Flat White

Peter FitzSimons, the atheist fire-and-brimstone preacher

15 April 2018

12:05 PM

15 April 2018

12:05 PM

Don’t you find it interesting that the one guy in the media who was calling down fire and fury on Bancroft, Smith and Warner for their involvement in ball-tampering recently has just doubled down in condemning Israel Folau for simply reminding us that there are also serious moral and spiritual consequences for the way we live in relation to God?

So, let me get this straight: according to Pirate Pete it’s okay to humiliate and sin-bin Steve Smith and David Warner for at least eighteen months—and in the process, potentially ruin them financially for agreeing to give a cricket ball a touch-up—but it’s morally inappropriate for God to take action against those who have rebelled against Him. Is Fitzy for real?

FitzSimons has never been backward in standing in judgment of others—especially those who are Christians—as the following tweet illustrates:

What I find difficult to understand, though, is how the people most upset with Israel Folau’s comment regarding “hell” are those who—like FitzSimons and van Onselen—don’t believe that it actually exists. I mean, if there is no final judgment, why are they so upset about someone referring to it? As always, FitzSimons has the answer, and he states:

Whatever happens, you must reflect on the effect your words have most particularly on troubled teens – many of them, undoubtedly in your own community – struggling with their sexuality.

Do you have the first clue of the agonies they go through? Do you know how those agonies must be compounded by a respected figure like yourself saying they deserve to burn for all eternity? Most of us can laugh off such nonsense. But what of the kids who are 14, raised in it, and born gay? What of them right now, Israel? How can you visit such pain upon them?

But, significantly, his concern for vulnerable children seems to be only one-sided. And it seems that the children growing up in religious families who might be vilified by his anti-Christian comments don’t count as much as children in LGBTIQ homes. I wonder if FitzSimons ever reflects on the damage that his words might have on their psychological well-being?

FitzSimons and van Onselen have been some of the most judgmental voices against Folau. Of course, they don’t mind inflicting serious temporal punishment on the cricketers for their actions. But Folau knows that there is an even greater judgment he must face than the current Twitteratti crucifixion mob. Because when Folau was asked how he thought God would treat those who continued in a homosexual lifestyle his answer, according to the Bible, was entirely correct. All who continue in sin will experience God’s judgment (see 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

What makes Folau such a brilliant sportsman is that he just doesn’t hesitate. And here he had no hesitation in giving a straightforward and honest answer in keeping with what the Bible teaches. Even if a more tactful answer maybe, would have been, “God’s plan is that all those who turn to Jesus in repentance and faith are saved.” But then again, that doesn’t have quite the same force, does it?

You see, despite what the current Pope is (or is not) reported to believe, nearly every single Christian denomination—Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox—has had a confessional statement affirming the belief in judgment and hell. And this is because (contrary to Peter van Onselen’s erroneous claim) it’s something that the Bible states quite emphatically.

As a basic word search of a Bible concordance reveals, the term “hell” (Greek, ‘gehenna’) is used fourteen times in the New Testament, with twelve of those utterances coming directly from the lips of Jesus. (See Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; Mk. 9:43, 45, 47; Lk. 12:5; 16:23; Jas. 3:6; 2 Pe. 2:4). It’s also worth noting though that there are many other passages that talk about God’s final judgment without the term ‘hell’ being explicitly used. Let me summarise the Bible’s teaching with three points.

First, everybody longs for justice. In fact, one of the most common reasons I hear for people rejecting Christianity is they think God should never tolerate any form of evil in the world. But the Bible says a day is coming when that will happen. And those who have continued in their sinful rebellion will receive a just and appropriate punishment.

Second, for judgment to be just, it needs to be proportionate to the offence. The nature of this judgment is consistently cast in frightening terms, as it should be. Ask anyone in jail; judgment is a terrible experience. It involves unrelenting pain and relational estrangement. Someone might quip that they won’t mind going to hell because all their mates will be there, but that simply betrays an ignorance as to what the Bible is actually warning against. Because in hell, there will be no relationship or pleasure—only suffering.

Third, at the heart of the Christian message is an assurance of forgiveness and everlasting life, or what the Bible refers to as ‘salvation’. The promise of the Gospel is that if a person ‘repents’ – turns away from committing sin – and finds their only hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus, then they will be saved. And this salvation is not earned by their good works, but because God the Father has accepted the willing sacrifice of His Son in their place.

Folau might have been a little incautious in stating these truths in the way that he did, but isn’t that often the problem with Twitter and Instagram? You have to say an awful lot in a short space. But should that dissuade any of us from using social media?

Ultimately, though, Folau’s comment is not just the perfect test case regarding freedom of speech and freedom of religion, especially in view of the impending Ruddock review, but it also poses the question as to what is the central message of the Christian Gospel? The Gospel, of course, is good news, but only for those who have been saved from a coming judgment. Sadly, as theologian Lesslie Newbigin writes:

It is one of the weaknesses of a great deal of contemporary Christianity that we do not speak of the last judgment and of the possibility of being finally lost.

Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.

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