We (my husband and kids) attend a conservative independent bible church which does not teach universalism (and I don’t know of any churches in my area that do). I can’t classify it either as Calvinist or Arminian, since the pastors maintain that Scripture teaches a “paradox”: both that God is sovereign over salvation, and that man chooses to reject or accept Christ. How this works is an “unrevealed mystery” but since both are taught, both must be recognized as true.
That was taught recently as part of the Ephesians series, currently being done. Then he taught on the summing up of all things in Christ–which was great, except he added “of course that doesn’t mean everyone will be Christians.” But following the “paradox logic”, it would seem that to be consistent, they ought to say, “The Bible teaches that everyone will be saved, and also that some will be eternally in hell. This is a paradox we can’t understand, but must hold to both since scripture teaches both.”
I’d like to see universalism acknowledged as a valid scriptural hope within evangelicalism, but I don’t know if that’s anywhere in the near future. As you know, my husband and I are beginning to discuss universalism with one of the pastors of our church. We haven’t gotten far yet (and my husband sees the possibilities but is not a convinced universalist), but I hope we can at least show that it’s not contrary to scripture.
One thing I do see at this church is a genuine desire to be true to scripture, and a genuine desire to love and practice the things Christ teaches us. It’s not a “hellfire and damnation” church by any stretch, and when hell is spoken of it is with genuine regret.
In an email to me about our meetings, Don wrote (somewhat jokingly) “I’m not relishing my role as an advocate of hell.” LOL (I replied “Why should you not if you believe it’s true and of God?”) But I appreciate that attitude.
I’ve been thinking about the idea of “primary doctrines” or “core doctrines”. I’m thinking these really would be the doctrines that have to do directly with our actions. “Love your enemy, forgive that you may be forgiven, repay evil with good, etc” Everything beyond these is secondary. We are to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect” and we start by doing the things Christ tells us to do. As we grow in knowledge of God (including his ‘purpose of the ages which he accomplished in Christ’–universal reconciliation) that should make us increasingly able (or at least accountable) to live out the will of God on earth.
Doctrinal knowledge of itself is worthless–not to mention the fact that none of us ‘know it all.’ Indeed, Paul tells us that knowledge, understanding of mysteries and prophesies, even faith, martyrdom, sacrificial giving and service–all those things are worthless if we don’t have love in us.
Therefore the primary doctrine, as I see it, is love. Love God and love your neighbor. Everything else is secondary–but useful and important as well. I’m reminded of Jesus saying, “You tithe your mint and herbs, but you’ve neglected the weightier matters: justice, faith, mercy … you should have attended to those, and not left the other undone.” So it’s not that doctrines of knowledge are unimportant, but that they are secondary, and none of us are perfect in knowledge. When I see a church practicing the teachings of Christ and teaching people to do these things, I’m not going to be too bothered if their knowledge of God’s ultimate purpose (as I understand it) is a little lacking.