Confronting the Traditionalist’s Doctrine of Eternal Conscious Torment
Scripture is taken from the World English Bible. Its publishers deliberately and freely allow its use in the Public Domain. I am grateful.
Thoughts On Hell: Introduction
“God’s Gift To Humanity: Hell or Reconciliation?” is a book I authored and published in 2018. It was hardly a best seller. I bought all but two of the total copies sold. One copy was purchased by the man I call my preacher whom I have never met face-to-face. The other was purchased by a friend. Researching and writing that book proves to be an ongoing blessing for me. It’s not a great dissertation or a superbly written book. It’s the culmination of a years long serious study. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit in me. It’s a blessing to comprehend the absolute and irrefutable doctrine of impartial grace.
“God’s Gift” examines the doctrine of eternal conscious torment from the perspective of those advocating it. Their words describe torments associated with their doctrine of “hell.” Their words and their traditions define unimaginable tortures put upon men by an angry God. Their words are fantastical, yet their words carry much undue credibility.
Impartial grace is anathema to traditional Christendom. Advocating the doctrine demands a price be paid. Impartial grace is heresy, blasphemy and worthy of mockery in the eyes of many who advocate the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.
Impartial grace is a doctrine solidly defined in Holy Scripture while the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is manufactured by men. Improper interpretation of Holy Scripture develops a doctrine of eternal conscious torment that is repugnant. It’s a doctrine taught from around 500 AD and centuries later is firmly entrenched in traditions of men. Eternal conscious torment and Hell are interchangeable terms with the same meaning. Both are relative to a state of eternal being for those God hates.
Traditionalism exists to separate Christians from non-Christians. Traditions are a cause and effect separating Christians into factions. Traditions cause disagreements among believers. Traditions form denominations and separate one from another more succinctly. Denominations fracture and split over arguments affecting tradition. Traditions are defended vociferously and often violently. Traditions are created attacking doctrines and dogmas held by other traditions. The various denominational creeds are ridiculed among themselves. One branch declares other branches to be heretical, blasphemous and unworthy. The splits between believers in the various traditions, denominations and congregations are incredibly numerous. The advocates of traditions are judgemental and moralist. Despite the several acrimonious divisions amongst the traditions, nearly all agree on the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.
Traditions qualify the saving grace of God. They place limits on acceptable behavior and add distinctions to Christ-like life that are unnecessary. Traditionalists argue fiercely for their doctrines, particularly for the doctrine of God’s eternal wrath. They ignore the clear meaning of scripture and manufacture conditions that do not exist to “prove” their doctrine is true.
Traditions qualify people, other brothers and sisters, as being truly saved or not. Traditions are “rules” of behavior that establish conditions of acceptance in the larger body. Traditions instruct believers on what they should believe and condemn those who disagree. In this climate it’s difficult to be simply Christian.
Eternal conscious torment or the doctrine of hell is wickedly vicious. Traditions describe it as an everlasting tormenting fire administered by God for the distinct purpose to punish unbelievers. The doctrine’s rationale is ostensibly taken from scripture. Its advocates believe the doctrine is Divinely inspired.
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment has become routine, conventional and broadly accepted as true. The doctrine is now orthodox and codified in most Christian denominations and congregations world-wide.
Traditions, Traditions, Traditions…
The “traditions of men” are the products of men. The traditions may be good, but like man they are born fallible. Over time many traditions have become absolutes. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is one of those. Eternal conscious torment has been taught with great passion since about 500 A.D. The leaders of denominations advance the doctrine to the degree their respective flocks accept the doctrine without question.
Traditions elevate Pharisees. Leaders of denominations and congregations espouse doctrines and exercise authority based in their doctrines that make the Word of God mean nothing.
In Mark Chapters 6 through 7, Jesus sent His Disciples ahead of Him across the sea. The winds were bad and the currents were troublesome. The Disciples were frightened and in peril. Jesus walked to them on the sea. They crossed after He quelled a frightening storm. The boat landed at Genneserat and they went ashore. Jesus was soon recognized and people gathered around Him. The ill were brought to Him. For the remainder of that day Jesus walked through the region, through towns and villages, across the countryside and healed all. The Disciples were with Him throughout the day. They were likely hungry and they were certainly dirty from their travels. Pharisees visited and noticed the Disciples eating bread with dirty hands. They were offended. They finely honed and developed a tradition of cleansing before taking a meal. This tradition was a big deal to them and to see it unheeded caused them alarm.
The Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why don’t your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with unwashed hands?” (Mark 7:5)
Jesus had a reasonable answer and he wrapped it in a rebuke.
He answered them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.
But in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
“For you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things.”
He said to them, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban, that is to say, given to God;”’ then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition, which you have handed down. You do many things like this.” (Mark 7:6-13, emphasis added)
These verses are not difficult to understand. Wayne Jackson writes for the Christian Courier. He studied these verses and explains them well in an article entitled, “What is the Meaning of ‘Corban’?” 1 Mr. Jackson rightly describes the arrogance of the traditionalist Pharisees:
The leaders of the Jewish community were criticizing the Lord’s disciples (and indirectly Christ himself) for eating with unwashed hands. We need not think of “unwashed hands” in the hygienic sense; rather, it was the custom of the Jews to ceremonially cleanse themselves from any “defilement” they perceived they had picked up from contact with Gentiles (whom they considered religiously and socially “unclean”).
This attitude and activity was not a part of Moses’ law, but a strictly human tradition that had evolved in the Hebrew culture over the years. When, therefore, the Pharisees and scribes noted that the Savior’s disciples were not conforming to this rabbinic “tradition,” they felt they had an indictment against Christ and his men. (emphasis in the original)
Jesus knowing the hearts of His accusers, as Mr. Jackson says, “turned the table on them.” His rebuke cannot be misunderstood. Traditionalist authorities create doctrines to benefit themselves and to set themselves on thrones presiding over their doctrines. Their doctrines exclude those unlike them. In fact, their doctrines serve themselves. The Pharisees developed a scheme to protect their assets. They would declare portions of their wealth as dedicated to God and those resources could not be dispensed for any worldly effort including the care of one’s parents. This doctrine is contrary to God’s Holy Word. Jesus said so!
According to Mr. Jackson, the traditionalist elite were “covetous” and “ungrateful Jews.” They “neglected parental responsibility by an appeal to this perverted human tradition.” The Pharisees establish for themselves a tradition that benefits themselves and ignores God’s commands. These elites were strikingly confident their charges against Jesus and His Disciples would stick.
Mr. Jackson clearly describes Christ’s rebuke of these Pharisees:
Christ thus quoted from the prophet Isaiah, charging the Pharisees with hypocrisy. While they professed a reverence for the law, by their manipulating evasions they demonstrated that they neither respected nor understood their obligations to the law of God.
There are many revelations in God’s Holy Word exhorting His children to be aware of traditionalist traps. Kenneth and Brian Hoeck are primary contributors at Truth On the Web Ministries. They have extensively studied the traditions of men and present their assessment in an article entitled “Scripture & Tradition of God Vs. Tradition of Men Over Scripture.” 2 Their study determined divisions between “the Catholic church and the various Protestant churches” are seemingly without resolution. The Hoecks advocate the concept of “Sola Scriptura.” They believe the Catholic church is built on traditions and from those extra-biblical traditions the Catholic church defends its traditions. “The Catholic faction gets Protestants arguing against all traditions rather than just the inventions of men; and more specifically, the inventions of the Catholic Church.”
The authors suggest “the Catholics will not regard scripture because they are pushing so hard on the point of traditions that they attempt to prove traditions by traditions, or extra-biblical writings, rather than with scripture.” Protestants on the other hand are reluctant to “consider the oral transmission of God’s word because they push the written text only.”
The authors are sounding an alarm. Be wary of traditions. Know that traditions are the foundation of dissent and division. The authors remind us that “tradition is mentioned in the bible and its seen in two very different contexts.” The first, in context, is “the traditions of men.” These “nullify scriptures or are not supported by the holy writ.” The second form of tradition mentioned in the Bible are those “from God which are in accord with, and recorded in, scripture.”
The authors meticulously describe a need to appeal to Scripture and assure traditions comport with His purpose. This work is a good admonition to put faith in Him Who cannot lie and discern the traditions that drive us. They conclude:
We have studied the biblical texts regarding traditions and scriptures. We have seen that any traditions that cannot be clearly proven out of the bible are suspect and should not be brought into your worship of God in spirit and in truth. If any of the readers of this study are adhering to these non-biblical doctrines they need to reject them and continue growing in the faith and in God’s truth. We also see that scripture has God’s own authority as it is His word. We have seen that the bible is all that is needed to prepare a man or woman to receive the living Word, that is Christ, and then to continue on to perfect him or her. It is clear that the bible, in the hands of someone with God’s holy spirit, is the only reliable source to prove a doctrine. We are straightly admonished to not go beyond what is written in the scriptural record. You can call it sola scriptura if you like … I prefer to call it (proven line upon line) … God’s Truth. (emphasis added)
Profound in its simplicity. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment should be held to the kind of scrutiny the authors describe. It is a traditionalist’s doctrine “that cannot be clearly proven out of the bible are [and is] suspect and should not be brought into your worship of God in spirit and in truth.”
Relentless Love, Impartial Grace
Dr. Otis A. Skinner published a work entitled “A Series of Sermons in Defence of Universal Salvation.” It was published by Abel Tompkins in Boston, MA in 1842. Google has graciously digitized Dr. Skinner’s “Sermons” for the public domain. It is from that series of sermons this chapter is based.
Dr. Skinner advocates the doctrine of “impartial grace.” It is a doctrine expressing the magnitude of God’s mercy. It is a doctrine demonstrating His overwhelming love for all. The modern term for impartial grace is universal reconciliation. Dr. Skinner was alarmed by “the untiring efforts made in this city [Boston], during the past winter, against the doctrine of ‘impartial grace.’” The advocates of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment were attacking universal reconciliation mercilessly. Dr. Skinner describes the assault as “unchristian measures employed to cast reproach upon its advocates.” The assault is akin to the charges Pharisees laid upon Christ’s Disciples in Mark Chapters 6 and 7. Pharisees defend their traditions!
Over 175 years have passed since Dr. Skinner’s book was published. The assault on the doctrine of universal reconciliation has not diminished. The advocates of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment hold enmity toward those who challenge their doctrine. Impartial grace and eternal conscious torment cannot both be true. One is a lie.
Dr. Skinner passionately held the doctrine of universal reconciliation. He felt compelled to defend it against the onslaught of reproach being poured out on “his brethren.” He intended to defend the doctrine so that “the world may be saved from those false” doctrines of which eternal conscious torment is one. It was his desire to teach the doctrine of universal reconciliation, “bringing many to rejoice in the goodness of God.”
Eternal Conscious Torment Cannot Be Reconciled With Divine Goodness
Yahweh is good to all. His tender mercies are over all his works. (Psalm 145:9, WEB, emphasis added)
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment is a dreadful doctrine. It is a doctrine of fear and retribution. There are many doctrines within the broad realm of Christianity, but the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is particularly horrendous. Nearly every denomination calling itself Christian has adopted the doctrine as true and most believe the doctrine is unassailable. The tortures put upon a reprobate man are evil in their nature. Even so, the doctrine is adamantly and proudly advocated by men and women who are otherwise well meaning people.
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment has been part of Christian theology since 500 AD. It is a doctrine firmly entrenched in denominations and congregations worldwide. The doctrine has such credibility it is considered essential in most traditional Christian denominations and congregations.
The advocates of the doctrine believe as Dr. Skinner writes, “(Eternal conscious torment is) one of the most efficient means, furnished by Heaven, for the prevention of crime, and the promotion of virtue.” In truth, however, the doctrine has no effect on either crime or virtue.
“Impartial grace” is a doctrine held by millions of Christian brothers and sisters. Impartial grace or universal reconciliation negates the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. The doctrine of universal reconciliation is anathema to it.
Dr. Skinner writes positively about the growth in numbers of those advocating universal reconciliation in his day. He points to the reduction in the numbers of persons advocating eternal conscious torment. The doctrine was once nearly made dormant in Germany, France and England. He writes hopefully that the doctrine of eternal conscious torment would wither in this country. The doctrine preached by advocates of eternal conscious torment cause those hearing it much discomfort. People in every congregation are growing weary of a doctrine that wreaks of evil.
Dr. Skinner believed the frequency of hell and damnation sermons was abating in his day. Common threats about the kinds of torments a sinner would suffer have lost their impact. Denominations and congregations soften the descriptions of tortures, but even the least torment remains torture.
The ferocity of the tortures depicted in traditional sermons mellowed over time. The intensity of the torments in hell were less prominent and were less zealous when that was the sermon’s subject. Dr. Skinner writes, “Now you may listen to men of the same sects for months, and hear nothing of the kind; and now, instead of saying ‘burning hell,’ ‘almighty vengeance,’ ‘arrows of infinite wrath,’ and ‘thunderbolts of an enraged God,’ they say ‘the happiness of the future state,’ or ‘the stings of conscience.’”
Today the vigor in the sermons has returned. The fierceness of God’s wrath is again being preached in most denominations and congregations. The doctrine is codified in Creeds and local congregational By-laws.
Dr. Skinner was hopeful in his day that the truth of the doctrine of universal reconciliation was acting as leaven causing the Truth to rise. He was hopeful the doctrine of eternal conscious torment would soon be “exterminated from the Christian world.” The doctrine has not been extinguished, but hope remains that it will one day be in the past.
Dr. Skinner calls the doctrine a “mammoth error.” It is a reason he encouraged others “to persevere in our exertions, to go forward in the work of opposing error and defending truth….”
It is to this end Dr. Skinner brought these sermons in defence of universal reconciliation together and published them. It was his hope to continue to push the truth that God will reconcile all men to Himself. He was determined to preach about the doctrines in question and expose them to light and to the Christian world.
The first sermon message in the series demonstrates the doctrine of eternal conscious torment “is irreconcilable with Divine goodness.”
Dr. Skinner points out the community of Christians are divided into two distinct categories. The first are Calvinists and the second are Arminians. There is a third group that has risen to greater prominence in recent years: a category of Christians advocating conditional immortality otherwise known as annihilation. The advocates of each of these persuasions limit the number of persons saved by Christ’s Crucifixion, hence Dr. Skinner properly applies the name “limitarian” to their doctrinal positions.
These three communities of Christians are not aligned on all doctrines. They do stand in accord with regard to eternal conscious torment. The doctrine is a tradition common among them.
Dr. Skinner cites Dr. John Gill who provides the characteristics of what is Divine goodness. Dr. Gill explained:
First, there is no cause for goodness out of God. The sinner loves God because He first loved him. Second. It is immutable; it is like Himself: the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. It admits of no distinctions by which it appears to alter or vary. It neither increases nor decreases. There never were any stops or impediments to this goodness. Third, The goodness of God endures forever; it can never be dissolved; nothing can separate it, or separate from it.
Dr. Skinner adds Divine “goodness is infinitely great” to the list initiated by Dr. Gill.
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39, WEB, emphasis added)
There is nothing that can or will separate us from His love. Nothing! Further, Divine goodness “is impartial.” His tender mercies are over all. He is good to all.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him. (John 3:16-17, WEB, emphasis added)
Divine goodness “…is free, immutable, eternal, infinite, and impartial.” The doctrine of eternal conscious torment opposes these Divine characteristics of God’s goodness. Universal reconciliation explicitly advocates each and all of these Holy attributes. It is indeed a doctrine of “impartial grace.”
Calvinism Cannot Be Reconciled with Divine Goodness
Calvinism teaches that God has determined beforehand that some are destined to live eternally with Him in His presence. The balance not chosen are destined to eternal conscious torment. The doctrine declares it is God’s will that not all are saved. The majority of God’s creation is ordained for eternal conscious torment as defined by the doctrine. They are condemned to hell because it pleases Him and because His condemnation of many glorifies Him. There is nothing any man can do to redirect his fate. Such is the Calvinist version of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment.
The men condemned by this doctrine are reprobates and their condition was established by God “before the foundation of the world.” Dr. Skinner asks if these men are condemned by God “in anticipation of what their characters would be?” God created them. Did He create them and instill in them a propensity to sin, but no means to remedy themselves from the penalty of it?
John Calvin explains that God purposely intended to create and then to ignore reprobates. He writes in his famed “Institutes of the Christian Religion”:
…There could be no election without its opposite reprobation. God is said to set apart those whom he adopts for salvation. It were most absurd to say, that he admits others fortuitously, or that they by their industry acquire what election alone confers on a few. Those, therefore, whom God passes by he reprobates, and that for no other cause but because he is pleased to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines to his children.”3 (emphasis added)
Dr. Calvin and many others after him advocate this doctrine as truth revealed to them in Scripture. They declare it is not the fault of the man condemned to eternal conscious torment as it pleases God to do so. Moreover, God is glorified by this administration of justice. It is good to ask how that is so?
Dr. John Piper is an eminent Bible scholar and theologian. He answers the question, “How Does It Glorify God to Predestine People to Hell?”4 He opens telling his audience that the phrase “predestining people” is seldom used. It is “very rare.” He suggests the phrase may not be in the Bible.
Dr. Piper assures his audience “no one will be in hell who doesn’t deserve to be there.” Importantly, he explains every person in hell is there because of rebellion against God. Dr. Piper writes, “The only people who will suffer are people who have been opposing God and are at the present moment in hell opposing God, rejecting God.” He adds further before answering the question that Scripture “always pictures him [Christ Jesus] as rescuing sinners before the foundation of the world. Christ is slain for sinners before the foundation of the world.”
Dr. Piper believes those saved and predestined to heaven will be so awed by their good fortune they will worship their Savior with unimaginable zeal. The saved reflect back to Him the grace and mercy He casts upon them. He is glorified. The saved are so grateful to Him because they see clearly that their fate might very well have been hell. They praise Him for His benevolent choice and that, too, glorifies God.
Dr. Skinner points to the Westminster Confession’s edict “Of the Last Judgment.”5 They write:
The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord; but the wicked who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment leads its advocates to preach God is glorified by “His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate….”
Scott Oliphint is a Professor at Westminster University. He is a primary author and contributor to “Through the Westminster Confession”6 series. He writes about Chapter 33:
There must, then, be a dual affirmation with respect to eternal damnation. We must rightly grieve its existence; its existence is a manifestation of all that opposes God and His character, and it is an ugly and abhorrent place, devoid of the mercy and grace of God. But we should not grieve that existence only because some we know may be there. That is tragic, and we ‘think God’s thoughts after Him’ when we take no delight in it. But the ultimate tragedy of it is that its existence is a testimony of those whose lives were set against the holiness of God’s character, and who would not honor Him for who He is. The biblical focus of the tragedy, in other words, is the opposition to God that hell displays. With this focus, we should, in turn, learn to hate and despise that same opposition to the extent that its effects still remain in us. (emphasis added)
Mr. Oliphint’s assessment of this Institute of the Westminster Confession is telling. Hell is a real place and people we know are condemned to it. Being sad that a loved one is suffering eternal conscious torment is appropriate. Perhaps over time our grief will subside and we will come to understand that our loved one is in hell by his volition. A place such as hell is necessary and created for people such as these. Our grief must give way and will give way to God’s glory.
Dr. Skinner cites the Confession of Faith from the Second Baptist Church in Boston during his era in the mid-1800’s regarding eternal conscious torment. The congregation of that era codified their belief “that all who have ever been, or who will be hereafter brought to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, were from the beginning chosen in him to salvation….” The Second Baptist Church of Boston believed in the 1840’s that no man could know Christ without the intervention of the Holy Spirit. He “is sent down to effect the work of regeneration in their hearts, without Whose influence none would ever repent or believe.”
This congregation accepted the primary precept of eternal conscious torment. That is this, all men are affected adversely by Adam’s Fall, consequently, all men are born deserving hell, but God chose some for salvation and others for eternal punishment. Under this doctrinal pinning nothing can be done to change God’s plan. No man can work hard enough, long enough or be righteous enough without the intervention of the Holy Spirit. Certain men are made reprobate by God. They did nothing of themselves to earn that distinction, but were created for it.
Second Baptist Church of Houston is today a major congregation with multiple campuses. Their reach is greater than the city they serve through many media venues. Second Baptist teaches:
Human beings are made in the spiritual image of God, to be like Him in character. As the supreme object of God’s creation, we were designed for dignity. However, Adam’s sin catapulted the creation into a fallen state and plunged all his descendants into depravity. Thus, all of us are marred by rebellion and disobedience, which is called ‘sin,’ toward God. Sin separates people from God and causes many problems in life.7 (emphasis added)
This modern day congregation of believers wishes there be nothing misunderstood about their beliefs. God created all men “in the spiritual image of God, to be like Him in character.” Adam’s Fall somehow upsets God’s creative force and the character of mankind is forever changed. Second Baptists believe “every person who truly is saved is eternally secure in the Lord Jesus Christ and will spend eternity in heaven, while those who die in their sins will spend eternity in Hell.”
God’s impartial nature has evaporated in the traditions and doctrines of denominations, congregations and assemblies. The advocates of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment, in particular, these believing Calvin’s doctrine of predestination have closed the door to all who disagree with their theology. Their doctrine insists mankind’s Holy character is essentially evil at conception. The Holy Spirit will choose from the body of mankind those He will enlighten. All the rest, those not chosen, are condemned to eternal torture. Second Baptist declares in their statement of beliefs, “People were created to exist forever. We will either exist eternally separated from God by sin or eternally with God through forgiveness and salvation. To be eternally in union with Him is eternal life. Heaven and Hell are real places of eternal existence.”
Dr. Skinner writes, “Reprobation to endless death is opposed to impartial goodness.” There is nothing good in it.
“Yahweh Is Good to All.”
How can it be said that God is good to all as the Psalmist wrote? Is He good when He condemns the majority of His creation to eternal conscious torment?
God’s goodness is impartial, but the Calvinist doctrine insists He grants favor only to a few. A truly impartial goodness would impart His love over all. Dr. Skinner writes, “He must deal by all alike and grant to all the same favors and mercies.”
The Christian doctrines of predestination, election and reprobation are highly selective. To the elect “He gives them all the enjoyments of life.” It is to them He bestows supplication and sustenance. They are surrounded by friends. Heaven is a goal achieved and is waiting and ready to receive them. God sent Jesus for them. The Prophets of old came for their benefit. The command to spread the Gospel to all the world is their work in their way. Indeed, “Yahweh is good” to the traditionalist mainstream.
The reprobate is not favored in any fashion by the traditional systems of belief. Being gifted with God’s breath is not a blessing. Being gifted with temporal life is not a blessing, but a part of a greater curse. Dr. Skinner writes, “Let it not be replied, the blessings of life are free for all men, and in their equal distribution we see God’s impartiality: for life is a curse to the slave of sin. Not only so, all blessings are curses to the reprobate, inasmuch as they will only enhance his misery beyond the grave.”
What blessings are made available to the reprobates of God’s creation? None. His life is not blessed in its short state. His hope is only for a grave and that “a land of darkness and pain.” The reprobates have no inclination to light. Under this doctrine they have no hope. They will never have respite from eternal suffering and pains upon pains. “Existence to him is an endless curse.”
The elect are as far removed from those not chosen as eternal heaven is from eternal hell. This condition is set by way of human decree. It is tradition!
Dr. Skinner asks a question that must be answered. “How, then, can we say God is impartially good? If He is good to the elect, he cannot be to the non-elect.” One is raised to eternal life with Him and the other is cast off to a fiery pit. This condition is contrary to Scripture. “Yahweh is good to all men.”
The Calvinist’s doctrine of eternal conscious torment insists God is good to a few men of His choosing. The doctrine insists God is incapable or unwilling to be good to all or to cause reconciliation with all. The doctrine insists, as Dr. Skinner writes, “It is impossible for God to make all men happy: a position which destroys his perfections and makes him both weak and unwise.”
It is sad commentary that authorities in denominations and congregations make the power of God something less than absolute. They deny He has the power to reconcile all. His goodness has a limit.
Dr. Skinner brings to light an argument advanced by the advocates of the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. Advocates for the doctrine believe thoroughly “the greatest possible good of the world consists in the endless misery of a part, and the endless happiness of a part.” God’s glory is made great by the condemnation of many to hell. His glory is heightened greater still by the heavenly happiness bestowed on some. This argument is ludicrous. Think this supposition through; If God glorifies Himself by condemning most of His human creation to eternal conscious torment, would it not bring greater glory to condemn us all to that fate? The argument is specious. The Truth is completely the reverse. If goodness to one person glorifies God, then goodness to all persons would glorify Him greater still. Dr. Skinner explains:
Certainly, the greatest good of any given number must be the greatest good of each one; and, therefore, the greatest good of the world must be the greatest good of each individual of the world. If it be not so, there is no difference between the greatest good and the greatest evil of the world; for, if the greatest possible good of all men consists in the endless happiness of a part and the endless misery of a part, the greatest misery of all must be the same and, hence, there is no difference between saying God is good to all and evil to all. (emphasis added)
Goodness becomes “synonymous with hatred.” The Calvinist doctrine of predestination concludes God is glorified in His love for some and glorified more in His wrath for others. The doctrine does not edify with scripture. It diminishes it. “Yahweh is good to all men.”
Believe, if only for a moment, as you consider the Scripture. “God is good to all men.” He is impartial and “treats all with equal favor and kindness.” It is impossible that our Father would condemn one man to eternal conscious torment deliberately or randomly, and another man to eternal bliss.
God favors no person over another. He is good to all. He sent His Son to die for the sin of the world. Christ Jesus’ shed blood covers all men and atones for all sin. Dr. Skinner writes, “None, therefore, are reprobates.”
Calvinism’s doctrine of election fails the “impartial goodness” test.
Arminianism Cannot Be Reconciled with Divine Goodness.
Dr. Skinner defines Arminian theology regarding the goodness of God:
This theory may be thus stated: God is good…. Guided by goodness, he placed all men in a situation where they might be saved; and, therefore, if they are not, it is no fault of His; so that those who are lost have none but themselves to blame.
Arminian theology vindicates God and His Divinity. It justifies His wrath and places all responsibility for salvation on a man’s efforts. Dr. Skinner found this theory of salvation to be “vastly more defective than the theory” of Calvinism.
Arminianism does not meet any of the benchmarks of Divine goodness set out in Scripture. The advocates of this theory declare God’s goodness is in everything. They say His goodness is seen in the stars of the heavens. They preach His goodness is in the land and all the plants of the earth. Arminians declare His goodness is in the terrain. In particular they claim His goodness is universal. Arminian theologians preach God is impartial and they do not appreciate the theories of the Calvinists. Arminians believe God is not partial to any person or any nation. They do not abide the idea that God created some for eternal conscious torment which is the Calvinist’s view. Rather, eternal conscious torment is a choice made by men. They teach their theology as impartial, but Dr. Skinner asks is it really?
All men are prone to all kinds of influences from birth to adulthood to death. Personality and character are different among men. Some men are kind and others bitter. Some smile and others grumble. Some agree and others argue. Some care and others are cruel. Some are born to peace and others to war. Mankind’s character is formed by culture and societal creeds. A moral act in one culture is immoral in another. God places His creation in wealthy cultures and in poor. It is by His will, not mankind’s.
Mankind is not equally favored by the conditions they are born into. Some are born into wealthy societies and others into poverty. Some are born healthy and others born disabled. Many are born into privilege and others into servitude. Some are born into Christian families and most into something else.
All persons are not born into a shared condition. Dr. Skinner writes some have “advantages vastly superior” to others. Men holding an advantage “stand a much better chance of salvation. Indeed, some say that the heathen have no chance whatever, and that they are daily sinking into hell….” Those who lack advantage will die in their sin “ignorant of him of Whom they have never heard!”
The unrepentant are born reprobate and die in that state. Dr. Skinner says, “They are made heirs of endless perdition….” Those having the opportunity to hear and believe the Gospel receive eternal bliss. “There is an infinite difference in the destiny of men, because they are differently constituted, or are surrounded by different influences.”
The Arminian theology demands God be partial to one over another. He gives favor to one and does not give favor to another. He chooses somehow. His partiality is known by the outcome. One is favored with eternal happiness and the other eternal conscious torment.
The theology does not comport with the Scripture, “Yahweh is good to all.” His Judgement is Christ Jesus. Through Him we will be reconciled to God. He will be “all in all.” There is not a reasonable dispute.
Dr. Skinner reminds us that Arminianism “teaches that all may be saved, and if they are not, blame cannot be attached to God….” God’s goodness is diminished dramatically to very little or nothing. Arminianism “is opposed to the greatness of His goodness.”
Dr. Skinner tells us, “Our efforts to benefit an individual are always in proportion to the strength of our love.” He paints a picture of a mother and her newborn. That mother sees her child as defenseless and does all that she is able to assure her baby grows up well. Another mother is less attentive and “may permit a helpless child, that has been entrusted to her care, to perish from cruel neglect.” There is a remarkable difference in the quality of love given by these two mothers. The person loved benefits from the person loving. There is a correlation between love and benefit. There is a proportional outcome. Greater love brings with it greater goodness.
God’s love is greater than any good mother’s love. It is greater than a bad mother’s love. His love is infinitely greater than both. God’s love is not cordoned off for some or time-limited for others. His love is infinite. He loves every soul ever created. There is no gradation of love as some suggest. His love like His goodness is impartial.
Arminian theology makes no account for God’s impartial love? Dr. Skinner writes, “…The theory consigns countless millions to endless sufferings. These millions are condemned and destined to eternal conscious torment because they did not recognize God’s Divine goodness. They reject the privilege of knowing Him.”
The Arminian theology declares “God is not infinitely good….” God only saves a man who surrenders his will to the will of God. All others not committed in the same way are not subject to His benevolent love. If Arminianism is true, then infinite and impartial goodness cannot be true.
There is yet another complication resulting from the doctrine of eternal conscious torment as espoused by Arminian theology. God’s infinite grace upon grace and infinite mercy is transformed into wrath without Scriptural cause. The Arminian theology demands God punish the unrepentant with unimaginable anger, wrath and torture. Dr. Skinner writes of their theology, “God dooms them to all the agonies He can inflict; He pursues them with infinite vengeance; He makes them miracles of endless suffering.”
There is nothing good in that. It must be explained by the advocates of this doctrine why endless, ever-increasing torments are laid upon them. Hell is a prison of torments with no hope of release. What is the Holy and Divinely moral in God’s condemnation of any man to eternal conscious torment?
Think this through. God created the universe and all that is in it. He is Sovereign over all that He creates. He knows those who will be saved and those who will not. Dr. Skinner asks, “Was there any great goodness in making provisions which He knew would be of no service?” Did God send His Son for the sins of those who choose to believe? Did He not set the conditions of the births of all? Dr. Skinner asks, “Can I be justly reckoned good for offering to the poor or help the distressed, when I know my offers will not be accepted?”
The Arminian doctrine of eternal conscious torment assumes precisely that. God knows who will and who will not accept His offer of grace. He knows those who can comprehend His infinite mercy and those who cannot. If a man offers to do a good thing for another knowing the other will reject it, does it do any good to make the offer? Is there a benefit to be gained in heaven for the man offering goodness knowing the act of goodness will have no effect?
The Arminian theology defines God as unable to be infinitely good. As Dr. Skinner writes, “…He has not done all that was possible; He has only offered salvation, when He might have secured it for the world.” The Arminian theology suggests “God is evil to some; for He formed a plan which He foresaw would be the means of adding to the unending torment of a great proportion of His children.”
Arminianism Denies God’s Immutability: Divine Goodness is Not Eternal
Arminian theology teaches God is Sovereign over all, that God is majestic and worthy of praise. The theology declares He is good; perfectly good in all that He sets out to accomplish. His plan for the atonement of sin is righteous and supremely loving. It is a gift to all;, except His gift of grace is not granted to all. It is a gift accepted by those having foresight. The advocates of this theology insist God provides the opportunity to believe, but that not all will. His goodness, they insist, remains without blemish. The blame for being sent to hell is on man.
Dr. Skinner defines the flaw in the theology, “…Goodness seeks the happiness of man, and that it can have no other end in view. If, therefore, God should ever inflict a torture intended only to curse those who suffer it, He is not good to them….” Moreover, under this theology God cannot change His mind. He cannot reduce the sentence. He can find no cause to redeem the man He consigns to eternal conscious torment. The doctrine advocated by Arminian theologians insists God’s goodness has a limit and like the Calvinist version of this doctrine, once He pronounces judgement there is no chance of appeal.
God sent Christ Jesus to die for the sin of the world. That is His purpose, to resolve the curse of the world’s sin. Christ died for all. The doctrine of the Arminian insists God’s love changes from Divine goodness to Righteous hatred. So much for immutability, even less so for Divine grace.
Arminians, like Calvinists, declare eternal conscious torment is punishment, a reprobate’s just reward, not discipline. Discipline is not the intent of eternal conscious torment even though Scripture tells us discipline is beneficial.
For they indeed, for a few days, punished us as seemed good to them; but he for our profit, that we may be partakers of his holiness. (Hebrews 12:10, emphasis added)
His Holy Word is replete with testimonies of His discipline over His creation. Divine discipline does not denominate. His discipline is applied as He wills it. There is no distinction between those who believe and those who do not. His discipline is applied as goodness and His goodness is impartial. He is immutable and He is Divine goodness. He cannot change. He will not change. Dr. Skinner writes, “…Divine goodness is eternal and immutable, so certain will God never change the system of His government towards any creature. The moment He changes this, His goodness changes, or ceases to be.”
At death God does not become an enemy of the unrepentant rebel. The goodness He is during our lives does not change after our deaths. He is all-loving now and always.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8, emphasis added).
“Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus Christ is Lord.” He will open His arms to receive those who believe and He will be no less open to receive those who do not. He will give them mercy from the abundance of His grace. His mercy is from a well of grace that will always be full. His glory will shine over them and His Light will expose their King. They will experience His love. They will know heavenly compassion. He will be their God and they will be His people.
Behold, I will gather them out of all the countries, where I have driven them in my anger, and in my wrath, and in great indignation; and I will bring them again to this place, and I will cause them to dwell safely: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God: (Jeremiah 32:37-38, emphasis added)
Arminianism Limits the Magnitude of God’s Love
Let us agree that God is love; He is all-knowing, all-seeing, and all-powerful. Let us agree His goodness is perfect. There is nothing a man can do to affect these attributes of our Sovereign God. No moral acts nor physical deeds affect His perfect goodness. No physical deeds done to benefit another affect His perfect goodness. Dr. Skinner writes:
Goodness is a part of his nature, and not something caused by human virtue or the death of Christ. Let me say, too, that the action of goodness does not depend upon anything we do. God pursues his purposes of love when we are sinful, just the same as when we are virtuous. His love is wholly uncaused, and the blessings it bestows are not induced by anything out of him. Sin, therefore, will not prevent our coming into an enjoyment of divine grace; for it is the work of goodness so to subdue the heart and destroy sin, that it shall not bar man from receiving divine grace. (emphasis added)
God is Sovereign over His creation the moment He creates it. His goodness is perfect over His creation from that moment forward. His goodness does not change. All mankind dies, but He does not leave them to death. He raises their spirits and they return to Him. His goodness opens eyes of blind men. He makes the lame walk. He gathers His flock to Himself and He recovers the lost. His goodness is unarguably, eternally good. God saves mankind because He is good and His mercies are fresh every day.
Scripture confirms the magnitude of His love.
“You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” For in that he subjected all things to him, he left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we don’t see all things subjected to him, yet. But we see him who has been made a little lower than the angels, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for everyone. For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many children to glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one, for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brothers saying, “I will declare your name to my brothers. In the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” (Hebrews 2:8-12, emphasis added)
All things are subjected to Christ Jesus. He is Sovereign! By His grand and gracious obedience to His Father’s command He experienced “death for everyone.”
I exhort therefore, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and givings of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and all who are in high places; that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who desires all people to be saved and come to full knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all; the testimony in its own times; to which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth in Christ, not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-7, emphasis added)
Paul says, “I am telling you the truth.” Live in peace with those appointed to serve “in high places.” It is a good thing and indicative of God’s perfect goodness. It is God’s will, His desire, His intent, His gift to humanity that “all people…be saved and come to the full knowledge of the truth.” Paul is telling the truth when he says, “Christ Jesus,… gave Himself as a ransom for all….”
And I thank him who enabled me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he counted me faithful, appointing me to service; although I was before a blasphemer, a persecutor, and insolent. However, I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. The grace of our Lord abounded exceedingly with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. (1 Timothy 1:12-15, emphasis added)
Paul openly acknowledges his arrogance and evil heart. He recants and repents the sins of blasphemy, persecution and arrogance in his life. God’s infinite impartial goodness is seen in Paul’s testimony. It is evident in God’s merciful love for Paul. It begs the question: Who could be worse than Paul? And, if there was a man worse than Paul, what would God’s response be? “Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things are held together. He is the head of the body, the assembly, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For all the fullness was pleased to dwell in him; and through him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on the earth, or things in the heavens, having made peace through the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:16-20, emphasis added)
He is Sovereign over His creation. He is the Alpha and the Omega. He is “I Am.” His blood shed on the cross at Calvary “reconciles all things to Himself.” He is the Creator and His love is immutable. Peace for all in Christ. Jesus said, “It is finished.”
To me, the very least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all men see what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God, who created all things through Jesus Christ; (Ephesians 3:8-9, emphasis added)
Paul states his ministry is to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ.” God created all men through Christ. We are all Christ’s. The best and the worst. the least and the greatest, are Christ’s.
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love. By this God’s love was revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, if God loved us in this way, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God remains in us, and his love has been perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12, emphasis added)
God’s character is immutable and He is love. His love is immutable. It never changes from love to wrath. The love He showed by sending His Son to die for the atonement of the sin of the world shows His love is indeed immutable. Moreover, understanding His direction to love even those who hate us lifts us to experience His love in us.
Then the end comes, when he will deliver up the Kingdom to God, even the Father; when he will have abolished all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death. For, “He put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when he says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is evident that he is excepted who subjected all things to him. When all things have been subjected to him, then the Son will also himself be subjected to him who subjected all things to him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28, emphasis added)
Paul is speaking of the end of this eon; this age. All things are “all things.” Nothing is exempted from inclusion. All things will be made subject to Christ Jesus by the Father. Christ Jesus then subjects all things, including Himself, to the Father. Everything is made in Christ and He then reconciles them to the Father. God becomes “all in all” to all things.
It is reasonable to teach God reconciles all things to Himself through Christ Jesus. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment adds to scripture by finding exclusions where none exist. The doctrine is not supported.
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 13:32, emphasis added)
Christ Jesus was raised up on a cross at Calvary. He tells us the outcome of His sacrifice. His lifting up on the cross, His death on the cross, His body prepared and buried, His bodily resurrection from the dead and His ascension to the right hand of the Father “will draw all people to Himself.”
Dr. Skinner closes the sermon succinctly advocating the doctrine of universal reconciliation. “Thus do the Scriptures teach that the free, immutable, eternal, infinite and impartial goodness of God, will save all men from sin, and exalt them to immortal glory.” The theologies of Calvin and Arminus are opposed to these attributes of God. They are exposed as false in the Light of His Word.
A Calvinist’s Reluctant Acceptance
Matt Slick is “the President and Founder” of Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM). Mr. Slick and I met long ago at a conference he sponsored near Dallas. It was a brief meeting. I was at the conference because I believed the message he was preaching. I was a regular on the discussion forums at Mr. Slick’s website (CARM.org).
Mr. Slick is passionate and strident regarding his set of basic Christian doctrines. He is unafraid to defend what he believes. His profile at the CARM website suggests he is a man busy evangelizing the truth as he understands it.8 He is a prolific writer and defender of his perceived truth. He supports other like-minded Christian writers at CARM. Subjects cover a wide range of Christian doctrines and precepts. Mr. Slick has established himself as expert in Christian Apologetics. I am convinced Mr. Slick is a believing, faithful man striving to glorify our Father.
Mr. Slick is a Calvinist. He claims the mantle and defends Calvin’s theology vociferously. He has prepared instructional course materials advocating Calvinism.9 Mr. Slick’s apologetic efforts are biased to support Calvinist doctrines.
CARM hosts multiple discussion forums. Discussion topics range from apologetics to Christadelphianism, to Jehovah’s Witnesses, to Word of Faith, Charismatics, and much more. Nearly every theological nuance is open for debate. Universal Reconciliation, however, is conspicuous by its absence in the long list of topics.10 At CARM’s discussion forums, studious believers press their respective theological precepts and doctrinal positions. They participate in the discussions with intent to convince, convert and win theological arguments. It is likely true the advocate of each argument, proponent or opponent, doubtlessly believes the Holy Spirit would change their opponent’s view.
Mr. Slick examines most of what he calls doctrinal errors, but the doctrine of impartial grace in a discussion forum is excluded.
Many of the Christian doctrines I claimed as my own I studied through Mr. Slick’s website. He was not a mentor in the classical sense, but I read numerous articles explaining his understanding of Christian faith. The resources there taught me much about what is good doctrine and what is not. I learned Bible study skills at CARM. Study at the CARM website provided a new vocabulary; hermeneutics, apologetics, heresy, blasphemy, literal, figurative, context and straw-man.
At CARM I found articles reinforcing my bias toward Calvin. I advocated for a time the Calvinist doctrine of “limited atonement.” I gave sermons preaching the election of some and the condemnation of others. I preached the unlimited grace of God extolling His mercy for choosing us, not realizing how the message DID limit His grace. I preached judgement over others saying He rejected them and He consigned them to eternal conscious torment.
I have abandoned the doctrine of “limited atonement” that Mr. Slick defends. My conversion came while studying the doctrine of universal reconciliation. Much of the resource material I used in that study is posted at Gary Amirault’s website, Tentmaker.org.
Mr. Amirault, now deceased, posted an article at Tentmaker in which Mr. Slick is the subject.11 Mr. Amirault’s general complaint was his perception of Mr. Slick’s lack of fairness administering the CARM discussion forums. According to Mr. Amirault, Mr. Slick would not tolerate advocates of universal reconciliation. Mr. Slick administers the rules of the discussion forums and Mr. Slick writes the rules. Mr. Amirault called out Mr. Slick regarding the false doctrine of “limited atonement.” Mr. Amirault complains Mr. Slick banned many advocates of universal reconciliation because of their defense of their belief. Mr. Slick’s doctrine of “limited atonement” was challenged and, according to Mr. Amirault, Mr. Slick would not abide it. As of this writing there is currently no forum at CARM dedicated to discussing universal reconciliation, but there are many forums for nearly all else.
Mr. Slick does post articles advancing his studied opinion regarding universal reconciliation on his website, however. He improperly calls the doctrine “universalism.”
Because I respect Mr. Slick I wanted to know his position on the doctrine of universal reconciliation. Mr. Slick rightfully wants to protect his work and the credibility of CARM. He defines how his work can be used. 12 I think it is fair and I will endeavor to honor the restrictions he places on his work. “Fair use” allows me to quote Mr. Slick’s article “Can a Christian Be a Universalist?” 13
Mr. Slick Sets the Argument
He asks and answers the question, “Can a Christian Be a Universalist?” His explanation demonstrates his bias to Calvinism. Mr. Slick explains Calvinism’s authority and its precepts. As a Calvinist he teaches a doctrine of “Limited Atonement.” Take the time to read Mr. Slick’s explanation of that doctrine.14 Mr. Slick believes and advocates the notion that, “Jesus died only for the elect. Though Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient for all, it was not efficacious for all. Jesus only bore the sins of the elect.”
In order to fairly answer the question, it is necessary to know what it is to be Christian. Mr. Slick explains:
So, what is a Christian is more accurately answered by saying that a Christian is someone who has trusted in the atoning sacrifice of Christ to remove the guilt of our sins, who also believes in and follows Jesus, who was God in flesh, second person of the Trinity, who is prayed to, worshiped, and called God.” 15
Mr. Slick also offers a kind of formula to be Christian. First, a person must believe Christ Jesus died “to remove guilt” of sin. Second and simultaneously, a person “believes in and follows Jesus.” Mr. Slick adds that a person must believe in the doctrine of the Trinity. If Mr. Slick’s formula is the measure count me Christian. I believe God has reconciled all to Himself through Christ’s obedience to death on a cross. Under these conditions the answer to the original question, “Can a Christian be a Universalist?,” is concretely, “Yes.”
Using the formula Mr. Slick advocates, consider the numbers of persons who would fail the test.
Hinduism is a major religion of the world. Luke Wayne writes at the CARM website, “Hindus and Christians do not worship the same God. There is no meaningful correlation between the God of the Bible and any of the millions of Hindu gods, nor can God be identified with Brahman, the ultimate, divine essence of the universe in Hindu thought. They are not only different in name, but also in their core characteristics.” 16 Hindus are not Christian.
Islam is a major religion of the world. The CARM website defines Islam, “Muhammad taught that there is one God, no Trinity, Jesus was not crucified, and that good works are needed for salvation.” 17 There are many articles discussing the theologies, practices and origination of Islam on the CARM website. However, followers of Islam are not Christian.
Mr. Slick informs the curious researcher that Buddhism is not Christian. From CARM we read, “Not only does Buddhism differ from Christianity on individual claims such as who or what is God or what happens to us when we die but also Buddhism and Christianity present entirely different views of the world that touch on every subject of importance.” 18
Mr. Slick also discusses Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholicism. Mr. Slick asks and answers, “Is Mormonism Christian? Are Mormons Christian? The answer is simple. No.” 19 Mr. Slick publishes and encourages the use of a “Warning Tract” to dissuade others from Jehovah’s Witnesses as well as Mormonism. 20 Mr. Slick cites the Jehovah Witness’ belief that Jesus is a created angel. Mr. Slick informs us that Roman Catholicism is not the same as Christianity. 21 Roman Catholicism promotes “…Mary (and the saints) to the level of God-like capabilities.” Further, Mr. Slick reports Roman Catholicism teaches salvation through works. Applying Mr. Slick’s formula, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Roman Catholics are not Christian. Mr. Slick’s formula disqualifies most.
It is Mr. Slick’s assertion that universalists are possibly Christian, but so many others are certainly not. Mr. Slick’s theology teaches Christ’s ability to save the world is limited to a few. As it happens Mr. Slick counts himself fortunate to have been chosen and rests easy among the few.
Mr. Slick Defines Universalism
Universal reconciliation is a valid and provable Christian doctrine. People advocating universal reconciliation are advocating “impartial grace.” Advocates of universal reconciliation preach the same Gospel of Christ Jesus Mr. Slick preaches.
Universalism and universal reconciliation are not synonymous. Universalism’s advocates may believe in the doctrine of “impartial grace,” but they also preach as doctrine “all roads lead to Christ.” Universalism, in the strictest sense, teaches any person can find salvation in Christ Jesus through any religion. Islamists, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, men with no religion, and all others will be saved. Every person will be drawn to Christ, Who died for all.
Advocates of universal reconciliation preach salvation is only through Christ Jesus. Advocates of “impartial grace” believe in Christ Jesus. “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Jesus creates all things. He subjects all to His Father and in turn, His Father declares Him King of Kings. We believe with all our hearts and with reason our King died for the sin of the world. We believe our King has reconciled mankind to the Father. We believe God is love. We do not believe in eternal conscious torment and we cannot fathom the doctrine of “limited atonement.”
Advocates for the doctrine of “impartial grace” are not universalists. It is unfair to ignore the distinctions between universal reconciliation and universalism. Just as Calvinism is distinct from Arminianism, so too, are “impartial grace” and universalism.
Mr. Slick acknowledges the distinction and writes, “Not all forms of universalism are the same, though all are in error.” He categorizes universalism in three distinct groups. The first, Christian universalism, is the closest descriptor for advocates of universal reconciliation (“impartial grace”). He writes the advocate for universal reconciliation “erringly states that salvation can occur after death.”
Mr. Slick “erringly states” the doctrine of “impartial grace.” The doctrine of universal reconciliation preaches the same Gospel preached by Mr. Slick. Persons who believe Christ Jesus is their Savior are saved now. Those who do not believe now will. It is God’s Holy Word that tells us “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ Jesus is Lord.” Every unbeliever will repent and all men will be reconciled to the Father. We do not teach any person is saved by Christ after they die. We do teach the Father will by His “impartial grace” reconcile all men to Himself.
Mr. Slick acknowledges advocates of “impartial grace” might be Christian. He writes, “I find nothing in Scripture that requires believing in eternal damnation in order to be a true Christian.” However, Mr. Slick is adamantly opposed to “Christian Universalism.” 22 He writes, “’Christian Universalism’ really isn’t Christian and it is meshed with many other unorthodox and erroneous teachings. This belief system should be avoided.”
Mr. Slick briefly describes the other categories of universalism. Both are more similar than not. One brand of universalism suggests the unbelieving rebel will be punished, but eventually reconciled to the Lord. The other Mr. Slick calls “Unitarian Universalism.” This is the “all roads lead to salvation” theology discussed earlier.
For the sake of understanding, I advocate “impartial grace” and I would be properly labelled a Christian universalist. The Holy Spirit of our God would not let me avoid it as Mr. Slick recommends I should.
Mr. Slick Examines Ignorance
Mr. Slick provides a scenario and asks if the subject is saved. In his hypothetical, a man lives a long life and he does not heed Christ’s call. He chooses to live a reprobate’s life. This man believes every person ever created goes to heaven. On his deathbed he confesses his sin, repents and trusts Christ’s Gospel. He still retains his belief that all eventually go to heaven. Mr. Slick’s hypothetical now-dead man died without having “repented of the error of universalism.” Is this man saved?
I ask, “Why are you asking the question?” Christ Jesus died to atone for the sin of the world. I dare say He died for sin committed in ignorance. Mr. Slick concurs, “Would anyone condemn a person to eternal fire for simply believing that everyone will be saved? I cannot see that as being the case.”
God does not punish ignorance in Mr. Slick’s hypothetical. It should not be a stretch to declare God does not punish sin committed in ignorance by anyone. God’s love is impartial. He has no favorites. His mercy is grace upon grace. God is “impartial grace.”
Mr. Slick’s use of the term ignorance requires parsing. Ignorance is not a callous label he attaches. Ignorance is a state of understanding and knowledge. The hypothetical man did not know his sin and could not repent for what he did not know. What the hypothetical man did not know could not be attributed to him as unrepented sin, but is forgiven sin just the same. Mr. Slick concedes the hypothetical universalist is saved without regard to unrepented sin.
Why would God not extend His grace and mercy to every person who did not know? There is nothing to glean from His Holy Word to remotely suggest God’s love ends. His essence is love, grace and mercy.
Julie Ferwerda provides a better hypothetical scenario that is true of many, many people. Mrs. Ferwerda is the author of “Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire.” 23 She writes about a young Hindu girl born in India.
If you’re still not convinced that there are some big problems with our traditional salvation theology, contrast your life and upbringing to that of an orphan girl living on the streets of India, far, far away from the West. This child, one of 80 million like her on the streets, was abandoned on a city sidewalk before she had a chance to learn much of anything about survival, let alone matters of any deity. Every day is a battle to survive by stealing food, figuring out which adults want to help her and which ones want to use her body or sell her for money, and figuring out where she is going to safely sleep next.
Add to that, since she was born into the lowest caste (social strata), most of the people she sees every day think she is under a curse from the gods for the way she lived a previous life, so they feel justified and even honored for abusing her. Even if she did somehow, by a stroke of good luck, get the chance to be taken in by an unusually caring family, she would likely be taught the religion of Hinduism, and that she must spend the rest of her life trying to appease the anger of 330 million gods. The chance of meeting anyone who has ever heard about Jesus would be nearly impossible, as there are still many hundreds of thousand of communities in India today that know nothing about Jesus or even the “hell version of the gospel.” Even if she did happen to encounter the message, what are the chances, with all that baggage, that she would care enough (or be able) to hear? What good is “Jesus saving her from her sins,” when all she cares about is where she’s going to get her next meal?
If this hypothetical girl dies and is ignorant of her sin, does our Father condemn her? If so, for what? Using Mr. Slick’s formula, this young child is not saved. But, will God forgive the sin committed in ignorance? It is Mr. Slick’s dilemma to prove God will judge this young girl guilty and consign her to eternal conscious torment. The advocate for “impartial grace” preaches she is reconciled already.
Mr. Slick advocates the doctrine of original sin. He rightly believes and preaches that Adam sinned in the Garden. The consequence of Adam’s disobedience is imputed to all persons created by God in their mother’s wombs. Mr. Slick writes, “Original sin is not a physical corruption, but a moral and spiritual corruption with the result of death to us all. It could be compared to the Reformed Doctrine of Total Depravity which states that sin has touched all parts of what a person is: heart, mind, soul, will, thoughts, desires, etc.” 24 This doctrine insists the young Hindu girl would be punished eternally simply because she was created with a sin nature, even though she would die ignorant of the sin she committed.
Consider the number of births in the world. Christians believe our Father knits us together in the wombs of our mothers. Each newborn is created by God. The doctrine of eternal conscious torment teaches God weaves into His creation the sin nature of Adam. Some He knits together for heaven and the majority He knits for “hell.”
Mr. Slick is kind to judge the hypothetical Christian universalist as possibly saved. That same kindness, if he is consistent in his doctrine, cannot be extended to the young Hindu girl. His kindness is not applied to Islamists, Buddhists, Mormons, Roman Catholics, et al., because they did not know Mr. Slick’s formula for salvation. God created them ignorant, yet they are condemned. Mr. Slick’s doctrine of “limited atonement” does not account for ignorance because all are born condemned. Ignorance does not matter. The formula does.
Mr. Slick’s Essentials of Christian Faith
Refocus on Mr. Slick’s question, “Can a Christian be a universalist?” He insists every Christian must understand and confess certain essentials of Christianity. According to Mr. Slick, there are five essentials. He writes in this article, “The essential doctrines are essential because the Bible says they are.” Ignoring or denying one or more of these five doctrines disqualifies a person as Christian. According to Mr. Slick, “These are doctrinal truths that the Scriptures declare to be essential.” 25 These doctrinal truths are essential because each defines a necessary action on the part of the believer. Failing to act leads to a disciplining consequence including physical death.
Mr. Slick uses the first essential doctrine, the Deity of Christ, as an example. He cites John 8:24 (I have added v.23 for context).
He said to them, “You are from beneath. I am from above. You are of this world. I am not of this world. I said therefore to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am he, you will die in your sins.” (John 8:23-24, WEB)
Mr. Slick writes, “This is an essential doctrine because it has a penalty of damnation for denying it.”
The idea of “damnation” is added by Mr. Slick. It does not exist in these verses. These verses teach Christ Jesus is being challenged by the Pharisees. He responds to their questions and allegations forcefully. He knows them and He is charging them. In the end the Pharisees move to arrest Him, but He is hidden from them.
Christ Jesus says the charges against them will lead them to die in their sins. Their legalism prevented them from seeing the Truth standing before them. Christ Jesus does not issue a “penalty of damnation” upon them. They will physically die without repenting for their sin. They, like so many others, are ignorant.
Jesus is charging the Pharisees.
Mr. Slick’s doctrine dictates a standard of belief is required for salvation. The doctrine applies to all people. Believe for salvation or be condemned to “hell” for unbelief. It is a universal standard applied to every person ever created. Believe or be condemned. The same universal application to all people must apply in the following verse:
And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. (John 12:32, WEB, emphasis added)
Scripture advocates “impartial grace.” All men will be drawn to Him. He means what He says. It is essential to believe these words precisely as He said them.
I do not agree with Mr. Slick’s rationale, but I do agree salvation requires my belief that Christ Jesus is the Son of the Father. He says He and the Father are one. Christ Jesus is God in flesh. He set aside His glory for a little while to walk among men. He was obedient to death on a cross. He was buried and rose again. He walked among men and eventually ascended to Heaven. He sits at the right-hand of the Father on the Throne of God. We are His Kingdom now!
I have accepted Mr. Slick’s label as being a “Christian universalist.” Therefore, I can say I am a follower of Christ; a Christian.
The second essential Mr. Slick defines is “Salvation by Grace.” Every advocate of universal reconciliation will likely agree with this essential. I advocate “impartial grace.” Salvation is a gift. Reconciliation is assured because it is God’s will that all be saved. God is always love. He is good. He defines good. His gift is good. His gift is mercy. His gift is grace upon grace. His Judgement is Christ Jesus Who came to die for the sin of the world. My advocacy for “impartial grace” does not exclude me from the ranks of Christianity.
The third essential of Christianity cited by Mr. Slick is a belief in the resurrection of Christ. He was lifted up on a cross. He died persecuted and hated. His last words, “It is finished.” His body was taken from the cross and ritually prepared for burial. He was placed in a tomb and a stone was rolled in place to block it. The stone was sealed. Three days later, He rose from the tomb. Peter, John and Mary testify to His presence, alive before them. The Disciples saw Him risen from the grave, then about 500 others. Paul was the last to see the Christ on the road to Damascus. After 40 days, He stood before the Disciples and ascended into Heaven, where He sits at the right-hand of the Father on the Throne of God. I confess this is true. The Spirit of Christ is alive in me. I know He is risen!
Mr. Slick’s fourth essential is a belief in the Gospel of Christ Jesus. Christ Jesus is real and His history is real. His Gospel has been discussed in the previous essentials.
The last essential of Christian faith, according to Mr. Slick, is monotheism. He and I share the doctrine of the Trinity. God is distinctly three persons in perfect harmony and absolute agreement with each other. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are the Trinity. This is Mr. Slick’s defined essential. We agree on the doctrine, but I am not sure it should be an essential to Christian faith.
This essential leads to the exclusion of many who truly discount the Trinity. They believe Jesus died for the sin of the world. They believe His Gospel. They are convinced He is God, but not God always. Mr. Slick’s essential, nevertheless disqualifies them. As for me, I believe and I am, therefore, a Christian defined by Mr. Slick’s formula.
If Mr. Slick and I were in a room together, I have little doubt he would welcome me as a brother in Christ. He would know I am a believer. He would know I advocate “impartial grace.” Mr. Slick writes:
Though I consider universalism to be a false belief, I cannot automatically pronounce condemnation upon a person who acknowledges the essentials of the Christian faith and also affirms universal salvation. I don’t because I don’t see the scriptures doing it. Would I consider someone who holds to both the essentials and universalism to be inconsistent and confused? Absolutely! Should they repent? Yes! Does it mean he is unsaved? I can’t say it does.
I am saved. I am a “Christian universalist.” I accept Mr. Slick’s defined five essentials of Christian faith as my own, but I do not claim these necessary for all. I have much to repent, but my belief in “impartial grace” is not one of them. I am not confused, but thoroughly convinced the doctrines of “limited atonement” and eternal conscious torment are dangerous and untrue. The doctrine of universal reconciliation is true.
Mr. Slick concedes, aside from these five essentials, believers can hold flawed or even false doctrines. Their salvation is not at risk, however. He calls those of us who disagree with his definitions confused or poorly taught. He writes, “People can be saved in varying degrees of theological error. There are regenerated people who do not understand predestination, don’t accept election, don’t understand federal headship, are clueless about imputation, Christ’s eternal priesthood, covenant, etc., yet they are regenerated. They simply haven’t learned those doctrinal truths yet.”
Mr. Slick would probably agree that I am Christian. Not every advocate of “impartial grace” would be though. He writes:
Now, am I saying that all Universalists can be Christian? Not at all. Do I defend universalism? No. Do I think that universalism is a serious problem that undermines the gospel? Yes, I do. But, I can see scenarios where a universalist can be a Christian (deathbed conversion, ignorance due to lack of proper teaching, etc.), and I believe that it is possible to be saved in confusion and error, including the confusion and error of universalism.
Advocates of “impartial grace” are as committed to their respective Christian walks as Calvinists, like Mr. Slick, are committed to theirs. Advocates of “impartial grace” should be welcomed by Calvinists fully. We should be embraced as brothers and sisters. But, we are not. The doctrine of “impartial grace” is shunned as being false and those advocating it are deemed poorly educated or uninformed.
Mr. Slick presents a grid defining essential and non-essential doctrines of Christian faith.26 Universalism is placed on the grid as a doctrine suffering “liberal interpretation problems.” Mr. Slick defines these problems as potentially “Christian heresies.” He writes, “These do not contradict the essentials but do contradict non-essential teachings. Generally, those who hold to these positions should be avoided and urged to repent.”
Mr. Slick and I should be unified in Christ. We should be reaching out to edify each other. Our Christ is worth our effort to share the Gospel in unity. At the very least, we should be able find fellowship and not impugn the character of the other.
The Answer: Can a Christian Be a Universalist?
Yes. In the end all will be reconciled to Him.
Reconciliation Among Brothers
The doctrine of impartial grace is the truth. My life changed the moment it became clear the doctrine of eternal conscious torment could not possibly be true. The change is liberating. Instead of encouraging others to believe in a traditional facsimile of Christ, I now preach a loving Christ. I preach of Christ Who reconciles all men to our Father, no matter their station. I have been freed to preach unconditional love.
A local newspaper posted a poem submitted by a constituent.
I am a Christian
When I say that “I am a Christian,” I am not shouting that “I am clean living.” I am whispering “I was lost, but now I’m found and forgiven.”
When I say “I am a Christian,” I don’t speak of this with pride. I’m confessing that I stumble and need Christ to be my Guide.
When I say “I am a Christian,” I’m not trying to be strong. I am professing that I am weak and need His strength to carry on.
When I say “I am a Christian” I am not bragging of success. I’m admitting I have failed and need God to clean up my mess.
When I say “I am a Christian” I am not claiming to be perfect. My flaws are far too visible, but God believes I’m worth it.
When I say “I am a Christian,” I still feel the sting of pain. I have my share of heartaches, so I call upon His Name.
When I say “I am a Christian,” I am not holier than thou. I’m just a simple sinner who received God’s good grace some how!
Advocating the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is a difficult task. The doctrine is hinged to nearly every other Christian tradition. The doctrine is an obstacle to being simply Christian.
Dr. Mark Copeland is a Minister of God’s Word and a prolific sermon writer. He provides a catalogue of sermon outlines for others to use freely. He prepared an outline entitled “Challenges Confronting the Church.” 27 Dr. Copeland is rightly concerned about the factional nature of denominations and congregations. Traditions and denominations shape the hearts and minds of believers in their folds. The tradition is more important than the object of it. If the focus of Christianity is Jesus Christ, how does it happen there are so many divisions, denominations, creeds and traditions between us?
Christians are attracted to the Truth. We believe God loved us before we knew Him. We believe He created mankind in His image and He is love. We believe in His Son and all that He has done and is doing. We believe He is immutable and that He is, always has been, and always will be Sovereign over all things. We believe in what He continues to do over His creation. We believe He has a plan and His plan will not fail. These are absolutes commonly held by believers everywhere, yet; we split over traditions of men.
We segregate ourselves into denominations organized by traditions and rituals. To what end? Which congregation or assembly is right and proper? Which rituals honor God?
Believers gather to worship in thousands of Christian denominations throughout the world. Every believer of each denomination knows he is a child of God. We profess to be adopted into the Heavenly family, where the Father is our Master and Jesus is our King. Christian believers share a common faith, still; there is much separating us. There is division among the congregations and assemblies. What removes the divisions between persons claiming to be sons of the Most High God? Is it possible to be simply Christian?
The doctrinal differences between denominations are not unworkable. However, the separation between them is wide and shallow. In His Plan our differences mean nothing. Set aside misconceptions about brothers and sisters attending worship in ways unfamiliar to you. Set aside discomfort and obey the “Royal Law.” Love one another as we love ourselves. Unity requires humility before others. Christ Jesus is our example.
But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, confined for the faith which should afterwards be revealed. So that the law has become our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all children of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:23-29, WEB, emphasis added)
The number of denominations in the world is staggering. It is not possible to declare honestly they are “all one in Christ.” Traditionalism is the primary agent causing separation between believers. Believers are gifted with a faith in Christ Jesus. Believers are confident in their fate in Heaven. Traditions and denominations have no role in God’s “will that all be saved.” Believers gather and worship our Creator. Traditionalism divides to the degree that the tradition becomes the focus of worship. The tradition becomes an idol.
Mary Fairchild studied the development of denominations. She writes, “Today in the U.S. alone, there are more than 1,000 different Christian branches professing many diverse and conflicting beliefs. It would be an understatement to say that Christianity is a severely divided faith.” 28 Ms. Fairchild’s statement is profound. Her words should be a warning and caution believers to avoid the traps set by traditions. Denominations serve the need of traditions. The traditions of men are the “tares roots.”
Traditions are not dangerous and divisive by themselves. Loyalty to them, giving primacy to them, diminishing God’s love through them, separating into like-minded groups in defense of them makes them so.
I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love; being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you also were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in us all. But to each one of us was the grace given according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” Now this, “He ascended,” what is it but that he also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:1-10, WEB, emphasis added)
There may be thousands of denominations, but there is only one faith. There may be thousands of independent or nondenominational churches. There may be millions of Believers meeting in homes and secret places all over the world. There is only “One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Unfortunately, traditionalists disagree.
The denominational structure of congregations and assemblies is problematic. Denomination by definition is division. As believers, we should do all we can to avoid being associated with anything that causes division in Christ’s Bride, His Body, His Church.
Ms. Fairchild defines the problem when defining denominations.
A denomination in Christianity is a religious organization (an association or fellowship) that unites local congregations in a single, legal and administrative body. Members of a denominational family share the same beliefs or creed, participate in similar worship practices and cooperate together to develop and preserve shared enterprises.
Two local congregations joining together creates a denomination. They share a governing body and submit to it. They also share the fact that they are denominated from the governing body by decree. The Roman Catholic Church submits to the Pope in Rome. The Eastern Orthodox Church submits to the patriarch in Constantinople. The Anglican Church of England submits to authorities in Canterbury. The Lutheran Churches organized under the Missouri Synod submit to the Missouri Synod. The International Church of Christ submits to an authority within the Boston Church of Christ. Southern Baptists insist they are locally governed; however, they also submit, willingly or by default, to the Southern Baptist Convention, “The Baptist Faith and Mission,” and district associations.
Denominations by definition are separations in the Church. Denominations are segregation. Denominations require strict adherence to rules established by men in order to retain good standing in the greater order. Denominations cause narrow sets of rules and foster loyalty and devotion to a set of values. A denomination by definition allows men to elevate their set of values or doctrines over and apart from all other denominations. Denominations usurp God’s authority over scripture. The number of denominations is testimony to these facts.
There is little, if any, evidence in Scripture to support denominational churches. Scripture does not provide a basis for local churches binding themselves together under an umbrella of a controlling authority that is not God. There is no existing denomination in the world that can point to a teaching in Scripture that defines them. “See that passage! That’s my church. There’s our church.”
The New Testament points to local churches, certainly. Each, however, is independent and self-governing. Organizational structures are limited to the local church. The local church identified the elders, pastors, bishops, deacons, ministers and overseers. These persons were specifically appointed by the church to serve that church. The congregations were independent and relied on Divine providence.
Scripture teaches the only authority higher than the local church is Christ. Early on, The Apostles also had authority over local churches, but they were not replaced when they died. Therefore, only Christ is over the local church. Apostles and their followers started local churches. Again, they were not replaced when they passed away. Christ’s authority continues. The Holy Spirit-inspired words of the Apostles’ still carry God’s authority. But, individuals, synods, conferences, associations that presume to hold authority over local churches usurp that authority from Christ and the local body. They do not have a scriptural authority.
Traditionalists needfully separate from other traditionalists over matters of pride or profit. A like-minded group forms a new church government and denomination to satisfy their morality. This idea is not supported in scripture. In fact, denominations by their existence are divisive. The mere concept of denominations is contrary to Christ’s prayer for unity.
Not for these only do I pray, but for those also who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me. The glory which you have given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, even as we are one; I in them, and you in me, that they may be perfected into one; that the world may know that you sent me, and loved them, even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me be with me where I am, that they may see my glory, which you have given me, for you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17:20-25, WEB, emphasis added)
Jesus prays for his disciples. He prays for all who would ever know Him and believe in Him. He is also praying for those who will be led to belief by those who believe. Jesus prays to His Father seeking unity and union. This unity is not expected in church structure or denominational doctrines. This union; The Father, The Son and Their servants; often called Christianity, is founded in Divine love. It is palpable in obedience and commitment to Him. The traditions of men divide by exploiting differences of “opinion” between us. Perhaps, like the Pharisees in Mark 6, the advocates of traditions elevate themselves for personal gain.
Jesus prayed for unity in the same way He and the Father are united. Jesus prayed to the Father to remove the burden from Him. He bore the sin of the world to death on a Cross. Moments before His death He asks, why is He forsaken. Then, before His last breath He said, “It is finished.” The Father and the Son are united in their overwhelming love for Their creation. It is Christ’s prayer that we be united in the same, Divine love.
We are told explicitly by Christ Jesus:
I command these things to you, that you may love one another. If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. But because you are not of the world, since I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: “A servant is not greater than his lord.” If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do to you for my name’s sake, because they don’t know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have had sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me, hates my Father also. If I hadn’t done among them the works which no one else did, they wouldn’t have had sin. But now have they seen and also hated both me and my Father. But this happened so that the word may be fulfilled which was written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”
When the Counselor has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me. You will also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:17-26, WEB, emphasis added)
Christ Jesus tells His Disciples they are part of a larger plan. He likens Himself to a Vine planted and nurtured by The Vintner. The Disciples are likened to branches from the Vine. Those branches producing good fruit are pruned and nurtured. Those branches with poor or no fruit are cut away to be consumed in a fire. If we apply this prayer to Christian lives and not solely to the Disciples, then it becomes a personal responsibility to bear good fruit so as to be pruned and not cut away. God is love; overwhelming, relentless love. Unity with Him through Christ Jesus is by way of love. Unity in all things of Christ is central to being in the vine. The fruit we bear may be small or great, but it is the same fruit from the same vine. It is not fruit from different vines!
Traditional congregations believe their fruit is the better fruit because their portion of the Vine is Truth. Traditions spark fires of dissent between congregations. A Roman Catholic is convinced his tradition is superior to the Southern Baptist. Both traditions are part of the same Vine and both believe their part of the Vine is the Righteous portion. Traditions cause division among believers when there should be none. The concept of denominations is refuted in Scripture.
Now I beg you, brothers, through the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been reported to me concerning you, my brothers, by those who are from Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos,” “I follow Cephas,” and, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized into the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius…. (1 Corinthians 1:10-14, WEB, emphasis added)
Is Christ divided? Certainly NOT! Believers are, however. Traditions have split believers into unimaginable splinters. Each faction professing “God is love,” but acting otherwise. It is evident in the numbers of denominations. Paul, Apollos and Cephas taught of the One; Christ. Christ is the Master of one Church; His Church.
Paul teaches we are all part of the body of Christ. Each person has a role that sustains the whole of the body. All the parts comprise the whole, which is Christ’s Bride. There is neither need nor reason to separate ourselves. There is no room for separation. Denominations oppose Christ’s prayer to be in unity with Him. Separating ourselves into groups because of the characteristics of the group is sectarianism. Sectarianism is a worldly pursuit. Many believers are bonded to their denomination. Their zeal for their denomination is excessive devotion to their traditions and their church governments.
Brothers, I couldn’t speak to you as to spiritual, but as to fleshly, as to babies in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for you weren’t yet ready. Indeed, not even now are you ready, for you are still fleshly. For insofar as there is jealousy, strife, and factions among you, aren’t you fleshly, and don’t you walk in the ways of men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” aren’t you fleshly? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4, WEB, emphasis added)
Traditions create “jealousy, strife and factions.” Traditionalists establish denominations. There can be no doubt Paul’s admonition is not heard or is wilfully ignored. Denominations are carnal. The seed for division is in the traditions of men.
Therefore remember that once you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “uncircumcision” by that which is called “circumcision,” (in the flesh, made by hands); that you were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in the flesh the hostility, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man of the two, making peace; and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, having killed the hostility thereby. He came and preached peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. For through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief cornerstone; in whom the whole building, fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-22, WEB, emphasis added)
Christ Jesus died to pay the penalty for the “sin of the world.” His death brings all, Jew and Gentile, into one new man. Christ died to “reconcile them both in one body to God through the Cross….”
Be honest. Have you ever looked down your nose at a person who doesn’t attend the same kind of church you do? If not, you are a special servant. I am guilty and I have asked His forgiveness. I repent. I realize the wall Christ tore down, I rebuilt. The wall I built led to discord, misunderstanding and arrogance. Jesus died to break down the wall. He died to reconcile us to God in ONE body.
Traditions define denominations. Denominations work against the body of believers. Denominations corrupt congregations and assemblies just as sin corrupts the body of a man. Jesus did not die on the Cross so we could fracture into factions. The sectarian rationale for denominations does not support the cause of Christ. Earlier we read from John 17. In verse 21, Jesus prayed “that the world would believe.” “Traditionalism” divides the Church.
We should not be surprised when new believers turn away. Denominations add to their confusion. It is not uncommon to hear the excuse from new believers and unbelievers that “Christians can’t make up their own minds about which is right.” The divisions caused by traditional denominations are often cited by agnostics and atheists as an excuse to not believe in God. Non-Christian religions such as Islam and even Judaism often point to this sectarianism as a rationale to diminish Christ.
Dr. Copeland cites the words of famous theological scholars. Martin Luther sparked the Reformation Movement. He writes:
I ask that men make no reference to my name, and call themselves not Lutherans, but Christians. What is Luther? My doctrine, I am sure, is not mine, nor have I been crucified for any one. St. Paul, in 1 Cor. 3, would not allow Christians to call themselves Pauline or Petrine, but Christian. How then should I, poor, foul carcass that I am, come to have men give to the children of Christ a name derived from my worthless name? No, no, my dear friends; let us abolish all party names, and call ourselves Christians after Him Whose doctrine we have. – Hugh Thomason Kerr, A Compend of Luther’s Theology (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1943, p. 135)
John Wesley, another great reformation leader, writes:
Would to God that all party names, and unscriptural phrases and forms which have divided the Christian world, were forgot and that the very name [Methodist] might never be mentioned more, but be buried in eternal oblivion. – John Wesley, Universal Knowledge, A Dictionary and Encyclopedia of Arts, Science, History, Biography, Law, Literature, Religions, Nations, Races, Customs, and Institutions, Vol. 9, Edward A. Pace, Editor (New York: Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1927, p. 540)
Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest Baptist preachers who ever lived, writes:
“I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a Baptist living! I hope that the Baptist name will soon perish, but let Christ’s name last forever.” – Spurgeon Memorial Library, Vol. I., p. 168
The day Charles Spurgeon hoped for has not yet come. Traditional denominations, however, are stronger than ever before. There are more congregations starting in more and more communities and most are affiliated with larger governing bodies. New subdivisions are planned. Large plots of land are set aside for new churches. Often, the church building is erected before the first house.
There is hope; all is not lost. Throughout the world, people are discarding their personal affiliations with denominational churches. The Holy Spirit is alive in them and they are seeking Jesus in liberty, just as scripture prescribes. Before long, they realize they are like-minded, possessing the same love, of one accord, one purpose.
If there is therefore any exhortation in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any tender mercies and compassion, make my joy full, by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. (Philippians 2:1-4, WEB, emphasis added)
This admonition often falls on deaf ears. Denominations strive to elevate their doctrines and traditions over every other congregation. Denominations strive to set their traditions as unassailable. Minds become closed and believers’ hearts are hardened. Denominations are obstacles.
Christ’s Church does not need to be rescued. It is ludicrous to think He is unaware of my thoughts or yours. He sees the end; in fact, He is the End. Ours is to love as He loves; to love Him as He loves us; to love those who hate us with that same degree of love. It is a personal commitment to live as Light. The veils of tradition unfortunately cover the Lamp.
Adherence to tradition is to ignore impartial grace.
Being Simply Christian
Every denomination, congregation or assembly is comprised of believers striving to be more than simply Christian. Their denominations establish traditions, creeds, rites and rituals. Adherence to those are necessary for inclusion in the that body of believers. Traditions add rules and assign levels of compliance. Being simply Christian is made complex, complicated and nearly unattainable in a traditionalist’s congregation.
Rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say, “Rejoice!” Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. In nothing be anxious, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4-7, WEB, emphasis added)
A life of peace, beyond any peace we could imagine, is ours, now! All that is asked of us is to rejoice and to exhibit gentleness always.
Peace is simply a matter of thankful prayer and “your requests.”
Christ is with us now. He “is at hand.” He is not waiting seated next to the Father only. He is in us now as well. The “peace of God” is a gift. He shields us. He protects us from the influences of all that hardens hearts and clouds thoughts.
Even so, the ways of the world are before us, enticing and tempting us. I am convinced nearly all, if not all, still reading this book have at least been tempted by the flesh. It would be my guess that a majority of us tempted by the fruit took a bite. It’s not an exaggeration.
Concerning the Good News, they are enemies for your sake. But concerning the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sake. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For as you in time past were disobedient to God, but now have obtained mercy by their disobedience, even so these also have now been disobedient, that by the mercy shown to you they may also obtain mercy. For God has shut up all to disobedience, that he might have mercy on all.
Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past tracing out! (Romans 11:28-33, WEB, emphasis added)
These verses are the Good News. They are the Gospel. It is impartial grace being exposed in the Light of Christ’s Gospel. God consigns all men to a state of disobedience, which is sin. He does so with a purpose. He will have mercy on all. His love is boundless, and it is relentless. His love is far deeper than traditions allow. He is benevolent without end. He is good. His is impartial grace.
His mercy will be over all. It’s the same mercy given today as the mercy He showed the Disciples and early believers. It’s the same mercy He bestows on traditionalists that He bestows on all others. It’s impartial grace. Traditions, particularly the doctrine of eternal conscious torment, deny our Father the power to reconcile all.
Traditions and denominations exacerbate the sin in us. Traditions extinguish the Liberty we have in Him. It is tradition that separates, divides and denominates. Denominations create anxiety and exploit believers. Traditions demand qualified performance and measure adherence to doctrines. Traditions are rules and regulations. Abide in those, and a believer can abide in that traditional congregation.
We anguish over our children, over our parents, over our jobs, our churches, our Christian walk or lack of it. Our faith is challenged. Our doctrines are challenged. Position, status, and our relationship with God is challenged. Doubt and anxiety are serious challenges to His Sovereignty over our lives. We have to think God does not know what He is doing. We surrender little and feed fires of worry. We fail to hear His words and to practice His command; Love one another. Traditions and denominations cause these anxieties, not the Word of God.
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow let’s go into this city, and spend a year there, trade, and make a profit.” Whereas you don’t know what your life will be like tomorrow. For what is your life? For you are a vapor, that appears for a little time, and then vanishes away. For you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will both live, and do this or that.” But now you glory in your boasting. All such boasting is evil. To him therefore who knows to do good, and doesn’t do it, to him it is sin. (James 4:13-17, WEB, emphasis added)
Live to do as God commands. We know what is good and perfect in His sight. To not do what we know is good is to sin. We know the command to love one another. Too often, good men do not love and that is sin. Without God, the efforts and plans of men are fruitless. In their vanity, they will be judged. In their desire to lord their position over others, they will harvest what they have sown. In the same way, we will harvest what we sow.
We are of God! We are to abide in Him. Traditions negate the command to love unconditionally.
Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you. (John 4:4-7, WEB, emphasis added)
Jesus, our Savior, makes it abundantly clear that we will only be a worthy witness if our hearts, words, thoughts and deeds are IN HIM. If we step away from the Word of God to follow fear, then we have poisoned our portion of the branch. Our branch will not bear testimony to the grace upon grace gifted to us by God. Rather, it will bear unworthy fruit. To be simply Christian is to embrace the fact that “apart from me you can do nothing.”
If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and remain in his love. I have spoken these things to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:10-11, WEB, emphasis added)
Apart from Him we cannot keep His commandments. Traditional congregations have obscured Divine love with doctrines of division, including that of eternal conscious torment. It seems logical to conclude that to worry over anything is to confess an inability to remain in His love. Worry is not joy. The slightest worry displaces the fullness of joy IN HIM.
Christ’s commands do not worry! Scriptures teach us that we should not worry about what we eat or what we wear. Jesus teaches that God dresses the lilies of the field with splendor greater than that of Solomon on his best dressed day. Jesus teaches that the crows do not worry about where their next meal is coming. Finally, Jesus teaches that the Father cares much more for us than He cares for the lilies and the crows. So we have no reason to worry! Yet, we doubt and worry. Traditions complicate our walks. They hinder us with rules and authoritarian usurpers.
But whoever keeps his word, God’s love has most certainly been perfected in him. This is how we know that we are in him: he who says he remains in him ought himself also to walk just like he walked. (1 John 2:5-6, WEB, emphasis added)
Jesus did not walk in His ministry fearful of what the government or the traditionalists might do to Him! He did not walk wondering where His next meal would come from. He did not walk in fear giving us His ministry. He walked in Truth preaching His Gospel of salvation! To be simply Christian is to love even those who hate you. Traditions diminish impartial grace and are unnecessary obstacles.
Now, little children, remain in him, that when he appears, we may have boldness, and not be ashamed before him at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of him. (1 John 2:28-29, WEB, emphasis added)
Traditions and doctrines parse what it means to be righteous, to the point the word has no meaning. Loving like Christ loved, walking like Christ walked, is to practice righteousness. A righteous life is lived IN HIM. The fruit of our testimony about Him, through Him and in Him will not leave us naked and ashamed before Him. God speaks to us and He exhorts us in His Word.
Everyone who has this hope set on him purifies himself, even as he is pure. Everyone who sins also commits lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. Whoever remains in him doesn’t sin. Whoever sins hasn’t seen him, neither knows him. (1 John 3:3-6, WEB, emphasis added)
It’s a matter of being simply Christian. Traditions cause divisions, of which denominations are the proof. Division is antithetical to Christ-like unity, therefore, lawless. Traditionalists elevate their various doctrines to positions of supremacy making the word of God fit their theologies.
Watch yourselves, that we don’t lose the things which we have accomplished, but that we receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and doesn’t remain in the teaching of Christ, doesn’t have God. He who remains in the teaching, the same has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you, and doesn’t bring this teaching, don’t receive him into your house, and don’t welcome him, for he who welcomes him participates in his evil works. (2 John 1:8-11, WEB, emphasis added)
Being simply Christian requires only a dedication to Him; to serve Him. He tells us to love orphans and widows, to care for them. A person who persists in sin will neither see God nor will they know Him. When we abide in Christ our gifts are manifold. We will have a spiritual fruitfulness. Our prayers will be answered. Peace will come upon us in abundance. We will have new lives where dedication to Him is foremost; certainly a more satisfying life than fearing what can happen to us. Because we abide in Him we can see righteousness in His life and pursue it in our own.
There is nothing to fear. When we abide in Christ, there are tangible results. When we are abiding in Christ, our lives reflect the Truth and we honor our Savior, our Lord. Traditions demand an adherence to rules and rites established, administered and advocated by men. Jesus teaches:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already pruned clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you. (John 15:1-7, WEB, emphasis added)
Jesus speaks to us. He is the vine in which we find our life’s blood. It is Christ Jesus Who sustains us. We are already in the vine and the expectation is to bear His fruit. Abiding in Him, feeding from the Vine, is a choice. We choose to abide in Him. By making that choice, we comprehend and enjoy life in Him as He is alive in us. Because of His grace, He will lead us to bear much fruit.
God owns the vine. God maintains the vine. God’s purpose is to tend His vine so that it bears much fruit. He prunes away unproductive branches and He splices in productive branches. He is forever looking over His vine and He is consistently making it stronger and more fruitful. Consider Christ’s Disciples. The young men He chose were naturally green. Which of the Twelve was cut away from the Vine and cast aside to wither? Judas Iscariot? Peter, when he first thought to escape Rome? Was Paul in the Vine before Christ’s revelation on the “The Road to Damascus?” He declares he was brought into the Fold after being “chief of all sinners.”
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment teaches Judas’ branch was cut away and left to wither. Ostensibly, he burned to destruction as a cast-off branch and now suffers that fate for eternity. Paul, nee Saul, was grafted into the Vine. Traditionalists usurp the Vintner’s authority and attempt to prune the Vine mercilessly. Traditions determine who the Vintner may splice into the vine. Further, traditionalists define what it is to be a branch grafted into the Vine. Remarkably, their doctrines are “anti-Christ” as they are exclusive to the “traditions of men.”
There are some among us, friends and family, who began a good work in belief and have chosen to fall away. They have taken for themselves the spirit of “anti-Christ.” These verses suggest God has or will cut them away from the Vine. They will be thrown aside, later to be burned. Unlike cut-away branches from a natural vine, traditionalists insist the fire consuming fallen away brothers (unfruitful branches) never dies. The material that was once alive in the Vine no longer has life, but still the matter remaining is the Material of the Vine. The “dead” branch is still a creation from the Vine over whom the Vintner is Sovereign.
There are some who live a “church” life. Their substance, their life blood, comes from their social position in the church. They have allowed themselves to become hardened to the faith for the sake of their position. They have become legalistic. They are traditionalists and administrators of questionable rites, rituals, dogma and doctrine.
There are some who have leaned unto themselves. They know the Vine, but have selfish interests. Some think their sins have been covered by the Blood of the Lamb on the Cross, while the sins of their brothers are not. There are some who possess an unforgiving spirit. They are bitter. They block the flow of Christ’s sustenance. As hard as they may try to live a life worthy of Christ, their rules and traditions keep them and others at arm’s length. Eventually, their branch withers, dies, and is cut away. That branch, too, will be consumed by fire.
If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, WEB, emphasis added)
To be simply Christian is assurance that every need, even desire, will be met. Because we have made the conscious decision to live in Christ; that is to abide in Him and His words live in us. He is the Word. His words are His doctrines. His word is His Gospel. His words are the Full Counsel of God. His words are our example in daily life. We love because He first loved us. We treat others with dignity and respect because of His words. We advance the Truth that is His Gospel because His words are in us.
This assurance of answered prayer is never taken away, but it can be hidden away. Traditions are the proverbial basket placed over a lit lamp. When we keep His commands and adhere to His doctrines, we can rest easy in knowing He will keep us. Obstacles such as rites and rituals, creeds and doctrines, oaths and commitments cover the Light, obscure it, lock it away.
Whatever you will ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you will ask anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, keep my commandments. I will pray to the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, that he may be with you forever,— the Spirit of truth, whom the world can’t receive; for it doesn’t see him, neither knows him. You know him, for he lives with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you. (John 14:13-18, WEB, emphasis added)
If we are truly simply Christian, then our prayers will be for nothing less than His Spirit’s guidance and help praising Christ. We won’t pray for the unthinkable. We won’t be praying for that new car or barrels full of cash. We will be praying for perfection in our lives and in the lives of others. We will be praying the Spirit leads us to honorable conduct.
Albert Barnes writes, “We learn from it that it is only when we keep the commandments of Christ – only when we live by faith in him, and his words are suffered to control our conduct and affections, that our prayers will be heard. Were we perfect in all things, he would always hear us, and we should be kept from making an improper petition;….” (emphasis added)
If I cherished sin in my heart, the Lord wouldn’t have listened. (Psalm 66:18, WEB, emphasis added)
Selfish motives behind prayers fall on deaf ears. We are wrong to say God answers all prayers, but that is a petty thing for certain. Prideful prayers are not heard. Prayers with the force of His love are listened to and the desires of His child are filled. It’s a matter of being simply Christian. Traditions diminish the Holy Spirit we know to be in us for the sake of this or that doctrine.
I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have oppression; but cheer up! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33, WEB, emphasis added)
Jesus, speaking to His Disciples, declares they will abandon Him. They will all scatter and leave Him to stand alone. These men spent the past three years with Him, learning from Him, praising Him. John leaned on His breast. Peter declared he would never forsake his Lord. And, Judas Iscariot did. They all did. John admits his cowardice here. Later, he returns and is with Jesus while Jesus is on the Cross. Jesus hands his mother to John to care for her as his own.
Jesus, however, is not alone. The Father is with Him.
In this single verse we have the gift of comfort and joy and peace. Christ Jesus has overcome the world and He carries our burden. Not only the burden of those who confess belief in Him, but of those who do not. Their burdens may be heaviest of all. Being simply Christian is to acknowledge we will suffer the ways of the flesh. We know the world will bring us trials, but there is nothing we cannot overcome as we abide in Christ. Traditions preach we have to “do” something that satisfies the tradition. Compliance with the doctrine relieves the burden. It must be clear the rites and rituals of tradition add to the burden Christ died to take upon Himself.
He died for all, that those who live should no longer live to themselves, but to him who for their sakes died and rose again. Therefore we know no one after the flesh from now on. Even though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now we know him so no more. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new. But all things are of God, who reconciled us to himself through Jesus Christ, and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation; namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not reckoning to them their trespasses, and having committed to us the word of reconciliation. We are therefore ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as though God were entreating by us: we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:15-21, WEB, emphasis added)
It is vanity to say “I am in Christ” but live according to the flesh. Our hearts are changed. A believer’s heart is dead to sin. An unbeliever’s heart is dead in sin. A true Christian whose heart is committed to Christ is changed. Dr. Copeland illustrates what the change looks like. The old man, once a child of Satan, is now a child of God. The old man, once a slave to sin, is now a slave to Christ. The old man seeking works for salvation finds the Truth of salvation in the Gospel of Christ. The new man; the Christian man, is free from sin. He bears fruit for his God. He knows he has everlasting life. The old man, once prideful, is now humble. The old man, once hungry for the things of the world, is now hungry for God’s Word. The old man lived for the carnal. The new man knows and thinks of things spiritual. The old man has passed away.
To be simply Christian requires a turning away from the idolatrous and towards the Spiritual.
If anyone among you thinks himself to be religious while he doesn’t bridle his tongue, but deceives his heart, this man’s religion is worthless. Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27, WEB, emphasis added)
This is what is expected from those of us who believe. There should be no under-served orphan among us. Widows in our communities would be cared for and supported. Moreover, it is expected we would avoid the ways of the world. Traditions create divisions which is a great stain.
Could there be any better example of a person committed to caring for orphans than Mother Teresa of Calcutta? She is probably the greatest humanitarian of our time, perhaps of all time. She is known for her work caring for “the fatherless.” Her work does not satisfy the traditional and Protestant doctrines of salvation. The traditional authorities tell us her work was magnificent, but essentially unworthy and probably not honored by God. She might be saved if she followed traditional dogma before she drew her last breath, but it is likely her devotion to her Catholic faith hindered that.
Got Questions.org defines itself as “a ministry of dedicated and trained servants who have a desire to assist others in their understanding of God, Scripture, salvation, and other spiritual topics. We are Christian, Protestant, evangelical, theologically conservative, and non-denominational. We view ourselves as a para-church ministry, coming alongside the church to help people find answers to their spiritually related questions.” 29 These good men and women took on the question, “Did Mother Teresa go to heaven?” 30 Their answer is startling. “Mother Teresa’s humanitarian efforts were respectable, commendable, and undoubtedly could have been and could still be used today by God in His perfect will. When it comes to entering heaven, however, her sincere works could never get her there.” (emphasis added) Even though God’s Holy Word describes her work as the kind of religion that is acceptable to Him, these good folks challenge it. They close by writing, “We can only hope that at some point before her last breath Teresa received saving faith in Christ and no longer trusted in Catholicism or her admirable accomplishments as the way to heaven.” Traditions set the rules, the rites, the creeds to divide.
Yes most certainly, and I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I suffered the loss of all things, and count them nothing but refuse, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, that which is of the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming conformed to his death; if by any means I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained, or am already made perfect; but I press on, if it is so that I may take hold of that for which also I was taken hold of by Christ Jesus.
Brothers, I don’t regard myself as yet having taken hold, but one thing I do. Forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, think this way. If in anything you think otherwise, God will also reveal that to you. Nevertheless, to the extent that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule. Let us be of the same mind. Brothers, be imitators together of me, and note those who walk this way, even as you have us for an example. For many walk, of whom I told you often, and now tell you even weeping, as the enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is the belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who think about earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from where we also wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will change the body of our humiliation to be conformed to the body of his glory, according to the working by which he is able even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:8-21, WEB, emphasis added)
Knowing Christ is a gift from Christ. Paul is imploring the assembly in Philippi, and consequently, to the whole of those who believe Christ’s Gospel, to unite behind that call. There is only one rule and that is to strive to walk as Christ walked. His life, persecution, punishments, death, and resurrection culminate His walk in Perfect Love. Paul tells us to imitate his walk and the walks of others like him. He warns us that he and others have not reached perfection, but by striving they are abiding. They are simply Christian.
Paul, through God’s Holy Word, describes what it is to not walk like Christ. Many of these believers are outwardly religious and some claim theological authority. Their walk satisfies their hungers. Their pride seeks anything but humility. Their hearts are “about earthly things.” These verses seemingly don’t apply to traditionalists, as they apply them to those who disagree with them; their traditions; their denomination.
There is no other aspiration beyond Christ’s call. Christ “will change the body of our humiliation.” His is the glory to race toward. He “is able even to subject all things to himself.” Faith, which is a gift from Above, leads to righteousness and being simply Christian depends on that faith! Traditions separate people causing doubts of faith. They hinder being simply Christian.
But now apart from the law, a righteousness of God has been revealed, being testified by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all those who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness through the passing over of prior sins, in God’s forbearance; to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time; that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, WEB, emphasis added)
My beloved friends, Abiding In Christ is the honor our Lord deserves. Worship and praise on Sunday mornings, although good, is insufficient by itself. Teaching a Sunday School class or preaching a sermon is good and pleases the Lord, but He deserves so much more. Paying a tithe or giving a gift is remarkable and good, but does not fill the bill. None of these, alone or even all together, meet that honor He deserves from each of us. In this regard we are all like Mother Teresa; a bushel of good works that avail us nothing.
As he was going out into the way, one ran to him, knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except one—God. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not give false testimony,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and mother.’”
He said to him, “Teacher, I have observed all these things from my youth.”
Jesus looking at him loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack. Go, sell whatever you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me, taking up the cross.”
But his face fell at that saying, and he went away sorrowful, for he was one who had great possessions. Jesus looked around, and said to his disciples, “How difficult it is for those who have riches to enter into the Kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus answered again, “Children, how hard is it for those who trust in riches to enter into the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.”
They were exceedingly astonished, saying to him, “Then who can be saved?”
Jesus, looking at them, said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God, for all things are possible with God.”
Peter began to tell him, “Behold, we have left all, and have followed you.”
Jesus said, “Most certainly I tell you, there is no one who has left house, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or land, for my sake, and for the sake of the Good News, but he will receive one hundred times more now in this time, houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land, with persecutions; and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last; and the last first.” (Mark 10:17-31, WEB, emphasis added)
To be simply Christian is to abide in Christ and to give Him all. The rich young ruler wouldn’t do it. Christ didn’t rebuke the man, but He made it clear the young man loved his stuff far more than he loved his Christ. Traditions are protected by their advocates in the same manner the young ruler protected his wealth. Traditional doctrines teach us it is too late for the young ruler. He and his kind are bound for eternal conscious torment.
In 2 Kings 21, scriptural history teaches us what it means to be too late. Manasseh is the King of Judah and his reign is, for the most part, evil. Late in his Kingship he repents and begins to follow God. He dies and his son, Amon, ascends to the throne of Judah. Amon is terribly evil and Judah is corrupted unimaginably. Amon is assassinated by men close to him. Josiah, an eight year old, ascends to the Throne. Josiah dedicates himself to God and begins a serious effort to clean the Temple. While cleaning the Temple, a book of the Law is uncovered. Many believe it was Deuteronomy. Josiah read the book and was thoroughly convicted by God’s Holy Word. He begins a great reformation in Judah. He consults the Prophets for guidance. A Prophetess named Hulda tells Josiah that all his efforts are for nothing because it is too late. Judah and Israel are condemned and will remain so. Josiah was told he would die in peace, because he was abiding in God’s Word. Huldah’s prophesy was not ignored by Josiah, but he continued the reformation and lit the fires of renewal in Judah. Josiah pressed forward. He destroyed the altars on which babies were sacrificed to Molech. He destroyed the idols built by previous kings of Judah. He destroyed the Asherah poles and scattered human bones. The remnants of high places constructed by Solomon were desecrated. The evil places of worship built by Jeroboam were demolished and defiled forever more.
For all Josiah did to reform Judah it was too late. He was able to delay God’s plan for a time, perhaps. We can come together. We can destroy all the evil places. We can set aside our idols; crush them up and scatter their bones. Perhaps the Lord will give us one more day to do one more Godly thing.
Traditions are akin to the idols Josiah swept away from Judah. Traditionalists preach against idolatry, but are primary purveyors of it with doctrines, rites, rituals and more. Their eternal fire still burns and still consumes. Great and magnificent buildings replaced altars and Asherah poles. The high places are higher still with Internet and satellite communications.
It is simply Christian to set aside everything you’ve been taught in or by your denomination, congregation, or assembly. The rules of the traditions obscure the least complicated path and unnecessarily complicate an abiding walk like Christ.
Impartial Grace: Simply Christian
Scriptural history in God’s Holy Word teaches of an evangelical event wherein Christ sends twelve Disciples into Israel to preach. Christ specifically excludes Gentiles in this outreach. The Message is exclusively given to Israel. He places a number of restrictions on the Disciples regarding the audience and the protocol to “shake dust off feet” when the Disciple is not heard. Jesus tells the Disciples to depend on the Holy Spirit for answers if called out by authorities. He warns them of persecution that will befall them. He tells them to persist.
Therefore don’t be afraid of them, for there is nothing covered that will not be revealed; and hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the darkness, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered in the ear, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
“Aren’t two sparrows sold for an assarion coin? Not one of them falls on the ground apart from your Father’s will, but the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore don’t be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows. Everyone therefore who confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 10:26-33, WEB, emphasis added)
This statement from Christ Jesus has remarkably serious consequences. Taking the verse by itself it reads as if any person while under duress could deny Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior, and consequently, be lost because Jesus would speak against him before the Father.
Consider the witness testimonies surrounding a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon in 2015. 31 Witnesses report an angry young man entered a campus classroom, killed the Instructor, and forced students to the middle of the room. He asked if there were Christians in the room and demanded they stand. Some did and they were shot for their confession. Others not self-identifying as Christians died that day too, but this one act of Christian faith preceded the death of at least two students. It is likely other students who believe in Christ Jesus were there and did not confess their faith, knowing the immediate consequence of their confession. Is this not essentially “denying Christ?”
Do we take the scripture above literally, and know concretely that Jesus will deny any of these students before the Lord who is in the heavens? Was eternal salvation scrubbed away from any who denied Christ because they might have been humanly afraid? Is the fate of the denier eternal conscious torment?
Jesus says something remarkable about the houses of those the Disciples preach. “Bless the family in that house with peace if that household receives you and is hospitable. If it is not then let your peace be restored to you.” Jesus was not denying the household peace and blessing, but He was telling His Disciples that staying there would be contentious. Restoration of God’s people to the Father is the overarching precept of Christ’s Gospel. Unity and contention do not coexist.
Jesus then says to His Disciples that the unwilling household has another problem that they will have to face. God’s judgement will be put upon those who reject the Word. He defines the pain of the Father’s judgement to be greater than the suffering experienced by the inhabitants of Sodom when it was destroyed by God. Please, recall, the direction given to the Disciples who are to preach to Israel.
He tells them that when the persecution starts in earnest leave that city. The Gospel may not make it to every house because of the need to flee, but Christ Jesus will eventually get the Word to them all.
Jesus commands the Disciples to go out, for they are His. They are to be like their teacher. They are to be like their Lord. Jesus cautions them that if a household is the servant of the devil, then that household will be like the devil. Do not fear these kinds of people. Teach the Truth. Jesus says the Light will overwhelm and destroy the darkness. Teach the Light. Shout the Truth from the rooftops. Be encouraged to teach the Truth. Do not fear the man who can kill you; do fear the Power than can kill your body and your soul. We see from these scriptures that God has great care for even the birds of the air. How much more does He care for us; all of us? He knows us so intimately that He literally knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knows our innermost thoughts. He knows every deed done and every deed we will do.
Now to the question at hand; Will Jesus deny the hypothetical Christian students who denied Him on that day of massacre? Yes, but…. It is my belief the student’s denial of Christ on that day will be the subject of Christ’s denial of Him to the Father on that day…for that incident alone. That sin is NOT the unforgiven sin.
Keep this in mind as you answer these questions: Have you ever slandered a brother or sister in Christ? Have you deliberately sought to cause any person harm by your thoughts or words? Have you looked at a woman (not your wife) and wanted to have sexual relations with her? Have you wished your husband was like that other woman’s husband? Have you condemned a person because of their sexual proclivity? Have you called another person a heretic or blasphemer because that person holds an opinion of God contrary to your own? Have you wished someone dead? Do you call those who do not believe in Christ “fools?”
God knows your heart. We can deny Him in myriad ways. When we do, it will be only just that He denies us to the Father who is in heaven. Let’s be honest with ourselves at least. I’ll be honest with you. In my lifetime, I have denied Him. I have denied Him in ways and in times that cause me great sorrow; Godly sorrow. Even after knowing Him and wanting to be like Him I have still done things that deny Him.
Believers have confessed our faith in Christ. Being honest with you, I have reached to heaven as a reprobate and begged for forgiveness. I have been defeated to the point of wanting death. I’ve cried alligator tears confessing to Him my sins not once, but on multiple occasions. Not only for a sin committed once, but for a sin I’ve committed multiple times. I’ve gone to Him with a repenting, contrite heart. I’ve been serious in my intent to live for Him and Him only. Still, I’ve broken my promises. My contrite heart healed or scarred over the pain. I have gone to the Lord hating myself and He always restores me. I’ve denied Him and He will deny me before the Father, but the sin of my denial has been forgiven.
Will Jesus deny forever any person who denies Him before our Father Who is in heaven? No!
Paul is an Apostle chosen out of season. He says of himself that he was a wretched man. He confesses that he hated Christians. He confesses he hated those who would follow the radical Rabbi named Jesus. Paul denied Jesus to the point he murdered, imprisoned and persecuted those who believed Jesus is their Messiah. Jesus met Paul on the road to Damascus. Jesus taught Paul and Paul’s heart changed. Paul’s denial was forgiven in repentance.
Peter is an Apostle chosen by Christ Jesus to be part of the foundation of the Church. On the day Jesus was betrayed, Peter denied Him three times! Jesus told of it before Peter’s denial. Jesus knew Peter would deny Him.
The Lord said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan asked to have you, that he might sift you as wheat, but I prayed for you, that your faith wouldn’t fail. You, when once you have turned again, establish your brothers.”
He said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!”
He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will by no means crow today until you deny that you know me three times.” (Luke 22:31-34, WEB, emphasis added)
We read later that Peter was there when Jesus was confronted by the Temple Guard in Gethsemane. Peter slashed out at one of them and cut off an ear. Jesus commanded Peter to put away his weapon. He healed the guard’s ear. Judas approached and kissed Jesus identifying Him as the One the guards were seeking to arrest. Peter and the other Disciples ran leaving Christ alone in the hands of those who wished Him ill. Did Peter and the others deny Him there in Gethsemane? Can it be anything other than denial?
They seized him [Jesus], and led him away, and brought him into the high priest’s house. But Peter followed from a distance. When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard, and had sat down together, Peter sat among them. A certain servant girl saw him as he sat in the light, and looking intently at him, said, “This man also was with him.”
He denied Jesus, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him.”
After a little while someone else saw him, and said, “You also are one of them!”
But Peter answered, “Man, I am not!”
After about one hour passed, another confidently affirmed, saying, “Truly this man also was with him, for he is a Galilean!”
But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. The Lord turned, and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the Lord’s word, how he said to him, “Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.” He went out, and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:54-62, WEB, emphasis added)
Peter denied Christ Jesus three times. We can be sure Peter was stricken in his heart and in his spirit when Jesus “turned and looked upon” him. There are many scriptures that proverbially “hit me in the gut,” but this one is particularly moving. My breath is taken away. The scene in my mind’s eye is immeasurably sad. Jesus looks upon Peter and Peter realizes just how worthless he is, and just how magnificent His Lord is. Peter realizes he denied Christ. His denial is forgiven.
Too many times I’ve been in the same circumstance as Peter. I denied Him and immediately realized He is looking upon me. My heart aches in my worthlessness. My heart rejoices in that He lifts me up in His glory! I sense I am not alone.
Judas Iscariot is a man called to be a Disciple by Christ Jesus. Judas learns the same lessons from Him as the other Disciples. Peter, James and John competed to be the greatest among the Disciples. James’s and John’s mother campaigned that her sons would sit on Christ’s left and right. Peter was quick to act and to react. We’ve seen some of that earlier. For roughly three years, Judas walks as a Disciple with Christ and serves as the Ministry’s treasurer. Then on one fateful day, Satan enters into him.
Now the feast of unleavened bread, which is called the Passover, drew near. The chief priests and the scribes sought how they might put him to death, for they feared the people. Satan entered into Judas, who was surnamed Iscariot, who was numbered with the twelve. He went away, and talked with the chief priests and captains about how he might deliver him to them. They were glad, and agreed to give him money. He consented, and sought an opportunity to deliver him to them in the absence of the multitude. (Luke 22:1-6, WEB, emphasis added)
We have no reason to believe Judas was impacted by Satan at any other time. It is at the time of this Passover that Satan enters into Judas. I ask this; How is it Satan can enter any man unless God would allow it or deem it? Consider how God allowed Satan to impact Job. Is it too much to say that when Satan or his minion horde of demons attack any of us that it is God Who allows it? Even to help discipline His children? God allowed Assyria to conquer Israel and He reminded Israel of His purpose. Israel had turned their backs on God. Assyria was the tool to bring the discipline. God punished Assyria for their hatred and for attacking Israel.
Judas was paid to betray Christ Jesus and that is what he did in Gethsemane on that Passover night. But before that betrayal, Christ Jesus shares a meal with His Disciples which includes Judas.
The Son of Man goes, even as it is written of him, but woe to that man through whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would be better for that man if he had not been born.”
Judas, who betrayed him, answered, “It isn’t me, is it, Rabbi?”
He said to him, “You said it.”
As they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks for it, and broke it. He gave to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, “All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:24-28, WEB)
It is clear Christ Jesus points out Judas as the man who will betray Him. There is to be great “woe” on the heart of Judas for his betrayal. Shall we put words in the mouth of our Lord and say that the great “woe” is eternal damnation? Jesus celebrates the Last Supper with His Disciples. Do we have reason to believe Judas Iscariot was not present or that he did not take the bread and wine from Christ’s hand? Is it possible in our zeal to avenge Christ’s betrayal in our own hearts that we have condemned Judas?
Christ Jesus leaves the place where He shared the Passover meal with His Disciples. He goes to the Garden in Gethsemane to pray. It is here the temple guard find Him and it is here Judas betrays Him further with a kiss.
Now he who betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, “Whoever I kiss, he is the one. Seize him.” Immediately he came to Jesus, and said, “Hail, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?” Then they came and laid hands on Jesus, and took him. (Matthew 26:48-50, WEB)
“Friend, do what you are here to do!” “FRIEND!” Yes, “Friend.” There is no doubt Christ Jesus knew Judas would betray Him with a kiss. And He still calls Judas, “Friend.”
What I see here is God’s overwhelming mercy being poured over Judas. Will you see it too? We know of scriptures that teach us God knew us before He created the world. We have scriptures teaching us that God knows our hearts thoroughly and absolutely. We know that God destines all things for His glory. Even this betrayal was determined by God for His glory. His mercy is written all over this scene.
Jesus is betrayed so that He will be falsely accused, prosecuted and condemned. He is betrayed so that He will be sentenced to the Cross. He is betrayed so that He will be savagely beaten, mocked and murdered. He is betrayed so that He will be placed in a grave. He is betrayed so that He will be resurrected from that grave. He is betrayed so that His blood will be shed for the sin of the world. He is betrayed so that His mercy will be upon all.
Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, felt remorse, and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.”
But they said, “What is that to us? You see to it.”
He threw down the pieces of silver in the sanctuary, and departed. He went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5, WEB, emphasis added)
Can we say Judas exercised his free will to betray Jesus? Will we say he was chosen by God for this task; that his whole life boils down to one kiss of betrayal?
Judas repented of his sin. He repented to others and he repented before the Lord. Nothing escapes His attention. “Woe” of such magnitude fell upon Judas that he could not bear to live under the shadow of what he had done. Did he exercise his free will to hang himself? Did God choose him to hang himself? No matter. God’s mercy is infinite even on those who betray Him.
Paul called himself “chief” among sinners, yet God saved him. He denied Christ. Peter denied Christ three times that night Christ was arrested. Judas denied Christ and betrayed Him with a kiss. Can any of us say we are better or worse than these three?
If Paul is chief among sinners, I am not far behind. Peter denied knowing Jesus only three times. I have denied Him, by my sinful behavior, far more than that. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. How many times have I ignored God’s Word and paid mere lip-service to Him? Too many times to count.
Agree with this assessment or disagree, one thing we can all be certain of is His mercy. His mercy is in His shed blood. His life was given for the sin of the whole world. May we all remember Him Who gave His life for us all.
About the Author and Dedication
My name is Jim Barnes and I am not a theologian or Biblical scholar. I’ve been blessed to preach in a few churches, to lead Sunday School and to teach teenagers in a youth ministry. I do not know any languages aside from my native tongue. I do not spend a great deal of time in studies with other like-minded people. All that to say I am no big deal. You should not trust what is written in this book to be true. You should confirm its veracity as a Berean would. I pray you will do as I have done and continue to seek His will in understanding this critical doctrine.
My daughter-in-law, Lesly, paid me a great honor by editing this manuscript. She is not a professional editor, but she could be. This book is a tribute to her, too.
I thank my Lord, Yahweh, for His infinite mercy and his grace upon grace. His patience is magnificent. To Him all praise, honor and glory. Amen.
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21 Slick, Matt. “Are Roman Catholicism and Christianity the Same Thing?” Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry. https://carm.org/catholic/is-catholicism-christian. Date viewed: March 17, 2019.
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31“Umpqua Community College shooting.” Wikipedia. Publication date: unknown. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umpqua_Community_College_shooting. Date viewed: March 12, 2020.