Christians has been using an effective tool labeled ‘fear’ for a very, very long time.
On one occasion, a Roman Catholic preacher would have people hold up huge banners depicting Hell, after thoroughly describing what it would be like, he would say: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.” Poor, frightened peasants would anxiously pay indulgences to rescue the souls of their beloved relatives who had passed on. The money went for the construction of those big fancy European churches.
Hell Houses are a Halloween alternative that guides people through a play where people die and some of them go to Hell and others to Heaven – the scarier the Hell, the better – the ends justify the means when it comes to saving souls.
‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ is a famous sermon from the Great Awakening period of Church History. It was such a difficult sermon to bear, that people (apparently) got up and grasped the columns of the church and loudly begged for the preacher to stop.
Salem Witch Trials – where you could call out your most annoying frenemy and your church take your word over the accused – duly punishing them for you. It’s not so convenient when you’re the accused and nobody will speak up for you.
Sometimes when things get out of hand, you can always flip to the story of Ananias and Sapphira to show that the God of the Old Testament still doesn’t tolerate any shenanigans in the New Testament. (Though considering the cases of embezzlement of church funds make the news, the lack of people being instantly smitten sort of weakens the fear power of the text … then again, it’s in the Bible, so it’s not weakened by all that much.)
In speaking of the Old Testament God, I was told a few weeks ago by a believer that if I (also a believer, obviously) worship God in an inappropriate manner, then He would be well within His rights to smite me, or make me ill, or give me cancer, or kill me by some other means.
I’m guessing he was trying to put the ‘Fear of God’ into me. The God of the Old Testament is a pretty terrifying God, from the World-wide Flood, to the 10 Plagues on Egypt, to the Wandering in the Wilderness, to the settling of the Promised Land … disease, disaster, death and even genocide … He’s not a God you want to trifle with. Yet the Book of Judges shows how time and time again His people would do whatever they wanted, the would get into trouble, they would cry out to God, and He would save them. Not once did He say, “I’ve just finished saving you guys for the 7th time – you haven’t learned your lesson so I’m just going to let you deal with your problems on your own. Good luck.”
I think Christianity has used fear far too often – now it’s losing ground. (Try watching a scary move over and over again – eventually it becomes ridiculous.) Let’s try serving people with love, feeding the hungry, providing clothing and shelter, visiting the ill or those in prison, etc. The last thing we ought to be doing is trying to scare people to death with God.