Can We Unite?
Most Christians today believe that Jesus Christ came to save us from a hell of endless torment and separation from God. Furthermore, they believe that His salvation is limited to only those who express obedient faith in Him in this lifetime. In other words, they believe that the church is destined for heaven, and the world is bound for hell. Henceforth, throughout this article, for simplicity, I will refer to those who adhere to this belief as ET-based Christians. (ET representing the belief in eternal torment.)
Then, a small but rapidly growing number of Christians today, believe that Christ came to save--literally everyone--from sin and death, and He will eventually accomplish His purpose of universal reconciliation, whether people receive Him in this lifetime or not. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to these believers as UR-based Christians. (UR stands for belief in universal reconciliation.)
Since the late 500's the majority of Christians have been ET-based in their view of the gospel. However, UR-based believers, now in the minority, actually held the prevailing view of the gospel until around the mid to late 500's. Can these two groups unite in worship, ministry and meaningful Christian witness before the world? If so, how, and to what degree? If not, why not? To address these questions, let's review and take a closer look at their glaringly contrasting belief paradigms.
The UR-based part of the church or body of Christ firmly maintains that gospel means GOOD news--glad tidings of great joy which shall be to ALL people! (Luke 2:10) Hence, they teach that all of God's judgments are redemptive (hell-fire ones included), and Christ's victory over sin and death will eventually bring salvation and God's enduring life to all people universally. And this means everyone who has ever lived or ever will live.
As will become obvious to the reader (if it hasn't already), there is a struggle between these two different movements in Christianity. It is a struggle that makes unity...difficult...to put it mildly. And, if you haven't already guessed it, here is why:
UR-based Christianity proclaims 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 mainstream, Arminian variety) asserts 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 a smaller segment known as the Calvinist variety) 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 times, incredible as it sounds, in the ever-hopeful spirit of ecumenicalism, many ET-based Christians (of the more "mellow" sort) often chide their UR-based brothers and sisters for their alleged "exclusivity." They scold them for their seeming disinterest in traditional church functions and events. Their approach is usually along the lines of "Why let doctrine divide you from the body of Christ?"
However, not all ET-based Christians are tolerant of each other or innocent of exclusivity themselves. Nevertheless, amazingly different as they are from each other, it appears that many ET-based Christians are far more moderate than their conflicting theological beliefs can logically allow. (Some believing that God loves everyone, and others believing He loves almost no one, for example! Yet--) These more moderate ET-based believers 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.
Can this happen? And if it did, 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 miserably 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 yearns 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! However--) Their 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?
UR-based Christians believe God's purpose in creation is to unite all people in Christ in the consummation of the ages--and that we do not choose Him, but He chooses us, each of us in his or her own order. And Christ did say, "You have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you..." And as I shared earlier, UR-based Christians also believe that all of God's judgments are corrective in nature and serve His redemptive purpose rather than thwarting 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).
How will all these vastly differing Christians unite to tell the world about Christ and be upfront and honest in their presentation?
UR-based Christians believe God's love is truly and literally all-powerful, unfailing and unconditional. The majority of ET-based 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 smaller 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. In other words, 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.
Also some of the ET-based Christians believe in the "once saved always saved" or "eternal security" doctrine, although most of them do not. Even those who do--when cornered with tough questions--will usually say that Christians who die as atheists, or in gross sins of immorality, or by suicide probably were never "truly saved." Which means that there is no real security in that doctrine anyhow! Right? Not unless you are a pharisee and confident that you will die in a righteous state that provides evidence of your election!
But that's a no-brainer. The question remains—
How can all these radically differing Christians unite to proclaim Christ and be upfront and honest in their presentation? How will they convey all these hopelessly contradictory messages to an intelligent world? How will they worship together? Will they celebrate the UR God of unconditional love at one meeting, worship and praise 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? So then, what is our purpose in evangelism? Is it to preach Christ as the total and assured Victory of God over sin and death, as UR-Christians yearn to proclaim Him? Or is it to advertise Him as merely "a chance to go to heaven" as the Arminian ET-based Christians would urge us to do? 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 require?
Oh yes! One more thing, just to make the difference between UR and ET-based Christianity 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 only the beginning. We are co-laborers with Christ and co-inheritors of THE NATIONS--the world--with Him.
However, ET-based Christians basically perceive the church as a priesthood--but merely for themselves. The church, from their viewpoint, is the sum total and "be all and end all" of God's redemptive plan. Starkly stated, their purpose and goal 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 cited 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... I ask once again... how do we all fit together? How do we achieve real unity?
Should UR-based Christians give up declaring 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 ET-based ones? It would seem only fair that they also proclaim the "We can't know how we can expect him to act in the end" version of Christ, if for the sake of unity, 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 FINALLY will translate into DEEDS OF ACTION toward His own creation--do we really have 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 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 and to become Lord of both the dead and the living. 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?
I've actually been told, "Charlie, people don't care about doctrine! All they really want is to experience intimacy with God."
But laden with all of these hopelessly unresolved issues (or "non-issues", as some would call them) how can we advertise any benefit of pursuing intimacy with God? Won't some of our more thoughtful listeners 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 wiped them out forever! Or maybe He'll reconcile everyone in the end!? Or perhaps 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 what will we say to other less patient folks who say "Hmmm. You Christians tell us that God may eternally burn most people alive or save everyone or wipe out billions of us in the end--but he's good anyhow... And you have the guts to call this gibberish 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!"
How should we reply to all of 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.
How CAN we UR-based Christians fit into this realm? Think about it! Our message is God is Love and He makes all things beautiful in His time.. The ET message is God is Love...but!..you can only count on Him if He can count on you! (Or if you can count on being part of an elect few.) So I repeat: How can we achieve real unity with a religious system that is based on a god whose love is so corrupted, vague, and uncertain? And I'm talking about a system, that for the most part, is VERY embarrassed about its bottom line hell-belief!
Oh yes. This ecclesiastical realm called Evangelicalism, for the most part nowadays, wants to remain silent about its "essential" hell dogma and preach Christ without it. I have actually heard many of these folks complain that the serious proclaimers of eternal torment among them are "legalists" or "fire and brimstone fanatics." Yet these mild-mannered complainers are unyielding in their determination to retain the ET dogma as a part of the authentic good news of Jesus Christ!
So... to fit into this more liberal evangelical realm, we are to "seriously believe" that God is sending nonchristians to hell by the billions, and yet NOT emphasize it, and be as quiet about it as possible! Heaven have mercy! If these ET-based Christians truly believe in a real hell where myriad numbers of people 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 REALLY have to try to fit into this realm of hope-pulverizing double-mindedness that maligns the character of God--or that renders it obscure, horribly muddled, and uncertain?
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 and 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...
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 double-tongued (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!"
Finally, I will say that I can team up and unify with ANYONE, including ET-based Christians, Good Samaritans, Pagans, Atheists, whatever, in seeking to alleviate pain and heartache in this world. After all, it isn't those who say "Lord, Lord" who are actually honoring Christ's lordship. No, according to Him, it is those who are actually helping their neighbors--thus, DOING the will of God. And I constantly pray He will empower me to be one of them!
Okay. I've said enough for now--except to say a BIG THANKS for taking time to hear my heart, and for your prayers, and God loves you and so do I!