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TEXT: Luke 13:22-30
SUBJECT: Doctrine of Hell #4: Universalism
Today we return to our painful study of the Doctrine of Hell. I call it 'painful' because every decent person is horrified by the prospect that some people go to Hell when they die-and not one of them ever gets out! The accusation that Christians who believe in Hell somehow get a 'kick' out people going there is a false accusation! I cannot imagine any Christian feeling this way, and if one does, I can only wonder if you're a Christian at all!
No one believed in Hell more firmly than our Lord Jesus Christ, and He wept over the prospect of people ending up there-and not only wept-but provided a Way Out for anyone and everyone who would take it! We can fully talk about, but we cannot feel the Majesty of what Christ has done for us in-
Delivering us from so great a death.
Up to now, we have looked with some care at the Witness of the Bible to the Doctrine of Hell. The teachings of the Old Testament (which we found somewhat hazy), of the Epistles (which are much clearer), and, especially, of Christ, who brought it into sharp focus. We must never forget, therefore, that the most Hellfire-and-Brimstone Preacher is not the Red-Faced, Bible-Thumping, Screaming Baptist Evangelist, but.our Lord, Jesus.
This is how I understand the Bible, in any event, and the way it has mostly been read in the Church from the start. But not every professed Christian agrees. From, at least the days of Origen (d.253), some Christians-including some very learned ones-have read it differently. They don't believe in Hell, at least not in the Traditional sense of the word. These theologians and laymen are divided into two categories: Universalists and Annihilationists. The former have been the smaller and less influential group, but they deserve a fair hearing-and, I hope-a firm refutation. Let's get to it: Universalism.
WHAT IS UNIVERSALISM?
Universalism is the belief that everyone goes to Heaven. Most Universalists limit the 'everyone' to humans, but the aforementioned Origen went so far as to include the devil among the Blessed! Well, never mind that!
Universalism is the official Creed of one small denomination, conveniently named The Unitarian Universalist Church. But they're nothing of any real significance. What is significant is that a very big swath of Protestantism worldwide believes the same thing, though not 'officially'. This is true of the historically sound churches: Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodists, and others. Ironically, Jonathan Edwards' church in Northampton, Massachusetts, accepts Universalism! (And, he's the man who preached the most famous sermon ever preached on these shores).
These Churches are theologically Liberal. Their disbelief in Hell is part and parcel of their disbelief in Scripture, in the Divinity of Christ, in miracles, and so on.
This troubles me, of course, but what bothers me much more is the fact that many who call themselves 'Evangelical' have also gone Universalist or are leaning that way. On the scholarly side, there's Clark Pinnock writing to hundreds of thinkers and on the popular side, we have Rob Bell whose book, Love Wins, is a best-seller (and now he's got a TV program!).
If the number of Univeralists is small, their influence is big. A handful are joining them in theory, many more are joining them in practice, by not exactly saying 'Everyone goes to Heaven', but by implying it, and by never saying, 'Some people go to Hell!'.
Universalism, therefore, presents a serious challenge to the Traditional and Biblical Doctrine of Hell. And here, let me distinguish it from Annihilationism (which we'll get to next time), by saying that, while both are grave mistakes, Universalism is Heresy! Accepting it-I believe-overthrows the Christian Faith.
WHY DO PROFESSED CHRISTIANS BELIEVE IN UNIVERALISM?
If Christians supposedly 'believe the Bible' (on some level), why do some of them believe in Universalism? I suppose they have a lot of reasons, but I think they can more-or-less be grouped into three sets: Emotional, Theological, and Biblical.
The Emotional Reason is easy to explain: Hell is a horror beyond all imagining, and so we'd rather believe there's no such thing.
Are the Universalists right about this? In part, they are: Hell is horrible and it tears me up to think that people are going there, some of whom I love. And so, they, we, I recoil from the terrible doctrine of Hell.
The Theological Reason goes a bit deeper. Hell appears inconsistent with the Character of God. God is love-the Bible says-He wills all to be saved and never once has He taken pleasure in the death of the sinner! Now, a cruel and spiteful god might well dig a Bottomless Pit for his enemies, but.the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? No.
Is there any truth is this view of God? Sure there is. All of the Bible verses I just quoted are in the Bible! God is this way! No one cam plumb the depths of His love or measure its span.
The Biblical Reason is a little more involved. Scholars and others have found passages in the Bible that teach Universal Salvation. Some imply it, others assert it. The verses we'll look at later are Romans 5:18, I Corinthians 15:22 and the one I so love, Revelation 21:4.
Do these verses actually teach what the Universalists say they do? I say they don't. But 'saying it don't make it so'. We don't honor the Bible or the Lord by glossing over or explaining away passages that don't fit our systems!
ARE THE ARGUMENTS FOR UNIVERSALISM SOUND?
Let's look, then, more carefully at their arguments for Universalism and see if they're sound ones.
THE EMOTIONAL ARGUMENT
The Emotional Argument for sending everyone to Heaven is no argument at all. It's a feeling; it's a wish, and there's no way of rebutting a feeling. There's no way of answering a wish, other than saying, 'Amen. I also hope and pray everyone ends up in Heaven'.
From a pastoral point-of-view, when someone is ranting and raving this way, it is best to simply hear them out. You getting mad at them or yelling back will make things worse, not better, and will reduce what influence you might later have when they've calmed down a bit. II Timothy 2:24-25. Speaking of pointless wrangling Paul says-
The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forebearing, correcting the opponents with gentleness. God may grant them repentance and coming to the knowledge of the truth.
THE THEOLOGICAL ARGUMENT
The theological Argument is an argument and can be answered. (Though we ought to do it as gently as possible, remembering some people have frail personalities and go all to pieces when disagreed with).
Both the Bible and the life of Christ reveal the character of God. But when I say, 'the Bible and the life of Christ', I mean 'the whole Bible' and 'the whole life of Christ'-not carefully selected excerpts from either.
For example, the Bible most certain does say, God is love. But the same Bible also says, Our God is a consuming fire. The same is true with the revelation of God in Christ. Jesus is presented as The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but He is also called The Lion of the Tribe of Judah. In the Sermon on the Mount, the Man who taught love your enemies also said that one day, He will send His enemies to Hell-
Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity, I never knew you.
And, even more tellingly, just a couple or three verses earlier-
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Theological Liberals often chide conservatives for relying on proof texts-a verse here, a verse there, to support their cause, while ignoring the Big Picture. We are certainly capable of doing that, of course, but.when it comes to the character of God as the argument against Hell.who's doing the proof-texting? I have no problem whatsoever accepting both ends of Exodus 34:6-7-
The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and fourth generation.
God is this way, both gracious and just, forgiving sinners and also condemning them. This is a puzzle, or course, but we do not solve it by denying either side of His character. We solve it by going to the Cross, where, in one magnificent act, God became-
Both just and the justifier of him in believes in Christ!
Since God is both love and a consuming fire, you'd expect there to be both a Heaven and a Hell. And so there is.
THE BIBLICAL ARGUMENT
The Biblical argument for Universalism is the hardest to answer because, like all heresies, there seems to be an endless supply of verses to support it! The three I've chosen are representative of many others.
The first is Romans 5:18-
Then, as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one Man's act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.
In this verse, Paul is comparing Jesus to Adam. Adam disobeyed God, and by that act, he brought down judgment on himself and the whole human race.
Now, Jesus did just the opposite of Adam. He obeyed God, and by His act of obedience, He brought salvation to all.
What could be clearer than this? We are destroyed by Adam and restored by Christ. That's right. The question, then, is not 'Is Christ the Second Adam', but 'For whom is He the Second Adam?' Paul says He brings acquittal and life to all.
But who does he mean by all?
We don't have to guess or resort to any Calvinist Yoga! He tells us whom he means in v.17-
If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
The all who receive acquittal and life are the ones who receive God's grace and free gift. This word, receive, isn't the one used in John 1, which means 'to welcome', but has, perhaps an even stronger connotation; it means to 'grab hold of', like a policeman grabbing hold of a prisoner.
The all who are saved are the all who lay hold of Christ. And no one else.
The second passage is very similar and we'll cover it more briefly, I Corinthians 15:22, speaking of the Resurrection of the Just, Paul says-
As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.
Again, it says that all died 'in Adam' and all live 'in Christ'. To which I say, 'Amen!' All live in Christ, not outside of Christ. And how do we get into Christ? Through faith. Thus, all believers, though subject to death through Adam will be raised to New Life through Christ.
The third proof text for Universalism is part argument and part emotion. I can only deal with the argument part. Here goes-
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
For 2,000 years, the People of God have read this dear verse with the most glorious hope. Someday all our problems will be former things. You've got diabetes now? Some day, you won't! You're lonely now? One day, you won't be. And so on. The great majority of Christians who have read this precious verse don't see it as disproving Hell or promising Universal Salvation. It's not like we want to cut it out of our Bibles!
The Universalist does not believe this verse any more firmly than the rest of us do. It's what he does with it that's different. Two syllogisms:
No decent person could enjoy Heaven knowing Grandma was burning in Hell. But we will enjoy Heaven. Therefore, there is no Hell. This argument fits both Universalism and Annihilationism.
The second applies only to Universalism:
No decent one could enjoy Heaven knowing Grandma is not there. But we will enjoy Heaven. Therefore, Grandma must be there.
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