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.
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.