It used to be that Universalists behaved and stayed in the New Age where they belonged. But sadly, those days are over. And it used to be that a Universalist message was easy to "hear" and distinguish from the exclusive message of Christ. Again, no more. A new, peculiar brand of Universalism - unique to Christianity - does not deny the reality of sin and the resurrection of Christ, and yet still manages to have a distinctively Universalist message. For the sake of simplicity, I've given this new virulent strain of spiritual bacterium the name of "Christian Universalism." Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn't it? Like "jumbo shrimp" or "virtual reality." The truth is that there is only one way to heaven, and that is through the shed blood of Christ. And a person has to know this, understand this, trust this, and affirm this, and without this awareness, trust and affirmation, a person cannot be saved. The Bible has to be read in context. For a person to try to affirm Christian Universalism means that they have to get out their scissors and cut out parts that go counter to their proof texts.
A Christian Universalist is someone who makes a verbal profession of Christ, uses Christian terminology, but who holds to a Universalist view that attempts to work a non-exclusionary Christ into their message. Sometimes a false teaching called "the Wider Mercy Doctrine" is worked into this odd Universalist message, but not always. And, Christian Universalism is also sometimes referred to as "Universal Reconciliation."
There are two very popular pastors/writers today that I think hold to this view of Christian Universalism, and they are Dallas Willard and Leonard Sweet. Let me explain why I think this.
Willard: “Now, I believe that everyone who deserves to be saved will be saved no matter where they are or what they do.”
Truth: None of us 'deserve' to be saved. There is no-one who seeks after God, no-one who is righteous. (Romans 3:10-11)
Willard: "(God) is open and in touch with everyone in the world, and for all who seek them with all of their heart—and that is defined in terms of coming to love Him, and not just have the right beliefs about Him—but coming to love Him, and loving their neighbor as themselves."
Truth: Everyone who is saved may not have every i dotted or every t crossed on a fancy doctrinal statement, but they WILL have right beliefs about God, including comprehension of and humble acknowledgement to the belief that Jesus is the ONLY way to God, and that no-one comes to the Father but by him. (John 14:6)
Willard: "I am not going to stand in the way of anyone whom God wants to save. I am not going to say ‘he can’t save them.’ I am happy for God to save anyone he wants in any way he can. It is possible for someone who does not know Jesus to be saved. But anyone who is going to be saved is going to be saved by Jesus: ‘There is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.’"
Truth: What an odd statement this is. It sounds both Christian and Universalist at the same time. Here is the Christian part:
"(A)nyone who is going to be saved is going to be saved by Jesus: ‘There is no other name given under heaven by which men can be saved.’"
and now for the Universalist part:
"It is possible for someone who does not know Jesus to be saved."
I suspect that the reason Willard can make both these contradictory assertions in one statement is that he embraces the false teaching mentioned above: "the Wider Mercy doctrine." The Wider Mercy doctrine is a false teaching that salvation can be obtained even when a person has not heard the gospel and does not know Jesus Christ. It is a belief that, somehow, some way, God grants salvation to persons who are sincere in their religious beliefs, even if those beliefs are false. Therefore, according to this false doctrine, a sincere Buddhist or Shintoist or any other religious adherent can obtain salvation, simply because they are sincere in their belief and desire to approach God.
The "Wider Mercy doctrine," in a slightly revised form, has been the main creed of Universalist belief for centuries. Universalism teaches that all religions are the same and that all beliefs are ultimately pointed toward the one true Deity. It does not matter which religion is accepted or practiced, they are simply different roads that ultimately lead to the same destination. (online source, my emphasis)
I could be wrong about this - and I sincerely hope that I am - but based on Willard's own writing, I suspect that Willard holds to either "Christian Universalism" or "the Wider Mercy doctrine." And this leads me to Leonard Sweet, an ordained United Methodist pastor, who is another prominent writer/pastor/teacher today that I believe is also a Christian Universalist masquerading as a Christian.
I actually know Leonard Sweet from my New Age days, having read his book Quantum Spirituality many years ago. While Sweet has attempted in some ways to distance himself from the New Age Spirituality movement, his teaching, language and vision for the church very closely mimic the New Age Spirituality vision for today's church (which is an ecumenical coming together of all faiths through a belief in a "oneness" that unites all mankind, and a downplaying of the exclusiveness of Christ's message). Sweet's teaching in Quantum Spirituality advanced the idea that God is "in" everything....a very eastern idea that is more correctly known as "panentheism."
Sweet also uses the phrase "Christ consciousness," which is a New Age term used to express the belief that all humans already possess inner divinity. Please note that even though the term "Christ" is used, this is not a Christian term, because this view is counter to the orthodox Biblical view that man is born depraved, having inherited his nature from Adam, who sinned in the Garden of Eden and thus became depraved in his inmost being, a trait he passed down to all men and women descended from him. (The usage of Christian language such as "God," "Christ," "Holy Spirit," "grace," etc., is common in New Age circles, though these terms are always redefined to express New Age concepts.)
Sweet's books were very popular among my New Age friends who considered themselves "enlightened Christians." An "enlightened Christian" is someone that I would categorize today as a "Christian universalist," meaning it is someone who professes belief in Christ, but not the Christ of the Bible, with his narrow way and exclusive gospel message. No, the "enlightened Christians" believe that Jesus is their way to heaven...but that ultimately, all paths lead to God, and who are we to "put God in a box" and say that a good Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim couldn't find their way to heaven through their own faith tradition?
Here are some of Sweet's teachings from Quantum Spirituality, along with my commentary:
"The first of these five untheorized observations is that New Light embodiment means to be "in connection" and 'in-formation' with other Christians. Deeper feeling and higher relating go together. The church is fundamentally one being, one person, a comm-union whose cells are connected to one another within the information network called the Christ consciousness." p 122
"The power of small groups is in their ability to develop the discipline to get people "in-phase" with the Christ consciousness and connected with one another." p 147
"New Lights offer up themselves as the cosmions of a mind-of-Christ consciousness. As a cosmion incarnating the cells of a new body, New Lights will function as transitional vessels through which transforming energy can renew the divine image in the world, moving postmoderns from one state of embodiment to another." p 48
MY COMMENTARY: "Christ consciousness" was - and still is - a very prominent New Age Spirituality term used to describe a Christianized form of panentheism, which is the belief that God is "in" all things.
"A surprisingly central feature of all the world's religions is the language of light in communicating the divine and symbolizing the union of the human with the divine: Muhammed's light-filled cave, Moses' burning bush, Paul's blinding light, Fox's "inner light," Krishna's Lord of Light, Bohme's light-filled cobbler shop, Plotinus' fire experiences, Bodhisattvas with the flow of Kundalini's fire erupting from their fontanelles, and so on." p 235
MY COMMENTARY: Sweet is attempting to show here that the "light" of God has manifested itself in many different ways through many different cultures. This is contrary to the teaching of the Bible, which is that God chose to reveal truth ("light") through the Jews in the Old Testament times, with Christ being the culmination of this revealed truth in the New Testament. Born-again believers also have the privilege of bearing this light in a dark and fallen world. But, was there real "light" (i.e., truth) coming from "Muhammed's light-filled cave?" Or from the Universalist Quaker George Fox's mystical "light" experiences? Or from the "flow of Kundalini's fire" which was said to be the awakening of "serpent power" in the Hindu tradition? If so, then the Cross was a mockery, for what God would let his own Son die such a wretched, torturous death if all other paths to God were acceptable?
If I understand Leonard Sweet's latest book, Jesus Manifesto (co-written with Frank Viola) correctly, today's "Christian Universalists" are hanging their hat on Colossians 1:19-20* as their proof text:
"For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." (my emphasis)
NOTE: I have a book dated from the late 1800s that uses Colossians 1:19-20 in an attempt to "prove" Universalism. So this is not a new strategy. Thus, a "Christian Universalist" would accept that^ verse, from Colossians, but would reject all other verses that express, explain and reinforce the exclusivity of Christ:
"Jesus is the stone which was rejected by the builders, but which became the chief cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12) MY NOTE: This verse says that salvation comes through Christ alone, and clearly expresses that others are NOT saved if they reject Christ.
"All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Acts 10:43) MY NOTE: This verse says that a person can't be saved without understanding and believing that their forgiveness and salvation comes exclusively through the person and work of Christ.
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) MY NOTE: Again, this verse teaches that a person cannot be saved without understanding and believing that their forgiveness and salvation comes exclusively through the person and work of Christ. Perhaps the strongest expression of the exclusivity of Christ in the Bible.
"For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Tim 2:5) MY NOTE: Exclusivity again, boom.A "Christian Universalist" would say, according to the Colossians verse, everyone ultimately gets saved through Christ. But given the verses I've posted above, is this not universalism? Because the idea is that all faith traditions have some version of the "light" that is in Christ (i.e., "Muhammed's light-filled cave," the "kundalini's fire," the mystic Quaker's "inner light," etc.) and all people will eventually be reconciled to God through this "light."
But again, this would make a mockery of the Cross and of Jesus's own words:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
It is the preaching of the gospel message that saves lost and doomed sinners....and not the non-offensive message that all paths lead to God, and that the sincerity of one's beliefs are enough to protect one from God's judgment. And what is the gospel message that is so lacking from today's squishy, all-paths-lead-to-God universalism - "Christian" or "Wider Mercy" or any other kind? It is this:
There is a sovereign creator God who has made us, and owns us, and has a righteous claim on our lives. But we have sinned against this God who made us and takes care of us by breaking his moral laws....and without his merciful and loving intervention, we will die in our sins and be condemned to hell forever. It is a wretched, desperate situation. But God, being rich in mercy and loving-kindness, made a way where there was none: He has made a way for sinful man to be reconciled to a holy God. How could this be done? It seems impossible, given God's nature. We are sinful, wretched, depraved.....and He is pure, righteous and holy beyond our comprehension. And after all, the Bible itself plainly lays out the bad new for us in Proverbs 17:15:
"Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both."
Will not justice be subverted if a holy God does both of these things - acquit the guilty (us) and condemn the innocent (Christ)? And yet, God - in his magnificent, unsurpassable wisdom - found a way to do just this thing without compromising his perfect, holy justice. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, never sinning in thought, word or deed, and who, because of this, was able to offer up his life as a ransom for many. I broke God's laws, and Jesus paid my fine in his life's blood so that I could be released from the rightful condemnation of the law. But this gift of salvation, though given freely, is narrow and exclusive. Only those who recognize their sinful wretchedness and need for a Savior, and repent and place their faith in Christ's atoning work done on their behalf, will see the kingdom of Heaven. The very first words of Jesus's public ministry (Matthew 4:17) were: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Narrow is the way, and few be those who find it. But ah, the wretched, human heart, which hugs its sin and depravity close, and would rather perish, clinging stubbornly and unrepentantly to its "right" to determine how we may approach God.......
Brothers and sisters in Christ, professing Christians have crept in unawares into our churches and are using Christian terminology to teach and promote a damning message of universal salvation. To make matters worse, they don't outright deny Christ (which would be easy enough to spot). They simply say things like this:
"Well, sure, Jesus is important, but couldn't other ways be possible too?"
"Don't put God in a box."
"Who am I to say that God couldn't save someone in any way He wants?"
"Jesus is the only way that we know of."We must not allow the salvific power of the gospel message to be adulterated with today's easy-going universalist thinking. We must not let this idea of all-paths-lead-to-God infiltrate our own thinking or the gospel message that we proclaim. It is the gospel that saves, and we must not be ashamed of it to the point of watering it down, or worse, denying its exclusivity. God will save all who come to him...BUT, everyone who comes to him must come on the terms God has set forth.
photo credit: djbuchanan via photopin cc
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