It’s possible to do “church” without ever knowing or believing God.
That’s my first takeaway from the Netflix film “Come Sunday,” the recently released movie about former Pentecostal evangelist Carlton Pearson’s rejection of hell and the need for repentance and salvation.
My second takeaway: It takes a certain arrogance for a man to think: “I am smarter than God, qualified to be his judge or tutor.” I’m not, and neither are you.
Pearson was a charismatic fourth generation preacher and a gifted musician. His life and business was Pentecostal Church Inc. About 15 years ago, he says he had a “revelation” and stopped believing in a burning hell of eternal torment or a god who would “send” anyone there.
Pearson calls the message he once preached “indoctrination” and now shares a “gospel of inclusion.” Nobody needs to be “saved” because everyone is saved, he says; they just don’t know it.
For the uninitiated, this is not historic Christian doctrine which says through the “foolishness of preaching” God chooses to save those who believe. The Bible, the official book of Christian faith and practice, presents hell as a literal place; though some disagree on whether it’s a place of continual torment or annihilation.
The church is the “body of Christ,” people who’ve entered into right relationship with the living God through trusting Christ as the atoning sacrifice for their sin. This intimate, supernatural union enabled by the Holy Spirit starts with believing God. Clearly, despite years of doing church, Pearson does not believe.
Because I don’t want that to be my story or yours, let’s rehearse some fundamentals:
- To know God is to know His character. Psalm 107:3 says of God, “He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel.” Moses had the relationship. The people were spectators. God’s character is love, justice, mercy. To imply that God would unjustly condemn people to destruction is to charge God falsely. “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”” Genesis 18:2
- God loves people so much He sent a savior. Jesus died for all because all have sinned and all need a savior. Christianity 101: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but should have eternal life. For God sent not His son into the world to condemn the world but that through Him the world might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
- Hell was never intended for people. “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41, my emphasis)
Anyone who follows the devil is going to hell, including faithful church workers who don’t know God.
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ Matt 7:21-23
- Heaven is the destination of believers. According to Jesus, the only “work” God requires is “to believe in the one He has sent.” (John 6:29) Belief and confession matter. Preaching should facilitate belief. “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? (Romans 10:14)
- Salvation requires active acceptance. Everyone is invited to receive salvation. It’s an open invitation marked RSVP. Two thieves were crucified with Jesus Christ. One mocked him; the other asked Jesus to remember him when He came into His kingdom. Jesus replied to him: This day you will be with me in paradise.
It’s not incredible that salvation requires response. Even winning the lottery requires acknowledging the win by presenting a winning ticket before it expires. God has given us a lifetime opportunity to confirm acceptance of what Jesus did on our behalf at the Cross.
- God loves everyone, not everyone loves God. I believe God assumes salvation for all, writing our names in the book of life mentioned in Revelation. That doesn’t mean everyone is saved. On the contrary, God has given us freewill to choose our eternal destination. People who choose not to believe God will have their names blotted out of the book of life. Their destination will be the lake of fire.
I don’t always like or understand God’s methods, but I don’t get to rewrite the script to fit my version of reality. The full counsel of Scripture is that the wicked are turned into hell and guilty sinners are made righteous by the knowledge of God through Jesus Christ, who alone is the atoning sacrifice for the sin of unbelief that otherwise dooms us all to hell.
Pearson is preaching a different gospel. It sounds compassionate and enlightened. Don’t believe it. It is not the truth.