Thursday, May 26, 2005

All, or Nothing at All... (slightly updated)

Kelly just wrote a pretty excellent post about his attitude toward Universalism. Read his first for some background. (I probably repeat more than a few of his points, so I want to give him the props right off the bat.)

I have a problem with Universalism. But not necessarily just because I don't consider it "orthodox" enough.

I believe in freedom of religion. Absolutely and completely. If you want to practice an established non-Christian faith (such as Islam or Buddhism), that's your choice. If you want to step out further into more creative theological territory and worship doorknobs and Neil Diamond and Donald Trump's hair, that's also your choice. If you choose to believe in no religion at all, in no god at all, I support the right to make that choice.

I will try to convince you otherwise. That's my right, also. (And vice versa.)

My attitude is like this: we're all trapped in a burning building, in a room with several doors that's filling up with smoke. I know the designer who built the building, and because of this, I know that the blue door is the only way out of the building. The rest lead down different hallways; some simply dead-end, while others travel through corridors first. Now, I'll try to convince you that the blue door is the only way to safety, but I can't conk you over the head and drag you there. You have to choose to trust the word of my designer friend. Some will be convinced that the red door is actually the way out. Others will be convinced that several of the doors are the way out, but they take a long time choosing. Others still will sit on the floor cross-legged, convinced that none lead toward the fresh air outside.

The universalist approach is that all the doors lead outside. The Christian approach is that the "blue door" is the way out.

The sticky wicket is that to go through the Blue Door, you can't go through the other doors. They are mutually exclusive. I didn't make it this way. Man didn't make it this way. Church tradition didn't choose this.

Jesus said it himself. No one gets to God the Father, except through him. It's repeated several times in the New Testament. There is no other way, and no other Name, through which the world is saved from eternal judgment.

What I've seen more often in recent years, and what troubles me, is a kind of half-Christianity that people tend to adopt. They're down with the "God is love" message, but they balk at the idea of God letting anyone go to hell. "A loving god wouldn't send people to hell," is the argument. And this is completely contrary to what the Bible clearly teaches.

It's a tough pill to swallow. But if you want to claim the name of Christ, you have to swallow it. All of it. The soft and the hard. The sweet and the bitter.

Because God is as Just as He is Merciful. Without His Mercy, His Justice is unbearable; but without His Justice, His Mercy is meaningless.

What is God's Justice? That because He is our Creator, and we rebelled through our sin, we must submit ourselves to the saving work of Jesus Christ, as a covering and pardon for our crime against God. If we do not, then our guilt is upon our own heads, and (as Paul writes) "the wages of sin is death."

If we deny Christ's payment for our sin, if we deny the need for such a payment, then our punishment, our separation from God, is the full working out of His Justice.

If we confess our sins, and accept Christ's covering for our guilt, then our relationship with God, our eternal life together with Him in Heaven, is the full working of His Mercy.

Those are the parameters. That's the choice, according to the Bible.

If you don't believe that, or only want to believe some of it, you can't honestly claim any of it. Because any version of Christianity, other than how the Bible defines it, is not Christianity. It's a false teaching. Comforting, sure. Easy, yeah. But false and useless.

(This may be a good place to interject that, just because a self-proclaimed Christian doesn't always love his neighbor or tithe to the church or obey all of God's commands, doesn't mean the Gospel itself is any less true. Hypocrisy doesn't invalidate doctrine. Too many times, I've heard non-Christians say, "Oh, you people don't love your neighbors enough! You don't give enough to the poor! See, this whole Christianity thing is all bullshit!" To this I respond, "No, it just means we're not perfect. But hopefully, we are striving to be." Like I've said many times, I never claimed to never be a hypocrite. What I'm working on is trying to be a hypocrite less often.)

Like I said, I don't have a problem with Universalism's existence, per say. There are lots of things I disagree with that I wouldn't destroy. That's not my place.

My problem is that many people, in the name of Universalism, try to call themselves Christians. And it's not true, not in the least. For to be a Christian, you have to deny all other ways to God except Christ. Like I said, it's Jesus' own stipulation on the deal.


Two more things:

1. Universalism certainly sounds more loving and accepting, and less constricting, than Christianity. It's easier, broader, more inclusive. I won't argue this. But consider this. Your child is sick. You know that if you take your child to the doctor, it will involve needles, shots, tests. It will hurt a lot. Your child, understandably, doesn't want to go to the doctor. It will hurt. Maybe, your child says, if you take me to McDonalds for a happy meal, I'll feel better. You know that it may feel a little nicer in the short term, but it won't heal the sickness. Maybe, your child pleads, if we go to the toy store and you buy me a toy, that will make me feel better. And yes, maybe it will in the short term, maybe it will distract your child from the pain she feels, but ultimately, it's no cure.

The world is sick. The condition is terminal. It's called sin. And there are many ways to bring small comforts to this sick world. Religion is one. Entertainment is another. So is sex, and power, and wealth, and fame, and self-deceptions of many kinds. But there is one Doctor. And He alone has the cure. It sucks, it's restrictive--but it's the truth. And we have to decide if we would rather be comfortable and accepting--or healed.

(Some will shake their heads. "It's not that cut-and-dried." I believe it is. Anyone who actually believes the words of Jesus Christ, believes the same. There is only One.)

2. All religions are not equal. For several faiths, by their own standards, they cannot all be equal. There is mutual exclusion. A true believer in Islam will not say, "My Christian brother, you and I will feast together in Paradise." Neither will a Christian say that to a Buddhist.

It sounds great to say, "All religions are equal, and all lead to God." But many of the religions themselves teach otherwise. Especially Christianity. So to say that, I think, is to misunderstand many faiths. Or rather, to deny them in their true forms. All that's left is a cafeteria-style cherry-picking of religious principles, instead of a cohesive belief system.

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