MERCY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL
He Reconciles All Men To Himself
James R. Barnes
God placed in my heart a desire to preach. Why He would choose me for such a task is unknown to me. I want to preach. I want to tell His good people all that I am able to tell about Him and about His Holy Word. He blessed me with a talent to speak to groups. He put me in places where He could put my talent to use.
He gave me insights. He pointed me to other teachers and other religious scholars. He took a man like me, a man whose life is littered with sin and disappointment, and turned me to Him. He took a man whose primary purpose in each day was advance himself even at the expense of others.
He changed my heart through His Holy Word. His Spirit seized my old thinking and bound it up. He led me to develop values consistent with His love. He showed me basic Christian doctrine and He helped me develop a Christ-like morality. He led me to know, “God is love”
He changed my heart about Him! He led me to study. He put the question in my heart and in my mind. He put the desire in me to seek Him, His Truth. He leads me to strive to live my life in ways that honor Him.
He gave me preaching assignments throughout the Gulf Coast of Texas. He sent my wife and me to obscure small towns to preach His Gospel. He let me expose His Word in the Light He wanted it to be seen. I did not realize it then, but He was radically changing my heart. I did not feel much for those in His creation who refuse to believe His Gospel. He changed me and He gave a rebel a heart for the rebellious.
The Lord led me to preach in Southern Baptist affiliated churches. I believed the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). The BFM guides the government of the Southern Baptist denomination. The BFM establishes and codifies the doctrinal values for members of the Southern Baptist affiliated churches. I preached those values until God caused me to question the root of my faith.
I had become an adherent to the Southern Baptist traditions. Those were the spiritual values I tried to align in my own life. Those traditions were evident in the sermons I believe God gave me to give. The Baptist Faith and Message had become my idol. I was committed to the traditions of men more than I was committed to His Truth.
My trust in the Baptist Faith and Message became less adamant, less concrete starting at the Southern Baptist tradition of baptism. Good men and women worshiped with me and I preached God’s Word to them. We all believe we are doing Christ’s work in the church and in the community. I was confident the rules of the Southern Baptist were the rules of the Christian road. We believed we are right and our adherence to the BFM was proof of our commitment to His Word; His Truth.
Southern Baptists believe in the ritual and the power of full immersion baptism. The churches aligned with the Southern Baptist Faith and Message look down on others who have not experienced full immersion baptism. Those who join Southern Baptist churches are expected to experience a full immersion baptism. Baptism is a necessary work to be considered a voting member of a Southern Baptist church. Many Southern Baptist churches withhold “Communion” from any person who has not been baptized by full immersion.
The traditions of men are pervasive in the church.
My belief that baptism by full immersion is critical to the Christian life changed. I am convinced still that full immersion baptism is best and satisfies scripture, but I do not believe full immersion baptism comes with rights to be a member of a church or to take communion with others in church.
My “rebellion” against the BFM caused me to examine other traditions in the Southern Baptist church. What about eternal conscious torment? What about hell? What about the damned? Is God love? What about the man or woman who never heard the gospel? These questions and so many more.
Gerry Beauchemin, in his book Hope Beyond Hell, asks and answers the same questions:
Picture yourself as a missionary to the Muslim nation of Senegal, West Africa. The date? September 26, 2002. About a year prior, you befriended your neighbor, Abdou Ndieye, a Muslim merchant. Only a few weeks ago, he graciously accepted your invitation to study the Bible with you. You are thrilled. Abdou is the first Muslim with whom you have begun sharing the Good News.
Today you prepare to explore another portion of God‘s Word with him, but something terrible has happened. You cannot believe what you are hearing and seeing on the news. The Joola, a Senegalese ferry, has capsized killing almost 2,000 people. You remember that Abdou‘s wife, Astou, and his 14-year-old daughter, Fatou, are on that ship. You are in shock and cannot believe what you are seeing—a ship‘s underside sticking up out of the sea with helicopters hovering overhead. You hurry next door. As you knock on the door, you hear deep groans and wailing. You slowly enter. Abdou is prostrate on the floor. He pleads before Yalla (Wolof for Allah), ―Why? Why? How could you let this happen?‖ He goes into spasms of weeping, beating his hands against the floor.
Feeling utterly helpless, you pray, ―God help me comfort my friend.
Abdou lifts his eyes, hardly able to recognize you for the tears. ―My wife and daughter have died a terrible death! Tell me I will see them again; tell me they are safe in God‘s arms! Has your Jesus taken them to His heaven? You are lost for words. The silence is deafening.
“―Answer me, Christian, will I see them again? Are they in a better place? Tell me!”
You remain speechless. What can you say? Where is the ―Good News when you need it most?
When I first read the testimony my heart sank. On one hand God is working with a Christian man to deliver the Gospel to an unbeliever. Tragedy strikes and the unbeliever’s beloved family is lost to an accident. “Oh Father!” my heart cried. “If the Christian man only had a little more time he might have led his Islamic friend, his wife and their child to believe in Your Son.”
Tradition teaches us to believe God is so loving that He will reach out to one man and save Him, but purposely and deliberately ignore another. This kind of theology is cruel.
Mr. Beauchemin’s testimony leads me to challenge eternal punishment and to take up the doctrine of universal reconciliation.
Mr. Beauchemin cites a testimony from Gary Amirault. Mr. Amirault is a studied and learned man who has dedicated much time and energy to demonstrate God’s unending love and His immeasurable mercy. Mr. Amirault’s testimony is introduced by Mr. Beauchemin:
A STORY OF ANGUISH, STRUGGLE, AND HOPE
I would like to introduce you to my dear friends, Gary and Michelle Amirault. They have known the Blessed Hope for many years. They call it the ―Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ!
I remember when living in Africa how their website greatly helped me. Their faith, love, and commitment to Christ inspire me. A couple of months ago I called Gary and stumbled into a very critical and heart wrenching moment in their lives. Michelle and Gary had just received news of their son‘s death. I was shocked and lost for words. It was totally unexpected. Gary wept on the phone. All I could do was pray from the depth of my heart. I asked Gary to share his testimony:
―As Gerry (Beauchemin) shared with you, I have just recently lost my son. The grief of losing a son at only 35 cut much deeper than I ever would have imagined – even knowing he is in a better place.
Gerry shared with me an email he received from a mother who had just lost her son to suicide. She was so thankful that she knew the God of the Blessed Hope. Otherwise, she would have tried to drown her agony in drugs and alcohol.
I cannot begin to imagine what our grief would be like if we believed Scott was being tormented forever in some hell because he failed God. It would be unbearable. We are also so grateful to know that our deceased parents are secure in Christ‘s love. They were not ‘born again‘ when they died. Nothing, not even death, can stop Jesus from drawing people to Himself!
―Please take a moment to think about this: What would life be like if you thought your child was in agony and suffering for all eternity with no possible hope of escape? How would you cope? How many millions have known such anguish? According to many churches Scott would be in hell right now. How could we remain sane if we believed this? His death has given us much more compassion for the billions who have lost loved ones.
―I came to understand God‘s unfailing love for all in a rather unusual manner. God showed me that Jesus was the Savior of all at the beginning of my conversion. He did so in three ways:
He let me walk in perfect love for three days. I couldn‘t hate anyone on earth; this was His love, not mine.
He showed me a vision of all people dipped into darkness for a season but eventually restored to Him after learning valuable lessons.
I had a deep hunger for studying the Bible.
―The Holy Spirit illuminated many texts revealing that all humanity would be saved through the Cross of Christ. It was so easy to share Christ in those days! The fruit and gifts of the Holy Spirit poured out like rivers of living water. Sharing the gospel was as natural as breathing.
―When one pastor learned I was teaching God‘s unfailing love for all, He rebuked me. He said God hated sin and those who committed it, for God was Holy; only those born again and living a holy life escaped hell. So I went to several other pastors to get their opinion. They were all in basic agreement. Those not ‘born again‘ go to hell forever. Some said it was a place of conscious separation from God and the fire is not literal. Others said the fire was literal and that God does not send people there; they send themselves by rejecting Christ. I was told that to disagree with the majority view would be a sign of a rebellious spirit, so I yielded. Little did I know that in that decision I submitted to the ‘traditions of men which made God‘s word of no effect.’ This snuffed out the love, light, and liberty I had in Christ.
―I lived like this for several years until I got fed up with the hypocrisy of it all. I saw atheists as better off than ‘hell fire‘ believing Christians. I finally prayed, ‘God, take my life.’ On that same day, He put in my hands a series of booklets by J. Preston Eby. Eby explained how hell crept into the church and Bible translations. He quoted early church fathers who taught the salvation of all and showed how the mistranslation of a few Hebrew and Greek words distorted God‘s character and plan to redeem the world. I soon found Bible translations that did not have the word ‘hell’ in them. I also found reference works confirming that the original languages of the Bible did not contain the concept of everlasting punishment. During that time, the Holy Spirit reminded me how He had showed me this at the very beginning.
―How powerful and blinding are man‘s traditions which Jesus warned about. They make the word of God of no effect (Matt. 15:6-9). I was living proof! It has taken me many years to break off tradition‘s chains. I am not completely free yet, but the light of the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ is shining brighter in my heart.
―Paul wrote: What if some [like my parents] did not believe and were without faith? Do their lack of faith and their faithlessness nullify and make ineffective and void the faithfulness of God and His fidelity [to His Word]? By no means!‘ (Ro. 3:3, 4, Amplified). God is faithful towards everyone, including His faithless chosen and elect who do not believe His redemptive promises for all people (such as their enemies)!
―Thank you, Father, for giving me the assurance that my parents will be drawn to Jesus – that Scott is now at rest with You, and I can once again give hope to every person I meet. Jesus is indeed the Savior of all humanity! That‘s news good enough to tell everyone! – Gary Amirault.
Mr. Amirault’s testimony is inspiring to be sure. There are millions upon millions of mothers and fathers who believe, yet raised children who have died in unbelief. Mr. Amirault’s testimony about the unfailing love of the Father for His creation gives them a blessed hope.
Julie Ferwerda recently published a book entitled “Raising Hell.” She offers us these words to ponder. From her book (pp. 117, 118):
Does Everyone Really Get A Fair Chance Now?
If you are like me, and you don’t have a Calvinist bent, perhaps you have wondered how everyone on earth could possibly have had the same fair opportunity to hear about and believe in Jesus before they die. If you haven’t asked that question, perhaps it’s because you’ve had a pretty fair chance to hear and have disregarded the fact that most of the rest of the world hasn’t. When you really think about it, mainstream Christianity endorses that one’s opportunity to be saved is most directly related to the geographic location of where they were born.
For example, the majority of people reading this book were probably born in a country where the teachings of Christianity were interwoven throughout society. You may have even grown up in a town where there were as many churches as restaurants. You were likely raised in a Bible-teaching, church-attending home, and heard the Scriptures often. Even if none of that is exactly true of your circumstances, you probably watched Billy Graham or some other evangelist on TV, or you were invited to church, or you had a friend who shared the get-saved-from-hell version of the gospel with you: “pray the sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus into your heart before it’s too late.” In short, your opportunity to believe in Jesus is really most strongly correlated to the family you had the good fortune of being born into, which determined the city and country in which you were raised. If this was a country in the Western hemisphere where you had freedom of religion and plenty of Christian influence, then you are likely to have had ample opportunities to hear about and “accept” Jesus.
If you ascribe to Calvinism, it’s miraculously coincidental that most of the “elect” are born into the same general geographic location. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for God’s elect to have been scattered evenly in every culture? Even if you believe in Arminianism, wouldn’t God have been a lot more fair had He scattered salvation evenly among the nations, so that people would actually be “without excuse” for rejecting Him?
Once again, we see special club mentality in action. It’s sure great if you’re born into The Club, but “it sucks to be you” if you are one of the billions who were not. It should make us all a little uncomfortable that, not unlike Hitler’s era, Christianity is rather a “white man’s religion.” A large majority of the world who has historically not heard about Christ are Asian, African, and Indian. We’ve tried to soften the blow by saying that God has been fair because He somehow revealed Himself to these people, but if that’s truly the case, why have we been sending missionaries? And what about people living in all the centuries without missionaries?
Most Christians would probably object to comparing Christianity to a club membership, stating that anyone can join. But can anyone really join if they don’t know the club exists, or would most people even want to join if they haven’t been conditioned from birth to play by the rules, such as “join this club or burn forever in hell?”
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?
God led me to study a better way. It is a way that removes the traditions of men and follows only Christ and Him sacrificed. It is a way that leads to Universal Reconciliation of all that He creates to Himself.
Selfishly I knew I was saved by Christ’s sacrifice. I was assured that I was not going to suffer endlessly forever. What about my mother?
Mom died in 2006. Before that day in November Mom seldom shared her spiritual beliefs. I would ask her on occasion about her faith in Jesus. She would divert the conversation away from her faith to her privacy. I do not know if my mom is saved because she confessed her love for Him and repented. There does not seem to be much evidence to support she did.
Mom was beautiful. I don’t say that because she is my mother, but because Mom was beautiful. Her heart was beautiful. Mom was always good even when she wasn’t. I love my Mom. I don’t think of her as often as I used to. Memories of Mom have been edited. The sour stuff fades and the sweetness of good fills in the blanks. Memories of Mom are all good.
Still, I do not really know if she is saved. Buddy, my youngest brother, testifies Mom told him she believed in Christ Jesus. There was even a report that Mom wanted to be baptized. Arrangements were made for that baptism. Mom was unable to be baptized. Her body was weak. Her mind was leaving her.
Emotionally it is easy to accept Buddy’s testimony. I know he is telling the truth. I want to believe my Mom is saved. But, what if she did not follow the traditions of men and confess publicly her love for Jesus.
If I believe in the doctrine of eternal conscious torment and if I choose to believe my mother is saved, then all is good. If my mother is not saved, then this doctrine mandates my mother be eternally tormented. The torment she suffers will be at the command, direction and maintenance of my God Who is love.
The thought that my Mom would be eternally tormented by my God is depressing. Only God could deliver eternal wrath, therefore the punishment is meted out by God. Think it through. Satan, The False Prophet and death are swallowed up by eternal fire. Satan would not have the power to administer eternal suffering, therefore it must be administered by God. Only God is eternal.
The doctrine of eternal conscious torment teaches that my unsaved mother will be judged and declared unrighteous before God. God will then execute the penalty of eternal suffering for the crime.
This book accomplishes His plan for me. I pray there is more He intends of me, but for now His will is in this book. I include essays or portions of those essays into this work written by scholars who proclaim Universal Reconciliation is the realization of God’s eternal, all-powerful love and eternal conscious torment is not. I have researched and quote often gifted theologians who are confident of their doctrine that God plans to torture most of His creation for eternity.
I have reviewed the works of Thomas Sawyer, S. T. D., the works of Lee Salisbury and David Sprenger. I include sermons, commentaries and Biblical studies done by Bible scholars from centuries past as well as the works of contemporary Bible scholars. Together we will examine scripture closely. I pray when we have concluded this examination the core belief in eternal conscious torment will be shaken.
This is a book in which the premise is to make the case for Ultimate Reconciliation (UR) or as it is most often referred to as “Universal-ism.” Dr. Sawyer’s essay helps to show there is much agreement between the Traditionalist and the UR believer. However, in an essential doctrine that is called eternal conscious torment (ECT) there is a major disagreement. It is a disagreement that causes brothers to separate.
Dr. Sawyer exposes the words of Traditionalist theologians. Their words are the prescribed penalty for rebellion. This kind of punishment is cruel and more importantly this doctrine is not true.
There lies the problem. Scripture tells us that God is love, but our traditions teach us He is love only for a few. God led me to a better understanding. His love for His creation is universal and eternal conscious torment is another tradition of men needing correction.
Through this little book I pray another can find resolution too.