|Vol. 1, No. 8||Page 16||Aug 1999|
Could you give me some reasonable, civil and scriptural answers to some of these questions? thanks. Why is it that those who believe in it spend so little of their time and money warning their family, friends, neighbors, business associates and even their enemies of the dire consequences of dying before accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Savior? . . . If Hell was real, the number one occupation of all members of churches should be to determine how to get their community saved. But when we look at the time and money the average Christian or Christian leader spends on evangelism and missionaries, it is usually among the lowest of priorities. How can Christians fill their spiritual time with buffets after Church service, teas, Bible studies, Easter egg hunts, Christmas parties, weekend retreats, and thousands of other activities which take time and money away from getting their community saved for Jesus while millions of souls drop into the fiery lake because no Christian took the time and spend the money to prove they love them as Christ loves them? ~ Gary Amirault, Hermann, MO 65041The paragraph above is the introduction of a rough dissertation of about 13,500 words in the guise of a question. In comparison, the ideal article length that normally appears in Gospel Gazette Online is from 1,200 to 1,500 words. The querist’s introductory paragraph above and the balance of his lengthy manuscript propose to (1) debunk the notion of an eternal hell, and (2) argue for Universalism. While we will treat the basic thrust of his argument regarding “hell and Universalism” in a subsequent “Q&A,” here we will address the topic of Christian zeal.
First, noting that someone is or is not conducting himself in a specific way does not materially affect divine doctrine. In this case, zeal or the lack thereof to warn others about impending, eternal doom neither proves nor disproves God’s will for mankind. Whatever God teaches, recorded in the Bible, is the same and unalterable irrespective of human activity.
Second, though I would not purport to defend all ‘church’ activities ascribed to denominational people (e.g., “Easter egg hunts, Christmas parties”), I heartily recommend for myself, Gary Amirault and every soul an earnest participation in “Bible studies” also decried in the inset paragraph above. Bible study, ascertaining biblical answers for religious questions, is the only way one can really know the truth about such things as “hell,” “Universalism” and Christian zeal.
If Universalism were true and it were equally true that there is no eternal hell, Christian zeal would not be necessary. Further, it would be perfectly defensible that Christians lack zeal in their interaction with souls who could not be lost in a devil’s hell anyway (if hell does not exist). The querist is right about one thing, that is, ‘It is indefensible for the children of God, who are well aware of the eternal punishment that awaits disobedient souls, to not more enthusiastically attempt to win the souls of “family, friends, neighbors, business associates and even their enemies.”’ It is criminal, in a spiritual sense, for Christians to fail or to refuse to spend “their time and money” (which really belong to God anyway) to persuade lost souls from their course of eternal dismay. Borrowing from Mr. Amirault, since hell is “. . . real, the number one occupation of all members of churches should be to determine how to get their community saved.”
What is often called the “Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16), incurs as a great responsibility on each child of God to do what he or she can to spread the good news of the Gospel. Much zeal, the kind each soul entertained when he or she became a Christian, is needed to carry the Gospel effectively to a lost and dying world. Often, Christians do not act as though they believe (or care) that eternal punishment is drawing near for all disobedient souls (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). What we may fail to realize is that our failure or refusal to tell others about the saving Gospel may consign our souls to eternal torment as well. Christians can be just as disobedient (regarding evangelism, among other things) as disobedient souls who have never become Christians. The malady of indifference among Christians is particularly commonplace among affluent people. However, people less blessed by this world’s goods trust and hope less in this life. These latter souls more nearly sense the urgency to redeem their own souls and reach others with the Gospel.
Every child of God needs to be zealous of good works, chief of which is to enthusiastically seek lost souls (the reason for which Jesus came to earth, Luke 19:10). We must be “. . . a peculiar people, zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). Happily, zeal is contagious and every child of God needs to be infected with righteous, Bible-guided zeal. “For I know the forwardness of your mind, for which I boast of you to them of Macedonia, that Achaia was ready a year ago; and your zeal hath provoked very many” (2 Corinthians 9:2).
We must avoid blind, misguided zeal, such as characteristic of the Jews in Paul’s day (Romans 10:1-3). We must avoid allowing our zeal to degenerate into jealousy (Romans 13:13). However, we must have zeal for God, his Word and his kingdom. It is inexcusable (we may find eternally so) for the children of God to shirk their God-given responsibility to zealously proclaim the saving Gospel as widely as humanly possible with God’s help.
If Hell was real why do most leading historians acknowledge that the early church was dominated by universalism? . . . If Hell is real and universalism is a heresy . . . Will not justice be eternally violated, if the law of God is not universally fulfilled? . . . Can God be universally and eternally good, if endless misery is true for a single soul? ~ Gary Amirault, Hermann, MOOur address of “Universalism” here is the third treatment of the rambling 13,550 word “question” posed by Mr. Amirault. Also appearing in 'questions and answers,' we have treated “Christian Zeal” and “Does Hell Really Exist?”
From the excerpt above, the querist apparently believes that the concepts of “hell” and “Universalism” are polar opposites with no middle ground. Since he abhors “hell” and “everlasting punishment,” Gary Amirault champions Universalism. In our two other answers to his ‘question,’ we observed several uncharitable name-callings applied to anyone who believes the biblical doctrine of hell and everlasting punishment. Above, God himself is indicted regarding his ‘goodness’ if God is not a Universalist. According to our querist, God is to blame if a single soul is lost in a devil’s hell and otherwise misses eternal bliss in heaven. It is further asserted that the early church was “dominated by universalism.” Let’s more closely examine the doctrine of Universalism and especially ascertain what the Bible has to say about salvation.
A dictionary definition adequately and simply conveys the basic thrust of Universalism. “1. a : a theological doctrine that all human beings will eventually be saved” [Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, (Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated) 1993.]
Historically, the early church was not “dominated” by the doctrine of Universalism. References to Scripture below verify that the first century church fully acknowledged that some souls would be lost. Further, Universalism was a doctrine that post-dated the New Testament church by over a century.
Origen was the first Christian Universalist. He taught a final restoration, but with modesty as a speculation rather than a dogma, in his youthful work De Principiis (written before 231), which was made known in the West by the loose version of Rufinus (398). In his later writings there are only faint traces of it; he seems at least to have modified it, and exempted Satan from final repentance and salvation, but this defeats the end of the theory. He also obscured it by his other theory of the necessary mutability of free will, and the constant succession of fall and redemption. Universal salvation (including Satan) was clearly taught by Gregory of Nyssa, a profound thinker of the school of Origen (d. 395), and, from an exegetical standpoint, by the eminent Antiochian divines Diodorus of Tarsus (d. 394) and Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 429), and many Nestorian bishops. In the West also at the time of Augustin (d. 430) there were, as he says, "multitudes who did not believe in eternal punishment." But the view of Origen was rejected by Epiphanius, Jerome, and Augustin, and at last condemned as one of the Origenistic errors under the Emperor Justinian (543). Since that time universalism was regarded as a heresy, but is tolerated in Protestant churches as a private speculative opinion or charitable hope. [Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997.]Apparently, one the “authorities” to whom the querist appeals does not concur with his view of Universalism. Though F.W. Farrar decried “hell” and “everlasting punishment,” he did not subscribe to Universalism. Without the citations to verify his assertions, our querist’s references to supposed “authorities” remain as mere, unproven assertions.
The doctrine of the Fathers on future punishment is discussed by Dr. Edward Beecher, l.c., and in the controversial works called forth by Canon Farrar’s Eternal Hope (Five Sermons preached in Westminster Abbey, Nov. 1877. Lond., 1879.) See especially DR. PUSEY: "What is of Faith as to Everlasting Punishment?" A Reply to Dr. Farrar’s Challenge. Oxf. and Lond., second ed. 1880 (284 pages). Canon F. W. FARRAR: Mercy and Judgment: A few last words on Christian Eschatology with reference to Dr. Pusey’s "What is of Faith?" London and N. York, 1881 (485 pages). See chs. II., III., IX.-XII. Farrar opposes with much fervor "the current opinions about Hell," and reduces it to the smallest possible dimensions of time and space, but expressly rejects Universalism. He accepts with Pusey the Romanizing view of "future purification" (instead of "probation"), and thus increases the number of the saved by withdrawing vast multitudes of imperfect Christians from the awful doom. [Ibid.]One major flaw of Universalism is the failure to realize that salvation is conditional. Jesus Christ came to this world “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The scope or availability of the redemption that Jesus proffered was to the whole world (John 3:16-17). First John 2:2 says of Jesus Christ, “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Yet, though redemption or salvation was made available to every accountable soul on the planet, in every generation, not every soul has appropriated this spiritual blessing to himself on God’s terms.
In general terms, to receive salvation as a consequence of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, one must obey God’s will, namely the Gospel or New Testament. Speaking of Jesus, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered; And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrews 5:8-9). Additional to the announced requirement for salvation of obedience, the Scripture clearly implies that anyone who does not obey Jesus Christ will not be saved. The apostle Paul states this in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9, “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” Even the Book of Romans, the great book of faith, is prefaced and concluded with references to “the obedience of faith” (Romans 1:5; 16:26).
God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8) and mercy (Titus 3:5) become operable toward a soul as a consequence of obedience, as imperfect (we are not sinlessly perfect) as it may be. God, though, will not save a soul in open rebellion to him. God cannot save a disobedient soul without compromising Divine Holiness (which if he did, he would be less than God). The sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the means by which an infinitely holy and just God can commune with his wayward creature man, conditional upon man’s obedient response to God’s overture of salvation.
A second major flaw of Universalism is its failure to realize the role of freewill in salvation. Every passage of Scripture that tells the reader to do anything presumes the ability of that reader to exercise his free will. The wonderful invitation of Jesus in Revelation 22:17 would be a horrible farce if mankind was unable to use his freewill to accept and comply with our Lord’s invitation. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Only those who exercise their freewill to do the will of God have any legitimate hope of spending eternity in heaven. “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). All others will be consigned to the alternative eternal destination of which the Bible speaks. Unfortunately, the majority of mankind through neglect, ignorance or open rebellion will be lost (Matthew 7:13-14).
A summary of man’s role in his salvation under the category of obedience includes the following. Before a person can exercise his freewill, he must know what to do. Therefore, he must acquaint himself with God’s Word. Then, a person has something in which to believe. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Belief or faith, next, prompts one to action, beginning with repentance from past sins. “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). While repentance occurs on the inside of a person, faith also prompts a believer to tell others about his new found faith, as one soul did in Acts 8:37. “. . . I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” Bible faith also leads the believer to begin doing the will of God, beginning with submitting to be immersed in water for the remission of sins. “. . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins . . .” (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-5).
Personally, I wish that everyone would be saved eternally.
Such, though, is not realistic in view of the conditional element of salvation
and the often misguided freewill of man. Contrary to what I or someone
else might prefer, the Bible alone provides the only authoritative information
regarding God’s plan of redemption. Our salvation from past sins
and our anticipated eternal redemption is dependent upon conforming to
God’s provision for salvation.