What has happened to preaching about fire and brimstone?
Barna Associates showed that only 32 percent of adults see hell as “an actual place of torment and suffering where people’s souls go after death.” Fire, brimstone or hell. Call it what you want, but no one wants to preach or talk about this taboo subject of hell, which is a big part of the Bible. No wonder those surveyed by Barna don’t want to believe that hell exists.
We didn’t say it was a pleasant conversation to have. But the fact is hell is talked about in Revelations. In fact, we are told that “The smoke of the fire that torments them will rise forever and ever, and there will be no relief day or night for those who worship the beast or its image or accept the mark of its name.” Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church came under criticism for preaching a prosperity message. He has never talked about hell.
Why is this? For Osteen, he wants to focus on the positive and he is not alone. Maybe he is right or he is 100 percent wrong. Regardless, here are more reasons the church doesn’t preach on hell.
It’s Not Popular
As we mentioned about Osteen, talking about hell and even sin is not a popular sermon that leaders want to preach. Why? Well, it will scare people away from coming to Christ. Osteen also added: “They already feel guilty enough. They’re not doing what they should, raising their kids—we can all find reasons. So I want them to come to Lakewood or our meetings and be lifted up, to say, ‘You know what? I may not be perfect, but I’m moving forward.'” If we are honest, no one wants to go to church after a hard week to hear how hell awaits some people.
However, being balanced is key, but even then no one wants to face their sin, possible damnation or the fires of hell. The reason is that we live in a feel-good culture and having a pastor preacher God’s wrath is not going to make people feel warm and fuzzy. In fact, they might never come back into a church setting again.
We Lack Fear
We don’t fear our Maker. We personalize Him so much that we don’t believe that there is a hell. When it comes to hell, well, there is no way that we need to hear a sermon like that. There is a lack of reverence for the Lord and we fear man more. “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe,” Proverbs 29:25 explained. The church won’t preach on hell out of losing attendance and making people mad. If this happens contributions will dip as well.
A desire to please people will shape the content of sermons and church life. Pastor and writer Kevin Halloran works for Leadership Resources, an organization that equips pastors worldwide in expositional preaching. He shared that once “we begin fearing our neighbor more than our Maker, a desire to please people will shape the content of our sermons.”
They Question its Reality
Another reason the church refrains from teaching about hell is that many believers don’t believe it exists. Okay, but what about what Jesus said about hell himself in Luke 12:4-5? “I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him. If you don’t believe hell exists, you don’t trust God’s Word or truth,” He said. Actually, Jesus talked more about hell than Heaven in the New Testament.
Preacher and author Mark Driscoll explained: “If you already have a church who doesn’t preach on hell and people who really don’t believe in it, then it makes sense not to go into this area of the Bible.” Jesus spoke about love and compassion. He also addressed sinners, hell and the reality of judgment. You have the right to believe what you want, but what if you are wrong?
The Motives Are Wrong
Since preaching about hell is not going to add to attendance, the bigger question is what the motives are as believers. Is it to have the best-looking church, church programs and having more money from offerings? We can go to the Apostle Paul for some insight here. The Apostle Paul was never once concerned about the church surviving, the author Jack Wellman shared. Paul cared more about if Jesus Christ was the head of the church.
“There is nothing in the Bible that indicates that the church is a business but for many who teach the health, wealth and prosperity gospel, that’s all they are concerned about. They beg for “seeds of faith” so that they can get richer.” He went on to instruct that the church’s only business is reaching the lost, not becoming a successful business. We can gather if this is the motivation of any church that preaching on hell will be off limits.
It Will Mean Being Accountable
Maybe the church doesn’t preach on hell as it might indicate that we are all sinners and need a Savior. This is true for those who believe all good people go to Heaven. People go to hell on their own free will. They have a choice to accept Jesus’ invitation to be cleansed and forgiven. Again, some churches might want to refrain from this due to accountability that people must face.
As a society, we don’t like to be accountable for our sins, resources or our talents. “The Lord expects us to use these talents for His glory. If we do not use what we have been given, then what we do have will be taken from us, but if we have used what God has given us for His glory then more will be given to us at His return,” said Wellman.
Hell is a rough topic to discuss with people no matter if they are saved or not. But clearly, there has been evidence of the topic being off the radar for some time. Is it wrong? Perhaps, depending on who you talk to. In the end, we will all find out the answer if we were right or wrong on hell.