1:18–19; Rev. 5:9). And who would deny the import of Christ’s own statement, “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28)? The idea of deliverance through ransom may be repugnant to some liberal theologians, but it is the clear Scriptural definition of redemption.
Under the providence of God, Luther delivered the church from the dogma of justification by works and re-established the doctrine of Christ’s infinitely meritorious work on Calvary’s cross. He vanquished the argument for purgatory with all its attending evils by nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg on that notable day, October 31, 1517. Now, 440 years later, children of the Reformation would establish a “Protestant” purgatory wherein redemption might again be wrought out through works of penitence! What can be the purpose, the value, in their refusing to proclaim the teachings of the Reformers, especially the truths that have come forth from the Word of God?
Christian Perspective In A Non-Christian World
There is an uncertainty in America today which is unusual. A people who have prided themselves on national progress and international prestige suddenly find themselves unsure in both categories. We have been known historically as a “Christian nation” endowed with unusual material and geographical advantages, but there now arises the grave question whether the very things of which we have boasted most might evaporate before our eyes.
In such a situation Christian perspective and conscience is desperately needed. To the Christian the clear question must be: What is right? Man has a primary responsibility to God and an equally inescapable duty to his fellow man. From the Christian perspective there can be no divorcing of the one from the other. The fact that the majority of individuals are devoid of Christian conscience makes the task of the Christian more difficult and also more imperative.
It can be safely said that most laws in America are compatible with the Christian concept; in fact, their basic philosophy stems from Judeo-Christian teachings. Our difficulty therefore is not in the laws of the land, but rather in how they are regarded on the one hand and how they are administered on the other. Right now a good deal is being said about the “law of the land” with reference to the race issue. But a host of other laws which also have bearing on citizens in their relationships to the government, and to each other, are accorded scant notice. The “fix” is a politically expedient way of evading laws, from the ticket for over-parking to a gross violation of tax laws. Racial discrimination is highlighted in Little Rock yet plagues every section of the country. A low view of the law, as such, seems ingrained in much of our citizenry.
To put it bluntly: our national life is at an alarmingly low spiritual and moral ebb. The very resurgence of an interest in religion seems to have stirred the forces of evil to even greater activity.
Now America finds herself out-distanced in a field of science where we thought we were well ahead. There is no use denying the fact that Russia’s successful launching of the first earth satellite was a major achievement and there is no denying the fact that it has served to lower American prestige around the world. Some captured German skill may have been used to make this artificial moon possible, but there the reasonable assumption remains that the satellite is largely the product of scientific developments we did not believe possible in Russia.
How should the Christian react to the present situation? From a personal standpoint he can say that he knows all things work together for good for all that belong to Christ, and hence these things cannot touch him. This is unquestionably the comfort and hope of the believer, so far as his personal problems are concerned. But, he also has a responsibility to others and this cannot be discharged by a detached approach.
In the international field the Christian has a responsibility which has not been discharged. As a Christian he should work for the evangelization of the world. As a citizen he should work for morality in our international relationships. The Christian can produce effective arguments to show that our recognition of Russia in 1931 was a grave mistake. Many who see no moral issue involved nevertheless can show that the advantages of such recognition accrued almost entirely to Russia and that she has increased in power, in territorial acquisition, and in international infiltration and intrigue ever since she received such recognition.
On the home front Christians have too often been savorless salt and hooded lamps. Conformity to worldly concepts and compromises with spiritual and moral issues has weakened the Christian testimony as effectively as did the compromise of Israel with the Canaanitish nations more than three thousand years ago.
For a generation there has been an increased emphasis on the influence of the Church as such. Both the Roman Catholic and the Protestant denominations, through their cooperative agencies, have laid increasing emphasis on legislation. In so doing have not Christians actually been led to shirk their responsibilities as citizens? There is reason to believe that the active voice of men who speak out as individuals on moral and spiritual issues and who exercise their influence through their vote actually contribute far more to good government and right living than those who lobby in the name of the Church. There is nothing wrong with a united voice for right, but there is something strangely compelling in the witness of Christian men who stand up and are counted as individuals expressing their plea for social righteousness.
The Christian perspective demands that we try to see things as God sees them and that, having sought the leading of the Holy Spirit, we exercise in every way possible our influence for that which is right. We have been shocked by blatant corruption in some labor unions. We stand appalled at the political power of unworthy characters. Our souls rise in righteous indignation and disgust when hate and prejudice erupt in violence against people because their skins are of a different color. All these evils stem from sin in the human heart. All of them demand the judgment of a righteous and holy God. But their cure is to be found in the redemption God has provided through his Son.
The key to our internal and international problems is to be found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The custodian of that truth is the believing Church. The agents of the message are Christians. This is a time when we need to look up and receive, surrender from within and believe, and then to go out and live and act by and in the power of him who redeemed us and offers salvation to all who will believe.
Public Relations And Religious Revival
The link between public relations and religion is under scrutiny. In the aftermath of Billy Graham’s New York campaign, many newly “promotion-conscious” forces are asking: “What can we learn from Billy Graham?” Some religious leaders are answering: “We can learn the profound importance of good public relations.”
The Church has no better “publicity gimmick” than evidence to the world that Jesus Christ is still actively working in human lives. No high pressure salesmanship shaped by the spirit of the times, no slick programing of public relations, no tricks of the advertising trade, no experienced mass manipulation, no engineering of human decision, can turn the sinner from the evil of his way to the Living God. Regeneration involves a supernatural rebirth. “No man can call Christ Lord except by the Spirit of God.” No mechanics can dispense with the Holy Spirit. Many observers disregard this real secret of effective mass evangelism. Public relations produces spectators, not saints. It is one thing to lay fingertips on glory, another to lay hold of new life.
The real question is, what does promotion and publicity “pull a crowd” for? Some promotion may attract to church participation; other promotion may compete against it. Does religious promotion narrow the gulf between men and the Living God? Does it lead men to the message of Christ’s death for sinners? The religious surge may bear us toward the one true God but it may deluge us with false gods as well.
Fortunately, today’s sober spiritual concerns are gaining respect on the part of the press, radio and television. Here again science may fulfill its role as the handmaid of theology to the glory of God. The Graham campaign in New York shrewdly appropriated many positive values of scientific communicative techniques.
Yet we must bear in mind certain irreducible differences between mass advertising and mass evangelism. Mass advertising tends to generalize individuals; its pressures are for conformity. Mass evangelism, on the other hand, aims to refine and sharpen uniqueness in view of individual decision and destiny. Because spiritual commitment often requires action contrary to prevailing social pressures, it would be an untenable generalization to recommend the ideal 20th century evangelist to be a public relations tycoon. Rather, the message of the effective evangelist may recommend and call the public relations tycoon of our era to repentance.
Some editors still apparently assume that an agnostic makes the best religion editor, or at least that the religious cause is best served if a reporter is not a committed believer. If such editors were covering the story of apostolic Christianity, they would have preferred Gamaliel (“Keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this … undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them …” Acts 5:38), to Paul as an authoritative interpreter.
Measured in terms of modern promotional success stories, the New Testament evangelists and the apostles were perhaps far from ideal. But they told the truth at the cost of life itself; they spoke to man’s deepest needs in terms of the Christ.
A modern public relations staff would have advised Paul to “pull many of his punches,” but the apostle would have proved an exasperating client. He was more concerned with winning converts and serving Christ than with winning friends and influencing people. Whereas public relations aims to avoid all offense to customers it often exploits, the Gospel often is first a scandal to those it convicts and saves.
The Church must do more than appropriate the publicity opportunities of our age. By inspiring new forms and a loftier message, it must enable the very techniques and content of publicity to bring the avenues of promotion into the service of spiritual truth and righteousness. For too long secular promotion has borrowed great words and themes of Christianity to fill them with a secondary content that grieves spiritual sensitivities. Vocabulary of our religious heritage—Crucifixion, Atonement, Gethsemane, miracle, conversion, regeneration, etc.—has suffered from essentially secular trespassing. To restore to these terms their primary spiritual sense, and once again to sharpen man’s consciousness of God by them, is no easy task.
At the same time, the Church can learn much from the public relations world. This learning, however, comprises far more than the appropriation of valuable techniques and insights for mass communication. Public relations speaks simply and directly to the public; it aims for an immediate point-of-contact in the familiar vocabulary of the man in the street. Precisely this is how the Gospel of Jesus Christ first met the sinner. Jesus knew how to speak of water, bread and light as swift transitions to eternal spiritual concerns. The Gospel is superlative for its profundity in simplicity: it is good news, and that is what the modern man needs to hear. That “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures,” is neither abstruse nor elusive in meaning. While so profound that all human philosophies are shallow alongside its depth of implication, the truth of the Gospel applied by the Holy Spirit is simple enough that it may gather the man in the street and his children into the fold of grace.
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