Posted by: mystic444 | October 27, 2009

Christian Universalism, Part 2

“Orthodox Christianity”, as I’m sure almost everyone knows, has gained and held its adherents by means of fear; it is a true ‘terrorist’ religion. Its teaching of the ‘love’ of God would be meaningless without the awful backdrop of the ‘eternal fire of hell’ into which everyone who does not wholeheartedly adhere to its teachings and its ‘Savior’ will be cast without any hope of reprieve. People are prevented from even questioning any of the ‘fundamentals’ of traditional ‘Christianity’ through this fear of what the ‘angry God’ will do to them if they dare to do so.

Yet I strenuously maintain that this is a terrible perversion of ‘Biblical’ Judaism and Christianity. The great message presented by all of the Bible writers is that God is a ‘mighty Savior’, ‘the Savior of the world’. From its very ‘book of the beginning’, Genesis, it presents the idea that humanity will triumph over evil (or ‘the evil one’). This is no doubt the basic meaning behind that rather enigmatic statement of God to ‘the serpent’ in Genesis 3:15 – “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel”. No matter how deadly the damage inflicted by the ‘serpent’ striking mankind’s ‘heel’ may seem to be, mankind will triumph by crushing the “serpent’s” head. Mankind may be ‘cast out of the garden’, and prevented from partaking of the ‘tree of life’ for the moment; but that situation will not continue ‘forever’. When one gets beyond the need to insist on a literal interpretation of these stories in the Bible, and instead finds the ‘spirit’ of the story, he finds life, not condemnation.

This story of triumph over evil for humanity (the ‘seed of the woman’) is then developed by the story of God choosing a man named Abraham to be the one through whom blessing will come to the world. Genesis 12:1-3 tells of this initial promise to Abraham, which became the fountainhead for the whole story of God’s salvation for the world as developed through the rest of the Jewish and Christian ‘scriptures’. “…In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (verse 3). This promise is repeated for Abraham’s offspring in Gen. 22:17, 18 – “…And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.” This is the great goal which the Bible writers say God has in mind: the blessing of ‘all the families of the earth’! According to the Biblical point of view, mankind has indeed become estranged from God; but God is not going to let that estrangement stand – ‘He’ is going to ‘bless’ mankind!

As usual, due to the nature of a blog, I can’t attempt to be exhaustive in tracing this theme in the Bible. I’ll just give a few more ‘Old Testament’ passages which illustrate this great theme of ‘universal salvation’, and then move on into the ‘New Testament’. For much more detailed development, I referred in my last article to several ‘Christian Universalist’ writers. Here I’ll just refer again to Charles Slagle’s web site, and particularly mention his article “Absolute Assurance” as a good place to look if you wish to pursue this theme further. [Again, I make the disclaimer that his position and mine are not always the same, as he believes in the inerrancy and absolute authority of the Bible – and Christianity as the ‘only way’ to God – and I don’t. But he presents a very refreshing divergence from the usual ‘fundamentalist’ preachers of ‘hell fire’].

Psalm 22 has this wonderful assurance of the ultimate triumph of God’s grace in the earth: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations. All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him – those who cannot keep themselves alive. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn – for he has done it” (verses 27-31, NIV). [Most of my Bible quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)].

Psalm 72:17-19 has this to say: “…All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed. Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory” (NIV).

Psalm 145:21 – “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.”

And for my final Old Testament quote, there is this wonderful passage in Isaiah 45:22-24 – “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by myself, the word has gone forth from my mouth in righteousness and I will not turn back, that to me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance’. They will say of me, ‘Only in the LORD, are righteousness and strength’. Men will come to him, and all who were angry with him will be put to shame” (New American Standard Version). What a delightful thought: God defeats his enemies by converting them! They come to him in shame for their enmity, and swear allegiance to him, thus fulfilling the command to turn to him and be saved!

Specific references to this universal blessing may have been relatively scarce in the ‘Old Testament’, but in the New Testament it is almost ‘omnipresent’! That is because the Christian writers believed that God’s appointed time of fulfillment had arrived; Jesus was the expected ‘anointed one of God’ (Messiah/Christ) who would begin the process of blessing ‘all the nations of the world’. Paul said in Galatians 4:4 that the ‘fullness of time’ had come. The author of Hebrews said (9:26): “but as a matter of fact He has appeared once for all, at the Close of the Ages, in order to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself ” (Weymouth New Testament).  So the Gospel of Luke begins with the angelic announcement to the shepherds at the time of the birth of Jesus: “…Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (2:10, 11). And when Simeon saw the infant Jesus in the Temple, he is reported to have said: “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

Then there are those well known verses in John 3:16-19 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” The teaching of Jesus and of all of his ‘apostles’ is that Jesus has come as an emissary of God’s love for the world, to bring salvation to those who dwell in the darkness of unbelief in God’s goodness. We have lived in fear, and the condemnation of our own consciences; but Jesus came to dispel that darkness, fear, and self condemnation by manifesting the love of God for all of his creation. When we believe his good news of God’s love, our fears disappear and we walk in light. Those who don’t believe continue in a preexisting darkness and self condemnation. Unbelief doesn’t provide a cause for God to condemn us, but it is the reason we remain (self) condemned. Paul said in Ephesians 4:17, 18 – “Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart.” Do you see that? Alienation from the life of God is due to darkness of understanding, ignorance, and hardness of heart; but it is certainly not because God has departed from us, or hates us, or is infuriated with us. Only our own darkness and ignorance separates us from God, and Jesus came to dispel that darkness, enlighten our ignorance, and show us the loving Father. “Believe in him and be saved” is the Christian proclamation; and the wonderful thing is that “salvation through faith” is just what God has in store for the whole world, according to the Christian message. The apostolic teaching is not that ‘faith’ is a ‘condition’ we must meet in order for God’s desire for our salvation to be fulfilled; faith is always the instrumentality which God himself uses to bring us into the salvation he has purposed for us. Galatians 3:8 – “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you’”. Justification by faith is God’s work for and in us; not justification being God’s part and faith our part. Philippians 1:29 – “For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” God grants faith, and this faith which brings justification and life will eventually be granted to all of the world, since this is the purpose and desire of God.

1 Timothy 2:3-6 says: “This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself a human, who gave himself a ransom for all…” Since it is God’s intention and desire that everyone be saved, we may be assured it will come to pass, because: “… I am god, and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My purpose shall stand, and I will fulfill my intention… I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have planned, and I will do it” (Isaiah 46:9-11). “Seek the LORD while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the LORD, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:6-11).

Another very important passage showing the universality of God’s salvation is Romans 5:18, 19 – “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Paul is here drawing a contrast between the effects of the sin of the ‘first man, Adam’, and the effects of the righteousness of ‘the second Adam, Christ’. Without getting into the argument about how Adam’s sin manages to affect all of his descendants, or how Christ’s righteousness gets transferred to people, Paul plainly says that the effects of Christ’s righteousness are equally as extensive as the effects of Adam’s sin. Adam’s one sin affects ‘the many’; and Christ’s righteousness affects the very same ‘many’. Adam’s sin brought condemnation to all; and Christ’s righteousness brought justification and life to all. I don’t see how it’s possible for a ‘Christian Universalist’ of today to more plainly teach universal salvation than Paul did here!

There are just so many places in the New Testament that proclaim this great ‘good news’ that it’s hard to decide on just a few. Let me end this particular post with 2 more quotations. Philippians 2:9-11 – “It is in consequence of this that God has also so highly exalted Him, and has conferred on Him the Name which is supreme above every other, in order that in the Name of JESUS every knee should bow, of beings in Heaven, of those on the earth, and of those in the underworld, and that every tongue should confess that JESUS CHRIST is LORD, to the glory of God the Father” (Weymouth). Compare this to the passage quoted above from Psalm 22, where “all the families of the nations will bow before him” and “all who go down to the dust will kneel before him – those who cannot keep themselves alive”. Kneeling and bowing before the Lord is to submit oneself willingly to His authority, swear allegiance to Him, and worship Him. That, friends, is what ‘salvation’ is all about – doing away with the estrangement and enmity we have toward God. To call Jesus Christ ‘Lord’ is to be ‘saved’, according to the Christian good news, and it can only be done under the influence of the ‘Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:3) – but this is a confession that ‘every tongue’ will make according to the Bible. What is especially important here is that Paul did not leave room for anyone anywhere to be excluded from this ‘salvation’: every being in heaven, on earth, and in the underworld is included. In Biblical terminology, that’s absolutely every being!

John, in the Revelation, then confirms this with his vision: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, ‘To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever’” (Rev. 5:13)! Absolutely every creature in all of creation singing in unison the same song of praise to God and ‘the Lamb’. That’s Universal Salvation, friends, and that’s the fulfillment of God’s ‘eternal purpose in Christ Jesus”. If you’re going to disagree with Christianity, be sure it’s this you’re opposing, not that dishonorable substitute that proclaims God’s desires will be unfulfilled, and most of mankind will suffer excruciating torments ‘for ever and ever’ in ‘the lake of fire’.

In another article I’ll take up some of the objections raised by ‘traditional Christianity’ to this Universalism, and show how they’re based on misunderstandings of the Biblical text. It should be obvious already though, that if there are Biblical passages that teach something different than the Universal Salvation I have shown, then they are among the contradictions of the Bible – you’ll just have to decide which of the opposing viewpoints you will accept (if you accept either of them)!

Perhaps it is necessary here to point out that while I am seeking to defend Christianity from its ‘dishonorable substitute’, it does not mean that I am proclaiming the unique truthfulness of this system. I think that probably should be obvious from previous posts. I do believe that a Christianity that recognizes the Universal purpose of God, and the certain fulfillment of this purpose, is a ‘workable system’ – and I hold no antagonism to it. But I myself am more just a ‘Universalist’ as opposed to specifically ‘Christian’ Universalism.

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