No, this is not a post about parenting. It's rather a post about sin and Hell—remember what those things are? You may very well not, if you've been a faithful church attender for the past few decades. You may very well not, because for the past few decades very little has been preached about sin and Hell in the churches of the Western world. And that reality has led to some pretty disastrous results, hasn't it?
This post was prompted by a short phrase that was preached in a church service I was at recently. The preacher made a remark that I'm sure got passed over by most of the congregation, maybe all of it. Except me. I know my wife missed it. So did my son. But I assure you, it was said, and like many things in life, it was missed by most. But it was really important. The phrase was this: "The world doesn't need to be told that it's going to Hell; it already knows that too well." That phrase was true…50 years ago!
Up until the 1960s, much of our Western world really did know that. Mainstream culture knew that there was a God who had standards that could essentially be summed up in the 10 Commandments. Actions and thoughts outside the boundaries of those Laws of God were called sins. And they separated us from God, both in this life and the life to come. That's where Hell comes in. If we die without our sins being dealt with—removed—by repenting and trusting Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness and salvation, our sins would rightly condemn us to an eternity of unimaginable torment in a place that the Bible calls Hell.
But then something changed. It was called the '60s. And sometime shortly after the Summer of Love (well, actually lust!), preachers broadly—across the board and around our Western world—well, they kind of just stopped preaching about sin and Hell. Oh, I know there were exceptions. Billy Graham still did a good job of reminding us of our sin and our need for Jesus' forgiveness. But in the world I have grown up in—and likely you too—my world does not already know too well that it's going to Hell, because virtually no one has been telling it that sin and Hell even exist any more, except possibly the "sin" of intolerance, which the Bible doesn't even call a sin. And if preachers stop reminding the world about the reality of sin and the consequent Hell to shun, the world won't hear about it anywhere! Hollywood sure isn't going to talk about it. Neither is Wall Street. Or ESPN. And when you hardly hear about something for decades, you might just start thinking that sin and Hell have gone the way of the Edsel, the Studebaker or the Dodo bird. Except that they haven't, and that's where “the terrible teens” come in…
Europeans have long likened America to an adolescent. Compared to the nations of Europe, the U.S. is very young. It's not quite a child--it's definitely walking, and not soiling itself any more (at least most days!), but in their eyes, it's also not yet the mature, refined culture that its European "parents" are. In short, America is doing what most people do during their terrible teens: Rebelling. Pushing the boundaries and limits of authority to see how far they can go before they're disciplined. Flexing their muscles to see just how high they can jump, how fast they can run, what greatness they can achieve. And ironically, America as a nation appears to be locked squarely into her terrible teens both culturally and chronologically: We are all living in the decade of the teens in our 21st century. And so far, on a godliness scale, these teen years have been pretty terrible, haven't they?
When you couple a naturally rebellious teenager with an environment that doesn’t lay down rules, boundaries, and consequences for transgressing those same things, you’ve got a potent recipe for moral disaster. Unless you’re living in a very different world than I am, God’s rules and boundaries—think sin—and their consequences—think Hell—are foreign concepts to many today. Think I'm wrong? Let me ask you this: When was the last time you heard a sermon that discussed hell and sin? Does the word "never" come to mind? I've been hearing sermons in churches all over our Western world at least once a week for decades, and it is very rare to ever hear mention of hell or sin! In fact, the sermons that talk about hell and sin the most are probably my own sermons.
And that's the point, isn't it? The only time sin and Hell are mentioned in mainstream culture today is when Hollywood anachronistically dusts off that old phrase "hell fire and brimstone" as a way of caricaturing the messages supposedly being preached week in and week out in our churches. That was true…50 years ago! But not today; not in my world, or yours. And because in these terrible teen years that we are living in right now, the preachers—the moral compass of our culture—are not boldly and consistently preaching about the reality of sin and Hell the way that Jesus Himself preached about them; because of this, our adolescent culture has taken that moral void and is running with it, right into the flames of Hell that it thinks don't exist. Ironic, isn't it, that all it took for the flames of Hell to be extinguished in the minds of many was the silence of preachers. Wow...
So I disagree with that oft-used pulpit mantra "The world doesn't need to be told that it's going to Hell." Vehemently. Explicitly. Categorically. Why? Because if Bible preachers don't remind the world of that reality, no one will. And if no one reminds the world that there's a Hell to shun and a Heaven to gain, then the world will begin to think that there isn't. And what a tragedy it will be for them to find out there is, after it’s too late.
Preachers, non-preachers, every follower of Jesus out there--use your pulpit, your soapbox, your tablet, to speak the truth in love to a world trapped in its terrible teens, that truly is steeped in sin and on the broad road to Hell. Pastor and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it so well about his culture—Germany during the Second World War years—that had willingly jettisoned its own Biblical foundation, which had undergirded their nation for centuries: “If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction." The train that our culture has boarded is headed to Hell, and too many people of infinite worth are riding in its boxcars of sin. As the moral heartbeat in our culture, we need to remind it of where it is heading, to at least give it a chance to turn its heart back toward Jesus and His heavenly home.