Folks have been kicked out of churches for lots of reasons – embezzling, murder – well, maybe just a few reasons. Churches are known for drawing boundaries, often made of iron like the fences around their graveyards. I am going to tell you a true story about a church whose boundary was more like irony than iron. This story may shock those of you who think the liberal churches are more open minded and accepting of everyone.

My mama was a school teacher. On Sundays she taught a girls’ teenage Sunday school class. (It was around 1950, so maybe they still had a boundary not allowing women to teach teenage boys.) This was in a Presbyterian, USA church, although Mama was raised Northern Baptist. She was about to learn the difference between these two groups, at least in 1950.

One night she and about forty other members were called in to a meeting with the Session ie the guys in charge. The “gang of forty” the Session had called in were perceived as trouble makers. They were about to suffer some church discipline. What was their offense? They were teaching the notion that there was a real hell, a place of eternal suffering and loss.

Never mind that Jesus mentioned hell at least fifteen times. When he was standing before the “Session” of his day, Jesus said to them, Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell? Matthew 23:33 This didn’t make Jesus real popular with the religious leaders of his day, any more than the gang of forty was popular with their Session. It would seem they were following in Jesus’ footsteps on that dark night back in 1951. Never mind that the accused forty didn’t claim to be able to answer all the technical details about hell. They felt that since Jesus mentioned hell more than it was mentioned anywhere else in the entire Bible, Old or New Testament, it seemed wise to bring up the topic of hell now and again, just in case.

The gang was shown the iron gate at the church’s front door. You put up, shut up, or get the “hell” out. Mrs. Uber, one member who was kicked out described it this way:

…several of those in important positions in the Church, who believed in evangelism of the New Testament, received letters of dismissal from all their labors in the Church…many knowing that the “born-again gospel” was not desired went hither and yon to services with no recall from the Church in any way.

A year later after driving long distances trying to find a church my mama decided to use her home for a church service and bring the outcastes back together. I remember our dining room and living room filled with about 25 folding chairs. Mama played our piano as we all sang together,

I gave my life for thee, My precious blood I shed,
That thou might ransomed be, and raised up from the dead.
I gave, I gave My life for thee what has thou given for Me?
I gave, I gave My life for thee what has thou given for Me?

I suffered much for thee, more than they tongue can tell,
Of bitterest agony, to rescue thee from hell.
I’ve borne, I’ve borne it all for thee, what hast thou borne for Me?
I’ve borne, I’ve borne it all for thee, what hast thou borne for Me?

– Frances Havergal, 1858

A preacher from the Salvation Army started preaching. Before long the group was too big to fit in anyone’s living room. In a couple of years they bought an old car repair garage and set up forty chairs, an old piano, and a portable organ.

Harborcreek Bible Church

Harborcreek Bible Church

Sixty years later you wouldn’t recognize that garage. It’s a lovely church building with a cross on the front, a building full of people every Sunday. They still mention hell now and again, but mostly they talk about the exit door, that cross on the front of the church.

“I Gave My Life for Thee” sung by Brenda James


2 thoughts on “Get the “Hell” Out!

  1. Hey, I had trouble writing it, let alone summarizing it. I thought it was bizarre that sixty years ago the liberal church was so rabidly suppressing conservative religious people. But I am not trying to explain hell or not hell in any theological detail – just that the liberals wouldn’t even keep the door open to debate. Hope this helps. It was a crazy story and really happened.

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