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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Christian Universalism

Most of us have heard the term "Universalism" or, at least, the concept. It refers to the idea that everyone is saved. There is even a denomination called "Unitarian Universalists". Now, I've read their "statement of faith" and it turns out that you can be a Jewish or a Christian or even an atheist Unitarian Universalist. You can believe in God, no God, any sort of "higher power" or none at all. You can follow sacred texts or not. They are as "diverse and inclusive" as it gets. This is the extreme "Universalism" -- universalism without reason.

I've recently become aware of a different form. They call it "Christian Universalism". They poo-poo those silly "so open-minded that their brains leaked out" Universalists and tell us that theirs is true, right, even biblical. It starts first, I think, with a distaste for Hell, that eternal judgment Scripture seems to talk about. They prefer a finite judgment from an infinite God regarding an infinite offense. If not eternal damnation, then what? Well, they'll point to passages like Romans 5:18-19.
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
There, see? "There resulted justification of life to all men." They'll find further support with things like "We're commanded to love our enemies, so God must do the same" and "We're all equal before God" (Col 3:11) and the ever-popular "God is not willing that any should perish." (2 Peter 3:9)1 They don't argue that all religions are valid. They simply say that Christ died once for all and God has reconciled all things to Himself so that salvation is universal, often in spite of other religious beliefs (or the lack thereof). All are saved by the blood of Christ and the power of God. They oppose the "You've eliminated justice" argument, holding instead that either all punishment is meted out in this life or that justice is upheld by loss of rewards in the next. One form also argues that faith is required -- that anyone can choose to go to Hell -- but that they only choose to do so after death with the whole truth before them, fully forgiven but refusing that forgiveness.

You can see that this isn't the soft and gooey "Universalism" of the Unitarian type. This stands instead on 1) a denial of Hell, 2) an affirmation of Scripture, and 2) a view of God that appears higher than others. That is, this God can be Just without supreme judgment and Salvific without requiring anything from His creatures. The squishy Unitarian type denies any reality of the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, monotheism, the Resurrection ... just about anything Christian. Christian Universalism claims to embrace all that. What could be wrong with that?

As it turns out, a lot.

A running standard requirement in Scripture from beginning to end (see, for instance, Hebrews 11) is the requirement of faith. The most basic statement of Scripture is "Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Heb 11:6) Christian Universalism is a denial of this basic concept. They use Romans 5 to prove their position and ignore completely Romans 1-4 (For instance, Romans 4:5 says, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness.") Paul states categorically, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." (Rom 10:9) Beyond that, Scripture is full of warnings -- what people refer to as "turn or burn" statements. Jesus warns of "eternal punishment" (Matt 25:46) and Christian Universalism dismisses all that language. The author of Hebrews writes, "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment," (Heb 9:27) but the Christian Universalist necessarily denies a judgment at all since all have been restored to a right standing with God. Jesus warned of a sin that could not be forgiven (Mark 3:28-29), but Christian Universalism denies such a sin can exist since all sin is forgiven.

The doctrine of Hell -- of eternal torment for sin -- is the basic thing to be avoided because, in all honesty, it's a horrendous thought. Christian Universalism avoids it. In doing so, it voids Scripture. In fact, the doctrine of eternal torment comes first in Scripture from the lips of our Savior. The Old Testament warns of "the day of the Lord" and "the day of His wrath" and such, but the clearest statements on the subject come first from Christ (e.g., Matt 5:29-30; Matt 10:28; Matt 13:36-43; Matt 18:9). The Christian Universalists would have needed to have stood by Christ and said, "There, there ... not to worry. All that goes away when you die and rise again." They void these warnings. The rest of the New Testament does not. Paul (e.g., 2 Thess 1:9), Jude (Jude 1:7), and John (Rev 14:11; Rev 20:13-15; Rev 21:8) are all examples of concurrence, not denial of Christ's warnings about eternal torment for sin.

Christian Universalism, as it turns out, has been around since the early days of Christianity. Origen pushed for it. They like to use Scripture to argue for it. The Church has generally declared it, throughout Church history, a falsehood. Still, the idea has persisted. The notion was popular in among the Quakers and the Anabaptists (no relation to "Baptists") and the Moravians and their descendants. And, of course, there are those who cling to it today, insisting, even, that it's biblical. I can't imagine how, given the fundamental denial of the most clear statements on eternal torment from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself. Nullifying all references to the need for faith and all warnings to the threat of judgment, this segment still insists they're biblical and Christian. I cannot. It negates the reliability of Christ's words, eliminates God's Justice, diminishes the nature of sin, negates God's Justice, and elevates Man to a position requiring God to "be nice". Premised first on the "We don't like the concept of Hell" argument, it necessarily deconstructs too many Scriptural points, principles, and passages to be classified as either "biblical" or "Christian".
1 That one keeps coming back to bite people. On one hand, they argue "God is not willing that any should perish, but His hands are tied, hoping they come" and limit God's Sovereignty, or, on the other, they argue "God is not willing that any should perish, so none will" and eliminate His justice. There has to be a better way.


David said...

I wonder, if everyone is saved as they believe, what is the point of obedience? If the worst outcome is a lower position in heaven, that automatically trumps the alternative and gives me no reason to not live any way I want.

Stan said...

Or believe or ...

Stan said...

And it's interesting that Scripture equates "believe" with "obey".

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36)

Marshal Art said...

Obey what? It's not a book of rules, ya know. At least that's what I'm told.

Stan said...

I hear you, Marshal, but it wasn't me who said, "Whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life."

David said...

Or, if you love me, you'll keep my commandments.

I think the meaning of "it's not a rule book" has been lost. It is a book with rules, we're just not saved by those rules, we're obligated to obey them out of love.

Stan said...

I'm still not sure what is meant by "It's not a rule book." There certainly are undeniable instructions on behavior, attitude, interrelationships. It was indeed Jesus who said, "If you love Me, you will obey My commandments." There ARE commandments. Just not rules?