Eternal damnation in the fiery pits of Hell.
From its earliest days the Christian church has had a pretty compelling reason for everyone to go to church: damnation and hellfire. Not baptized? Off to hell you go. Haven't accepted Jesus as your Lord and Saviour? Say "Hello" to Satan. The mission of the church is personal salvation. And personal salvation is a pretty compelling reason for the church to do everything it can to reach you. And for you to say, "Yes."
But in more recent years, some churches have discovered other missions.
One was to end the embarrassment of so many different Christian denominations. After all, isn't a direct quote from the Bible the prayer of Jesus that "all might be one." It is: John 17:21. So here and there, a few like the United Church of Canada set church union as a prime mission. Coming to church so that all might be one has a nice Canadian feeling to it. But it's not quite as compelling a reason as avoiding eternal damnation. And that "oneness" feeling can be found in quite a few other locations. And at more convenient times. No need to go to church for that reason.
A second mission that some churches have discovered is "the Social Gospel." The Social Gospel is based on simply noticing that Jesus spends most of his time with and for the poor, the outcasts, the ill, the socially despised. And so the mission of the church is to be "the hands and feet of Christ." We are to be like Jesus doing good in the world for others. Social justice is compelling. There are some appalling inequities and threats to global life that need our urgent action. But social justice compels us to be in the world, not in church. And actually no one needs to go to church to discover the many needs for justice. In fact, it can be a lot less complicated to be good without also having a "god" to try and make sense of. Going to church is just extra overhead that is not really needed.
So. If you start preaching that God's grace means I won't be sent to Hell, what is the compelling reason I should go to church?
Note: I hope that those who know me will wonder if there isn't in this post an appreciative, non-ironical, reference to some aspects of the questions the Rev. Gretta Vosper, www.grettavosper.ca, raises. There is. I even almost quote her book title, "Good without God."
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This post is coming late to the conversation but I don't go to church or belong to a church because I am afraid of hell fire. I go to church to join with a group of people who are attracted to Jesus Christ, who want to be his disciples, and who gather to worship him communally. We gather strength from being together. We learn how to navigate this difficult word that we live in, and we encourage each other in acts of mercy and love.
Posted by: Anne Harris | February 12, 2019 at 03:06 PM
Posted by: Peter Ratcliff | December 01, 2018 at 05:21 AM
I've written similar things many times over at wondercafe2.ca David. Without the threat of hell, the church isn't imparting a sense of urgency. Every church in Canada is in competition with other churches, and with all the other things a family can do on a Sunday. Even housework. When you add that reasons to believe in God are in retreat and the threats increasingly are being met with laughter, it's a bleak outlook. I don't know what the answer is, but maybe enforcing beliefs that are in decline is, in fact, the best option from a pure numbers perspective. The byproduct of that could be a church populated by those who are easily scared. Not sure that's a win.
Posted by: Craig Hansen | November 16, 2018 at 08:44 AM
You are raising valid questions David, so good on you for launching this post. I will attempt a rendition of my own, but won't put it here. Maybe I will spend time and write it out and distribute widely somewhere which might be picked up by others.
Posted by: dale Perkins | November 15, 2018 at 06:20 PM