CAN WE UNITE?
BY: CHARLES SLAGLE
MARCH 26, 2006
Can Christian limitarians and Christian universalists unite? If so, how, and to what degree? If not, why not? To address these questions, I first should point out some basic differences between them. Christian limitarians are a part of the church that teach a hell of eternal torment, which I will call “ET-based Christianity” for the rest of this article. Since the late 500’s this teaching has been the majority view of Christians: All who become Christians in this lifetime go to heaven, and all who do not will spend eternity separated from God in hell. However, Christian universalists are that part of the church or body of Christ who embrace and proclaim universal reconciliation. Universal reconciliation is the teaching that all of God’s judgments are redemptive (hell-fire ones included) and that Christ’s life, death and resurrection will eventually bring salvation to all people universally that have ever lived or ever will live. This I will refer to as “UR-based Christianity” throughout the article. This view was held by the majority of Christians until the late 500’s. As will become obvious to the reader, there is a struggle between these two different movements in Christianity – a struggle that makes unity… difficult… to put it mildly.
And here is why:
Briefly, UR-based Christianity believes that Christ died for the world and will accomplish God’s purpose in seeking and saving that which was lost. ET-based Christianity (of the Arminian variety) believes that Christ died for the world, but he will largely fail to accomplish God’s purpose in sending him to seek and to save that which was lost–due to human failure. Yet, another ET-based Christianity (of the Calvinist version) believes that Christ did not die for the world, but only for an elect few in the world. Therefore He actually has come to seek and to save merely a part of that which was lost.
In recent years, in the ever-hopeful spirit of ecumenicalism, those who believe in UR-based Christianity are often chided by more tolerant evangelical Christians for their alleged “exclusivity.” However, not all ET-based Christians are tolerant of each other or innocent of exclusivity themselves, and they are even less accepting and inclusive of UR-based Christians. Nevertheless, amazingly different as they are from each other, many Calvinists and Arminians today are far more moderate than their theological ancestors, as well as many of their contemporaries. These more moderate ones can often join the same para-church movements, participate in joint ventures, and use labels that cover both groups, such as “evangelical.” And now, there is a growing pressure from these two groups for those who embrace UR-based Christianity to come under their (eternal hell-based) evangelical umbrella, to blend in, and to present an outer face of unity to the world.
How can this happen? And would the expression be honest? UR believers long to impart hope to the unbeliever in a God who will never give up on even the worst of sinners until He gets them all healed and restored. Their message is basically, “God will never give up on you, so you may as well give up running from Him. The trip can get hard – so why make it harder? Even so, whatever it takes, however stubbornly you resist him, or how dismally you may foul up, God WILL bring you around! For He loves you too much to lose you.” etc..
However, the Arminian ET-based believer longs to convey the message that God loves everyone… but… He cannot save them UNLESS they trust Him (and obey Him, and most of them insist) in this lifetime. And most of these folks also teach that people can lose their salvation and must be sure to die in obedient faith in order to “go to heaven.”
On the other hand, the Calvinist ET-Christians long to make their gospel sound like God loves everyone while yet secretly believing that He only loves a few people. (Although there are a few Calvinists who trumpet the “God loves only the elect” message. I’ve actually heard them on the radio! However-) The Calvinist’s tendency is to proclaim pie in the sky for the elect and never-ending hell for the majority of the world that God has chosen to hate. “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated.” is the standard Bible verse they use for justifying this concept. So do you have any idea of how all these gospels can be preached in a gracious spirit of cooperation and unity?
To continue –
UR-based Christians believe God’s purpose in creation is to unite all people in Christ in the fullness of the eras – that we do not choose Him, but He chooses us, each in his or her own order. And Christ did say, “You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you…” UR-based Christians also believe that all of God’s judgments are redemptive and serve His salvific purpose rather than thwart it. They are based on His love, not something opposite to His love. Thus salvation is totally a gift of God, having nothing to do with human merit (contrary to the bottom line message of Arminianism) or His supposed bias to choose some people and reject others (contrary to the bottom line message of Calvinism).
So again… how will all these radically differing Christians unite to tell the world about Christ and be upfront and honest in their presentation?
Moving on –
UR-based Christians believe God’s love is truly and literally unfailing and unconditional. The majority of ET-based (Arminian) Christians often say they believe this, yet they also insist that God’s love will fail because many people will fail to make wise and timely, obedient choices. The other group of ET-based Christians (Calvinists) proclaim the “good news” that God cannot be loving and holy at the same time, so He must show his love toward a few elect and his holiness (infinite cruelty and intolerance actually!) toward many, You know the nonsensical phrase, “God is not just love, he is also HOLY!” etc. Meaning that He is schizoid, because when He is loving, He is gracious and kind, and when He is holy, He is NOT gracious and kind. This means that to be loving is to be unholy, and to be holy is to be unloving! This irrational theological claptrap is totally unacceptable to UR-based Christians – and even to many Arminian, ET-based ones.
So again –
How will all these radically differing Christians unite to tell others in the world about Christ and be upfront and honest in their presentation? How will they worship together? Will they celebrate the UR God of unconditional love at one meeting, adore the Arminian God of conditional love on another occasion, and at another gathering rejoice in the Calvinist God who shows favoritism?
Or will they just choose to agree that it isn’t really important to know God’s true heart and purpose for His creation? What is our purpose in evangelism? Is it to proclaim Christ as the total and CERTAIN Victory of God over sin and death as UR-Christians yearn to proclaim Him? Or is it to proclaim Him as “a chance to go to heaven” as the Arminian ET-based Christians long to proclaim him? Or is it to proclaim him as a god who grandly announces that he loves “the world” but secretly shows favoritism – as Calvinist ET-based Christians would proclaim him?
Oh yes! One more thing, just to make the difference abundantly clear…
UR-based Christians believe the purpose of the church is to be “a kind of first fruits” and “firstborn priesthood” of God’s redeemed humanity. Our mission is to be as Christ was in this world, co-deliverers with Him, and God’s ambassadors, reconciling the world and not imputing sin to it, finally emptying hell (the grave – whatever!) and setting the captives free until God becomes “all in all.” We Christians are not the sum total of God’s redemptive plan for humanity. No, we are merely the beginning. We are co-laborers with Christ and co-inheritors of THE NATIONS – the world – with Him.
However, ET-based Christians basically see the church as being a priesthood merely for themselves, and that their purpose is to “make it to heaven” some day, to the everlasting exclusion of most of the human race. For narrow is the way and few “ever will” find it, and many are called and few “ever will” be chosen is the interpretation that most of them place on certain Bible verses that are often used to proof-text the hell dogma. So the ET-based Christians are trying to escape the world to go to heaven, while the UR-based Christians are seeking heaven to come to earth, based on the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, just as it is in Heaven.”
So then… once again… how do we all fit together? How do we achieve real unity?
Should UR-based Christians give up proclaiming the sure and far-reaching purpose of God in Christ as they understand it just to proclaim something like: “I don’t know for certain what you can expect from Christ in the end, but He’s good anyway, and you should worship him!”? Hmmm… Well, if this is what UR-based Christians should do, shouldn’t the same be required of the Calvinist and Arminian ET-based ones? It would seem only fair that ALL the Christians began proclaiming the “We can’t know how we can expect him to act in the end” version of Christ, if UR-based ones are required to do so.
But let’s get to the root of the matter with a question that all of us MUST face:
If we Christians, for the sake of “unity”, cannot present any bottom line perception of how God’s goodness translates into DEEDS OF ACTION – both now, and at the end of the day – do any of us really have ANY good news for anyone? Think about it. Meditate on it and pray about it. As a UR-based Christian, I’ve done this for years! And I can’t avoid concluding that if we were to present such a blurry concept of God, we would only be continuing the spread of sick, muddled, burdensome RELIGIOSITY in this desperately needy and hurting world.
The Bible teaches that all the families of earth shall be blessed in Christ, the “Seed of Abraham” – that Jesus came and lived and died and rose from the dead in order to confirm this promise of God to humanity. So… if we hide our bottom line beliefs about God’s ultimate plan for all the families of the earth, how can we present a coherent message about Him to any member of one of earth’s families now? How can we extol and proclaim His goodness with such conviction and clarity that it would inspire sincere worship in those who hear it?
And how can we advertise any benefit of pursuing intimacy with God? Won’t those we’re seeking to “evangelize” ask, “How can I have intimacy with a god that may be burning my son or mom alive for all eternity, or he may not, then again, maybe He is? On the other hand, maybe He’s just wiped them out forever! Or maybe He’ll reconcile everyone in the end!? Or maybe He doesn’t love either me or my family! He has “elected” to love someone else and hates us! Some of you Christians DO promote the idea that your god loves some and hates others. And this is good news? WHAT ARE YOU RELIGIOUS NUT CASES TALKING ABOUT? Gimme a break. Get lost! Leave me alone! I’ve got enough problems without taking your religious garbage on board!”
Well, how should we reply to this? To these genuine and intelligent heart-responses are we to tell folks (ever so gently, of course) that none of this matters? All that matters is that you be happy and grateful that God loves YOU – now. (Maybe, that is, if you’re in the elect!) Right?
To be totally frank, I don’t think that this irrational presentation of Christianity CAN be right. Yet this is what the holy (?) hodgepodge called evangelical “church”, in its most tolerant and moderate aspects, seems to be requiring these days.
So again, how do we UR-based Christians fit into this realm? How do we achieve real unity with a religious system that is based on heaven for a few winners and hell for billions of losers? And I’m talking about a system, that for the most part, is VERY embarrassed about its bottom line belief!
Oh yes. This ecclesiastical realm called Evangelicalism, for the most part nowadays, actually wants to remain silent about its “essential” hell dogma and proclaim Christ without it. I have actually heard many evangelicals complain that the serious proclaimers of eternal torment among them are “legalists” or “fire and brimstone fanatics.” Yet these complainers are unyielding in their determination to retain the ET dogma as a part of the authentic good news of Jesus Christ! Heaven have mercy! If they truly believe in a real hell where billions will spend eternity, how could they – in good conscience – want to obscure or hide it when they proclaim (their version of) the gospel?
Do we have to fit into this realm of hope-pulverizing double-mindedness that maligns the character of God – or that renders obscure and uncertain the character of God?
Maybe we don’t. I honestly don’t see how we can. My hope is that the true body of Christ is something far wider, far grander than this baffling, self-contradictory, evangelical conglomeration that we’re dealing with at present. Maybe we’re all caught in the midst of a huge tidal wave of BLESSED CHANGE that God is ushering into the world. A “birthing” of a new and glorious expression of the body of Christ is now in process, and that is why everything is so darned frustrating and confusing! Giving birth isn’t fun. It’s painful! But when the baby arrives, all the pain is forgotten. I seem to remember that a Famous Teacher once said something along those lines…
In conclusion –
Please know that I’ve shared these thoughts, not to cause more strife or division, but to highlight issues that we Christians need to pray earnestly about and seek to resolve through God’s wisdom and power. At this point, I should add also that I CAN be in unity “one to one” with an ET-based Christian – simply because our heavenly Father’s unconditional love is the basis of that unity happening. In fact, some of my dearest friends are ET-based believers. We even pray together on occasions. However, I simply have to say that I can no longer fit into the ET-based church STRUCTURE, nor can I help finance and support the spread of its muddled (mostly subliminally hinted at hell-based) message which is no gospel at all. And I definitely could not team up with ET-based Christianity if it would require that I remain silent about God’s true bottom line purpose of Universal reconciliation in Christ! Woe is me if I preach not this glorious good news of our Lord’s truly unconditional and VICTORIOUS love! I would explode into smithereens! As Saint Paul once said, “The love of Christ compels me!”
Okay. That’s enough for now, except to say thanks for taking time to hear my heart, and for your prayers.
God loves you and so do I!
CAN WE UNITE? [Charles Slagle] 3-26-06 1