Raised in an evangelical charismatic church in which the message of hellfire and brimstone was a weekly staple, I never heard any other destination than everlasting life or eternal damnation. The latter of the two was described with graphic details involving unending torture, affliction, and mayhem awaiting those not quite righteous enough to enter into heaven. In fact, good deeds, while deemed secondary, were considered the mark of true believers, a prevailing feature of modern Calvinism. Most of the congregation was comfortable with the notion of hell and were a bit too glib with the expository certainty spoken from the pulpit. After all, those attending other denominations had some serious explaining to do, if they hoped to stroll down those streets of gold, as jested with a wink or a nod down the corridors of the true and faithful church of my youth.
Most who attended were good people; they were earnest and attempted to be witnesses to a world in which they resided temporarily. However, inside they sensed the hypocrisy that only a defeated conscience could betray. I was no different, for the fear of hell was a greater deterrent than the appeal of winged angels sitting on fluffy clouds with stringed harps in one hand and the 1611, God-translated, King James Bible in the other. It was not Peter at that pearly gate that worried me but the book he held containing the names of the redeemed few. The choice was clearly stated: obey the gospels and adhere to all moral precepts instructed or suffer in the pits of iniquity because that is just how much the Lord loves each of us. This theological paradox was described as a mystery that would be explained on the Day of Judgment, a day that awaited even the pious.
Those who preferred a life of sin and degradation received a significantly warmer climate in the world beyond, and while this may not have been the precise message taught, it was how I perceived it during my early years as a teen. However, I was perplexed to learn that friends in other churches similarly questioned our eternal destination, some more unsympathetically than others. Nonetheless, we took pride in our more progressive approach in the charismatic franchise, for we invited prominent speakers from other denominations to preach, some of whom, perish the thought, were not even Protestant, let alone our brand of the faith. The pastor earned some sort of degree from an unaccredited college, and each week he delivered more or less the same message to a vast congregation of redeemed sinners rescued from the wrath of a loving God.
I recall the Sunday morning of my fourteenth birthday sitting in the second row of stiff-backed lengthy pews with a few other distracted youths, which was our weekly custom. The ushers observed us from a side aisle, and those nearby kept an even closer watch on our behavior, including the pastor’s wife. It was a slippery slope of doom from acting out in church to the dungeons of justifiable flame awaiting the deliberately irreverent. The speaker that particular Sunday was an unknown character at the time; however, he was a favorite of the pastor and a frequent guest in his pulpit: a man named Dr. Gene Scott. This became the first of several encounters I had with him for over half a decade before he moved to southern California in 1975. This particular exchange occurred near the back door of the enormous white hearse he proudly used as transport.
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