Saturday, May 10, 2008

Should we form universalist congregations?

NO! To be honest the whole idea makes me shudder with horror. In the list of things that are essential for a good church, teaching universalism is WAY down on the list. Indeed, a church that formed itself to be a 'universalist' congregation makes me imagine that it would spend a lot of its time preaching about universalism and so on (forgive me if I am wrong). God spare us from that!

I want to be part of a church that is trinitarian, Christ-centred, Spirit-filled, missional and loves people. If they also happen to teach universalism (in appropriate contexts - see my post on Origen) then great. Indeed, I would like it that they did. But if they taught eternal conscious torment then I'd rather be with them than a church that was all about universalism.

Don't get me wrong. I really do think that universalism is true (and I rejoice in it!) and I'd be very happy to be part of a chuch that was evangelical universalist so long as the universalism was simmering away in its background. It is simply that I think we need to put universalism in its place. It is good news. It is important but it is not fundamental to healthy and obedient Christian living. Indeed some of the best churches I know believe in eternal conscious torment. Bless them Lord!


Jason Pratt said...

...I dunno. I've had people ask me before if I would form a new denomination, with the impression that they'd be glad to join. I'm against it mainly because I think there are enough denominations in the world already, and I'd rather see the ones in existence reclaiming this early doctrine for themselves.

That being said, while a church can accomplish good without universalism, that's true about lots of organizations, too. A commitment to love and truth together is essential for a good church (or any good organization really); but I firmly believe (both in principle and on biblical evidence, one piece of which I discussed in another comment down there today in an earlier thread of yours {s}) that true hope for salvation from sin is essential for a better church than one that insists on God's hopelessness.

That being said: the first retort I can think of is, why not unitarian universalism then? Because I don't believe unitarianism is true (and neither do they, strictly speaking, nowadays. {s}) The question of God's character and characteristics has to come first, before we get into doctrines about God's salvation.


Jason Pratt said...

Perhaps not-incidentally: early last December, there was a combined statistical report released during the quarterly meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, that was promoted as being evidence of a coming increase in Calvinist preachers (based on seminary graduate poll data compared to a basis poll of the same questions given to all current SBC preachers.)

I noticed a far more intriguing confluence of the statistical data which, so far as I know, went completely unremarked upon (except by me in this press release. {g}) I was amazed, to say the least.


The Christian Heretic said...

I attended a Christian Universalist house church for a couple years, and it was nice to be able to fellowship with others who believed in UR (Universal Reconciliation), but if one's church is primarily focused on one doctrine it's not going to last very long (ours didn't).

My suggestion would be to include UR in the Statement of Faith or something, so that it's a part of your congregation's beliefs (since I'm not a big fan of the doctrine of reserve), but definitely not the primary focus.

That said, the idea of UR meet-ups or conferences or something aren't necessarily a bad idea.

I'm enjoying your blog, by the way.

James Goetz said...

Gregory, I agree. Exclusive Universalism is eschatology and what I classify as a secondary doctrine. I think that secondary doctrines are important while I don't believe that churches should major in secondary doctrines. I'm both evangelical and neopentecostal while I plan to stay evangelical and neopentecostal.

Anonymous said...

There are some evangelical denominations that are neutral on the subject, silent with whether hell is temporary or not, purgative or punitive. One might be able to survive in such a body. I think I'm in one. Your book has been very encouraging.