My first openly universalist sermon!


#1

A new boldness has come over me since I turned 50 the other day! So on Sunday I preached my first openly universalist sermon to about 120 people at St George’s Barcelona (having previously only shared the idea one to one or in small groups). The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with only a few good-natured expressions of disagreement. I gave away 2 copies of The Evangelical Universalist and 2 Love Wins to people who were interested in some further reading.

So far so good, but please pray for me and my congregation! I’m just posting the text of the sermon on my blog and the Church website, as well as here below for any who are interested…

Sermon by Rev Andrew Tweedy

St George’s Church Barcelona, 26th June 2011

Romans 6.12-end

Many thanks for all the birthday greetings, to all who came to my party and to all who gave me gifts or contributed to the beautiful new Ashbory bass guitar. I am very grateful and very blessed to have a gorgeous, yet devious wife, who managed to hide all the preparations from me and an amazing church family which is a blessing beyond anything I have experienced in my life. A big thankyou from the bottom of my heart!

But now I have reached a funny age (50), there will likely be consequences. Men of my age often begin to do strange
things. Perhaps I will dye my hair green, buy a motorcycle, start wearing an earring or tattoos. Anything could happen!

One thing I am resolved to do is to engage in discussions about controversial issues, the kinds of things that Christians disagree with each other about, as well as disagreeing with other people in society. I intend to do this not because I enjoy starting fights or being difficult, but because I think conversation with people of different viewpoints is healthy and is part of the way in which we learn and in which God reveals the truth. Some of these discussions will be on separate “discussion group” evenings, some in a special Sunday morning sermon series later in the year, others will just come up when certain readings appear in the Church calendar.

Context – universalism?

Today’s reading from Romans gives me an opportunity to mention a belief I have arrived at which, although a minority view in evangelical churches, has always been accepted by some Christians since the earliest days of the Church and has been an allowed belief within the Church of England ever since Queen Elizabeth I’s days. It is a belief which a growing number of Christians around the world in all kinds of Churches are coming to accept, especially since Rob Bell’s recent book on the subject, “Love Wins” came out. It is the belief that in the end everybody without exception will be saved and reconciled to God, so that hell whatever hell is, will in the end be empty. The name for this is Evangelical

Universalism or Universal Reconciliation.

People react to this idea in a range of different ways, and that’s understandable. You can use the Bible to make a case for or against it, and whilst I personally believe the evidence in favour is far stronger than the evidence against, you don’t have to agree with me!

Now, much of the biblical evidence in favour of universalism is in the writings of St Paul and one of the places he states it most clearly is in Romans 5.12-21 where he contrasts Adam and Jesus. In verse 18 for example he says:

“Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for ALL men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for ALL men.”

The majority view is that the second ALL cannot mean ALL because we know that universalism is not true, that some people, perhaps most, will be in hell forever and what’s more, we know that Paul was not a universalist. Well I disagree with that majority view (and I’m not alone in this). I think Paul was making a clear universalist claim and one piece of evidence to support this is the argument he presents in Romans 6.

Romans 6 - Paul responds to his critics

Let’s start by looking at 6.1 and 6.15; verses which indicate what Paul was arguing against in chapter 6:-

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means!
Romans 6.1

What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Romans 6.15

I can only think of two reasons why Paul would write in this way:

1.Perhaps he was being accused of being a libertine or hedonist, someone who was teaching “Anything goes for Christians. We are free from the law and any other kind of moral restraint.”

But how could anybody think this of Paul? In all the descriptions of his life and teaching throughout Acts and his Letters, Paul never advocates anything like a libertine or hedonistic lifestyle. On the contrary, he teaches the exact opposite, urging his readers to live holy and Christlike lives marked by self-control and unselfish love.

2.His universalism was raising objections. This makes sense because the most common objection to universalism is this (quoting a friend who I recently discussed this with):

“So you are saying that the way we live this life and what we believe do not ultimately matter, because we are all going to heaven anyway.”

I think this is the accusation Paul was rejecting so clearly in Romans 6. I believe they could only conclude this from his universalism, clearly expressed in his letters and perhaps most clearly in Romans 5. And Paul rejects this criticism very strongly, “By no means!” His opponents have misrepresented his gospel message and have completely misunderstood God’s grace.

Remember Baptism

Paul answers in two stages. In verses 1-13, bearing in mind he is writing to baptized believers, he uses the imagery of baptism to emphasise that Christians have DIED to the old (sinful, libertine) way of life and have been RAISED to new life in Christ.

So he says “Count yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. DON’t let sin reign in your body and obey its desires. DO offer your body to God. Live a new way. Don’t let the old way control you.
Then in the second half of the chapter, the bit we are concentrating on today, Paul uses the imagery of slave ownership, something his Roman audience were very familiar with.

Whose slaves are you?

Sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law but under grace. Romans 6.14
Don’t be like a driver who looks only in his rear view mirror. He will inevitably crash and may harm others. Don’t be like a football player who has transferred to a new club, but continues to follow the instructions of the coach of his old club.

Paul knew that in fact many of his opponents were legalists. They held to a treasured system of rules which enabled them to decide who was in and who was out. This is why, llike Jonah and like the prodigal son’s elder brother, they found God’s universalist tendency so offensive. Everybody will be in eventually, so what’s the point of living by the rules?

But like Jesus, Paul was aware of the hypocrisy of many legalists, who piled burdens on others whilst allowing loopholes in the law for themselves. Like Jesus, Paul hoped they would see their foolishness and change their ways.

Verse 15 anticipates the legalists’ objection that Paul was supposedly advocating a “lawless” lifestyle (implied by his universalism). By no means!

People, he argues, are obedient to whoever we offer ourselves as slaves. And there are essentially only two choices. We can be slaves to Sin (personified as a slave owner, but this will lead to the “death” of a fruitless, pointless life.

Or we can live in obedience to God, in response to God’s grace (love undeserved but freely given). This way leads to righteousness, to right-living, to LIFE.

Pauline Humour!

Now a joke from the Apostle we probably picture as being serious and miserable. Look at verse 17. He’s saying “Come on guys! You’ve already shown how good you are at being obedient. Remember how obedient you were to your previous master, “Sin”. Now show that same commitment to obedience to your new master, God. Come on, you can do it, I know you can!”

A Personal Challenge

Now I want to make a personal challenge to nobody in particular, or rather to everybody in particular (myself included). In 25 years as a Christian, almost 10 as an ordained minister, if one thing has surprised and amazed me even more than the transforming grace of God, it is this:

…the capacity of Christians to self-deception and compromise. The ability we have to compartmentalise our lives so that this part is yielded to God but that part is not. Sin is allowed to control these other parts of oour lives. Can you see how foolish this is? Because you can fool me and you can fool your family and friends but you can’t fool God. God is not pleased by outward allegience, he wants your heart. Right now, not just at the end of your life when you are full of regret and fearful of what is to come. He wants your loyalty and commitment now.

Concluding thoughts

When a house changes ownership, it still needs redecorating and furnishing so that the new owners can live in it and enjoy it. We are like that house, and all of us are work in progress, none of us is perfect yet.

When we move to a new country, we have to adopt at least some of the laws and customs of the country we have moved to. For instance, when I moved to Spain from England, I stopped driving on the left side of the road and started driving on the right. I could have continued driving on the left but it would not have gone well! I’ve also tried to learn Spanish so I can understand and make myself understood.

The cell doors of the fear of death are burst open. How sad it would be if we just stayed in the cell, as if locked in, our wrists together as if still handcuffed.

We need to live now, free from the rule of sin and the fear of death – like our mission partner Sister Pilar who spoke to us last week.

Paul’s universalist claims triggered a reaction from those who were scandalised by the extent of God’s grace which he was teaching. But Paul showed that, far from promoting a sinful, libertine lifestyle, his gospel leads to a beautiful new life which answers God’s love with an obedient, grateful, fruitful and unselfish life.

How you live and what you believe are intimately linked. You can’t live a double life.

Let’s pray.


#2

Good sermon, Rev. Drew. :slight_smile: I’d never realized that “Shall we sin that grace might abound” was evidence that Paul taught universalism. But of course, the alternative (that people accused him of libertarianism) seems quite unlikely.


#3

Brilliant work RevDrew!!! I pray that the entire church takes it onboard and that your bravery bears much fruit! :sunglasses:

Btw, the “Social Hall” (& it’s sub-categories) only shows up for logged-in members, would you prefer I move the topic to “General Discussion of EU”?


#4

Maybe it should be moved to “articles”?

Or, how about moved to General EU discussion first, and then moved from there to Articles with a shadow link left back at General EU?

That way it would have the benefits of both areas: higher initial exposure in the biggest subcategory, while also having a long near-top life in its actual location.

(Oh… also, great sermon Rev. :smiley: I probably wouldn’t have presented Paul’s universalism as being totally established so quickly, though, so as to make more room for people to agree on points about chapter 6 without having to feel like they were being asked to instantly agree on that way of looking at it. But I’m glad the response was so great! :smiley: )


#5

Very well done revdrew :smiley: I agree also with AllenS… good angle,… short, sweet and to the point


#6

Thanks for the encouragement guys. Alex/Jason, yes, please feel free to move the thread wherever you think it fits best.


#7

I appreciate your willingness to proclaim your convictions!

While it is certainly possible that it was Universalist teaching that evoked the objections in 6:1 & 15, isn’t it enough that Paul preached salvation by grace through faith alone, even though it is only available for believers in this life? Would Paul have to expand the scope to everyone, even though most would only believe in the next life, in order for legalists or the ill-informed to raise the above-mentioned concerns?

Your text above indicates that legalists would not raise this concern because Paul’s life and teaching illustrates the importance of holy living. Therefore his detractors would never assume he was possibly opening the door for immorality. However, isn’t it possible that …

(1) those objecting were not familiar with Paul’s life and moral teaching? In this case all they wold have to “go on” is what Paul was preaching at the present moment to them.

(2) Even if they were familiar with Paul’s life and moral teaching, this would not automatically mean they should assume his present day gospel preaching does not allow for licentiousness. In this case the legalists or ill-informed would still have grounds for objecting.

(3) In addition, they may also raise objections in order to force Paul to clarify, regardless of anything he has said or done before. After all , at first glance, a true “grace through faith alone message” could make one suspicious about Paul’s ultimate motives. By saying, “Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase?” they are inviting Paul to clear up any misunderstandings.

(I often raise objections to what people say when I feel they are being unclear or what they said can be interpreted in more than one way. Even though I am fairly certain, based upon my familiarity with them, they could not mean what they said in a certain way, I will intentionally interpret their statement in this way and respond to them accordingly. In this way i am able to demonstrate that their language was not clear, at least to me. Then they are given the opportunity to restate or qualify what they said previously. Usually I am not doing this to be a hindrance, but because I actually want to give them a chance to strengthen what they saying.)

So based upon 1-3, I do not see how Romans 6 requires us, or should even incline us, to believe Paul had been preaching a Universalist gospel.

Your comments are welcome.


#8

#9

Wow Andrew, you are getting quite bold! I’m glad it was met with so many positive responses and I hope they’ll continue to respond well. Be careful. I get worried for you. I liked the way you were breaking them in, that they should anticipate you’d do something crazy at the age of 50, like take up some controversial view. You just eased them right into it, like it were nothing.


#10

Thanks Gem and Amy!
Firedup2000:- I think the Roman church knew a lot about Paul and vice versa; he has no need to introduce himself in Ch1 and in Ch 16 it is clear he already knows some of them pretty well. Anyway, regardless of what any opponents we might reconstruct thought of Paul, I think my reading is favoured strongly by the context. Paul has just made what I take to be a clear universalist claim in the second half of Ch5. If that is so, it follows that he would immediately go on to defend his vision of universal reconciliation against the objection most commonly raised against it, i.e. that if everybody is going to be saved, the way we live and what we believe do not matter. This is exactly what I think he is doing in Ch6. It might not be the only explanation, but it seems the most natural to me.


#11

RevDrew,
Bro, you are in my prayers. I hope God truly moves through your church and your ministry. Thanks for sharing this.


#12

Many thoughts and comments Andrew, but most of all thanks for sharing this witness to your boldness!!
(But then again I often remind myself: "how bold do you really have to beto simply express what is such blatantly good news??!! :laughing: )

But when I discuss UR with those who earn their living as preachers of the gospel, I tell them they better be VERY careful and subtle about this topic because it eally could risk your livlihood. (Often I think this is part of the reason Bell can seem so elusive) So I might have imagined you would sneak up on them more subtly! Spend many weeks building up to the “hint” and dawning realization that O MY! The rev is suggesting Universalism!!! (Scandelous!)

Just yesterday at church I had a friend (who knows I’m UR) chide me (once again) that if UR were true, subsequent bahaviors are really of no consequence. And this really does seem to be a huge obstacle for many folks. So I’m glad you shared this angle on Pauls “by no means!” expression. I can imagine him saying it in something like exasperation or even dismay. Like “are you kidding? after everything we’ve been through, and everything we know, how could you possibly see Gods saving mercy as license to sin??” — and that’s exactly what I said to my friend! “Are you kidding me??”
What this shows (in part at least) is the mindset that all the gospel is important for is getting my own sorry butt “saved”. And it really is based on legalism: “behave and be saved”. Missing entirely is the joy of companionship with the Master! The knowledge that everything God has asked of us is for our own good! That it is good to know we are part of the family. Why on earth would one want to act in ways harmful to family and that relational bond??

The entire basis of this sort of protest against UR I think is the notion that the path of sin really is more fun and enjoyable and natural and enjoyable and so on. Well, not when you’ve experienced the change of heart (heart transplant!) that God promises for each of us. What God asks of us really IS for our good and when we become that new creature, we see that!
(Harder to tell my friend that “well, looks like YOU have not yet become that kind of “new creature in Christ”. I’ll pray it happens soon…”)

So keep us posted revdrew!
And thanks

TotalVictory
Bobx3


#13

Thanks Auggy and TV for the encouragement. They haven’t lynched me yet! :laughing:


#14

It’s really true that talking about these sort of things can really get you into trouble, at least here in the States. The pastor recently told my dad he can’t teach his Sunday School class anymore. I’m super bummed about it. I loved his class! It was seriously the highlight of my week. I love it that he stimulated us to think and allowed us to ask questions. He’d get so excited too about what he was teaching and you could tell it meant a lot to him. He studied a lot and offered a lot, in a way that just isn’t available elsewhere. He’d give his interpretation of the passage, but always let us discuss it. In the end, it proved too much for the leaders of our church. It took a view years for the pastor to make this decision. The consequence of speaking up is real and I wonder, looking back, if maybe we shouldn’t have treaded a little more lightly. In hindsight, it was probably inevitable.


#15

I’m saddened to hear it. Your dad’s a casualty of friendly fire from people who should know better. Truly, in this day and age, we need to know who our friends are, and who are our enemies.

How many hours a week does the average church member spend in front of the TV, being preached at by news editors, script writers and social engineers? I wonder how kosher *their *theology is!


#16

Amy, it is tough to see someone of your father’s integrity being treated like that. A more cautious approach is always an option and we all make choices. But I’m not sure I’d want to be part of a church which prefers to close off thought and discussion. And there are also consequences in not challenging what we feel is a grossly distorted image of God. We all do a kind of risk analysis when we decide to put our head above the parapet.
As a family I guess you are faced with some tough decisions and I’m not sure what other church options you have there. Be assured of my love and prayers for all of you.


#17

I’m really sorry to hear that your church is shutting you all out of fellowship.

But maybe it is an opportunity to start something – maybe a midweek Bible Study? Why shouldn’t Bob keep teaching his class somewhere else for any who are interested? There has to be meeting places available to you somewhere if your home is too small! … coffee shops usually don’t mind people hanging out, and some restaurants are fine too, park buildings, community centers, public libraries might have meeting rooms available for clubs or groups … Start in your house, and if it gets too crowded then you can find somewhere else!

Sonia


#18

As Jesus said, “They shall know you are my disciples by your outward conformity to a certain set of doctrines.”


#19

Ouch! I’m sorry to hear that about Bob, Amy.

(For those who don’t know, Amy is the wife of Gene/Auggybendoggy, and the daughter of Dr. Bob Wilson; both of whom helped found the site. Dr. Wilson has his own featured section here on the forum.)

Edited to add: I’ve forgotten what denomination you-all were attending, Amy. Did the SBC Resolution a few weeks ago have anything to do with this? I expect them to be encouraging pastors and teachers to rein in universalistic tendencies even in the pews, much moreso in the teachers and preachers.


#20

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments and love! It’s a bummer. I keep hoping the pastor will think better of it and change his mind. That’s what I’m praying for anyway. Jason, we are American Baptist and I don’t think the SBCs had anything to do with it. There have been, for a while, a number of key people on the board that have heard about my dad’s ideas second hand (none of them attend Sunday School themselves) and were pushing for my dad’s removal. My dad always said it should be a class that people can choose to go to if they want something more stimulating, but for years he has been the only teacher. People in the class, only about 10 of us, loved it. Our church has been declining in numbers for reasons other than our class. They decided, just recently, to pay $16,000 to pay a Christian company to come in and assess things that might stimulate growth. I think the pastor may be worried that my dad’s name will come up? We’re not sure exactly. My dad had always hoped that somehow it’d be possible to speak with the people having difficulty, especially since they’d never talked to him, but that was never facilitated. The pastor himself says he didn’t mind my dad’s teaching, actually really enjoyed his class when he attended, but is concerned it’s too controversial for some.

My dad’s plan is to continue to attend the church. I’ll probably still try to go also, but it’ll be more difficult because Gene is not enthused about going if my dad isn’t teaching. Andrew, I’m not sure the options elsewhere are much different. Our church, in general, is more tolerant of differences.

Sonia, I’m trying to think optimisticly and hope that this will open up the possiblity for something else. Gene is trying to orchestrate a meet up group, however you do that.

Funny line AllanS! If only it weren’t true.