Questions From an Inquirer about
Christian Universalism


Date: Tue, 21 Sep 1999 16:08:49 -0700
From: ???
To: allenkc@mail.auburn.edu
Subject: election/universalism?????

Hello, my name is ??? and I am a pastor in Michigan. I was preparing a sermon on Romans 9:19-29 and I came across the "True Grace Ministries". I noticed the many articles and information on universalism. I read a few and became confused and wondered if you might help me understand the universalist biblical mindset.

  1. I was wondering what Scripture you believe teaches this.
  2. How this view is reconciled with Romans 9-11 and many other passages like it. (Romans 1:18 - 2:16)
  3. What is the purpose of hell.
  4. How does one define a Christian?
  5. Will there be any judgment at all? and if so for whom?
  6. I was at at funeral for a great uncle who by all outward evidence was not a disciple/follower of Christ, but the preacher (a universalist) convinced all who were there of there assurance of heaven.

  7. Then what is evangelism? And why do it?


I ask these questions, not to be sarcastic, but too try to understand the mindset and biblical rational for such a belief.

Sincerely,

???


The Response by Rev. Ken Allen, D.D.


Thank you for your message and your interest in "Christian Universalism". I have here used the words "Christian Universalism" to distinguish it from other types of universalism, such as "pluralistic universalism", etc. Christian Universalism is what I will be speaking of when I use the words "Universalism", "Universalist", etc. in this message.

First, some definitions:

Universalism: The doctrine of the ultimate holiness and happiness of all mankind, whether punishment is believed to be confined to this life or continues after death. This is the basic doctrine of Universalism regardless of other doctrines that may be believed by the Universalist.

Universal Salvation: This phrase is synonymous with universal holiness, universal obedience to God, for it means universal deliverance from sin. Salvation is not from "hell" nor from deserved punishment, but from sin (Matt. 1:21). Any man or woman who believes that God will at some time in the future succeed in eradicating sin and rendering all souls holy and happy, is a Universalist, whatever else is believed or disbelieved.

Christian: Briefly, my definition is a person who believes and personally accepts that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. He came in the flesh, died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures." (see Matt. 16:16; 1John 4:3; 1 Cor. 15:1-4).

(Other definitions will be given as I proceed)

Next, doctrines (other than the basic doctrine defined under "Universalism" above) held by various universalists, as individuals or as a group, are as varied as they are in any other part of Christendom. There are preterists, futurists, premillenialists, amillenialists, postmillenialists, etc. There are believers in future punishment and those that believe all punishment occurs in this lifetime or immediately at death... and on, and on, so any explanations I give will not necessarily apply to the beliefs of all Universalists. (see also the article "Different Views Among Universalists", http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/difviews.html )

Universalists believe in the certainty of punishment for sin, but that the purpose of punishment is corrective. All punishment is remedial and consequently limited. It will last only as long, and only be as severe, as it takes to accomplish its corrective purpose, which is to bring all mankind to a state of holiness and happiness in obedience to God.

Now, for some Scriptures and comments:

"Stedfast [is] the word, and of all acceptation worthy; for for this we both labour and are reproached, because we hope on the living God, who is Saviour of all men -- especially of those believing. Charge these things, and teach" [1 Tim. 4:9-10, Young's Literal Translation (YLT)].
The comments on this passage below are from the article "Will God Save All or Only Some" :
Think of it -- the living God IS THE SAVIOR OF ALL MEN! Not the "preserver" of all, as some would have us believe. The Greek work used here is SOTER. It occurs twenty-four times in the New Testament and is correctly translated "Savior" every time.

See Luke 1:47; 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Eph. 5:23; Phil. 3:20; 1 Tim 1:1; 2:3; 4:10; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:3, 4; 2:10, 13; 3:4, 6; 2 Pet. 1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18; 1 John 4:14; Jude 25.

Nor does the text say, God is the "provider" of salvation for all. This would not make Him the Savior of all. He is only the Savior of those He actually saves. In order to be the Savior of all, He will save all. THE LIVING GOD IS THE SAVIOR OF ALL MEN . Such a fact should fill the hardest heart with joy and cause continual thanksgiving to God for His power, wisdom, love, grace and righteousness.

Knowing how difficult it would be for man to believe this plain statement, God offers man encouragement by assuring him that it is a FAITHFUL SAYING, and WORTHY OF ALL ACCEPTATION. It is faithful to God, faithful to His Son, faithful to His Work, and fai thful to the desire of all who have had the love of God poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is hard to
understand why so many should condemn it as unfaithful and worthy of all rejection, when God has so plainly declared it to be a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.

Man's need for salvation is desperate. He is sinful, dying and helpless to save himself (Rom. 1:18-3:25). To save man and make out of him a creature unto His own praise will indeed glorify God and His son, Jesus Christ.

HOW WILL GOD SAVE ALL MANKIND?


Both the means and the manner whereby this Salvation is accomplished are clearly revealed in the Scriptures. "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man CHRIST JESUS; WHO GAVE HIMSELF A RANSOM FOR ALL, to be testified in due time" (1 Tim. 2:3-6). "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other
name under heaven given among men, whereby we MUST be saved" (Acts 4:12).

There is no salvation for anyone at any time except through Jesus Christ and His saving work. It is only through His death, burial, and resurrection life that all will be saved. There will be no failure here. He was manifested to put away sin and to destroy the works of the Devil (Heb. 9:26; 1 John 3:8). He will not stop until He has accomplished these ends.

In the light of the facts set forth in the Scriptures, how foolish the statement that if all are to be saved Jesus Christ need never have died. If He had not died for the sins of the world, no one could be saved. But since He has died and now lives again ALL WILL BE SAVED.

Below are a few additional Scriptures related to Universalism. These are summary comments from the article "The Grandest Truth in the Scriptures":
Salvation of All

"For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all" (Romans 11:32).

"[God] Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4).

"We trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe" (1 Timothy 4:10).

Justification of All

"Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life" (Romans 5:18).

Vivification (making alive) of All

"For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:22).

Reconciliation of All

"And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven" (Colossians 1:20).

Harold Lovelace has gathered and researched a tremendous list of scripture references that expound on the truth of the Reconciliation of All Things. This compiled list, including the Key Words in each scripture verse, can be found at: http://www.aotip.com/lovelace/ll001.htm .

When you ask about the word "Hell" and its purpose, I should ask "which hell are you asking about, Sheol, Hades, Tartarus, or Gehenna?" "Or, are you asking about the "second death", or "the lake of fire" found in the book of Revelation?" These are some of the words commonly referred to as "Hell". While some of these do have the same meaning, when interpreted correctly as to their original meaning, not all of them refer to the same thing as is commonly supposed.

The word Hell, in the Old Testament, is always a translation (in the KJV) of the Hebrew word Sheol, which occurs sixty-four times, and is rendered "hell" thirty-two times, "grave" twenty-nine times, and "pit" three times.

1. By examination of the Hebrew Scriptures it will be found that its radical or primary meaning is, The place or state of the dead.

2. But there is also a figurative sense to the word sheol, which is frequently met with in the later Scriptures of the Old Testament. Used in this sense, it represents a state of degradation or calamity, arising from any cause, whether misfortune, sin, or the judgment of God.

The word sheol, "hell," In the Old Testament, the word sheol, "hell," has no reference whatever to the doctrine of future endless punishment. It signifies simply the state of the dead, the invisible world, without regard to their goodness or badness, their happiness or misery. The Old Testament doctrine of hell, therefore, is not the doctrine of endless punishment. It is not revealed in the Law of Moses. It is not revealed in the Old Testament.

Hades, is the Greek word used in the New Testament that is equivalent to the Hebrew word, sheol, used in the Old Testament. In the KJV it occurs eleven times and is rendered "grave" once, and "hell" ten times. In the New Testament, hades is used for the grave, or the state of the dead, the same as sheol is used in the Old Testament. I never denotes endless punishment.

Gehenna: This word occurs twelve times in the New Testament, and is always translated "hell" in the KJV. More reliance is placed on this word than on all others, to prove that "hell" is a place of endless torment.

Gehenna was originally a Hebrew word, which signifies valley of Hinnom. Here the Jews placed that brazen image of Moloch. It is said, on the authority of the ancient Rabbins, that to this image the idolatrous Jews were wont not only to sacrifice doves, pigeons, lambs, &c., but even to offer their own children. In the prophecies of Jeremiah 7:31, this valley is called Tophet, from Toph, a drum; because they beat a drum during these horrible rites, lest the cries and shrieks of the infants who were burned should be heard by the assembly. At length these nefarious practices were abolished by Josiah, and the Jews brought back to the pure worship of God. 2 Kings xxiiI After this they held the place in such abomination that they cast into it all kinds of filth, and the carcasses of beasts, and the unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed. Continual fires were necessary in order to consume these, lest the putrefaction should infect the air; and there were always worms feeding on the remaining relics. Hence it came, that any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of death, was described by the word Gehenna, or hell.

The word Gehenna, or hell, then, in the New Testament is used as a symbol of anything that was foul and repulsive; but especially as a figure of dreadful and destructive judgments. It does not denote endless punishment.

Tartarus: This word occurs only once, and then in a participial form, in 2 Peter 2:4, and the writer employs a fable to illustrate his theme. In the apocryphal book Enoch there is a long account of fallen angels, and Peter alludes to the story just as writers often do now, not to endorse the statements of the book, but to illustrate the subject of his epistle. So writers now refer to Aesop or a classic story to illustrate a truth.

The three words translated "hell" in the New Testament aught to stand as the names of real or imaginary localities, -- Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus. Had they done so, no reader would think of giving to them the meaning so long ascribed to the word hell, but would understand them as meaning the grave, or state of the dead, the vale of Hinnom, or the heathen's imaginary prison-house in the future world, or the consequences of sin, or sorrow, or calamity in this life.

The Universalist regards hell as signifying the consequesnces of sin, severe but salutary, to endure as long as sin endures, but to end with the reformation of the sinner.

For additional explanations, see the article "The Biblical Doctrine of Hell" written by Thomas B. Thayer in 1855.

Concerning you question about "evangelism", and why do it, the following article first published in "The Herald of Salvation", Saturday, December 18, 1824, will help answer that question:

What Good Will It Do To Preach Universal Salvation?


Mr. Editor, Sir -- I have frequently been asked the following question:

"What good will it do to preach the doctrine of Universal Salvation, if it be true? or why do you go to
meeting, or read your bible, or trouble yourself at all about religion, if all are finally going to
heaven?" &c.

To Calvinists [predestinarians] who ask this question, there is perhaps no better method of answering it than that
which our Savior adopted, when the Pharisees and Sadducees of old propounded certain questions to him, which
they supposed were very intricate and difficult of solution. An as that method has been, and still is considered fair and proper, I shall adopt it, and in turn state to them a question, which if answered, will also answer the one which they have proposed to me.

If "by the decree of God some men are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death," and "if these men, thus predestinated and fore-ordained, are PARTICULARLY and UNCHANGEABLY DESIGNED, and THEIR NUMBER IS SO CERTAIN AND DEFINITE that it CANNOT BE EITHER INCREASED OR DIMINISHED" -- and "if before the foundation of the world was laid, God hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, those of mankind that are predestinated unto everlasting life WITHOUT ANY FORE-SIGHT OF FAITH or GOOD WORKS, or PERSEVERANCE in EITHER OF THEM," (see Presbyterian Confession of Faith, Chap. 3, section 4 and 5) then I ask, what good will it do to preach, or go to meeting, or read your bible, &c.? And why, I ask, do you call with frantic zeal on all mankind, to REPENT and exercise FAITH in the Lord Jesus, and PERSEVERE in GOOD WORKS? Why wish to add to that number which you say cannot be increased or diminished? And why wish to lesson that number which Jehovah has ordained to everlasting death before the world began? "And they answered and said, we cannot tell" (Matt. 21:27).

Our Methodist [arminian, free will] brethren are also craftily inquisitive upon the same subject, and as frequently ask the same question. They abhor the predestinarian doctrine, as an impeachment of the character of an impartial God; and yet, the corner stone of their doctrine is an incongruous union of antipodal words, which, when two united, destroy the true and only meaning of both, and are incapable of any definition at all! The term is, "FREE AGENCY;" and our FREE AGENCY brethren must be satisfied in returning their question in the same way. From whom did man receive this FREE AGENCY? You answer, from God. For what purpose? Your answer is, that by a proper use of it he might choose life and be saved, or by an improper use of it, he might choose death and be damned. Does God know, or "FOREKNOW" all things? Yes. Then God knew, or foreknew, that some of mankind would make a proper use of "free agency," and be saved? Yes. And he gave it to such for that purpose? Yes. And God knew, or FORE-KNEW," that some of mankind would make an improper use of "free agency" and be damned? Yes. And he gave it to such for that purpose? ---- Here, brethren, you must go "away sorrowful," and like your predestinarian brethren, say, "we cannot tell."

But further: Will there be any more saved by "free-agency" or by the merits of Christ, than God from all eternity knew would be? Your answer is, no. Then why pray for more -- or for all men? Or, will there be any more lost than God knew would be? No. Then why strive by tears and sighs and prayers to rescue poor souls from the yawning pit which God "foreknew" would CERTAINLY receive them? Your answer to this, shall be mine to you, brethren. But to those who honestly make such an inquiry, a frank and candid answer ought to be given, for there are those to whom the truth as it is in Jesus has not been revealed, and who, unhappily, have received for doctrine the commandments of men.

The benefits resulting to community in this part of the country from preaching and declaring the whole counsel of God and his unlimited grace, have been great indeed.

The first to be noticed is the great success which the truth -- the gospel of our salvation, has obtained in this place, through the grace of Him who bringeth salvation to all men. But a few years have passed away since the doctrine of impartial grace was first publicly taught in this village and its vicinity; or since that gospel was preached which was announced to the shepherds on the plains of Judea. Till then, this country presented a theater for the display of talents which had been acquired in the schools and theological seminaries of those who, with feigned words, have too long made merchandise of their deluded votaries. Now the chains of clerical imposition and bigotry are sundered, and there are thousands in this part of the heritage, rejoicing in that faith which was once delivered to the saints.

Another important good resulting from the dissemination of truth, is, the loss or partial destruction of that awe-imposing influence by which false teachers have trammeled and circumscribed the intellect of man. We now behold a very large portion of community fearlessly taking the bible, the word of life, in hand, and with an assiduity equaled only by their former neglect of it, examining and searching for themselves, unaided by clerical exposition, and not silenced by pulpit declamation, to see if these "things are so." Consequent to this, is the general attention which is now paid to the great subject of religion, particularly by the youth, or rising generation. A great potion of that time which before was spent in folly, if not in vice, is now devoted to a perusal of the sacred word, and with much pleasure may we anticipate the happy fruits of such a change.

But the greatest benefit perhaps of all, is, the effect which a firm and steady promulgation of unlimited grace has produced on the conduct of Clergymen and ruling Elders, in their treatment of those who preferred rather to be cast out of the synagogue than to deny that "Jesus is the Christ -- the Son of God -- the Savior of the world" -- of all men. A few years since, to acknowledge as much as this, would have subjected a person, not only to the most opprobrious epithets, but to a public trial without the privilege of defense, before a self-created tribunal, sanctioned by neither the laws of God nor man, and finally, to an excommunication, rendered as poignant and vindicative as the arcana of anathemas could possibly make it. But now, how changed the scene -- how different the treatment! Here we now behold a spirit of tolerance and forbearance unparalleled in church history, in modern times at least. Here we no longer see the Church guillotine raised to sever from the body one of its members who has offended by believing too much -- for believing that "the man Christ Jesus gave himself a ransom for ALL to be testified in due time." Here now, are permitted to come around the table of our Lord, those who openly avow their belief in the final restoration of all men, and thee, like children of one common parent, testify their grateful remembrance of the last supper and sufferings of him "who tasted death for every man."

It is worthy of remark, too, that here now, the once despised and persecuted Methodists are not rejected and denied the privilege of communion, but are permitted, and even invited, to mingle their joys in partaking of that rich feast which is made for ALL people.

This demolition of partition walls, this conciliating spirit and Christian temper, is "the Lord's doings, and it is marvelous in our eyes."

These, then, being some of the happy fruits which have resulted from preaching and teaching the goodness of God in the final salvation of all men, how ought our hearts to glow with gratitude to the Author of such events! In this view of the subject, we have every inducement to persevere in the way of well doing, preaching the Gospel to every creature, "and lo! says the Savior, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world."

Also, concerning this question about evangelism, and why do it, is "The Bible Doctrine of Election" from the article published in "The Universalist Herald", December 23, 1859.
That the Scriptures teach the doctrine of "election" we do most fervently believe. But that this implies endless "reprobation," as taught by those of the Calvinian church, we do most solomnly deny. In our view, Paul's Epistles are most shockingly mutilated, every time they are summoned to testify in behalf of Calvinism proper.

But we shall be told, that we do read of the "elect" of some who were "chosen before the foundation of the world," of being "ordained," "predestined," etc. This is all so; but when we are told that this "election" implies the endless ruin of some, we discard the thought as blasphemous, and call for proof.

The plain truth is this: God elects people (not to curse others, but) to benefit and bless the whole world! -- Christ was "elected" (for what purpose?) to be "the Savior of the world." John 4:42. The Apostles were chosen and elected to preach the gospel to all mankind, to the end that all might be blessed.

To use a well known simile, the Bible doctrine of "election" may be compared to the election of the Governor of any state, or, the President of the United States. They, it is true, are "elected" from among the people, but the object steadily kept in view , is the good of the whole. This, in our opinion, is the only just and impartial view of "election" as spoken of in the Scriptures.

As a summary of your questions, I would like to quote another article from "The Universalist Herald" that was published February 15, 1891.

Some Questions Answered About Universalism
What is Universalism?
The belief that every soul will obey God sometime, somewhere.

Suppose the soul says, as thousands do, "I will not obey!"
God will punish it until it comes to itself and says: "I will obey!"

Suppose the sinner dies and goes to hell in that condition (i.e. saying, "I will not obey!").
He does not have to die in order to go to hell, because every soul that says that, is in hell already. But death makes no difference with the necessity laid upon him to repent. God wants him and he cannot go to any place where God is not. He must obey.

But is not man free?
No, only in a limited sense. Man is under law which he cannot evade and a necessity to obey which he cannot escape.

Has man no freedom?
Yes, he can choose how much he will force God to punish him before he will yeild and obey.

May he not exhaust God's resources and wear out His patience?
No, it is impossible.

In view of this, what is the only sane thing for man to do?
Turn at once obedient. Since he must obey sometime, why postpone it? Every hour it is put off means an hour of loss and pain not only for the sinner but for the whole race of man, since while one is wretched, all must be. Every step into sin is a step which must be painfully retraced.

Does not this doctrine encourage laxness?
No, it brings men face to face with the irresistible God and shows them that the fight against Him is the fool's fight.

What is the effect of this on the true believer?
Seeing the folly, pain, and uselessness of disobedience, he begins at once a sincere effort to learn and obey God's will himself and then uses every possible means to turn his fellow men to obedience.

Does not this doctrine cut the nerve of missionary enterprise?
No, it is itself the nerve and sinew of all true missionary enterprise.

What of those who sometimes take our name but do none of these things?
They are not Universalists. They are only anti-orthodox or some other negative people.

I hope I have answered, to some extent, the questions you asked. If you have further questions, or need additional info, please let me know.

In Christ,
Brother Ken