I imagine the title of this one probably caught your eye. Most of the time when someone throws out the word “Hell” in the church it creates some sort of a stir, although not always for the right reasons. But, title aside, I was running around Flint this morning and I couldn’t help but think about Hell, violence, poverty and the church. Let me try to bring you along on my thought journey (my mind goes everywhere when I run, so this may not work).
Last night during youth group our text that we covered came out of Matthew 16, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”- Matthew 16:16-20. This text is unique because of Jesus’ geographical location when he spoke these words. He was in Caesarea Phillipi which was one of the Roman centers of culture and actually a locus for the worship of Pan. Attached to this worship was a cave, referred to as the Gates of Hell/Hades, where much of the Imperial based Pagan worship took place. So essentially Jesus was saying that Peter’s confession of his Lordship (the son of the Living God) was such an affront to the surrounding culture that even the gates of Hell couldn’t stand against it.
That’s the thing about gates…they aren’t an offensive strategy. Very rarely do you hear of someone being injured or beaten with a gate. They are actually a defensive strategy. So our confession of Christ/our alternative way of living is actually an offensive against the gates of Hell. Against the dominant culture. When is the last time you thought of Christianity as being rightly offensive instead of weirdly defensive?
Which gets me back to my morning run. My run this morning followed the blue line that is the Crim course through and around downtown Flint. Flint is a city known primarily for it’s violence and poverty (at least by much of the country). You might say these are the things that define the dominant Flint culture (i.e.i. the Flint logo with a handgun for the letter L). But you can see the effects of this culture and my question to us is, “How is the church attacking the gates of Hell in Flint?” Where is the church being effective in combating the violence and poverty in Flint? These aren’t issues where we rely on political rhetoric or voting polls to do the work of the Kingdom for us, but these are the trenches we need to get in and espouse the values of the kingdom (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self Control). One of my favorite quotes in understanding what an offensive church looks like goes like this, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Are we driving out darkness? Are we driving out hate? Or are the gates of Hell standing strong against us?