There is a great question posted at Kingdom Grace that has got me thinking:

Is it or has it ever been God’s intention to punish mankind?

I gladly call myself a Christian Universalist or an Ultimate Reconciliationist. I have to be. Even though I do not know if it is true or not, I do know that there are enough verses and concepts throughout the scriptures to make this position at the very least possible if not probable. So I have to put my hope where God puts his hopes. It is his will that NO ONE should perish. Ultimately all creation will be reconciled, things in heaven, on earth and under the earth.

I would almost say that if you did not at the very least have a hope that Universalism is true than you are not a Christian. Of course I don’t and won’t say this, but  I do think it from time to time.

This is not to say that I am not human. I would like to see some roast eternally, but in reality, these are few and far between. Most I’d just like to see hurting for a weekend or two.

My stance is that “righteousness and justification comes through the faith OF Christ and that he himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for our sins but also for the whole world. We will all be justified by grace through faith. And we will all be judged based on our works.”

If Jesus’ life is any indication, it is us religious types that will be judged harshest! God’s people, first Israel and now the church, have always been the first to be judged. Our purpose here on earth is to be a beacon of hope and to manifest the Kingdom of God here on earth as it is in heaven. Share the gospel? Yes. But as a demonstration. Our purpose, from Abraham on down, was to be God’s blessing to the nations. And it is my firm belief that Matthew 25 is about seeing Jesus in “the other”. Jesus uses the Pharisees own doctrine of exclusion and subverts it, turning the tables and challenging them with there own eternal destiny.

So my answer is: No, It never was God’s will to punish. There will be judgment but I believe it will not be punitive but restorative judgment.

Here is a video that is worth the watch as it relates to the Gospel of the Kingdom vs the gospel of life after death: Brian McLaren: The Gospel Question

First, let me start by saying that I think that the gospel is not “you’re a sinner, damned to hell unless you ‘say the sinners prayer’, let Jesus in your heart and follow him” (whatever ‘follow him’ means). I do not think Jesus will return again riding on a white horse ready to smite all who oppose him – after all, this would subvert the very message he left us with.

I believe that the gospel is that Jesus ushered in the new kingdom of peace that the prophets of the Hebrew scriptures looked forward to and that we are now able to participate in this new kingdom!

See, when the Caesar would enter into an area, he would be preceded by messengers (or apostles – same word) who would proclaim whatever ‘good news’ Caesar was bringing. The gospel of Jesus is ‘ Repent (become pensive again or have a change of mind and heart), the Kingdom of God is at hand (God’s new benevolent society is already among us).’ This message is very much in contrast to the message of the empire about the kingdom of Rome. (It could also be considered very different from the message of the christian empire – Christendom.)

I believe that the gospel is not about what we believe (this is what became of our faith in the 300’s with creedal religion – though there has always been disputes about beliefs and truth). This is not to say right belief is not important, just that is not important in order to be in/out or christian/non-christian. Belief, rather, affects who we become.

So what do I believe it mean to further the gospel?

I believe furthering the gospel is manifesting God’s kingdom here on earth. Bringing peace, justice and mercy. I believe it has to do with
a) relieving poverty (this is the real prosperity message),
b) bringing equality(to slaves, women, minorities, human sexuality, …),
c) bringing true security to humanity through passivity and respecting others and creation (resist the fear mongering, doubt/resist power, not vilifying the other, education of the other/enemy, environmental issues, and living in harmony with the rest of the world’s religions)

I believe that Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom IS a social gospel. Ah, but you say, “Jesus urged us to go into the highways and byways and compel people to come in to the banquet.”

Story Time

Jesus was attending a feast at a pharisee’s house and told the host he shouldn’t invite others with the expectation of being repaid; rather he should invite the poor and those who cannot repay. On hearing Jesus, someone proclaimed “Blessed is everyone who will feast in the kingdom of God!” Jesus then gives this parable:

“A man once gave a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time for the banquet he sent his slave to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, because everything is now ready.’ But one after another they all began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going out to examine them. Please excuse me.’ Another said, ‘I just got married, and I cannot come.’ So the slave came back and reported this to his master. Then the master of the household was furious and said to his slave, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and alleys of the city, and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ Then the slave said, ‘Sir, what you instructed has been done, and there is still room.’ So the master said to his slave, ‘Go out to the highways and country roads and urge people to come in, so that my house will be filled. For I tell you, not one of those individuals who were invited will taste my banquet!”

So often this is understood as teaching us ‘who will go to heaven’. Is this so?

More important, I think, is the emphasis that those who were invited did not get to attend. Rather it was the poor and lowly that ended up feasting at the banquet. The very people Jesus just finished telling the host whom he should be inviting; which turns out to be the very comment that started the ball rolling for this parable to be told in the first place.

And who is invited to the Banquet table in the Kingdom of God? In this context, I cannot help but think that Jesus was referring to the very people he was feasting with, the Pharisees, the religious people of his day. So who should take warning from this parable? I find it amazing that we the religious people of today are so good at putting these warnings aside. We put ourselves in the shoes of the poor (in spirit) or the slave rather than the invited.

So I see this parable as a warning about blessed assurance. Just because we are members of God’s family, even leaders of this family as were the pharisees, does not mean that we are walking in God’s will. Not only this, but Jesus threw in social justice. Or more accurately, Jesus’ lesson on social justice is interrupted and he takes this opportunity to expand his lesson on justice to jolt the children of God into a reality where yet again he proclaims that those who are first will be last and those who are last will be first. I can’t help but think that so often the point that Jesus proclaimed to the privileged, people of God was contrary to the promise of being the head and not the tail. Jesus was saying that the tail will be the head and the head will be the tail.

The idea of going out into the highways and byways is not the point of this parable. Do I think there is a place to call people to follow Jesus? To become his disciples? To enter into the ‘Kingdom of God’? Absolutely! But I’d be the first to admit that though I am a believer in Jesus, I have faith as it were, I do little following. I understand all too well that the gate and road is narrow, that I spend way too much time on the wide road that leads to destruction. I don’t think that this narrow/wide road has anything to do with life after death, but life and destruction here and now.

Advancing the kingdom has precious little to do with praying, fasting, giving money to an institution or any other religious practice, including, dare I say, evangelism. The prophets of old continually proclaimed God’s discuss with ‘his people’ following all the rules and practices he himself laid out for them to do. Rather blessings results from doing social justice. That is what pleases God. Jesus taught us that praying for God to forgive us is ineffective; God forgives us as we forgive others. So too, though praying for relief in Haiti may change my heart towards action, to often it just satisfies a guilty conscience and allows me to feel off the hook to really help by getting my hands dirty or at the very least funding someone else to get their hands dirty.

We need to stop interpreting Jesus’ message, his gospel, with our interpretation of Paul’s gospel. Instead we need to start interpreting Paul through Jesus. What we tend to see in Paul’s gospel – a personal relationship being restored to God – is not core in Jesus’ gospel. Sure Jesus emphasizes relationship with Daddy, but this is not his message of the Kingdom of God. If anything it is a side effect, or maybe it’s a requirement. Either way, Jesus’ message is for us to turn our back (repent) on earthly Kingdoms, Rome and Religion, and to reach out our hands and grasp the Kingdom of God. By doing so we enter into the New Creation. We begin to live out the poetic prophesies we love to read about. The ones about lions and sheep lying down together. Jesus’ Kingdom of God gospel was never meant to be the message of life after death. It is a message we are to enter into now, while there is time to be a blessing, to make a difference.

This is a warning: it is inevitable that when you finally stand in your own freedom, you are going to become the bad guy. You are the one who’s going to be blamed for ruining everything. So buckle up!

I have been hearing over and over that people realize there are great problems and issues that need to be dealt with in our current manifestation of Christendom. The problem is that we (and I do include myself) tend to wait on God or others to do something about it. I have heard, and voiced, criticisms of how Western Christendom in general, different denominations or flavours of said religion in particular, and even local congregations or city churches have failed or are failing. This point of view has come across in a number of conversations I have had with others over the last few months, through listening to podcasts, and in reading blogs.

Now, it is easier for me to complain that “if the pastors and elders are not motivated or can’t seem to motivate a change in the course of this ocean-liner called the local congregation/ or a given denomination, how am I expected to have any effect?” This allows me to just sit back and look at – and complain about – the issues that I see. And this blog, facebook and other venues have been my media of choice in voicing my critiques.

People have been telling me that these New Medias are inferior to face-to-face dialogue. Though I see their point, these media are no different than the  publishing of books, which is acceptable to almost every one. The big difference is that with these new media outlets, the people can have a voice, not just big name authors. So, though I do not apologize for voicing my critiques, I do apologize for not taking action, and for any hint that I think my opinions are better or more right than those who hold other ones. I have a passion for Christ’s Body and am tremendously excited to be living in a time of great change within our culture and thus the Faith. This passion and excitement may come across sounding stronger then is meant. And this is were media in general is lacking. However, in order to bring the conversation to the masses/laity, sometimes the nuances of personal communication needs to be scarified.

The time has come for me to take responsibility for the burden God has laid on my heart. Though I do not know how this will manifest, now is the time. As I start this new journey, I realize that what lays directly ahead is a wilderness, and this excites me. For the scriptures show that God seems more near us as we step out into the wildernesses of life. In the exodus out of Egypt, God was ever present with his people as a column of smoke by day and a column of fire by night. He also directly supplied their every need.

This post started as a quick comment on the video below. In  my opinion, this is one of the greatest defects of the church in the west.

Out of Ur

We need to stop talking and complaining about the problems we see, and start doing something about them. Every little step counts!

Am I a Universalist?

This is one question I am currently wrestling with God.

“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
1 Corinthians 15

“So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the one the many will be made righteous.”
Romans 5:18,19

“For it was the good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.”
Colossians 1:19,20

So the question is:

Do we interpret away the ALL in these passages to be SOME – only those who make a decision?

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Romans 10:9

Or do we interpret the opposing scripture through these universalism ones?

“so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of the Father.”
Philippians 2:10,11

“For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that  though they were judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to God”
1 Peter 4:6

I don’t think that the manipulation of scripture for either side can totally convince me one way or the other. So I must rely on whom I see God to be. Is he the vengeful God who needs to be appeased through a blood sacrifice and only those who, while alive, call out to him are relieved from an eternity of torture and damnation. Or is he a God of Love that is not willing that any should perish?

I am not as of yet committed to the doctrine of universalism though I hope it’s true, and even pray that it’s true. I cannot imagine any one hoping or praying that the reverse is true. And if I, and evil human that I am, could not wish the modern concept of hell even on one such as Hitler, how much more so a loving Father in heaven? (Luke 11:13)

I do believe that regardless of which version is the TRUTH, all will be judged and some will be punished. The question is what is the extent of the punishment? Eternal? Or pertaining to an age? (both of which is valid interpretations for the greek word AIÓNIOS). I also believe that universalism does not diminish the need of preching the gospel of Christ and of the Kingdom of God. For too long the emphasis of our preching has been of “a kingdom to come” not “thy kingdom come”. We are to join with Christ to proclaim release to the captives, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. The gospel of Christ is not a personal gospel nor is it a social gospel. It is both and more. We need to care less for the after life and care more for peace and justise for the here and now.