Monday, June 25, 2012

More about the churches-1600 years ago to present

So…the majority of the (very) early churches were universalists. 

The Early Churches:

According to Edward Beecher, a Congregationalist theologian, there were six theology schools in Christendom during its early years - four were Universalist ( Alexandria , Cesarea, Antioch , and Edessa ). One advocated annihilation ( Ephesus ) and one advocated Eternal Hell (the Latin Church of North Africa) The Salvation Conspiracy: How Hell Became Eternal by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

What about now a days. Ahhhh….not so much.  There are, of course, exceptions, but the overwhelming majority buy into the big lie…(ECT) or the smaller lie (Annihilation)

There are some exceptions…but the vast majority of churches do not believe in universalism.  And…the stakes for a belief in UR are usually high. There are some mighty big consequences.

Witness Carlton Pearson’s ousting….and the Rob Bell controversy….and other lesser known folks who were shunned or fired when they came to believe the “heresy” of universalism.  

At one time…for over 90 years…there was a whole denomination…The Christian Universalist Church of America. Their blending into the melting pot of the Unitarian Church was their demise. 

From Wiki:

The Universalist Church of America was a Christian Universalist religious denomination in the United States (plus affiliated churches in other parts of the world). Known from 1866 as the Universalist General Convention, the name was changed to the Universalist Church of America in 1942. In 1961, it consolidated with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association.

There is a fairly new organization called The Christian Universalist Association that has been on the scene five years or so.  There is a lot of info on their website.  There is a list of some churches that openly proclaim a belief in UR on their site…the process for ordination and history/facts/opinions about universalism.  Check them out HERE.

I’ve also been to some universalist churches for conferences…small…Pentecostal feel to them.  Bob Torango’s House of the Lord Fellowship in Dickson, TN…Shalom in Ontario….and others that, while not overwhelmingly Universalist see it as a valid belief option. I’ve been in home bible studies…and met some of the well known universalist preachers/teachers.  Bob Torango….Gary Amariult, Gary Sigler…and other lesser known folks who preach that God will reconcile all of his creation. 

Mainstream denominations?  I find it interesting that the United Methodist Church’s official stand…though not well known…is “dunno.”  On the official website…now relegated to the archives, their official statement is this:

The Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church echoes the beliefs stated in the doctrinal statements of The Methodist Church (see particularly Articles VIII, IX, XI, and XII).

While these statements of doctrine state that salvation is AVAILABLE to all persons, they stop short of saying that salvation is GUARANTEED to all persons. There is the stated or implied condition that, while God's grace is necessary for salvation and that humankind cannot in any way attain salvation without God, that there is certainly an element of awareness and cooperation on our part to order our lives after the image of Christ if we have the capacity to do so.

There are persuasive arguments that include the faithful, thoughtful, and respectful use of Scripture on both sides-- affirming and denying universal salvation. The Book of Discipline, which is the only official printed voice of the UMC, does not make a statement specifically about universal salvation. This places the question in a possible gray area, but the Discipline says what it says. One must read the doctrine there and attempt to understand it as well as possible.

Rev. Dr. Diana Hynson
Director of Learning and Teaching Ministries in the Congregation
General Board of Discipleship

And any UM readers here on this blog are going…nuh-uh.  Does it really say that?  Yes, it does indeed say that.  And it didn’t used to be in the archives.

Another denomination proclaims their belief in the name of their denomination…a (small) group of Primitive Baptists known as the No-Hellers.  Although that is kind of misleading because they do, indeed, believe in a hell.  They think hell is where we find ourselves right now.  In THIS life. Official name -- The Primitive Baptist Universalists.  A down home, no nonsense group of people from Appalachia.

And there were three seminaries that were universalist. 

Crane Theological School in Medford, MA.  1869 to 1968

Theological School of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.  1856 to 1965

They Ryder School of Divinity at Lombard College in Galesburg, IL.  1853 to 1930. 

So…while far from the status quo belief of most Christians…to dismiss it with a statement like “almost no major theologians for the past 1600 years” is quite misleading. 

More in my next post about preachers/teachers and authors who, in varying degrees, believe in and teach universalism. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Creeds, the Churches and the Catacombs

In my last post I said that I would be taking a look at the time period BEFORE the 1600 years Chan referred to in his “almost no major theologian” statement.

A look at the creeds, the churches and the Catacombs of very early Christianity show that universalism was an accepted…perhaps the most accepted…belief of the very early Christians. 

The Creeds:

An examination of the earliest Christian creeds and declarations of Christian opinion discloses the fact that no formulary of Christian belief for several centuries after Christ contained anything incompatible with the broad faith of the Gospel--the universal redemption of mankind from sin. Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church its First Five Hundred Years

None of the earliest creeds…the “Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” the Apostles Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Niceo-Constantinopolitan Creed…contain any statements that would eliminate the possibility of universal reconciliation.  ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment) cannot be found in any of the early creeds.

Thus the credal declarations of the Christian church for almost four hundred years are entirely void of the lurid doctrine with which they afterwards blazed for more than a thousand years. The early creeds contain no hint of it, and no whisper of condemnation of the doctrine of universal restoration as taught by Clement, Origen, the Gregories, Basil the Great, and multitudes besides…... Neither the Concilium Nicæum, A.D. 325, nor the Concilium Constantinopolitanum, A.D. 381, nor the Concilium Chalcedonenese, A.D. 451, lisped a syllable of the doctrine of man's final woe.  Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church its First Five Hundred Years

The Early Churches:

According to Edward Beecher, a Congregationalist theologian, there were six theology schools in Christendom during its early years - four were Universalist ( Alexandria , Cesarea, Antioch , and Edessa ). One advocated annihilation ( Ephesus ) and one advocated Eternal Hell (the Latin Church of North Africa) The Salvation Conspiracy: How Hell Became Eternal by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

The Catacombs:

It seems I’ve written about the Catacombs before…HERE

There were eighty years between Paul's latest epistle and the first of the writings of the Christian fathers. Besides the writings of Tacitus and Pliny, the long hiatus is filled only by the emblems and inscriptions of the Catacombs. What an eloquent story they tell of the cheerfulness of primitive Christianity!

I came upon several (free ) Google books about the Catacombs.  The following quote came from a book called The Catacombs of Rome and Their Testimony Relative to Primitive Christianity. It appears in a section of the book that deals with the many drawings of the Good Shepherd throughout the Catacombs…

Sometime the shepherd is represented as leading or bearing on his shoulders a kid or goat instead of a sheep or lamb.  This apparent solecism has been thought a careless imitation of pagan figures of the sylvan deity Pan, who frequently appears in art in this manner.  It is more probable, however, that it was an intentional departure from the usual type, as if to illustrate the words of Our Lord, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance,” and to indicate his tenderness toward the fallen, rejoicing more over the lost sheep that was found than over the ninety and nine that went not astray. 

Tertullian is believed to be the first person to write about an eternal hell.  Then, influenced by Augustine in AD 430(ish) the concept of eternal conscious torment in hell became an accepted belief in the Catholic Church in the west.  And it was all downhill from there.  This is roughly…give or take a decade or two… the beginning of the period of time Chan alluded to….the past 1600 years. 

He should have gone back a bit farther.

Following are links to some of the books I’ve mentioned in this article…and a few others that take a closer look at the beliefs of the very early Christian. 

Hosea Ballou II's Ancient History of Universalism (1842)

Edward Beecher's History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution (1878)

John Wesley Hanson's Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Church for its First 500 Years  (1899)

How Hell Became Eternal by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

Saturday, June 16, 2012

No Major Theologian for 1600 Years?

In fact, for over 1,600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.

Perhaps this statement, more than any other in Chan’s book, is a blatant sales pitch. It galls “the hell out of me.” And I have so much to say about it, I’m not sure where to even start in my rebuttal.

The last 1600 years sounds pretty impressive, yes?  “Hardly any” major theologians have argued that everyone will be saved. 

Wow…universalism must not be true then. 

But let’s think about this for a bit. The last 1600 years? Why pull that figure out of the “there is an eternal hell” hat? How many years is that after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Four hundred-ish?  So why start 1600 years ago? Why not go back closer to the beginning? You know…closer to the actual life…and death…of Jesus.

Wouldn’t there be less chance for errors and inaccuracies in the storyline?

The time period immediately following the birth of Christianity…the spread of Christianity…the early church days..wouldn’t that be the place to start looking?

And what coincides with the 1600 year thing?  Roughly around the time Constantine got the ball rolling and Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.  The Edict of Thessalonica made Christianity the official religion and started the perversion that led to the Christian persecution of the pagans.  The Dark Ages.  And the Inquisition.  And the Witch Hunts.  And the Crusades.  Major theologians burning other theologians at the stake over theological disagreements…..using green wood, no less.  All in the name of Jesus. 

So he picks as his starting point, the darkest era of Christianity…possibly the darkest eras of human history to cherry pick theologians’ opinions about hell. 

Does that seem like a Kirby Sweeper sales pitch to you?  Does it seem disingenuous? 

I think he picked 1600 years ago as his starting point because, before that, the farther back you go, the closer to the actual life of Jesus and the early church, the more accepted and the more prevalent the doctrine of universalism was. 

Which will be the subject of my next post….

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What about the scary stuff Jesus said?

So…even though Jesus never used (and apparently avoided) the common phrases that described unending, retributive punishment….he did issue some pretty stern warnings and “if this then that’s” in his earthly ministry.  So what’s up with that?

I’m not sure.   

Perhaps he was talking to the Jews…the Jews in Jerusalem…about the coming destruction in 70AD. He did state that his ministry was to the Jews…the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Of course, he expanded that ministry and included “other sheep in other pastures” and gave the disciples the command to go and preach the gospel to all nations.  But initially, his ministry was to the Jews. 

Could his warnings about destruction and judgment have been to them about upcoming events? Many (most) Christians relegate the events to some future time (even though Jesus stated this (THAT) generation would by no means pass away until all the doom and gloom stuff he talked about happened.  THAT generation…not a generation 2000 years plus and still waiting)  So some believe that way. 

Richard Wayne Garganta does a great job of explaining this position in his rewrite of “Bible Threatenings Explained”  It was originally part of a book containing four essays…written in the 1800's by J.W. Hanson…in that flowery…wordy style of that time period.  Kind of off-putting to those of us who live in the twitter generation.  Check it out HERE… It addresses many (all?) of the “threats” Jesus issued…and most of the other “but what about” passages in scripture that are oft used to “disprove” universalism.

And check out his other “oh my God is this universalism” writings HERE.

And another way of explaining the dire warnings of Jesus…

Some believe he is talking about a most unpleasant place of “remedial chastisement.”  Origen believed that. William Barclay believed that. George MacDonald believed that.  Williams Barclay said it this way….

Origen believed that after death there were many who would need prolonged instruction, the sternest discipline, even the severest punishment before they were fit for the presence of God. Origen did not eliminate hell; he believed that some people would have to go to heaven via hell. He believed that even at the end of the day there would be some on whom the scars remained. He did not believe in eternal punishment, but he did see the possibility of eternal penalty. And so the choice is whether we accept God's offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.

George MacDonald said it this way:

I believe that no hell will be lacking which would help the just mercy of God to redeem his children

I have more to say about Barclay and MacDonald…in response to Chan’s statement…

In fact, for over 1,600 years, hardly any major theologians argued that everyone will be saved.

Barclay and MacDonald are two of the “hardly any.”

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Who Knew? It’s Not a (Slippery) Slope Afterall….

I came upon the following drawing on Wikipedia, in an article that talked about the “Fundamentalist/Moodernist” split. It is 

A Fundamentalist cartoon portraying Modernism as the descent from Christianity to atheism, first published in 1922 and then used in Seven Questions in Dispute by William Jennings Bryan.


It’s an interesting article that traces the history of fundamentalism in the US.  Lots there to write about (if I only had the time)….and think about.  Lots of what happened “then” is still happening “now”….proof the author of Ecclesiastes knew of what he spoke.  There is nothing new under the sun.  It is dubbed a new name…but it is still SSDD…. the same old battle.

The article talks about the “Old-Side–New-Side Split  and the “Old-School–New-School Split”  of American Presbyterianism. (which is probably where we get the phrase “he’s old school.”)

Fundamentalist/Modernist….Conservative/Liberal….Creationist/Evolutionist….Republican/Democrat….and the list goes on.

The drawing caught my eye because the descent from fundamental Christianity to atheism is so often described as a slippery slope….not a well defined set of stairs.  Who knew?