Scared of Hell: Evangelicals don’t really know if they are saved?

Byline: Does the difficulty in feeling assured of salvation dissolve the practical differences in “works”-focused vs. belief-focused religion?Hell Awaits You!

I used to think that the problem of assurance of salvation was a big practical difference between Mormons and Evangelicals.  I am not so sure now.The theological differences seem stark. According to the rough academic analogy, Mormons believe that everybody is born with a passing grade, and you have to decide to fail.  So long as your intentions are in the right direction, and you are living up to your potential , you are going to the Celestial Kingdom. If you fall short you are going to get a great consolation prize– eternally living in heaven with Jesus forever.   If you criminally screw up and reject Jesus,  you are going to suffer for your  sins but eventually you will be in a heavenly place with the eternal joy that the Holy Spirit can bring you.  Mormons believe (or used to) that some striving souls could get a “second endowment.”  An ordinance performed in the temple that seals a person with their spouse to the Celestial Kingdom.  They have their “calling and election made sure.” Anymore, this concept and practice has practically disappeared from the Church.  Mormons are left completely sure they are going to heaven, but always unsure of which heaven they will go to. I believed that whatever I–or nearly anybody else–was in for in the afterlife, it was going to be a whole lot better than this world.

Contrasting my experience with the children of Evangelicalism. I can see how the “faith alone” doctrine would have scared the hell out of me.  Evangelicals believe you are born with a failing grade– the default is hell.  People qualify for salvation by correct belief and reliance on the work of Jesus alone.  It seems to me that if you are an Evangelical facing the never-ending torment of hell, you’d better make darn sure you are saved.  And the problem is, because non-saving faith can masquerade as true belief and faith, there is a lot of room for consternationJust as Mormons obsess about doing enough to be “good enough” , it seems that doubt-prone Evangelicals can easily fall into a cycle of severe anxiety trying to assure their faith is “true” enough.  And the stakes– and possibly the potential anxiety seem considerably higher.  It seems that many Evangelicals indeed have this problem of assurance gauging from this article in Relevant Magazine, by J.D. Greear, Evangelical author of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart.    

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Pornography, Bankruptcy and Depression

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. . .

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:16-17, 20-23)

I’ve been thinking more about these verses. It’s been said that Utah has the highest rates per capita of internet and cable pornography, bankruptcy and use of psychotropic medication. I know that the LDS church is at least aware of the pornography problem and is trying to deal with it. The one time I visited a Priesthood session, the lesson was all about avoiding pornography. The discussion among the men then focused on how it was the “world’s” problem that we had to protect our children from. I know enough about pornography use in Evangelical churches to know that this was a lot of hot air to distract from the substance of the lesson (probably 4 out of 10 men in that class had looked up internet pornography within that week).

The problem with pornography and financial irresponsibility is that they are private or secret sins. They’re not the kind of things you can tell about a person by their public behavior. Usually you don’t know until a person becomes severely addicted to either one. It actually makes a lot of sense to me that a church that has such a huge focus on outward behavior over all else would find itself with an epidemic with pornography and bankruptcy. As Paul states regulations have an appearance of wisdom but they lack any real value in restraining sensual indulgences. Regulations get people to do the right thing when they are being watched, but when they’re alone they don’t have the character to exhibit integrity (doing the right thing when no one is watching).

Depression is by no means a sin, but it’s not the kind of thing we want our faith to produce. It’s a complex and highly personal problem. But in my experience one of the things that exacerbates depression is living a duplicitous life. Acting one way in public but feeling another way on the inside. Without the ability to be authentic, to admit that you aren’t perfect and are in sin, while being required to pretend everything is hunky-dory you can expect to find yourself in need of prozac at some point.

I’m more than happy to attend church with sinners. In fact, that’s exactly the kind of church I want to be a part of, a place where people openly can confess their sin and seek help and encouragement. Where grace and mercy are the response rather than judgment and condemnation. Their may be less “righteousness” expressed by the congregation but there will be far greater emotional health (and lets be honest every church is full of nothing but sinners).

If you think I’m just getting after Mormons on this one, you need to read a little bit more about my background here.