Should we form universalist congregations?


#1

Saturday, May 10, 2008

NO! To be honest the whole idea makes me shudder with horror. In the list of things that are essential for a good church, teaching universalism is WAY down on the list. Indeed, a church that formed itself to be a ‘universalist’ congregation makes me imagine that it would spend a lot of its time preaching about universalism and so on (forgive me if I am wrong). God spare us from that!

I want to be part of a church that is trinitarian, Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, missional and loves people. If they also happen to teach universalism (in appropriate contexts - see my post on Origen) then great. Indeed, I would like it that they did. But if they taught eternal conscious torment then I’d rather be with them than a church that was all about universalism.

Don’t get me wrong. I really do think that universalism is true (and I rejoice in it!) and I’d be very happy to be part of a chuch that was evangelical universalist so long as the universalism was simmering away in its background. It is simply that I think we need to put universalism in its place. It is good news. It is important but it is not fundamental to healthy and obedient Christian living. Indeed some of the best churches I know believe in eternal conscious torment. Bless them Lord!
Posted by Gregory MacDonald at 7:22 AM
4 comments:
Jason Pratt said…
…I dunno. I’ve had people ask me before if I would form a new denomination, with the impression that they’d be glad to join. I’m against it mainly because I think there are enough denominations in the world already, and I’d rather see the ones in existence reclaiming this early doctrine for themselves.

That being said, while a church can accomplish good without universalism, that’s true about lots of organizations, too. A commitment to love and truth together is essential for a good church (or any good organization really); but I firmly believe (both in principle and on biblical evidence, one piece of which I discussed in another comment down there today in an earlier thread of yours {s}) that true hope for salvation from sin is essential for a better church than one that insists on God’s hopelessness.

That being said: the first retort I can think of is, why not unitarian universalism then? Because I don’t believe unitarianism is true (and neither do they, strictly speaking, nowadays. {s}) The question of God’s character and characteristics has to come first, before we get into doctrines about God’s salvation.

JRP

May 10, 2008 1:57 PM
Jason Pratt said…
Perhaps not-incidentally: early last December, there was a combined statistical report released during the quarterly meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, that was promoted as being evidence of a coming increase in Calvinist preachers (based on seminary graduate poll data compared to a basis poll of the same questions given to all current SBC preachers.)

I noticed a far more intriguing confluence of the statistical data which, so far as I know, went completely unremarked upon (except by me in this press release. {g}) I was amazed, to say the least.

JRP

May 12, 2008 7:59 AM The Christian Heretic said…
I attended a Christian Universalist house church for a couple years, and it was nice to be able to fellowship with others who believed in UR (Universal Reconciliation), but if one’s church is primarily focused on one doctrine it’s not going to last very long (ours didn’t).

My suggestion would be to include UR in the Statement of Faith or something, so that it’s a part of your congregation’s beliefs (since I’m not a big fan of the doctrine of reserve), but definitely not the primary focus.

That said, the idea of UR meet-ups or conferences or something aren’t necessarily a bad idea.

I’m enjoying your blog, by the way.

May 12, 2008 12:24 PM
James Goetz said…
Gregory, I agree. Exclusive Universalism is eschatology and what I classify as a secondary doctrine. I think that secondary doctrines are important while I don’t believe that churches should major in secondary doctrines. I’m both evangelical and neopentecostal while I plan to stay evangelical and neopentecostal.

August 13, 2008 5:13 PM


Universalist churches
JRP addresses recent metaphysical crits of trinitarianism
Pascal's Wager and the Danger of Giving False Hope
Question about a Unity Church
Are some Universalist positions really Mormon doctrine?
JRP addresses recent metaphysical crits of trinitarianism
Commentary on NT usage of "propitiate" (JRP)
Philosophical Extroversion
The Mystery of Parables
Post by a UR concerned about Mysticism....
A Confession to Make
Is Jesus God or What?
The OT and the Trinity
Michael Murray vs. three versions of universalism
Who believes that God doesn't punish people?
Who believes that God doesn't punish people?
Another question
Will People be Raised as Immortal Sinners?
JRP on the Final Chapters of John's Revelation
JRP vs. Matt Slick on the Sin Against the Holy Spirit
Freedom: the power to perceive, and act on, reality
Freedom: the power to perceive, and act on, reality
"trinity".... is there such an entity?
Trinitarian Christianity leads to Universalism? (Or not?)
Carson: On Banishing The Lake Of Fire
Do you believe in Soul Sleep?
"The Prodigal Gospel of Rob Bell" (aka JRP's long review)
"The Prodigal Gospel of Rob Bell" (aka JRP's long review)
Do you believe in Soul Sleep?
Mathmatical illustration, implausibility of Degrees in Hell
Compatibilism and Contradiction? Help.
Is Jesus God or What?
Anyone ever thought of this?
The Intermediate State of the Dead
Anyone ever thought of this?
#2

I’ll go ahead and post a question to GM here,

GM. It seems that Talbotts approach, like most universalists, is to attack the exclusivism of the Evangelical Church of today.

It seems this is a major theme of Universalism, namely Inclusivism. Do you see Christianity (Evangelical) being swept away with exclusivism? If so, do you think universalism is possibly more important in that respect?

Auggy


#3

Yes, especially when the universalists are pastors and are hiding their universalism
due to the financial impact “coming out” might entail, yet promoting their universalism
on the side. They should have the courage of their convictions.


#4

After being asked to leave a large Baptist church because I refused to stop leading a Bible study in my home, I sort of turned the Bible study into a house church with meetings twice a week. It’s been going for about two years and has no real organized structure…we just use Libronix to study the Bible together and find that to be very satisfying.

I’m almost finished reading Eric Stetson’s new book, Christian Universalism (God’s Good News for All People) and can recommend it with enthusiasm. It’s much less complicated and more conversational than TEU…probably better for those who are just starting with the idea. Don’t misunderstand me, I love TEU and think it’s the best for those who are “hard core”.


#5

Gene

a quick comment on exclusivism.

I understand exclusivism in the following way: a person is saved through Christ only and must have explicit faith in Christ to be saved.
I understand [inclusivism] in the following way: a person is saved through Christ only but it is possible to be saved through Christ without explicit faith in Christ.

On these understandings (which are the way that the words are typically used in theology) a universalist could be either an exclusivist or an inclusivist. I am open to inclusivism but my inclination is towards exclusivism.

So I do not criticize exclusivism at all. In fact, I am positive about exclusivism but open minded about inclusivism.

Does that help?

GM


#6

That Darn Cat!

Interesting. I don’t know whether or not the situation that you describe is the case. There may be universalist pastors who are keeping quiet for all sorts of reasons. I would agree with you that the financial motive if not a gospel motive but there might be good reasons. I am not a pastor but I have non-financial reasons which, for now, I think are good reasons (nay, perhaps even gospel reasons) for not revealing my identity. So I can imagine pastors with similar motives and I would not condemn them.

Pax


#7

Dr Neck

I do not know Eric or his book but I am familiar with the CUA website and I heard him on the radio show that I was on. He seems like a good guy.

Don’t worry about offending me. I am very pleased that you found his book helpful. If you thought my book was utter trash I would not be offended (though I am glad that you like it)

Pax


#8

To me evangelical universalism is the icing on a very large cake. Life is much sweeter now and not as dry. It speaks of the character of God and allows me to know the depth of his love. It is more than just another eschatological view (did I get that right?) of end times. I do not believe that it is a secondary doctrine and unimportant enough not to share and even form churches. I do not even feel qualified to be saying this, but in my heart I feel it’s true. My aim, though, is not to be devicive about it. There is no universalist congregation out there that I know of and I continue to fellowship with believers in Jesus. I do share my views at select times and they are highly resisted, of course. What are we as a church missing out on by not understanding the fuller picture? The knowledge of the goodness of God to be faithful to me when I am faithless gives me hope beyond measure. It has removed a stumbling block for me to know God better and as a result has increased my faith. Most of the people on this forum share my passion to some extent or they would not be here and would not have thought it important enough to write a book about it.


#9

Gregory,
I’m glad you specified your definitions of Inclusive and exclusive. I believe this is a good example of why we really wanted a forum of our own where we could discuss this without 50,000 people hijacking the original post (op).

you said:

Perhaps you meant inclusivism on the latter? I’ll assume you meant IN- on the latter and reply.

If all end up saved then one could call it inclusivism since God includes all in his loving salvation. Exclusivism seems to hold to eternal torment and that brings us to the dillema of how we are to define such terms.

It seems that it the question truly is inclusive/exclusive to what?
God’s love or Salvation in this age?

I’d like to hear from others on this as well…

Aug


#10

Gene

I did mean ‘inclusivism’ on the second definition. Sorry.

Yes - you could use the terms in the way that you did. So, in your sense, universalism is inclusive not exclusive. Quite so.

But one must beware of being misunderstood using the terms in this way given that in theological discourse they are often used as shorthand terms for the views that I sketched. But so long as they are explained I think that your use is perfectly acceptable.

Pax


#11

Gregory,
I agree with you that the terms can be defined in different ways. I suppose you might say Arminian churches are similar, Inc.- because they believe God loves and extends salvation to all
Exc.- because they believe salvation only comes by faith in Jesus Christ and Christ alone.

So in those terms I think you probably are more correct.

I still have a yearning and deep desire to congregate with people (like those of this forum) who are opened to hearing different ideas w/o being excommunicated upon an idea or possible interpretation.

Going to a church where you must keep silent is VERY hard. Please do not underestimate the God given need of expression. Being an artist of a sort I do believe we all HAVE to express ourselves or we self implode and become the monster we hate. So I do wish there were such a denomination which allowed such minds to question what they read and to reason with one another.

Sometimes my heart goes out to you because being a professor of scripture and believing that scripture teaches EU’ism must be a bit difficult and at times stressful. Perhaps I’m wrong.

Anyhow, I would love to see a denomination form :slight_smile:

Aug


#12

I believe that God’s character is greatly and grossly and blasphemously slandered by the doctrine of unending eternal punishment. The torment and anguish this teaching has inflicted upon the human race is incalculable. It is a dreadful lie and I will have no part of it no matter how anyone dresses it up as ‘love’ or ‘good news’.

Notice how in the entire book of Acts there were no threats of torment used to get converts. The good news thrived on it’s own because God was doing the work of redemption. The truth (of our own sinfulness) is sharp and convicting.

Obviously if anyone can be convinced that terrible eternal tortures will result if they do something or if they fail to do something then they will try to do anything possible to avoid it. That’s called self-preservation and saving one’s own skin - NOT LOVE. IMO this is the way of religion which blocks the entrance to the kingdom.

The goodness of God leads men to change. That’s why true world altering revival is not happening - God is not being presented as He is.


#13

I’d have to say that I don’t think “Universalist Congregations” are a good way to go, although I do feel some affinity with those who advocate them here.

Like the previous poster, I hate the doctrine of eternal conscious torment, but I would resist breaking fellowship with those who believe it.

No, I would much rather see us work towards churches that allow a variety of opinions and practise a generous orthodoxy (to reuse that now familiar phrase) - an ecclesiology based on affirming the core truths of Christian belief (and practice!), what Stan Grenz called “Renewing the Centre”, while allowing room at the edges. Universal Reconciliation is a wonderful doctrine, but if I am making it the litmus test of fellowship then maybe I’ve lost sight of the centre.

I don’t intend to minimalise the importance of eschatology for the church (I’m a Moltmann fan, so I couldn’t possibly do that!) but merely to point out that all our theology is ‘hope’ - may I even say ‘tentative’ - and we shouldn’t be in the business of drawing lines and making more boxes to put people in, something I think a “new denomination” or universalist congregation would do.

My 2p worth. (2 cents if you want, but mine’s worth more!)

Jamie

P.S. I just hope my church community lives up to our words if/when they find out about me! Maybe it’s a question of “the courage of my convictions” as a previous poster suggested, but the reality is I have a family to support, new christians and young people to mentor, a great kingdom community to lead and I have to act in love and an awareness of how my “convictions” (which I’ve had time to arrive at) might affect others pastorally - Paul’s advice on the ‘weaker brother’ springs to mind. Universalism is wonderful news and a wonderful freedom, yes, but (a) I might be wrong, (b) they might get hurt and © love should always win. I don’t think it’s an issue of courage.


#14

Yes, let’s not be guilty of that.

Since I worked within the mainstream ECT system (so to speak) for thirty years I can’t fault anyone for staying as there is definitely a time to just be effective where you’re planted. Frankly I was surprised how it all came down for me. I simultaneously stumbled upon several people in great anguish over why God would create billions of people foreknowing the outcome of ECT and some in great anguish about parents, siblings etc. who had passed on while apparently unconverted.

When my daughter (16 at the time) began to fall into depression (and finally confided in me the reasons why) I shared with her what I’d always known about the final outcome and God’s ‘big picture’ plan for the ages. She dropped her head wept and said “I knew it… I knew it wasn’t true (ECT) but I thought I HAD to believe it.” Over the past year her life has been totally transformed.

Leaving the ministry was like dying. I cried profusely in my pastors office and could not even communicate my intentions till the second meeting because I couldn’t control the initial flood of emotions. I had worked w/him almost everyday for 20 years straight. I had lead worship at least 2 times a week for 30 years non-stop (sometimes up to 10 times a week with school/conferences/crusades). Also, I am in poor health with no health insurance (they added health coverage this year :frowning: )
so now I’m unemployed and fighting hard to support my family doing whatever. Regrets? No - none. it’s something I had to do for conscience sake, a personal thing. Yes, I am hoping many follow suite, but that is God’s job to direct others.

Now: the fallout. Do not underestimate what happens to people who speak up about this. My leaders and church family were the best ever (and I’ve seen it all) but the backlash ranged from “I want to hear more” and “Wow, I don’t agree - but that’s OK” to “You are denying the faith” and “You are calling God a liar” and “You’re saying we don’t need Jesus”.

I have family members (close family members) dis-fellowship me. There is even conflict in my own household.

Some boycotted my staff going away party. The leadership got flack for not publicly denouncing me. I received phone calls saying “What are you talking about??? Why are we preaching? Why are we sending missionaries?” and the whole thing started really blowing up - so to keep the peace I stopped attending altogether. Some called with interest and a couple even called and confessed their agreement.

So, I’m not really so brave - I’m scared, I’m hauling scrap metal, I’m producing music in my studio and I’m literally hanging out with drunks, druggies and broken people in my small town. I see Christ in them. Many of them think God is unapproachable because no one has ever explained what He’s really like. I walked away from a secure job (everyone got raises this year too - sheeesh!!!) but I’m satisfied and my conscience is clean. I think my effectiveness with people is up 1000% because I’m finally being true to what I know about God. There are daily conversations and prayer. I do get still get ridiculed for my faith by some (some things never change!) but am more ‘in the ministry’ than ever.

Sorry for the long post - but I figured it would be helpful and interesting for some. :slight_smile:


#15

Jamie,
I understand your point and I’d like to be able to say boy that would be neat. But perhaps you might under estimate the fact that it was the religous right who was behind the movement to hang the most beautiful person upon the cross. It’s nice to say, lets get out there and convert the sanhedrin (I say this as a metaphor of narrow minded thinkers) but the truth is, at least for me, if I said anything of the sort ITS EXCOMMUNICATION.

Try going to a calvary chapel and saying Pre-Trib is bunk. If you think they have a hard time with convenant theology then wait till they get a load of Talbott and Macdonald. They already are all over Mclaren and his generous orthodoxy as if it’s from the pit of hell.

I’m not trying to say “forget them” but I am saying the artist in each or us SCREAMS to be heard and wants to ask questions about God’s masterpiece all around us (creation). But if people are subjected to “THINK LIKE US OR DIE!” then the artist in us will not survive and will rebel.

So I’m saying I think saying stay the course and hang in there is like telling an alcoholic, DONT DO IT. In time they will break and if they have no where to go to express themselves and BE HEARD, then they will slowly lose the passion which drives them.

So I still see a great need for a non emergant Evangelical Universalist church.

I don’t say this with 100% sureity but with my instinct at this point. My church does bear with me and I love my church so I hope to never leave it. However if there was an EU church in my town, I’m afraid I’d have to support it that I might learn to teach.

Sincerely,

Aug


#16

Guys, thanks for the honesty. Firstborn888, I’m praying for you. It hurts me that people have been so damaged in the name of ‘orthodoxy’ (the more so when the issue at stake has never been given creedal status). I get the feeling things in the UK are generally not quite so black-and-white so perhaps that’s why I resist the idea of a new denomination more easily than others. Eschatology doesn’t seem to have the same divisive influence over here, at least from what I’ve heard about the US.

Certainly I am hopeful for my church, which is on the whole pretty generous, and I’m quite confident that, when the time comes to talk about it, the leadership and some key thinkers in the church will hear me out. Should I ever preach about it (i’ve let a few clues slip from time to time, and seen my wife give me knowing looks!) I’m sure there will be many in the congregation who will not understand. I get concerned emails about my non-belief in heaven (i.e. I preach against the ‘heaven when we die’ version of Christianity) and some have even said I don’t believe in the Trinity (no idea how they got that!) so a lot of people won’t understand how I got here.

I’m just really saddened by the effects holding to such a beautiful truth can have on people’s lives. Suffering for defending the faith is one thing, and to be expected, but suffering at the hands of family and fellow believers for defending one version of a murky part of the faith? Not so sure that should happen in the Kingdom.

Anyway - God’s richest blessings on you Firstborn888, and on any who have similar stories. You are all welcome here any time you’re passing by!

Jamie


#17

First,
Wow, my prayers are with you bro. I had in my mind from out last year or so that everything was perfect for you never thinking about what life is really like for you.

I’d love to hear your music. I used to write but have not touched it for years. I’ve got a small music studio Cubase, Gigastudio, Atmosphere and stylus RMX bla bla bla : )

I mainly use it for wedding videos now.

if you haven’t been to my site check out the vids and give me your thoughts
www.gigdv.com

Anyhow bro, I’m sorry to hear it’s been so hard.

with love,

Auggy (Gene)


#18

Very Nice site AUG! Mine is here:
spearssoundstudio.com/Welcome.html


#19

Byron (firstborn888),

I’m glad to read more about you while I grieve with you. My prayers and heart go out to you.

I had to resign my US Assemblies of God (A/G) ministry credentials for me to teach my newly modified eschatology per A/G bylaws, but unlike you, I wasn’t a paid minister. I cannot fully comprehend what you’re going through. All I know is that I felt glad that I didn’t have a paid pastorate when I needed to resign. I see that your story epitomizes the need for The Evangelical Universalist forum board.

I offer you my spirit and mind in any way possible in the Lord. Since I’m a charismatic universalist (a subset of evangelical universalists), I might have something to offer you.: )

I want to share some of my vision. The Lord led me to seek out ministerial fellowships who would tolerate my universalist eschatology. And I found some. Praise the Lord! (My wife and I also consider other church factors while we consider our family’s church home in Central NY.)

I have the liberty to share one possibility for me. My friend John Elmer is a Vineyard USA regional leader and pastor. Here is an email quote from John:

“As far as your eschatology theology, it is not a litmus test for partnership here. We have a variety here because we don’t make it a core of our doctrine. Much higher on the scale is character and spiritual passion. I think if anyone got too militant (disruptive) and dogmatic on eschatology theology we would have a talk. I will be praying that your family finds a good spiritual home where they can grow in all that Jesus has for them.”

And John gave me the okay to post his quote in The Evangelical Universalist forum board.: )

I have a vision that many charismatic churches will take this attitude toward evangelical universalism (EU). And sound biblical studies combined with gentle prophetic voices will help to establish EU as the prevailing eschatology in the charismatic movement.


#20

Thanks for your responses all. Sometimes while in worship services the awesome presence of God’s goodness would envelope us I would ask the “Lord, why can’t they see what I see” and I always sensed the response “They will” but I always interpreted it to mean when “we see Him as He is” way off in the future. Maybe I won’t have to wait that long after all. :slight_smile:
Blessings,

  • Byron