I love seeing these books in Christian bookshops that have titles like ‘Issues confronting modern Christians – tackled head on.’ Or ‘Topics most Christians are afraid to face.’
I pick them up eagerly expecting to read something radical in them. But a quick look inside usually reveals yet another look at homosexuality, or sex before marriage, or how modern morality is going downhill.
Instead I want to introduce the topic you can’t discuss freely in your house group or church. One that I have never found in one of these ‘radical books.’ Most times I bring this subject up, I encounter either anger, or that odd look telling me they don’t know what to say, but will certainly warn others, or at best, sympathy for me. But no more discussion. Generally I find evasion. Evasion of any willingness to even look at it, or talk about it.
So I am intrigued. In fact I enjoy the topic, and would love people to talk it through with me. But it doesn’t happen. Much of my interest is of course, based around the fact I find so few who will go through it with me, I confess that. This alone tells me there has to be something in it. It is an elephant standing in the room.
By now you’ve waited long enough for the topic to be introduced. However I had to do all the preamble. If I introduced it up front, you might have stopped reading.
And written me off.
I even wrote that line deliberately. ‘And written me off.’ I don’t mind being written off actually. You see, the topic is not my idea. No, indeed. I only got interested in it by chance. I stumbled on it, and would have dismissed it immediately had I not seen the impressive number of theologians and others through the centuries who stand behind it. So, doesn’t bother me if you write me off. But remember you are also dismissing the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Jefferson, William Barclay, Karl Barth, Thomas Paine, Robert Burns, Samuel Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Milton, Alexander Graham Bell, Florence Nightingale, Isaac Newton, and Jacques Ellul, to name but a few. There are also oodles of web sites devoted to it.
Okay, enough, here is the topic. Purposefully buried in the middle of this paragraph in case you had skimmed. It is universal salvation. When Christians first hear this phrase, warning lights go on, as they now have with you. Let’s do the definition first. Universal salvation does not claim all religions lead to God. Not on your Nelly. That is a belief called Universalism. It sounds the same, but is vastly different. Universal salvation claims that each and every person ever to live, will be saved by the love of God displayed through Jesus Christ. In other words that Jesus Christ will ultimately save every single human being.
Let’s get pedantic now and really turn you off. Universal salvation obviously claims that no human beings end up in hell. First thing we are going to look at it are some Bible passages by the way. Just a few. I have highlighted words such as every and all.
- Isaiah 45:22-23 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.
- John 12:32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
- Romans 5:18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
- 1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
- 1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.
- 1 Timothy 4:10 (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
Takes a long time to see those words, all and every. It might take you decades, because nobody preaches them. But they are there. They are scattered throughout the Bible in reference to the saving grace of Jesus. Go check for yourself.
To get back to my original point, I am merely saying you wont be able to discuss this issue. An indepth look at it will be too difficult for your Pastor or home group to handle.
Now there are some other factors to consider while we are here. Ramifications. If you think people are heading towards hell, then there are some awful particulars you have to live with. Let us say you are thinking of telling your neighbour about the saving power of Jesus, and you arrange to see him on Saturday. But, come Saturday, turns out your son gets a place in the top football team, and you go to watch him play instead. Meanwhile your neighbour gets hit by a bus, and dies. Goes to hell forever. You have to live with the knowledge you could have told him, you might have got through to him, but you let that opportunity slip for a reasonably good excuse. Your neighbour is now going to spend one hundred years roasting in hell, no, one thousand years roasting in hell, no, one million… no, forever, in eternal pain and torment because of your decision that Saturday.
Furthermore, you are going to have to answer to God for not speaking to the neighbour that Saturday, on the feeble defense of watching your son play football. You traded a football match for your neighbours’ eternity in hell. And you think you are going to enjoy Heaven, with that trip hanging on your shoulder. Just remember, if you take Jesus’ parable of Lazarus literally, while you are sitting in Heaven, you can actually see Hell, and the torment the residents are enduring. You will see your neighbour there. You will be daily reminded of your wrong decision.
The ramifications of holding a consistent belief in condemnation to the flames are awesome. Think them through. There is no way you could live with these details. Think of someone you witnessed to badly, and turned them off. And it really was your fault. You blundered in, and messed up. So they die and go to hell because of your fault, your inadequacy in presenting the gospel.
Often people offer this argument, “if everybody is saved by the grace of God, then why become a believer? What is the point?”
This is exactly the issue Paul had to write about in Romans chapter six. In the previous chapter, Romans chapter five, Paul waxes eloquent about all men being saved. Spends a lot of time towards the close of the fifth chapter talking about how one mans sin introduced death, the act of dying, for all men. Then goes on to say how God’s free gift brings life to all men. Evangelical protestants tend to split the ‘all’s’. On one hand they agree with the ‘all’ of dying. All means everyone there. But on the other hand they say Paul doesn’t mean all men receive life – oh no, he means just those that acknowledge Jesus in this life. The second ‘all’ doesn’t mean all.
Well, Paul expects his readers to ask that question above, i.e. ‘what is the point of becoming a believer?’ and he starts chapter six with the very words “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?” Then he proceeds to answer that question. But again I won’t here. Read it yourself.
If you are a new believer, you might not have encountered the threat of hell that much. It is not Religiously Correct (RC) to talk about it today. Today’s Pastors go for evasion. They say, ‘oh that’s God’s business’. Or, ‘I don’t preach hell’. They soft pedal it. But if you push one hard enough, he will tell you yes, non-believers are going to hell.
There are further reasons why the Pastors can’t drop the threat. Having hell there is a great for social control, for keeping the churchgoers in fear, keeping them nice and moral, lest awful things happen to them. It is the backdrop to so much preaching about Christian living, but just sugar coated these days. We hear so much about keeping our spiritual lives clean, of holiness in case God deserts us. Hell doesn’t get mentioned, but it is there behind the scenes.
Us Christians, we even turn it into the message of good news. The other day I saw a guy on a roundabout with a printed jerkin on. Preaching and haranguing the passing traffic. The front of his shirt read ‘Hell is for real.’ And the back something like ‘Turn and repent.’
I sat in my car awhile watching him, reflecting how this was how our church society presents the message of Good News. Good grief. I told someone else about it. They commiserated with me, but had to stick to the fact that ultimately, the haranguer was telling the correct message.
Time for a quote. Here is a goodie, this time from a Reverent.
“The single most important cause for the Western World’s great defection from Christ has been the church’s teaching of a literal hell. For if we examine the last three centuries of Western history, we can see very clearly how the central atheistic figures of this period were turned away from Christianity basically because of the teaching of hell. And by now we can also see far more clearly the nihilistic and catastrophic results of this atheism. For example, from people like Nietzsche and Wagner we have seen the fruits of Hitler and the entire Nazi period. And what was the teaching of Christianity that turned Protestant Nietzsche and Catholic Wagner against Christianity? A literal hell.From people like Feuerbach, Marx, and Lenin, we have seen the fruits of people like Stalin and Mao and the misery of Communism throughout the world. And what was the “Christian” teaching which more than any other caused Feuerbach, Marx and Lenin to see Christianity as an “opiate”? The fact that Christians preoccupied with getting to heaven and avoiding hell were willing to turn their backs on the body politic and let it go to here-and-now hell–the only real hell there is. And why did Freud debunk religion in general and Christianity in particular as “illusion”? Again, it’s a matter of historical record. Freud had a Christian governess who terrified him with threats of hellfire when he was barely old enough to talk. Therefore Freud couldn’t wait to fashion an interpretation of human life that would completely eliminate the need for religion and its terrifying denials of the human body.”
Rev Robert Short, U.S. Catholic published by Claretian Publications
Here is one final thing to bring up in the discussion. It is that Christians don’t want to believe universal salvation. Non-Christians will readily consider it. Now you will say that is because non-Christians have an agenda, to avoid a confrontation with Jesus. You might also be right in many circumstances. If there is an agenda on one side however, there may also be one on the other. Christians might not want God to forgive everyone because it means their religious activities were done in vain. There was no need to engage in those boring church renovation works, sing endless songs, print off church newsletters and vacuum the vestry.
I would have expected believers, who claim they want to love more, to leap at the possibility that our God of love was actually gathering in every living human being to himself. At the very least I would have expected they would investigate the option. But they won’t even look, won’t even examine the scriptures in the main.
Now I don’t expect for a minute this article will persuade anyone in Christendom to change their views on this topic. The ramifications of seeing the Good News of Jesus as simply that, simply a message of life for all men, of life at some stage, of the overpowering encountering of the majestic and irresistible love of God either now or at some future time, are too broad. It challenges too much that Christians have learned. It is far easier to retreat in Churchdom, into the fold of the blessed, the saved, and to hold the fort until Jesus comes again.
But please don’t tell me the Bible teaches non-Christians go to hell.
No, I’ve changed my mind. Tell me, face to face, with a Bible between us, and some time to discuss it.