Sunday, January 1, 2006

Plant a Seed or Make a Convert?

As a Christian, one thing I've always struggled with is the responsibility to spread the good news.  I mean it's one thing to spread the good news and another thing to proselytize or to actively try to move people from a lack of faith or another faith into our faith.  When I believed in Eternal Conscious Torment, this was especially a dilemma because the stakes are so incredibly high.  Now that I truly believe it's God's job to save people (and He already has), this question doesn't completely go away.  It just takes on a different tone.
I think this is one of the most important implications of Universal Reconciliation.  Well, I'm finding more important implications all of the time and they're all pretty important. So, you might find I overuse this phrase.  But, traditionally (at least for the last 1400 or 1500 years), Christians have been encouraged to convert others because if those people didn't consciously accept Jesus (say the Sinner's Prayer or get dunked or something) in this lifetime they were going to burn forever.  One of the biggest fears traditionalists have of our universalist message is that will  take away the motivation for us to keep preaching the gospel or for others to come join us.  Oh, we all know that 1 Corinthians 3 says that one plants, another waters but it is G-d who gives the increase.  But, haven't we all felt pressure to bring in converts?  Haven't we all had that special someone we targeted to convert?  And, if you truly believe that G-d is going to eternally torment people for not converting and you haven't felt this, what does that say about your compassion for your fellow man?  How can we go about our daily lives eating and drinking and putting money in our 401k accounts while we are literally watching people around us being sucked into hell by the thousands every day?  Shouldn't we spend every waking moment, every ounce of energy trying to prevent this disaster?  The fact that so many people who say they believe in ECT don't spend more effort trying to "save" people says one of a few things:

  1. People don't really believe the ECT doctrine and have "softened" it in their own minds.  Many have.  We put in exceptions like the age of accountability (surely G-d wouldn't send babies to hell.  Any thinking person couldn't believe that.  Well, that doctrine is no where in the New Testament.  But, a lot of people believe it.  I talk to people all the time who seem to feel they have to confess the ECT doctrine.  But, when I start asking questions, they start slowly backing away from it (as much as they feel they can without being labeled a heretic that is.

  2. People have done such a good job of "coping" that they just ignore the implications of this doctrine.  Bishop Carlton Pearson got his wake up call one day while sitting on the couch watching starving children in Africa.  He prayed to G-d about how G-d could let this happen and then, on top of it all, "suck those babies right into Hell".  Bishop Pearson then woke up from his coping mechanism and began to really think about the implications of what he believed and was teaching. What about all of the Jews killed in the Holocaust. Did G-d escort men, women and children from the gas chambers directly into eternal torment? Who's worse?  Someone who tortures a person for a few months and then puts them to death or someone who eternally torments a person with no chance of escape (not even death)?

  3. People are just plain selfish and as long as they have "made it", they really don't care about what happens to those who do not.  Some even look forward to being in heaven and seeing others writhing in torment in hell.

So, let's assume that we are caring people and now we accept Universalism?  Aren't we going to lose our motivation to spread the "good news"?  If everyone's going to heaven anyway, bag sharing the gospel and let's all just party. Well, let's just think about that.  Why would I want to keep this truly good news to myself?  Universalism has the potential to change lives not only individually but globally. Universalism is such a dramatic shift from what most religions teach that it literally has the power to change the world (isn't this what the gospel was supposed to do?) Imagine a world where people believe they are created in the image of G-d and that he loves them, no matter what they've done.  Imagine the increased sense of self-worth.  Imagine a world where everybody is equal.  There are none who are redeemed and others who are rejected. (BTW, there is a difference between salvation/saved and redeemed and we'll discuss that another time.  But, from a universalist POV, all are redeemed.)  There are those who know they are redeemed and those who do not yet know it.   But, knowing I am redeemed does not make me any more or less important in God's eyes.

What if the Christian message was no longer "turn or burn"? What if the message was "God loves you- just the way you are.  No strings attached."  Wouldn't you want to know more about this God?  Wouldn't you want to know more about a man (Jesus) who died for you while you were His enemy?
Romans 5:10 For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!
Every religion to date (including what we have made of Christianity) is about performing to be accepted by God.  Oh, we say we're different.  We say that there is no way to earn God's love and that it's all about His grace. But, Christianity (in its thousands of denominations)  has largely evolved into just a works based religion as any other religion.  We just have different "works" that are required. We all accept that we must be "born again" to enter the Kingdom.  But, we have taken being born again and defined that in a multitude of ways.  Some preach that means saying the Sinner's Prayer.  Some say it means being baptized. Even within that we have being baptized in Jesus' name versus the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dunking versus sprinkling and adult baptism versus infant baptism.  Some teach eternal security (once saved always saved).  Some teach if you "backslide", you were never saved.  Some teach you can lose your salvation.  And on and on and on.

How would a gospel of "You have been saved by God whether you know it or not, without your permission, before you were born" change our view of God?  How differently would Christians treat non-Christians if we looked on them as redeemed people living like they were lost rather than looking at them like God's rejects who are headed for His big furnace?  Isn't this a much easier gospel to present to people than the turn or burn which makes us seem superior, God seem just downright mean and non-Christians seem like less than filth, unless they perform this act of "believing"?

Now that I am a universalist, the pressure is off. I don't have to convert my sister or my best friend- who is Jewish or anyone else.  I know that God truly loves them, just as they are and nothing they can do or say (or not do or say) can separate them from that love.   I can more freely share this gospel without fear of alienating people or I could keep it to myself (which you can see I'm not doing a very good job of doing).  My new understanding of the gospel has given me more reason to shout it from the rooftops.  But, when I do share it, I can truly believe the verse about my job just being to plant the seed or do the watering and I leave giving the increase to the One it belongs to.


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