Have you ever driven down the road to see someone honking and pointing at your car? That happened to me the other night. I stopped and looked my car over, expecting a flat tire or smoke or some other major problem. It turns out that I forgot to turn on the headlights. Suppose I were to get angry that some stranger had the audacity to point out a flaw in my driving methods instead of realizing that the stranger was only trying to help me? What if I was so hung up on the fact that someone was scrutinizing me or my car, that I kept driving? I could have caused an accident. People could have been injured. Yet this is exactly what happens when I try to discuss belief-opposing information with fundamentalists. They are so caught up in the idea that I am challenging centuries of cherished beliefs that they don’t stop to consider there could be a genuine problem that needs to be addressed. They are so accustomed to driving around in the dark and so entrenched in the idea that they have already got all the answers, that they flat out refuse to allow any formal, public consideration of opposing views to take place within the church walls. It’s a damn shame. Yes, I said damn. If you are hung up on that, then this blog likely applies to you.
If there were cable TV in the pre-Reformation days, the Roman Catholic Church infomercial would look very much like those we see in religious programming now, except that instead of promising prosperity and healing to generous donors, the infomercial would be peddling indulgences, that is, little publications that declare “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs” as if any human being has the right or ability to make such an arrangement. The implication here is that if one does not pay up, then he or she is inadvertently responsible for the torment of a loved one. The shepherds and sheep in modern religious institutions would like to think they’ve moved past all that archaic and erroneous teaching – that Christians nowadays are too enlightened and reformed to fall into such blatant corruption. During the heyday of indulgences, the ruling church/government alliance felt very threatened when pamphlets which highlighted corruption in the church became widely distributed, with the help of the newly invented printing press. Reformers were shunned, persecuted, called heretics, and sometimes put to death, nevertheless, the message spread faster than the church could suppress it. In response, the church/government created a major advertising and preaching campaign against the “new heresies”, the illegal 95 Theses, and similar writings.
Readers may wonder why I bring up all of this old history – the reason is that history is repeating itself. It may be very difficult for someone whose habits and worldview revolve around a religious organization’s model of thinking and weekly activities to see the difference between fundamentalist criticism of Christian Universalism and Christian Universalist’s criticism of fundamentalism. The nearly perfect analogy is the early Reformation days between Protestant Reformers and the Roman Catholic System. I say “nearly perfect” because herein lies the flaw – the institutional church, at least here in the USA, does not have the power to put people to death or physically assault them for bucking the system.
When the Reformers pointed out the ways in which the religious leaders were fighting dirty, they were criticized for speaking against the church. Today, this can be compared to a modern-day Reformer being treated badly for pointing out that there are mistranslations as well as marginal misinformation in almost all modern study Bibles, and consequently, erroneous teachings being passed from one generation to the next. What is wrong with taking the time to examine these claims? I would likely be less convinced that the system is corrupt if the system included a platform for scrutiny. But it doesn’t. Anyone who scrutinizes is simply pushed out and considered “other”.
Thankfully, God is picking up where He left off during the Reformation. One tiny step in the right direction might not seem terribly important until one continues in that direction for hundreds of miles. The new wine simply cannot be contained by the old wineskin. Does this mean I think everyone who shows up at church every week is an old wineskin? No. Does this mean I think that everyone in the religious system is as corrupt as the Roman Catholic church was in the pre-Reformation days? No.
I have a problem with the system itself. It perpetuates a line of reasoning that perpetuates a line of reasoning. In other words, it is a system that allows for little if any spiritual imagination, as if we already have all the answers we are ever going to possess, as if there is nothing new to discover, no course corrections to be made, no errors to be weeded out of our thinking. If I have a problem with individuals within the system, it is only with those leaders whose decisions empower the system to suppress the knowledge of truth. And even then, I don’t consider these people as the enemy as much as I consider them victims of the system. They are used, changed, and corrupted by it.
No one has a right to be the spiritual police over anyone else. That’s why you see so many Christian Universalists exiting the system – because it is extremely difficult for us to be who God created us to be in that atmosphere. For example, read for yourselfthe way the Roman Catholic church responded to Martin Luther and those in agreement with his observations:
“those who are filled with foolishness”
“foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard”
“lying teachers are rising, introducing ruinous sects”
“They have bitter zeal, contention in their hearts, and boast and lie against the truth.”
“[heresies] must be destroyed at their very birth”
“Some, putting aside [the church’s] true interpretation of Sacred Scripture, are blinded in mind by the father of lies. Wise in their own eyes, according to the ancient practice of heretics, they interpret these same Scriptures otherwise than the Holy Spirit demands, inspired only by their own sense of ambition, and for the sake of popular acclaim, as the Apostle declares. In fact, they twist and adulterate the Scriptures. As a result, according to Jerome, ‘It is no longer the Gospel of Christ, but a man’s, or what is worse, the devil’s.'”
“false, scandalous, or offensive to pious ears, as seductive of simple minds, originating with false exponents of the faith who in their proud curiosity yearn for the world’s glory, and contrary to the Apostle’s teaching, wish to be wiser than they should be. Their talkativeness, unsupported by the authority of the Scriptures, as Jerome says, would not win credence unless they appeared to support their perverse doctrine even with divine testimonies however badly interpreted.”
“We have therefore held a careful inquiry, scrutiny, discussion, strict examination, and mature deliberation with each of the brothers, the eminent cardinals of the holy Roman Church, as well as the priors and ministers general of the religious orders, besides many other professors and masters skilled in sacred theology and in civil and canon law. We have found that these errors or theses are not Catholic, as mentioned above, and are not to be taught, as such; but rather are against the doctrine and tradition of the Catholic Church, and against the true interpretation of the sacred Scriptures received from the Church.”
Notice how similar the language and complaints are to those on fundamentalist websites:
“It is a man-centered religion totally devoid of both clarity and biblical authority.”
“We have a duty not only to expose, refute, and silence Rob Bell’s errors, but also to urge people under his influence to run as fast and as far as they can from him, lest they be gathered into the eternal hell he denies. It won’t do to sit by idly while someone who denies the danger of hell mass-produces sons of hell…”
“Our Lord clearly expects His true disciples to be able to spot spiritual imposters and wolves in sheep’s clothing—especially those who are purveyors of deadly false doctrines.”
“guilty of promoting a false gospel”
“exposing another wolf in sheep’s clothing”
“This tree needs to be cut at the root now and kept from the public ear.”
This language is in no way limited to opinions stated on websites, this is how real people are treated every Sunday in the system. No one wants to live like that, going back week after week for more abuse.
Organized religion is nice and kind and organized and reasonable on stage or on mic, but go to the back rooms where the door is shut, the private meetings, the plans of deacons and elders on what action ought to be taken next to silence the spread of the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you will witness cruelty, rudeness, confusion, and irrationality. I challenge anyone reading this, who thinks their church is exempt from this description, to go to your senior pastor and ask if I can come to your church to explain what Christian Universalists believe, why we believe what we believe, and do a Q&A session for opposition and rebuttal. If you do this, your suggestion will be flat out rejected, and you will be eyed with suspicion from that point forward. Why is this? Because just as in the days of the Reformation, the error is considered correct, while the truth is considered heretical teaching.
Do you see how it works? The leaders control the conversation. The leaders act according to the system, protect the system, and perpetuate thinking that limits and stifles spiritual progress. The system is designed to avoid important conversations. It is even designed to avoid important conversations about avoiding important conversations.
This conversation is one that God has determined will take place, evidently, outside the church walls. If my suggestion about asking your senior pastor to let me come speak at your church is too scary for you, try this experiment instead. Post 1 Timothy 4:10 in your Facebook status, send it via email, Twitter it, etc. Just quote the verse without further comment and see what kind of push back you get. The pressure you experience will be a small sample of what Christian Universalists or anyone who challenges status quo feels in the religious system.
There are those who understandably wish to level the playing field out a bit, by pointing out that Christian Universalists criticize and “cause division” in the institutional church, without ever stopping to consider that WHY. What is the motivation? We are concerned with destroying strongholds that enslave and starve God’s sheep. We don’t want to destroy His people, we want to see that believers have the ability to speak to each other, to teach each other, learn from each other, argue, disagree, or whatever – the leaders are clearly against the organic, dynamic, egalitarian church described in the New Testament. The glorious freedom in Christ has been exchanged for the stratified, hierarchical, politically inclined model much like the Pharisaical system and the church of the Dark Ages. The reason the leaders of this system protect it from scrutiny is that they subconsciously know that it can’t stand in the light of scrutiny.