Monday, June 13, 2011

Reaching the lost

The Bournemouth-Poole-Christchurch conurbation is the eleventh largest in Britain. More than that, it is the largest non-industrial conurbation in Europe. More than 480,000 people live here. Although, it is especially notable for the numbers of elderly people (over 30% of the populations of Bournemouth and Christchurch are over 60), we should not neglect the fact that there are many youngsters too. For men the average age is 19! You don’t believe me? It is true. But it is a special kind of average. Mathematicians recognise three different types of average age: the mean - which means all the ages added up and divided by the number of people; the median - which means the age at which 50% are older and 50% younger; and the mode which is the age that comes up most frequently. For men the modal age in Bournemouth is 19 and for women it is 74.

Of that 480,000 how many are Christian? 5%? 10%? 15%? Say it is as many as 15%, this is after all the Bible belt. That still leaves over 400,000 people in this area who are not Christians. What is going to happen to them when they die?

Some modern theologians argue that when you die, you rot. They believe that life for the unbeliever ends in extinction. What a comfortable doctrine that is! We need not be concerned for our friends or relatives who resist the gospel. We need not worry about Muslims in Iraq or animists in Brazil. When they die - extinction. They may not know heaven, but at least they won’t have to suffer for it.

The trouble is that the Bible knows nothing of this. A man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement (Hebrews 9:27). We must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due to him for things done while in the body, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10). Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when His righteous judgement will be revealed (Romans 2: 5).

Some scholars find an ultimate universal salvation in the New Testament, but this can only be done by ignoring the teaching on Gehenna. This is the word that is translated ‘Hell’ in the AV. It is derived from a Hebrew word which means the ‘valley of Hinnon’, located outside the walls of Jerusalem, where children had been sacrificed by fire to Molech (2 Chron 28:3; 2 Chron 33:6). Jesus talks more about ‘Hell’ than any other in the NT. God has the power to cast both body and soul into hell (Luke 12:5; Matthew 10:28). It is a place of eternal and unquenchable fire (Matthew 18:8; Mark 9:43).

Revelation pictures the final punishment as a lake of fire. It is the destination not only of the beast and the devil, but of the unsaved (Revelation 20:15).

If only the Bible were not so uncompromising. If only there were some hint of a second chance after death. But all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:26). We all stand condemned under the same charge. Praise God then that The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 6:26b). But Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). There is only one way.

Although I don’t recommend it, you can understand how rulers of old forced the conversion of their people at sword point. It was not because they were tyrants but because they could not bear their people going to hell. You can even understand why they burnt heretics at the stake. To lead people to hell was a greater sin than murder.

Today we know that everyone must come to Jesus individually, that ritual counts for nothing in salvation and that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit. But we are all called to be witnesses (Acts 1:8). Since we know the truth, how can we keep it to ourselves?

Several years ago I wrote, “If men and women are going to hell and we do not warn them, either we do not believe it or we do not care.”

The challenge is still the same.

What do we lack as Christians? “A commitment to Evangelism”. But as good physicians, we are not simply concerned with symptoms, we have to discover the underlying disease. Is it, I wonder, that we have no concern for the plight of the lost? Is it that we don’t believe that they are really lost? Or is it that we don’t know how to witness? Are there other more pressing priorities? Are we locked into our very Englishness, our reserve and politeness?

How would you politely shout “Fire!” in a burning building? How would you leave yourself untrained in a smallpox epidemic if only you were immune? What priorities would you put before the lifeboat on a sinking liner?

We need to challenge ourselves over our concern for the lost. Earlier in this article I quoted three texts on judgement. The second one has nothing to do with the judgement of the lost. It refers to the judgement of Christians, on how we perform in the body. We will be judged on our service. How will you face Jesus and tell him, “I knew the way, but I kept it to myself. Being English, I was never so ill-mannered as to thrust it upon those who did not want to hear. I would have done better, but there was so little time.” In this last excuse there is an element of truth. Why are there so many old people in Bournemouth? People move into the area to spend their last few years before they die. But one out of one dies. For each of these there is so little time.

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