Thursday, 19 February 2009

Universalism -The Gospel of Inclusion

“God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim 2:3-4

Carlton Pearson (a Pentecostal bishop) in his recent (2006) book The Gospel of Inclusion suggests that the controlling dogmas of religion are a source of much of the world’s ills and that we should turn our backs on proselytizing and holy wars and focus on the real good news: that we are all bound for glory, everybody is saved! This concept known as Universalism holds that all persons and creatures are related to God or the Divine and will be reconciled to God.
While these, to some, are shockingly audacious statements, they will, according to the author, lead readers to the discovery of a “new and improved” image of God. One more consistent with agape (a Greek word meaning “unconditional love”) and benevolence. It is imperative for people to know and recognize this powerful, liberating truth. The early church fathers were strong proponents of Universalism by noting that God desires to save everyone. Here is what some of them, according to Bishop Pearce, had to say on the subject:

In the end and consummation of the universe, all are to be restored into their original harmonious state, and we all shall be made one body and be united one more into a perfect man, and the prayer of our Savior shall be fulfilled that all may be one.
-St. Jerome, 331-430
For it is evident that God will in truth be all in all when there shall be no evil in existence, when every created being is at harmony with itself and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord; when every creature shall have been made one body.
-Gregory of Nyssa, 335-390
We can set no limits to the agency of the Redeemer: to redeem, to rescue, to discipline in his work, and so will he continue to operate after this life . . All men are his . . . for either the Lord does not care for all men . . . or he does care for all. For he is savior; not of some and of other not . . . and how is He savior and Lord, if not the savior and Lord of all? For all things are arranged with a view to the salvation of the universe by the Lord of the universe both generally and particularly.
-Clement of Alexandria, c. 150-211
Stronger than all the evils in the soul is the Word, and the healing power that dwells in him, and this healing He applies, according to the will of God, to everyman. The consummation of all things is the destruction of evil . . . to quote Zephaniah 3:8 “My determination to gather the nation, that I am assembling the kings, to pour upon them mine indignation, even say all my fierce anger, for all the earth shall be devoured with the fire of my jealousy. For them will I turn to the people a pure language that they may all call upon the name of the Lord, to serve Him with one consent” . . . Consider carefully the promise, that all shall call upon the Name of the Lord, and serve him with one consent.
-Origin, 185-254
However, by 554, the Fifth General Council of the church in Constantinople officially condemned Universalism. Promoting it could result in punishment, even death, for heresy. And there it remains until this day. The common opinion of Catholic theologians today, according to Fr. Richard McBrien is that salvation is a divine gift that only God can confer; but God wills to give it to everyone who does not refuse it. At the same time he notes that several historic papal documents stated that salvation was possible only for visibly incorporated members of the Catholic Church; excluding all Jews, Muslims, pagans, apostates and members of Christian churches not in union with Rome. Vatican II (1961-65) however, reversed such severe terms and taught that God’s salvation is for all those “who seek God with a sincere heart”. However, a more recent (2000) Vatican document Dominus Jesus once again claims that followers of religions other than Christianity are “in gravely deficient situation” with regard to salvation of their souls.

One of the most challenging aspects of Universalism concerns those we judge. For example many people cannot envision a heaven filled with those we have learned to hate – no matter how gruesome and terrible their crimes may have been. But does scripture not teach that grace, like rain, falls upon the good and bad? Ultimately, who are we to judge when Jesus warns us not to. And how can we come to understand God’s right to forgive if we are not willing to forgive those who trespass against us? The concept of universalism abolishes our right to judge and forces us to seek God in the most unexpected places. At the same time we will be able to drop the fear and worry about who is going to heaven and who isn’t and seek God’s salvation in the here and now. Fr. Richard Rohr has stated correctly I think, that Universalism demands 'non-groupthink'.

Among my prized collections, from a dear artist friend and displayed in a prominent place, is a simple water colour, of a leafed lily, rendered in the typical Chinese style; is bordered with the quote: "Oneness". This simple term, for me, encompasses the very essence and nature of God. Our Creator came down to earth to experience himself through every living human being. Thus we all carry a hidden particle of God’s holy nature or image within us. This remarkable jewel when exposed to his light will bring us to the realization that we are not separate from God nor separate from one another. We are therefore universal beings forged together in God's Oneness.

Sources: Richard P. McBrien, Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Harper Collins, 1995

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