To continue our discussion from the last blog … if universal reconciliation is so clearly taught in God’s Word, why is it not more commonly proclaimed?
GOD IS HOLY AND CANNOT BEAR TO ALLOW SIN INTO HIS PRESENCE
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This is the standard argument for the necessity of an eternal hell. “God is love and wants all mankind to be saved, but He is also holy and cannot put up with the presence of evil.”
But we cannot say that evil must be evil forever. The wicked and rebellious are not incurable! It would be inconsistent with the character and wisdom of God to create a frail mankind with a propensity toward sin which is incurable.
In fact, God reveals to us in His Word the ultimate “cure” for all mankind at the end of the ages, made possible through the cross of Christ.
WHAT ADVANTAGE IS THERE IN BEING A CHRISTIAN?
“If all mankind will eventually be saved, what does it matter if one becomes a Christian in this lifetime?”
First, there is the lake of fire, the second death! Whether this is a very painful process, or simply death for a second time, we should want to spare all mankind from this fate.
Second, the Believer will enjoy life during the final eons when the non-Believer is in the lake of fire. This may be a very long time, and life during this time will be very worth living.
Third, once we become a Believer we enjoy, for the remainder of this lifetime, the expectation of the life to come. Even when we encounter the worst of experiences, our expectation cannot be taken from us.
Fourth, as Believers we are God’s chosen witnesses in this lifetime. What a wonderful joy, not only to know God’s plan for the ages, but to be able to share it as His Ambassadors.
Nathaniel Scarlett, who studied at Kingsford school under the patronage of John Wesley, and who published an improved translation of the New Testament in 1798, explains as follows:
“The saved were those who were not to suffer punishment in the future life at all, while the restored were such as shall be delivered from it, after receiving judgment according to their works. Hence God is the restorer of all men, but the Saviour only of the elect, or first fruits, who are converted to him in this world.” (From “The Modern History of Universalism,” page 295.)
“DON’T TELL ME TOO MUCH ... I DON’T WANT TO KNOW”
There are many comfortable Christians today who do not want things to change. There are families who have attended the same church for generations. There are individuals whose entire life is participation in a multitude of church activities.
I must be honest. I, too, was quite comfortable within the church. All of my children worshipped together. I was the pastor, and was looked to for leadership. I enjoyed being a part of this church family, doing my best to lead the people into a deeper study of God’s Word and encouraging them to live their lives together as a true community, or family, of Believers.
I remember when I first began reading things concerning the ultimate salvation of all. At first I was very intrigued. Many questions began to clear up for me, and God’s working through the ages made more sense. But there were times that I purposefully set aside these books, despite the truth that I saw within them, because I was not prepared to make a change. I was happy within the church, and I knew that if I went too far I would create disunity, arguments, and division.
But there came a time when I realized that truth is truth, and it is wrong to remain within a church that taught falsehoods concerning God. God is love. God is wise. God is all-powerful. I saw God’s wonderful plan unfold in His Word (when properly translated and interpreted). God is truly in the process of bringing every single part of His creation into a willing subjection to Him. All will be saved at the end of the ages.
But I can sympathize with the many who know there is something to these teachings, but are not yet ready to take a stand, because they know there will be a price to be paid.
UPSETTING THE DOCTRINAL APPLE CART
I have worked for several large corporations, and it is very difficult to make changes. All possible side-effects must be examined before a move can be made because of the many and far-reaching implications.
If I had begun to preach universal reconciliation while I was still a pastor within the Free Methodist Church, there would have been quite a stir. I believe there are many within the ranks of Free Methodism, and any other mainstream Christian denomination, who either believe in universal reconciliation or who would believe if they heard the arguments and examined the evidence. I believe even some pastors and higher officials within the church believe these things. But if I had begun to preach in this way, pressure would have been exerted upon the officials to remove me. This would be necessary, because some people in the pews would create a stir or even leave the church.
The church has become an institution. We have taken what God’s Word has to say about the Body of Christ, and we have turned it into an institution, with many of the same traits as a corporation. If people leave, giving decreases and bills cannot be paid. Churches own buildings with mortgage payments. Pastors must be paid, since for many this is their livelihood. Many pastors are financially precluded from preaching anything which might cost them their position, since they have large student loans to repay to their seminary, and families to support.
I’m not saying that pastors preach only for money, and that churches make their decisions based only on their finances. I am saying that these things exert a strong influence. Charles Pridgeon, founder of the Pittsburgh Bible Institute, writes in “Is Hell Eternal?”
“Many a preacher has to wear a muzzle on certain questions or lose his church and his living.” (page 19)
Fortunately I was a bi-vocational pastor, and I did not receive any compensation from the church I had served most recently. As coming to the truth prompted me to leave, finances did not play a part in my decision. But I think of many of my seminary friends now serving churches, and I recognize the cost to them would be much greater.
Those who have been pastors for a significant length of time are looking at the pension they would be forfeiting. For them it would be easier to simply live within the system, and perhaps avoid preaching about hell. I don’t believe God gave me that option.
Many pastors, teachers and professors have stood behind the concept of an eternal hell. One man once told me that hell was one of the “foundations of our faith.” (I thought Jesus Christ was the only foundation of our faith!)
If leaders within the church suddenly began to preach and teach about universal reconciliation, there would most certainly be a price to pay. Theologies would need to be re-worked. Books would need to be retracted. Jobs would be lost and pensions forfeited. Attendance would drop, and bills would go unpaid. If the doctrinal apple cart were disrupted, this would be the state of affairs.
I think, though, if the many serious students of Scripture were faithful, orthodoxy could be turned around. Universal reconciliation was once a very popularly held belief in the early church. We’ve been off track since at least the 5th century A.D. in terms of the doctrine of hell. But it’s not too late to recapture the truth.
Some are simply too lazy to study God’s Word in depth. They have been given their theology, either by their parents, teachers, pastors or professors ... and they will go no further. The masses will be forever satisfied with a simplified, easy to read translation of the Bible, despite the forfeiture of knowing truths God has chosen to reveal. This brings to mind 2 Timothy 4:3,
“For the era will be when they will not tolerate sound teaching, but their hearing being tickled, they will heap up for themselves teachers in accord with their own desires, and, indeed, they will be turning their hearing away from the truth, yet will be turned aside to myths.”
Many in the world today are simply too busy to study the truths God has chosen to reveal to mankind. Some may even be busy doing the work of the church; the work they believe God has called them to. Some may even hear that there are biblical arguments supporting Universalism, but they are unwilling to set aside the things that are occupying their time to investigate this most important matter. In the meantime even as the many churches reach out to “the unchurched,” God’s character is tainted by a perverted “Gospel” because we are too busy to dig deeper and find the truth.
Next: A few more reasons why the truth concerning God’s plan to save all mankind is not more widely known.