Have you ever encountered a statement that seems to perfectly encapsulate both your thinking and your fears? Late last week, a friend of mine posted a little-known quote by Martin Luther King Jr. on his Facebook wall. And since that time, not a day has passed by in which I have not considered the ramifications of King’s statement, particularly as it pertains to my own life and the life of my brothers and sisters in the church universal.
“You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand. Well … you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”
I want you to stop and think about this statement for a few minutes. As Evangelicals, we are marked by a professed belief in the centrality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. We are marked by a belief that His ministry has functionally changed the nature of the reality around us, and the future that awaits at the coming of the new creation. We are, as a community, even marked by the belief that without a saving faith in Him, an individual will, at best, fail to spend eternity with Him, and at worst, spend eternity in the depths of Hell, consciously aware of his or her own agony and loss.
In other words, as Protestants, we are marked by a “great issue” – a “great cause” as Dr. King put it. But sadly, it would appear, most of us do not seem overly invested in fighting for that cause.
Several weeks ago, Jon D. Wilke and Ed Stetzer of Lifeway Research released a new study in which they explored the evangelistic impulses of those of us within the Protestant arm of the church universal. According to their findings, 80% of Protestants believe that they have a responsibility to share the good news of the Christ with non-believers. What’s more, 75% of the survey respondents reported that they feel completely comfortable in sharing their beliefs.
So the question is: if, as a community,we know we possess a “great cause,” if we know we have a responsibility to that cause, and we feel as if we are properly equipped to fight for that cause, why have fewer than 40% of us shared our faith with a non-believer over the past six months?
Could it be that we, as Evangelicals, are afraid of losing our jobs? Could it be that we favor our popularity amongst our friends over their well-being? Could it be that criticism hurts too much?
Could it be that many of us are “dead” at 38, long before our bodies have ever given out …?
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“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them,‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not receive me as a guest, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not give you whatever you needed?’ Then he will answer them,‘I tell you the truth, just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me.’ And these will depart into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
 While the dominant teaching of the church universal has historically included a belief in the conscious torment of non-believers who reject the saving grace of Jesus the Christ, recent developments in annhilationist theology have made significant inroads into Protestant circles. Thus, it is not accurate to characterize the evangelical movement as being univerally united around the traditional interpretation of passages related to Hell.
 Matthew 25:34-46.