Saturday, April 30, 2011

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Innocence Mission: The Brotherhood of Man

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Quaker Testimony of Equality

Lorraine, our pastor at North Seattle Friends Church, is planning to do a series of messages about the Quaker testimonies. Quaker testimonies have been described as our "beliefs in action." They are outward values and behaviors which grow from our internal convictions. The most common Quaker testimonies are Equality, Peace, Simplicity and Integrity. This Sunday she had to be away and asked if I would share about the Quaker testimony of Equality. Here is my message:

Whenever someone asks "What do Quakers believe?" almost invariably the response will include the statement "Quakers believe that there is that of God in everyone." "That of God in everyone" is such a familiar saying among Quakers that it is easy to lose sight of how radical an idea it is and how far reaching its ramifications are. It was particularly radical in the time of George Fox.

Fox had a number of what he called "openings"--what we might call "revelations." He described one of his most foundational openings this way:

"Now the Lord God opened to me by his invisible power that every man was enlightened by the divine light of Christ and I saw it shine through all and that they that believed in it came out of condemnation to the light of life and became the children of it...I saw that Christ died for all men, and was a propitiation for all, and enlightened all men and women with His divine and saving light; and that none could be a true believer but who believed in it. I saw that the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, had appeared to all men, and that the manifestation of the Spirit of God was given to every man to profit withal. These things I did not see by the help of man, nor by the letter, though they are written in the letter, but I saw them in the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and by His immediate spirit and power..."

I should point out that when Fox says "man" here he is speaking about both men and women. Fox's revelation about the divine light of Christ shining through all--what he elsewhere refers to as there being "that of God" in everyone--became one of the central teachings of Fox and the early Quakers. Much of what makes Quakerism unique is built on this foundational truth.

But this was a radical departure from the dominant theology of his day.

The dominant theology in 17th Century England, and in the American colonies, was built on Calvinism. Calvinism is a theological system that is named after John Calvin but actually dates, in large part, back to Augustine in the 5th Century. The underlying ideas within Calvinism had been in place for over 1,000 years by the time George Fox was born.

The core, foundational belief in Calvinism is called "Total Depravity". "Total Depravity" means that from the moment a person is conceived in the womb, they are utterly corrupted by sin and separated from God. This depravity is so extensive that a person cannot even will to come to God. Everything a person does, even before they are born, is so corrupted by sin and evil that God's default position towards humans is wrath. Calvinism teaches that the only possible hope for a person to be saved from Hell is if God has already sovereignly *predestined* them for salvation. If someone is predestined for salvation, there is nothing they can do to resist God. If they are among the unlucky ones who are predestined for damnation, there is nothing they can do to change their status.

In recent years there has been a resurgence of Calvinism. Popular teachers like R.C. Sproul and John Piper promote it. One of the largest and most well-known churches here in Seattle teaches it.

At the time of Fox, it was the norm. Clergy taught that the majority of people were doomed--separated from God--objects of His wrath. Only a small minority of humankind would ever be saved and who that was had already been decided before the dawn of creation. People worried--sometimes in great torment and anguish--about whether or not they and their loved ones were among the elect few.

Look again at how radical Fox's revelation would have been to a culture steeped in Calvinism. While the Puritan and Anglican Calvinists "preached up sin", as Fox called it--emphasizing darkness and depravity and damnation, the Quakers spoke of the Light of Christ shining within each person, drawing all towards God if they would but respond to it. Early Quakers accepted the traditional Christian doctrine about humanity's fallen condition, but believed that the Light of Christ continued to shine in every person, despite their fallen state. Through the work of the Inward Light of Christ a process takes place whereby people are restored.

And so, Quakers believe that God is at work in every person. God loves and values every person. And here's the thing about love: Love creates value. We are valuable because God loves us--despite our sins and shortcomings. Someone once said, "There is nothing you can do to make God love you more than He already does. And there is nothing you can do to make God love you less than he already does." This is because God's love is perfect. And, ultimately, it's not about us--it's about Him. Every person is valuable to God because God loves every person. And if God loves and values every person, then so should we.

The Quaker John Woolman, who was born about 30 years after Fox died, wrote in his journal:

"Our gracious Creator cares and provides for all his creatures. His tender mercies are over all his works, and so far as his love influences our minds, so far we become interested in his workmanship and feel a desire to take hold of every opportunity to lessen the distresses of the afflicted and increase the happiness of the creation. Here we have a prospect of one common interest from which our own is inseparable--that to turn all the treasures we possess into the channel of universal love becomes the business of our lives."

And so, from the very beginning, Quakers believed that God valued all people equally and that all people could experience God, and could be used by God, regardless of age, ethnicity, gender, nationality, social status or other classifications.

As a result, women were leaders and ministers alongside men from the beginning of the Quaker movement in the 1600's. Keep in mind, this was at a time when educated theologians discussed whether or not women even had souls! One of Fox's very first converts--perhaps the very first--was a middle-aged woman named Elizabeth Hooton. Some sources indicate that Elizabeth Hooton became Fox's mentor and helped him sort out some of his beliefs. She was the first female Quaker minister. So, right from the beginning--in the very DNA of Quakerism--you have women in ministry roles. Another of the original Quaker ministers was a young woman named Mary Fisher. Although uneducated and previously a housemaid, Mary Fisher became a powerful Quaker preacher and suffered floggings and imprisonment as a result. She and Ann Austin were the first to bring the Quaker message to the American colonies. Later Mary Fisher traveled--alone--through Turkey and managed to gain an audience with the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, a Muslim.

She later wrote that she had...
"...borne my testimony for the Lord before the king unto whom I was sent, and he was very noble unto me and so were all that were about him ... they do dread the name of God, many of them... There is a royal seed amongst them which in time God will raise. They are more near Truth than many nations; there is a love begot in me towards them which is endless, but this is my hope concerning them, that he who hath raised me to love them more than many others will also raise his seed in them unto which my love is. Nevertheless, though they be called Turks, the seed of them is near unto God, and their kindness hath in some measure been shown towards his servants."

So here we have a poor, uneducated, single woman--about as low as you could get in the British social order--speaking to the ruler of an empire and seeing "that of God" in Muslims! And so the circle of equality keeps expanding.

England in the 17th Century was a very stratified culture. There was a deeply entrenched class system and vestiges of it remain to this day. In those days, inferiors were expected to show deference to their social superiors by bowing, removing their hats and addressing them in the plural form of "you" rather than the singular form of "thee" and "thou." The Quakers refused to go along with these customs. They treated everyone equally, addressing all by their first names and not using honorifics such as "Lord" or "Sir"--addressing everyone with what was then the familiar "thee" and "thou" rather than the formal "you." Refusing to bow, curtsy or remove their hats. Fox wrote about the effect this had:

"But oh, the rage that then was in the priests, magistrates, professors, and people of all sorts, but especially in priests and professors! For, though 'thou' to a single person was according to their own learning, their accidence and grammar rules, and according to the Bible, yet they could not bear to hear it, and the hat-honour, because I could not put off my hat to them, it set them all into a rage."

Even in our own day, how uncomfortable would it be if you were called into a court of law and you addressed the judge, not as "Your Honor" but by his or her first name--thus making it clear that you see them as an equal?

Quakers were the first to mark fixed prices on merchandise in their stores. This is often discussed within the testimony of Integrity, but what it also did was put customers on an equal footing. No longer might you get a better or worse deal depending on your acumen and negotiating skills. Everyone, even children, got the item for the same price.

Because of the testimony of Equality, Quakers were at the forefront of the struggles to abolish slavery in England and the U.S. (it was Quakers who approached William Wilberforce and convinced him to take up the cause of abolition in England). In America, Quakers were notable for their good relations with Native Americans. Quakers played key roles in the Underground Railroad, the women's suffrage movement, prison reform, reforms to provide humane treatment for the mentally ill, education of African-American children, food to the Irish during the Great Potato Famine, the American Civil Rights movement and global Human Rights and Aid organizations such as Oxfam and Amnesty International. Quakers fed the starving population of Germany after WWI, evacuated and found homes for Jewish children from Europe at the onset of WWII, attempted to arrange for the evacuation of all Jews out of Nazi territories and returned to Germany again to provide relief to all after WWII. Quakers were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 in recognition of their long and consistent history of compassionate action--which is the fruit of the testimony of Equality and the belief that there is that of God in everyone.

Now, this is not to say that Quakers are perfect or have always gotten it right. But there is a track record. There is fruit. An old axiom says that we become like that which we worship. If we worship a God of exclusion—a God who has predestined most of humanity to endless torment in Hell, then how is that going to affect how we value people? And how will that view of humanity affect how we live and act towards others? On the other hand, if we worship a God who loves, values and is actively engaged with all of humanity, how will that affect our view of people and how we act towards them?

George Fox, in one of his letters to fellow Quakers, expressed his hope that they would “…walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.”

So, one of the cool things about being a Quaker is that we can feel good about our 350 year track record that has resulted from the testimony of Equality. But the flipside of that is that we have a challenge to live up to that track record. Who are those in our day who are unequal? Who are those whom our culture elevates with undo prestige and privilege? Who are those who are treated as "less than" in our culture? Is it the poor? The incarcerated? Refugees? Illegal immigrants? Followers of other religions? Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual and Transgender people? The list goes on and on. All of them are valuable. All of them are loved. All of them have "that of God" in them.

Father, give us eyes to see injustice and inequality in our midst and give us the wisdom and courage to lovingly oppose it. Enable us to walk over the world, seeing and answering, that of God in everyone.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Quote of the Day

"Many of us feel that our faith has been stolen, and it's time to take it back. An enormous public misrepresentation of Christianity has taken place. Many people around the world now think Christian faith stands for political commitments that are almost the opposite of its true meaning. How did the faith of Jesus come to be known as pro-rich, pro-war, and pro-American? And how do we get back to a historic, biblical, and genuinely evangelical faith rescued from its contemporary distortions?

"That rescue operation is even more crucial today, in the face of a social crisis that cries out for prophetic religion. The problem is clear in the political arena, where strident voices claim to represent Christians, when they clearly don't speak for most of us. We hear politicians who love to say how religious they are but utterly fail to apply the values of faith to their public leadership and political policies. It's time to take back our faith in the public square, especially in a time when a more authentic social witness is desperately needed.

"When we do, we discover that faith challenges the powers that be to do justice for the poor, instead of preaching a "prosperity gospel" and supporting politicians that further enrich the wealthy. We remember that faith hates violence and tries to reduce it, and exerts a fundamental presumption against war, instead of justifying it in God's name. We see that faith creates community from racial, class, and gender divisions and prefers international community over nationalist religion, and we see that "God bless America" is found nowhere in the Bible. And we are reminded that faith regards matters such as the sacredness of life and family bonds as so important that they should never be used as ideological symbols or mere political pawns in partisan warfare."

- Jim Wallis

Friday, April 15, 2011

A student visits a Quaker meeting in Harlem

Religions of Harlem is a program in which Columbia University students visit various churches and religious organizations in Harlem, NYC and blog about their experiences. In the latest entry, two students describe attending a Quaker meeting for the first time:

"...there is no other word to describe it but bizarre... However, at the same time it was a refreshing and eye opening experience."

(Courtesy of

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Braco the Gazer

I find this fascinating. It is about a Croatian man called "Braco the Gazer." People pay $8.00 to stand in a room with a bunch of other people and have Braco stare at them for 10 minutes. He doesn't speak, he only stares. People claim to have been healed, received peace, been comforted, etc. at these "gazing sessions." Of course, Braco's books, CD's and other merchandise are available for purchase in the lobby. It is easy to ridicule the whole thing and write Braco off as a charlatan or worse, but I'm less interested in him and more interested in the people who come to him. What draws them to want to stand in a room with others to look at him and have him look back at them? As a Quaker, I have experienced the profound power of being in a room full of people who are being silent and reverent. Could it be that, despite the apparent silliness of it all, God touches people at these "gazing sessions"? Maybe it isn't about Braco at all, but about the collective yearning in the hearts of the people who come to be gazed upon.

Monday, April 11, 2011

China increases persecution of Christians

From NPR: A chilling eye-witness account of Christians being persecuted by the government in China. I'm reminded of a stanza in the poem "The Present Crisis" by James Russell Lowell:

Careless seems the great Avenger; history’s pages but record
One death-grapple in the darkness ’twixt old systems and the Word;
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

An atheist reaction to Christian Universalism

Chad Holtz became a nationwide news item, much to his surprise, when he was fired from his pastoral position at a North Carolina Methodist church for his beliefs in Christian Universalism (he had actually been expressing these beliefs for a few years, but things came to a head as a result of the whole Rob Bell "Love Wins" controversy).

As a result of his sudden and unexpected notoriety, Holtz has received invitations for speaking engagements and interviews, including an offer to be a guest (via telephone) on a television show put on by the American Atheist Network. They wanted to hear more about this idea of inclusive Christianity. Holtz agreed to be on the show and was treated cordially.

The next day, Holtz received an email from the host of the show, Ernest. Here is a snippet:

"The video will be up in a few days and a podcast is going up today. Listen please don’t think that your time was waisted. Atheist across the world have emailed me asking how can he forgive hitler? Can it be that you as a inclusion believer have more love than all the hell believing people combined? One comment nearly tore me up, ” Svetatheist, I am in Sweden I am an atheist, I have never heard of inclusion, Chad shows more love than the hate filled Koran burning people. Ernest, Is this really in the gospels. I was happy as a Christian, but hell frightens me, if everyone goes to heaven then Christ will not fail if this is true I may no longer stay an atheist”.

As I said there remains in my heart a longing for my inclusion friends. Reports are coming in from across the world the show was riveting."

There was a period of time when I was actively involved in dialogs and debates with hardcore atheists, via a web discussion forum called "The Raving Atheist." What I found was that what the majority of atheists were really rejecting was the form of Christianity they had encountered (typically fundamentalism or Catholicism). Many had been deeply wounded by the church. The general view was "If that's a representation of what God is like, then I want nothing to do with Him!" Of course, what they were rejecting was not God but a caricature--a distortion. But when people get a glimpse of what God is really like--His inclusiveness and love, they are drawn to Him. As Gandhi said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Lord, save us from those who claim to represent You, yet spread intolerence, ignorance, fear and hurt. Show us, Lord, how to be agents of grace, mercy, compassion, inclusion and love. Show us--and enable us--to represent who you are more accurately. They will know You by our love.

You can read more about Chad's experience on the American Atheist Network television show, and even watch the episode, here:

Richard Rohr: What Did Jesus Really Teach?

Richard Rohr explains what Jesus really taught and why it is so different from what churches often teach.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Walter Wink on the Third Way of Jesus

Walter Wink, author of The Powers That Be, describes Jesus's "Third Way" when confronting violence.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Thought for the Day

God is not a God of doctrines. God is a God of presence and action. The doctrines come later as people try to understand and explain God's presence and actions.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Hell - The Table of Contents

I've added a Table of Contents page for my 8-part series on Hell, with navigable links to each post.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Hell, Part 8

Common objections to the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation:

1. If God saves everyone, then why bother to become a Christian?

This question betrays a drastic lack of understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Being a Christian is not about obtaining a "Get Out of Hell Free" card--it is about having a relationship with the Living God, here and now. Christianity is not about a set of propositions or doctrines--it is about knowing God and living each day in the awareness of God's love, peace, presence and purpose.

Additionally, because Christian Universalism does away with notions like, "Once saved, always saved", it fosters a much more serious attitude towards discipleship, sin and holy living. Sure, God will ultimately save everyone, but how one lives one's life will have a direct bearing on how severe God's merciful judgment will have to be. I could lead a wanton and wicked life, but as a result my entrance into God's presence might be "as though through a fire." The more hardened and twisted by sin one's heart is when they stand before God, the more severe the action will be that is necessary to soften and straighten their heart.

It is modern Evangelicalism's emphasis on "cheap grace" and "decisions for Christ" and "once saved, always saved" that has led to a de-emphasis on the importance of living a holy life. By reducing salvation to a transaction--"Just pray this prayer and you'll be saved"--Evangelicalism has produced a Church that is "a mile wide but an inch deep" when it comes to discipleship. Is it any wonder that Christians in America and Europe are nearly indistinguishable from non-Christians when it comes to lifestyle?

To use an analogy about the question of why bother becoming a Christian if Universal Reconciliation is true: Suppose I decided to begin drinking heavily, using drugs, visiting prostitutes, smoking cigarettes and gambling--with the intention of quitting it all in twenty years. I can have twenty years of "eat, drink and be merry" and then quit before it kills me. But we all know that even if that lifestyle doesn't kill me, it will exact a heavy price on my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health. Maybe, twenty years from now, I will be able to quit all of these vices and addictions, but it won't be easy or pleasant. And I'll still have to deal with the many residual effects. Why not instead just avoid them altogether and live a fuller life beginning now? In the same way, why not begin living in the Light now rather than later? Why not begin the relationship with Christ now and learn to hear Him and experience His peace now? Why not enter into His amazing abundant life now? Why not live a life of meaning and purpose? Those of us who have become followers of Jesus are the first fruits of His salvation. Our task is to proclaim this Good News to everyone else. It is extremely motivating and hopeful! We can begin living in the Presence of the Living God here and now--enveloped in His love--guided by His Spirit. Who wouldn't want that?

In Acts 3:19-21, Peter addressed a crowd in Jerusalem with the following words: "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets." Jesus will return someday to bring universal restoration. But in the meantime, we can have "times of refreshing" from the presence of the Lord.

There is an old story about Hosea Ballou, a 19th century Universalist: One day he was riding in the hills of New Hampshire with a Baptist minister. They were arguing theology as they traveled. At one point, the Baptist looked over and said, "Brother Ballou, if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I'd still go to heaven." Hosea Ballou looked at him and replied, "If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you."

2. What about free will?

One has to ask, just how free is free will? To what degree are the various choices you make completely free of influence from your environment, culture, upbringing, theology, education, etc.? If I persuade you to change your mind about something, have I violated your free will? If a parent successfully modifies the behavior of their children--in the children's best interest--has that parent violated their children's free will? Is that a bad thing? I believe that God will ultimately convince everyone to freely choose to bow the knee and confess that Jesus is Lord. This turning of His enemies into His friends is a much more complete and satisfying victory than if they forever remained His enemies in Hell.

How many people who "reject Jesus", do so with full knowledge of who Jesus is? As the hymn says, "I was blind, but now I see." If, apart from Christ, we are blind and "darkened in our understanding" (Eph 4:18), then how can rejecting Christ be an informed and rational decision? Don't you think that if any person saw Christ as He truly is, they would immediately fall to their knees in worship before Him? Perhaps some people really do "reject Christ" with informed consent, but most people don't really know who Christ is. I know I didn't during all the years I rejected Him. If people hear the Gospel at all nowadays it very often is so distorted that it is barely recognizable (think, for example, of the "prosperity gospel" preached on Christian television). What about the devout Mormon who faithfully followed his whole life the only representation of Christ he ever encountered? What about those who's only exposure to Christianity was in the form of brutal European colonialism? What about the billions who never even heard the name of Christ? Did they "reject" Him? I used to engage in online dialogs with hardcore atheists. Invariably what I found was that what they were rejecting was not so much God but fundamentalist Christianity (or Catholicism) which they assumed was an accurate representation of Christ. "If that's Jesus," they reasoned, "I don't want to have anything to do with Him!" I once had the same view and probably would never have come to Christ if I had not had a direct encounter with Him.

Here is another crude analogy regarding free will: What if I took a group of blind children to the edge of the Grand Canyon and told them to wander freely but stay away from the precipice? If a child strayed too close to the edge, lost her balance and fell into the canyon, who's fault would it be? The child's? Or mine for placing them in such a precarious position? The teaching of Eternal Torment says that although people are lost and blind without Christ, they are responsible if they fall into the Abyss.

Paul had an interesting take on free will in Romans 7:14-25:

"We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!"

If we are helpless, and Christ rescues us from our sin, has He violated our free will?

If you know Jesus, you know what an awesome, beautiful, merciful, compassionate, kind and loving person He is. Do you think that anyone who really sees Him for who He is rejects Him? Look what happened to Saul of Tarsus when he really saw Jesus for who He is! Did God respect Saul's free will on the road to Damascus?

A central Christian teaching is that salvation is entirely a work of grace. Even the motivation to accept Christ is considered to be a gift. This is why Calvinists believe that God predestines those who are saved and they can do nothing to change their "elect" status. In this sense, Christian Universalism is like Calvinism, except that Christian Universalists believe that everyone is "elect" and predestined for salvation. But there is also a choice involved. The choice is whether to begin living in that "elect" state now or later.

Thomas Talbott, a Professor of Philosophy at Willamette University puts it this way:

"A virtue of the Christian religion, as I see it, is that Christians are never permitted to take credit for their own redemption or even for a virtuous character (where such exists). All credit of this kind goes to God. But the Christian religion also stresses the importance of free choice, of choosing this day whom you shall serve. Nor need there be any tension between these two emphases, provided that we regard our free choices as determining not our eternal destiny, but the means of grace available to us. Essential to the whole redemptive process, I am suggesting, is that we exercise our moral freedom--not that we choose rightly rather than wrongly, but that we choose freely one way or the other. We can choose today to live selfishly or unselfishly, faithfully or unfaithfully, obediently or disobediently. But our choices, especially the bad ones, will also have unintended and unforeseen consequences in our lives; as the proverb says, “The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps” (16:9). A man who commits robbery may set off a chain of events that, contrary to his own intentions, lands him in jail; and a woman who enters into an adulterous affair may discover that, even though her husband remains oblivious to it, the affair has a host of unforeseen and destructive consequences in her life. In fact, our bad choices almost never get us what we really want; that is part of what makes them objectively bad and also one reason why God is able to bring redemptive goods out of them. When we make a mess of our lives and our misery becomes more and more unbearable, the hell we thereby create for ourselves will in the end resolve the very ambiguity and shatter the very illusions that made the bad choices possible in the first place. That is how God works with created rational agents. He permits them to choose in the ambiguous contexts in which they first emerge as self-aware beings, and he then requires them to learn from experience the hard lessons they sometimes need to learn."

3. You can only accept Christ during your mortal life. Once you die, there are no more chances.

I'll let Martin Luther answer this one: "God forbid that I should limit the time of acquiring faith to the present life. In the depth of the Divine mercy there may be opportunity to win it in the future." (from a letter to Hans von Rechenberg, 1522)

Martin Luther knew the Bible extremely well. He knew that nowhere in the Bible is it stated that one can only be saved during one's mortal life.

4. Universal Reconciliation is not a historical Christian doctrine.

Actually, it is.

According to the highly respected church historian Philip Schaff, "In the first five or six centuries of Christianity there were six known theological schools, of which four (Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Edessa or Nisibis) were Universalist, one (Ephesus) accepted conditional immortality; one (Carthage or Rome) taught endless punishment of the wicked." (Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Page 96).

Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD) was an influential theologian of the early Christian church and head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. He was fluent in Greek. He also believed in Universal Reconciliation: “And how is He Saviour and Lord, if not the Saviour and Lord of all? But He is the Saviour of those who have believed, because of their wishing to know; and the Lord of those who have not believed, till, being enabled to confess him, they obtain the peculiar and appropriate boon which comes by Him."

Origen (185–254 AD) is considered one of the first and one of the greatest Christian theologians and the founder of Biblical textual criticism.. He played a key role in defining which Christian writings ultimately became canonized as the New Testament. He wrote commentaries on nearly every book of the Bible and produced the Hexapla, a monumental work containing the Old Testament in six different parallel versions. Origen taught Universal Reconciliation and referred to it in many of his writings. Here is one example: "... our belief is that the Word shall prevail over the entire rational creation and change every soul into his own perfection in which state every one by the mere exercise of His power will choose what He desires and obtain what He chooses. For although in the diseases and wounds of the body there are some which no medical skill can cure yet we hold that in the mind there is no evil so strong that it may not be overcome by the Supreme Word and God. For stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word and the healing power that dwells in Him and this healing He applies according to the will of God to every man. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil although as to the question whether it shall be so destroyed that it can never anywhere arise again it is beyond our present purpose to say." (Against Celsus, VIII lxxii)

Marcellus, Bishop of Ancyra (died 374 AD): "For what else do the words mean, 'until the times of the restitution' (Acts 3:21), but that the apostle designed to point out that time in which all things partake of that perfect restoration."

Diodore, Bishop of Tarsus (died 390 AD) was considered a champion of orthodoxy and played a key role in the Council of Constantinople: "For the wicked there are punishments, not perpetual, however, lest the immortality prepared for them should be a disadvantage, but they are to be purified for a brief period according to the amount of malice in their works. They shall therefore suffer punishment for a short space, but immortal blessedness having no end awaits them...the penalties to be inflicted for their many and grave sins are very far surpassed by the magnitude of the mercy to be showed to them."

Didymus the Blind (313-398 AD), head of the Catechetical School of Alexandria and considered the greatest Christian teacher of the 4th Century: "Mankind, being reclaimed from their sins, are to be subjected to Christ in the fullness of the dispensation instituted for the salvation of all."

Ambrose (337-397 AD), Bishop of Milan: "Our Savior has appointed two kinds of resurrection in the Apocalypse. 'Blessed is he that hath part in the first resurrection,' for such come to grace without the judgment. As for those who do not come to the first, but are reserved unto the second resurrection, these shall be disciplined until their appointed times, between the first and the second resurrection."

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390 AD), Archbishop of Constantinople is generally believed to have been a Christian Universalist, though he was not dogmatic about it: "God brings the dead to life as partakers of fire or light. But whether even all shall hereafter partake of God, let it be elsewhere discussed." "Let them, if they will, walk in our way and in Christ's. If not, let them walk in their own way. Perchance there they will be baptized with fire, with that last, that more laborious and longer baptism, which devours the substance like hay, and consumes the lightness of all evil."

Basil the Great (AD 330-379), Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia (part of modern day Turkey) confirms that Eternal Conscious Torment was not the majority view in his day: "The mass of men [Christians] say there is to be an end to punishment and to those who are punished." He too believed in Universal Reconciliation: "The Lord's peace is co-extensive with all time. For all things shall be subject to him, and all things shall acknowledge his empire; and when God shall be all in all, those who now excite discord by revolts having been pacified, shall praise God in peaceful concord."

Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 AD), one of the "Cappadocian Fathers" (along with Gregory of Nazianzus and Basil the Great) who established the theology of the Eastern Orthodox church: "Being good, God has pity for fallen man; being wise, He is not ignorant of the means for man's recovery." "I believe that punishment will be administered in proportion to each one's corruptness...Therefore to whom there is much corruption attached, with him it is necessary that the purgatorial time which is to consume it should be great, and of long duration; but to him in whom the wicked disposition has been already in part subjected, a proportionate degree of that sharper and more vehement punishment shall be remitted. All evil, however, must at length be entirely removed from everything, so that it shall no more exist. For such being the nature of sin that it cannot exist without a corrupt motive, it must of course be perfectly dissolved, and wholly destroyed, so that nothing can remain a receptacle of it, when all motive and influence shall spring from God alone."

Jerome (347-420 AD), is best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin (the Vulgate) which was used by the Church in Europe for over 1,000 years: "In the end and consummation of the Universe all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united once more into a perfect man and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one."

Theodore the Interpreter (350-429 AD), Bishop of Mopsuestia (in modern day Turkey) and head of the Catechetical School of Antioch. One of the most highly regarded Bible teachers of ancient times: "The wicked who have committed evil the whole period of their lives shall be punished till they learn that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard him with good will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of his grace. For he never would have said, 'until thou hast paid the uttermost farthing,' unless we can be released from suffering after having suffered adequately for sin; nor would he have said, 'he shall be beaten with many stripes,' and again, 'he shall be beaten with few stripes,' unless the punishment to be endured for sin will have an end."

Other early church leaders from before the 6th Century who's writings indicate a belief in Universal Reconciliation include: Gregory Thaumaturgus, Bishop of Caesarea (d. 220); Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea (d. 265), Pamphilus of Caesarea (d. 309), Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (d. 368); Isidore of Alexandria (d. 370); Titus, Bishop of Bostra (d. 378); Tyrannius Rufinus (d. 410); John Cassian (d.435); Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria (d. 457); The Monks of Nitria (4th Century); Cyril, Patriarch of Alexandria (d. 444); Maximus, Bishop of Turin (d. 422); Peter Chrysologus, Bishop of Ravenna (d. 450); Gennadius, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 471); Evagrius Ponticus (d. 499).

In the 5th Century, Augustine wrote, "And now I see I must have a gentle disputation with certain tender hearts of our own religion, who are unwilling to believe that everlasting punishment will be inflicted, either on all those who the just Judge shall condemn to the pains of hell, or even on some of them, but who think that after certain periods of time, longer or shorter according to the proportion of their crimes, they shall be delivered out of that state." Augustine was a champion of the doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment. But he also provides us with proof that many Christians in his time believed in Universal Reconciliation. The "tender hearts" Augustine was disputing with would have been other Bishops, theologians, teachers and church leaders.

The first official condemnation of Christian Universalism appears to have come from Emperor Justinian at the 2nd Council of Constantinople in 553 AD. Anathema IX from that council reads: "If anyone says or thinks that the punishment of demons and of impious men is only temporary, and will one day have an end, and that a restoration will take place of demons and of impious men, let him be anathema."

What this clearly demonstrates is that Universal Reconciliation was a view commonly held and taught by Bishops, theologians and church leaders in the first 500 years of the Christian church. It was not until the 6th Century that it became "heresy."

Additional Resources about Christian Universalism / Universal Reconciliation:

Hope Beyond Hell ( An excellent, thorough and easy to read overview of Christian Universalism which can be downloaded for free or purchased in book form for a very low price.

The Inescapable Love of God ( You can read several chapters for free online at the author's website. Thomas Talbott is a retired Professor of Philosophy and a Christian who looks at the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation from both a theological and a philosophical/logical viewpoint.

If Grace Is True and If God Is Love: Two wonderfully encouraging, edifying and affirming books by Quaker pastors Philip Gulley and James Mulholland.

Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During its First 500 Years, by J.W. Hanson: ( From 1899. Incredibly detailed. : A great series of blogs by Randy Olds about Hell and Universal Reconciliation.
: THE site for articles and resources about Christian Universalism : A discussion forum on Christian Universalism hosted by Thomas Talbott and Dr. Robin Parry.

To "The Hell Series" Table of Contents

The Kingdom, the Gospel and Gospel Order

I facilitate a Bible study on Sunday mornings that has been slowly working through the Gospel of Matthew. What we've seen is that Jesus spoke about one particular thing more than any other: The Kingdom. Matthew's Gospel generally calls it the Kingdom of Heaven, while the other Gospels call it the Kingdom of God. (Matthew's Gospel was written for a Jewish audience who were averse to saying "God" because of the 5th commandment, so "Heaven" was used as a circumlocution.) Sometimes Jesus called it "My Father's Kingdom" or simply, "the Kingdom."

Jesus spoke over and over about the Kingdom of God. He said "The Kingdom is like ..."

"A mustard seed"
"Yeast in a lump of dough"
"Buried treasure"
"A pearl of enormous value"
"A net that goes under the water and brings up massive amounts of fish"

He said the Kingdom is near.
The Kingdom is at hand.
The Kingdom is within you.

Jesus described the Kingdom as something that begins small or hidden. It is often overlooked, except by those who have eyes to see it. But it can grow and spread and increase quickly. It changes lives. It changes the world.

Jesus prayed "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven."

The Greek word translated as "kingdom" is basilea. It means "the rule and reign." The Kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God--God’s will being done.

The Kingdom is here. Right here, right now--if we have the eyes to see it and the willingness to participate in it.

What Jesus was speaking of was not an earthly geographical political Kingdom--though that's what the Jews of His day were hoping for.

He was not speaking about Heaven either.

And He was not speaking about the Church.

He was speaking about God ruling and reigning; God's will being done--right here, right now--on earth, through His followers.

And so, when the hungry are fed, that is the Kingdom. When injustices are made right, that is the Kingdom. When people are healed, or loved, or cared for, or forgiven, that is the Kingdom. When oppression is non-violently confronted, that is the Kingdom. When those in bondage are set free, that is the Kingdom. When compassion, mercy and grace are extended, that is the Kingdom. When a grieving widow is comforted, that is the Kingdom. When we walk in the rule and reign of God--here and now--feeling His heart and doing His will as He leads us, and as He enables us--that is the Kingdom.

George Fox wrote this: "...the Kingdom of God, which most people talk of at a distance, and refer altogether to another life, is in some measure to be known and entered into in this life..."

Fox also believed that we could be transformed and empowered by God to live holy lives. He believed this so strongly that he came to equate the Gospel with the indwelling presence and power of God.

I’ve heard lots of different explanations of what the Gospel is. If you go onto Youtube and search on "What is the gospel", you'll get hours and hours worth of explanations. Mostly what they boil down to is that Jesus saved us from our sin, which I agree with. But George Fox had a very unique way of describing the Gospel:
He said, "The Gospel is the power of God."

And he didn't just say that once or twice--he said it over and over. A Quaker scholar named Lisa Kuenning has counted at least 373 times where Fox explicitly equates "the Gospel" with "the power of God". He wasn't speaking of the Gospel as a set of propositions that we proclaim or saying that the Gospel message is powerful or that there's power in the message of the Gospel. Fox used the word "Gospel" to describe being empowered by God to live a holy life and to experience the Kingdom--right here, right now.

Jesus saved us, but Jesus is also saving us, by His power working in us.

Here are some examples of how Fox equated "the Gospel" with "the power of God":

"For whosoever receiveth the Gospel, which is called the 'power of God,' it is immediate, and by immediate revelation from God."

"The Gospel is the power of God which turns against that which brings bondage...and so gives liberty and freedom to the captives; and this, which is the power of God, is glad tidings..."

So to Fox, and to the early Quakers, the Gospel was much, much more than a message one proclaimed or a set of theological propositions. It was a powerful and ongoing encounter with God. At its very core, to be a Quaker is to encounter and experience God. And by experiencing God, we are empowered to overcome sin and to co-labor with God in the expansion of His Kingdom--right here, right now.

There is another interesting Quaker term which Fox coined and that is "Gospel Order." When we, as a community, are empowered by God to hear, to discern and to follow together, we are experiencing "Gospel Order." "Gospel Order" is the Quaker term for when the church is firing on all cylinders.

Fox wrote:

"So, as I was first moved of the Lord God, to go up and down the nation to preach the Gospel, then afterwards the Lord moved me to go up and down to exhort and unite, that all people might come into the possession of the Gospel, and the Order of it, which is the Power of which all things are upheld and ordered to the glory of God...It is said in Psalm 37:23, "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; that is, by his Power and Spirit."

Lloyd Lee Wilson defines Gospel Order as the order and harmony that characterizes every part of creation when that part is functioning according to God's will. Wilson goes on to say, “As one comes more closely into harmony with the gospel order, one’s life is filled with the peace that passes understanding and one’s relationships reflect this peace and harmony.” We seek, as a community, to experience this Gospel Order--this harmony and peace and fullness of function--not by our own striving, but by God's power working in us.

The idea is this: There is an open invitation to men, women and children to participate with God in the reconciliation and restoration of His creation. In the Book of Genesis, after God completed creation, He said it was very good. Quakers believe that by the power of the Living Christ that goodness is being restored. We can experience it, together--right here, right now. But this is a journey—it’s a process. It begins by accepting and opening ourselves to the inward grace of God, as individuals and as a community.

As we continue in the journey, we experience the Gospel--the quiet power of God in our lives bringing salvation, healing, restoration, reconciliation, purpose. We see the Kingdom of God in our midst, as it is in Heaven—right here, right now--oftentimes in small, subtle, hidden ways—-because the Kingdom is like that.

And someday, we will see the Kingdom in its fullness.

But for now…

We are called.
And empowered.
To live in the Kingdom.
And to experience the harmony of “Gospel Order” as a community.
Right here, right now.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Quote of the Day

"My heart hath often been deeply afflicted under a feeling that the standard of pure righteousness is not lifted up to the people by us, as a society, in that clearness which it might have been, had we been as faithful as we ought to be to the teachings of Christ." -- John Woolman (18th Century Quaker)