A study of Christian Universalism

Rosa Celeste: Dante and Beatrice gaze upon the...Today we’re visiting some of the Christian Universalist groups to examine what they believe about God, Jesus, the trinity and salvation.  If you’d like to explore those sites with us, check out the Christian Universalist Association, and one called the Beautiful Heresy.

As we conclude our series this week on Christian Universalism, here is a great article by Matt Slick, Christian Apologetics & Resource Ministry (CARM):

Christian Universalism

“Christian Universalism” is the position that all of mankind will ultimately be saved through Jesus whether or not faith is professed in him in this life. It claims that God’s qualities of love, sovereignty, justice, etc., require that all people be saved and that eternal punishment is a false doctrine. Salvation is not from hell, but from sin.
There are two main camps in Christian Universalism:

  1. Those who teach that the unrepentant will be punished in a future state, and that their punishment will be proportional to the degree of sin committed in the mortal state. They generally hold that the punishment is moral and not physical. There is no hell. They do not maintain that salvation is merited through these sufferings.
  2. Those who teach that all the punishment for sin occurs in this life and that God’s discipline in our lives is for the purpose of purifying us, though this purification is not our merit for salvation. In eternity, there will be a loss of reward for those who did not trust in Christ in this lifetime.

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Christian Universalists claim to hold many of the tenets of historic Christianity: Trinity, deity of Christ, deity of the Holy Spirit, salvation by grace, etc. As always, it is necessary to inquire and ask what is meant by the terms they use because the diversity that exists in universalist beliefs warrants further examination. Nevertheless, the Christian universalists claim to affirm:

  1. The inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.
    1. From what I have seen here, they hold to the orthodox position.
  2. There is only one God.
    1. From what I have encountered, most universalists who claim the title “Christian universalists” do not accept the standard doctrine of the Trinity, but lean more towards either Arianism (God is one person, Jesus is created) to modalism (God takes different forms in history). This is, of course, heretical.
  3. Jesus is the Son of the Living God
    1. Many cult groups say the same thing. What they mean by the phrase is what is important. The Christian Universalists tend to say the Son is a manifestation, an image, a representation of God’s essence, yet he is not equal to the Father. Therefore, they are denying His true deity. But, not all who claim to be Christian Universalists deny this.
    2. Some hold that Jesus is not God but that He is divine. This is perplexing since divinity is a quality of God, not angels or men.
  4. Jesus’ Resurrection
    1. Most Christian Universalists affirm the physical resurrection of Jesus. But, some claim he did not rise from the dead physically, but was assumed into heaven to dwell with God. “The Crucified is living forever with God, as our hope. Resurrection does not mean either a return to life in space and time or a continuation of life in space and time but the assumption into that incomprehensible and comprehensive last and first reality which we call God.”

      1. If, by the above quote, the physical resurrection of Jesus is denied, as it seems it is, then anyone who holds to that position is indeed a non-Christian since it denies one of the essential doctrines of Christianity.
  5. The Holy Spirit is God’s presence
    1. There is a surprisingly common denial of the personhood of the Holy Spirit. (Personhood is self-awareness, a will, the ability to speak, etc.). This is a serious error on the part of those who hold to it. But to be fair, many universalists affirm the Holy Spirit as the third person in the Godhead.
  6. There is no salvation without accepting Jesus as Savior
    1. This statement is problematic for two reasons:
      1. Since, to many universalists, Jesus is not truly God by nature, they have an improper object of faith (denying the Trinitarian nature of God and the deity of Christ). Their faith, then, is useless since they have violated the command to worship no other God (Exodus 20) and are worshiping a false god. The Jesus they believe in, is not the real one. This means they are definitely not Christian.
      2. There is a second chance theology at work here where people who have rejected Jesus in this life can come to faith in the next life, even though he has flatly rejected Jesus’ sacrificial atonement.
  7. Some Universalists believe…
    1. in consciousness after death, others do not.
    2. in limited punishment of sinners in a type of hell that is not of fire, but of some moral chastising.
    3. that punishment in the afterlife was for a limited period during which the soul was purified and prepared for eternity in the presence of God.

“Christian Universalism” really isn’t Christian and it is meshed with many other unorthodox and erroneous teachings. This belief system should be avoided.

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3 Responses to A study of Christian Universalism

  1. Matt LeMay says:

    The logic of your argument is relatively clear and brings up some good points for discussion. While it is not exhaustive of the positions held by Christian Universalists, which are notoriously diverse given their liberal theology, it does the doctrine some general justice and opens up the topic well.

    What is unclear, however, is what you mean by "orthodox." It seems abundantly clear that the theology professed by this program is decidedly unorthodox on many issues, including such key points as the Apostolic succession, Mary as Mother of God, the articulation of doctrine of the Logos and of Theosis, the possibility of affecting the state of beings in Hell through prayer, the holiness of iconography, and the necessity of accepting the teachings and context of the living tradition that gave rise to the Scripture in any authentic reading of it (that is, contra sola scriptura).

    You also planely reject mysticism, while Orthodox Christianity accepts that mystical Deification (Theosis) is a core element of the Christian faith and praxis that culminates in communion with God that is even deeper than the original communion of the Garden of Eden.

    These are all orthodox positions you have clearly rejected. Key point: Without an understanding of what you are accepting as "orthodox" and why, it is impossible to clearly delineate what is "heretical."

    Also, in rejecting some of the points of what you are calling a uniquely "Universalist" doctrine, you are actually rejecting a few key positions that are held by Orthodox Christians. Namely that, after the Final Judgment:

    –all souls will be reunited with their resurrected bodies
    –all souls will fully experience their spiritual state
    –having been perfected, the human race will forever progress towards a deeper and fuller love of God, which equates with eternal happiness

    Orthodox Christianity also holds that "hell, though often described in metaphor as punishment inflicted by God, is in reality the soul's rejection of God's infinite love which is offered freely and abundantly to everyone." (Wikipedia, Orthodox Christianity) One can seem to read this either way with regard to whether souls experience hell as literal fire and brimstone or as total darkness and separation from God. In either case, the Orthodox position is that souls in Hell can be affected through prayer, and that they will be reunited with God after the Final Judgment. Thus, damnation is not considered "eternal".

    These positions you reject therefore can not be reduced to a "mere" Universalism, since they are prominent in the most mainstream form of Christianity which has ever existed and which still remains in clear historical accord with the earliest traditions of the Church. The fact that many of these positions were compromised or altered at a later date by the split-off groups of Roman Catholicism, and later by Anglo-Germanic and American Protestantism and most recently liberal theologies like fundamentalism, evangelicalism, universalism, new age, etc is another matter.

    So what, then, is Orthodoxy?


    • Amy Spreeman says:

      Actually we did a a whole show on witnessing to Jehovah's Witnesses with the Burn Brothers ministries. We talk frequently about LDS. Please define fundamentalism for me. Do you mean people who believe the Bible is all true?


  2. Matthew LeMay says:

    Also, the question of why you single out Universalism as a problem doctrine, while you haven't done this to other "unorthodox" types of Christianity such as LDS, Jehova's Witness, fundamentalism, etc


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