Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Bible discussion you will never have

I love picking up these books in Christian bookshops that have titles like 'Issues confronting modern Christians - tackled head on.' Or 'Topics most Christians are afraid to face.' I pick them up eagerly expecting to read something really radical in them. But a quick look inside the chapters usually reveals yet another conservative look at homosexuality, or sex before marriage, or how modern morality is going downhill. Unfortunately my interest quickly wanes. (I say unfortunately because perhaps if I read enough of these opinions, they might drum some sensible traditional concepts into my otherwise recalcitrant brain. However that is another subject, and we won't dwell there.)

Instead I want to introduce the topic you can never really discuss freely and openly in your house group or church. One that I have never found in one of these 'radical books' mentioned above. Every time I bring this subject up, other people drop their dialogue. I encounter either anger, or at best, sympathy for me, but no further discussion. Mostly I find evasion. Evasion of any willingness to even look at it, to open it up.

So I am intrigued. In fact I enjoy the topic, and would love people to talk it through with me. But it doesn't happen. Maybe one day it will. Much of my interest is of course based around the fact that I can't find anyone to really go through it, I confess that. This tells me there must be something in it.

By now you have waited long enough for the topic to be introduced. However I had to do all the preamble. If I introduced the issue up front, you might have immediately stopped reading this. Therefore I had to state somehow, that if I mentioned the topic to begin with, you could have ceased looking.

And written me off.

I even wrote that line deliberately. 'And written me off.' Because I don't mind being written off at all. In fact I am going to get around that as well before we get to the meat. You see, this topic is not my idea. No, indeed. In fact I only got interested in it by chance. I stumbled upon it, and would have dismissed it immediately had I not seen the impressive number of respected theologians and people through the centuries who stand behind this belief. So, doesn't bother me if you write me off. But remember you are also dismissing the opinions of people in history such as Benjamin Franklin, Immanuel Kant, Thomas Jefferson, William Barclay, Karl Barth, Thomas Paine, Robert Burns, Samuel Coleridge, Charles Dickens, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Milton, Alexander Graham Bell, Florence Nightingale, Isaac Newton, and Jacques Ellul, to name but a very, very, few. There are also oodles of worthwhile web sites devoted to it with expositions from the centuries available for reading.
Okay, enough, here is the topic. Purposefully buried in the middle of this paragraph in case you had skimmed. It is the topic of universal salvation. When Christians first hear this phrase, warning lights go on, as they now have with you. Let's do the definition first. Universal salvation does not claim all religions lead to God. Not on your Nelly. That is a belief called Universalism. It sounds the same, but is vastly different. Universal salvation, in short, claims that each and every person ever to live and die will be saved by the love of God displayed through Jesus Christ. In other words that Jesus Christ will ultimately save every single human being.

Let's get pedantic now and really turn you off. Universal salvation obviously claims that no human beings end up in hell. First thing we are going to look at it are some Bible passages by the way. Just a few. I have highlighted words such as every and all.

Isaiah 45:22-23 "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of
the earth
; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.
John 12:32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself."
Romans 5:18 Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of
righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.
1 Corinthians 15:22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made
1 Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God and one mediator
between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men-the testimony given in its proper time.
1 Timothy 4:10 (and for this we labor and strive),
that we have put our hope in the living God, who
is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.

Takes a long time to see those words, all and every. It might take you years, because nobody preaches about them. But the words are there. They are scattered throughout the Bible in reference to the saving grace of Jesus. Go check the Bible for yourself.

To get back to my original point however, I am merely saying here that you wont be able to discuss this issue. An indepth look at it will be too difficult for your Pastor to handle.

Now there are some other factors to consider while we are on this topic. Ramifications is one of them. If you think that people are heading towards hell, then there are some awful particulars you have to live with. Let us say you are thinking of telling your neighbour about the saving power of Jesus, and you arrange to see him on Saturday. But, come Saturday, turns out your son gets a place in the top football team, and you go to watch him play instead. Meanwhile your neighbour gets hit by a bus, and dies. Goes to hell forever. You have to live with the knowledge that you could have told him, you might have got through to him, but you let that opportunity slip for a reasonably good excuse. Your neighbour is now going to spend one hundred years roasting in hell, no, one thousand years roasting in hell, no, one million… no, forever, in eternal pain and torment because of your decision that Saturday.

Furthermore, you are going to have to answer to God for not speaking to the neighbour that Saturday, on the feeble defense of watching your son play football. A game of football for your neighbours' eternity in hell. And you think you are going to enjoy Heaven, with that trip hanging on your shoulder. Just remember, if you take Jesus' parable of Lazarus literally, while you are sitting in Heaven, you can actually see Hell, and the torment the residents are enduring there. You will see your neighbour there. You will be daily reminded of your wrong decision.
The ramifications of holding a consistent belief in condemnation to the flames are awesome. Think them through. There is no way you could live with these details. Think of someone you witnessed to in the wrong manner, and turned them off, and it really was your fault. You blundered in, and messed it up. So they die and go to hell because of your fault, your inadequacy in presenting the message.

Another debate often thrown up is the old argument, "if everybody is saved by the grace of God demonstrated through Jesus, then why become a believer? What is the point?"

This is exactly the issue Paul had to write about in Romans chapter six. The previous chapter, Romans chapter five, is the one where Paul waxes eloquent about all men being saved. Spends a lot of time towards the close of the fifth chapter talking about how one mans sin introduced death, the act of dying, for all men. Then goes on to say how God's free gift brings life to all men. Evangelical protestants tend to split the 'all's'. On one hand they agree with the 'all' of dying. All means everyone there. But on the other hand they say that Paul doesn't mean all men receive life - oh no, he means just those that acknowledge Jesus in this life. The second 'all' apparently doesn't mean everyone.

Well, Paul expects his readers to then ask the question above, i.e. 'what is the point of becoming a believer?' and he starts chapter six with the very words "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may increase?" Then he proceeds to answer that question. But again I won't here. Read it yourself.

If you are a new believer, you might not have encountered the threat of hell that much. It is not Religiously Correct (RC) to talk about it today. Today's Pastors go for evasion. They say, 'oh that's God's business'. Or, 'I don't preach hell'. They soft pedal it. But if you push one hard enough, he will tell you yes, non-believers are going to hell.

In the new Message Bible, currently selling well throughout the world, the author has this to say in his introduction to Proverbs: "Many people think that what's written in the Bible has mostly to do with getting people into heaven-getting right with God, saving their eternal souls. It does have to do with that, of course, but not mostly." (Message Bible italics)What a copout. The writer knows that it is not RC to speak about hell and damnation, so he soft pedals it, and goes on to say how the Bible is "equally concerned with living on this earth."He also says other RC things like "In our Scriptures, heaven is not the primary concern, to which earth is a tag-along afterthought."This is all churchspeak in the new millenium. If that writer believes that our personal decisions here lead either to an eternity in heaven, or an eternity in hell, then he has absolutely no right underplaying it. He should be out front there, preaching and telling everyone to the best of his ability that this seventy years here is a nothing compared to eternity. I mean, the guy says 'not mostly.' Is he saying that seventy years on earth is more important than a million years in hell? Give me strength.Unfortunately he is like nearly every other church leader. He holds back on his message of damnation because it is not acceptable to preach it. In fact, he probably has reservations about it, and won't come out readily and admit them. Well, if he believes in people going to hell, then he needs to state it. The price is too great.

There are further reasons why the Pastors can't really drop the message. Having hell there is a great method of social control, of keeping the churchgoers in fear, of keeping them nice and moral, lest awful things happen to them. It is the backdrop to so much preaching about Christian living, but just sugar coated these days. We hear so much about keeping our spiritual lives clean, of holiness in case God deserts us. Hell doesn't get mentioned, but it is there behind the scenes, hovering vengefully.

Us Christians, we even turn it into the message of good news. The other day I saw a guy on a roundabout with a printed jerkin on. Preaching and haranguing the passing traffic. The front of his shirt read 'Hell is for real.' And the back something like 'Turn and repent.'

I sat in my car awhile watching him, reflecting how this was how our church society presents the message of Good News. Good grief. I told someone else about it. They commiserated with me, but had to stick to the fact that ultimately, the haranguer was telling the correct message.

Time for a quote. Here is a goodie, this time from a Reverend.

"The single most important cause for the Western World's great defection from Christ has been the church's teaching of a literal hell. For if we examine the last three centuries of Western history, we can see very clearly how the central atheistic figures of this period were turned away from Christianity basically because of the teaching of hell. And by now we can also see far more clearly the nihilistic and catastrophic results of this atheism. For example, from people like Nietzsche and Wagner we have seen the fruits of Hitler and the entire Nazi period. And what was the teaching of Christianity that turned Protestant Nietzsche and Catholic Wagner against Christianity? A literal hell.

From people like Feuerbach, Marx, and Lenin, we have seen the fruits of people like Stalin and Mao and the misery of Communism throughout the world. And what was the "Christian" teaching which more than any other caused Feuerbach, Marx and Lenin to see Christianity as an "opiate"? The fact that Christians preoccupied with getting to heaven and avoiding hell were willing to turn their backs on the body politic and let it go to here-and-now hell--the only real hell there is. And why did Freud debunk religion in general and Christianity in particular as "illusion"? Again, it's a matter of historical record. Freud had a Christian governess who terrified him with threats of hellfire when he was barely old enough to talk. Therefore Freud couldn't wait to fashion an interpretation of human life that would completely eliminate the need for religion and its terrifying denials of the human body."

-Rev Robert Short, U.S. Catholic published by Claretian Publications

Here is one final thing to bring up in the discussion. It is the observation that Christians don't want to believe it, or even to consider it. Non-Christians will readily consider it. Now you will say that is because non-Christians have an agenda, and that is to avoid a confrontation with Jesus. You might also be right in many circumstances. If there is an agenda on one side however, there may also be one on the other. Christians might not want God to forgive everyone because it will have meant their religious activities were done in vain. That there was no need for them to engage in those boring church renovation works, sing endless songs, print off church newsletters and vacuum the vestry.

I would have expected believers, who claim they want to love more, to leap at the possibility that our God of love was actually gathering in every living human being to himself. At the very least I would have expected they would investigate the option. But they won't even look, won't even examine the scriptures in the main.

Now I don't expect for a minute that this article will persuade anyone in Christendom to change their views on this topic. The ramifications of seeing the Good News of Jesus as simply that, simply a message of life for all men, of life at some stage, of the overpowering encountering of the majestic and irresistible love of God either now or at some future time, are too broad. It challenges too much that Christians have learned. It is far easier to retreat in Churchdom, into the fold of the blessed, the saved, and attempt to hold the fort until Jesus comes again.
But please don't tell me the Bible teaches non-Christians will go to hell.

No, I've changed my mind. Tell me, face to face, with a Bible between us, and some time to discuss it.


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