Posted by: admin on Thu, Feb 7, 2013
BY Rev. Kalen Fristad
Destined For Salvation Ministries
The Basis of the Teaching of Universal Salvation
The teaching that everyone will eventually be saved is based on several factors. In the following, we will consider it from the perspectives of, the history and significance of universal salvation, what the Bible says regarding universal salvation, and implications of universal salvation versus eternal damnation.
The History and Significance of Universal Salvation
1. The history of universalism
During the time of the early church, it was widely believed by Christians that God would eventually save everyone. Pagans and heathens, as well as the Jews, however, commonly believed in unending punishment of the wicked. Some Christians retained that belief as well. Proponents of universal salvation included Clement and Origin of Alexandria, Ambrose and Jerome, among many others. The theologian Augustine (354-430 A.D.) was converted from heathenism to Christianity at age 32. Consistent with his heathen roots, he believed in the endless punishment of the unsaved. His theology soon became dominant in the church. Consequently, at the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553 A.D. the church took an official stand against the teaching of universal salvation.
The doctrine of universal salvation lay largely dormant for several centuries. Eventually it started to revive, and became quite strong again by the eighteenth century. Rev. John Wesley (the primary leader of the Methodist movement), for example, came to believe in universal salvation late in his life, which is attested to in his sermon, titled; "On the Fall of Man", that he preached on March 13, 1782. The American colonies were fertile ground for the spread of the teaching of
universalism. Under the leadership of John Murray, the Universalist Church was organized on January 1, 1779.
Nineteenth and Twentieth century theologians who promoted the teaching of salvation for everyone include; Friedrich Schleiermacher, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Karl Barth, Paul Tillich and Leslie Weatherhead.
2. The significance of this issue
The belief that God sends some people to hell to stay there forever is one reason many people turn away from God, often to become atheists. That, in turn, can adversely affect their behavior and cause them to experience hell. They know they would never punish their own children without end and they cannot relate to a God who people say does that very same thing. One of the more extreme reactions to this is for people to embrace Satanism, with the belief that Satan is more approachable than God.
Lukewarm Christianity is another consequence of the teaching of a God of eternal damnation. Many people cannot bring themselves to be very enthusiastic about serving such a God. Perhaps half of the population does not go to church at all. Many churches would be more successful in their evangelistic efforts if they stopped teaching the bad news of eternal damnation, and instead, consistently presented the good news of salvation for all.
We all want the world to be a better place, but we are hindered in our efforts to make that a reality by teaching that God imposes or enforces endless punishment in hell. The perception of a cruel God produces cruel Christians. If we believe that God is sometimes vengeful, unforgiving, condemning and uncaring, it’s easy for us to justify exhibiting at times those same characteristics ourselves. On the other hand, if we really believe that God never condones ungodly behavior and are convinced that God is consistently loving, kind and forgiving, we are more likely to always act that way ourselves. In believing that ultimately God will take everyone to heaven, we will feel inclined to relate to everyone else as redeemed children of God, people who are to be respected, considered precious, and treated as ones brothers and sisters. With that attitude, our love can extend even to our enemies.
What the Bible Says Regarding Universal Salvation
1. Scripture that raises questions about universal salvation
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 Parable of the weeds in the wheat.
Matthew 25:1-13 Parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids
Matthew 25:31-46 Parable of the great judgment
Luke 16:19-31 Parable of the rich man and Lazarus
While the Bible sometimes makes reference to the fires of hell, it is important to realize that the earliest understanding is that the fire was for purification rather than punishment.
These passages teach of hell following death, but none indicate it is without end. The Greek word, aionios, which is translated "eternal" (in reference to the length of suffering in hell) does not mean without end but means age lasting or indefinite but limited duration. If the writers of the New Testament had intended to communicate that suffering in hell would be without end, they could have used the Greek word aidios, which means perpetual, but they didn’t. Instead, they chose aionios and by virtue of its definition we can conclude that suffering in hell will eventually come to an end.
2. Scripture that supports universal salvation
Psalms 139:8 God is with people everywhere, even in Sheol (the abode of the dead or hell).
Luke 15:3-6 Parable of the lost sheep. The shepherd (who represents God) kept looking until he found the last lost sheep.
John 12:32 "I, when I am lifted up…will draw all people to myself."
John 12:46-47 "I came not to judge the world, but to save the world."
Romans 5:18 "Therefore just as one man’s (Adam’s) trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s (Christ's) act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all."
Romans 8:38-39 Nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God.
1 Corinthians 15:22 "For as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ."
1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6 Christ preached the gospel to people in hell, to convert them.
Colossians 1:19-20 "God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things"
1 Timothy 2:4-6 God "desires everyone to be saved….Christ Jesus…gave himself a ransom for all."
1 John 2:1-2 "Jesus Christ…is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world."
3. Jesus’ Lack of Urgency
Jesus didn’t exhibit any urgency to get people saved before they died. He displayed unhurried patience as if he had all of time to accomplish his mission. That is reflected in 2 Peter 3:8-9; "But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance."
4. Regarding the prospect of Christ reaching out to people in hell to save them
It seems highly questionable that Christ would be content to spend all of his time in heaven with proper folks while ignoring those who suffer in hell. When Christ lived among us, he was so accepting of outcasts and sinners that it was scandalous to the proper religious folks of his day. In light of how he lived, and what his priorities were when he walked among us, it is logical to conclude that Christ would not spend all of his time exclusively with people enjoying heaven. Since "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), it makes sense to believe that Christ’s preaching to people in hell was not just a one time event, but that he will continue to reach out to them as long as people suffer there. After all, it is the people in hell who are most in need of Christ’s transforming love and grace.
Implications of Universal Salvation versus Eternal Damnation
1. God is more gracious and merciful than humans
While many people contend that God sends some people to hell and leaves them there forever, they would not do so themselves. No mentally healthy parent would punish his or her own children without end. Anyone who would do such a thing would be judged either criminal or insane, so how can we believe God would commit such an offence?
2. What is God like?
God is not a tribal or family deity or the Wizard of Oz, but is Spirit, the ground of our being and is unconditionally loving. Love makes it possible to convert and transform everyone. Anything, such as the teaching of a God of eternal damnation, which diminishes God’s love, has to be wrong. If we, like God, are truly loving, we will not be content until the last precious soul has entered heaven.
3. Trying to get God off the hook.
Those who believe in eternal damnation but are not willing to concede that God is an unreasonable judge often seek to find ways to get God off the hook. Some even go to the extreme of maintaining that endless hell is a manifestation of God’s love. Perhaps the most well known attempt to do this was by Dante in The Inferno.
4. Salvation for the worst of sinners without violating their free will
We all have free will and exercise it every day. But we do not have total freedom when it comes to the issue of where we will spend eternity. If people were able to resist salvation forever that would mean they are more power than God, who wills that everyone be saved (1 Timothy 2:4). A loving God could never have created a world in which we, through our free will, would have the capacity to damn ourselves for eternity. If that were true, it would make God either a weak God
of unlimited love but limited power, or a cruel God of unlimited power but limited love. The teaching of universal salvation makes it possible to believe that God is both all loving and all powerful.
Those of us who are already people of faith were converted without our free will being violated. While honoring our freedom, God will guide everyone into union with God.
5. Many lack opportunities to be saved before they die.
Would God be so unreasonable as to deny them opportunities for salvation beyond death?
6. Heaven and Hell – Spiritual States of Being
The environment of hell is not necessarily different from that of heaven, but what one does within it is what makes it heaven or hell. While you cannot leave hell as if you were going from one geographical location to another, you can get out of hell in another sense. You can be delivered from hell by allowing God to change what is within you, to turn you around so that
your existence will be characterized not by hatred but love; not by selfishness but selflessness; not by greed but generosity; not by revenge but forgiveness; not by anger but compassion; not by feuding but peace; and not by power struggles but submitting to God’s power.
7. Grace without end
If we insist that people must respond favorably to the gospel before they die in order to be saved, we have erroneously concluded that the grave is the end point of God’s grace.
8. The purpose of punishment
The purpose of punishment or suffering according to the Bible is to make a wrong-doer into a right-doer. If hell is endured without end with no chance of embracing good, repenting and attempting a new beginning, it would be a travesty.
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