Friday, May 9, 2014

Universalism and Religious Pluralism: Their Appeal and Problem

I must confess that I find universalism (“everyone gets saved”) appealing. My Jewish parents passed away without giving any indication that they believed in Jesus. I want to see them again and to be with them forever. While I can always hope, the Bible gives me no explicit basis for such a hope.

However, our Lord does keep certain things hidden (Deut. 29:29; 1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2). I therefore hope that He will be gracious in ways that He hasn’t explicitly revealed through Scripture. In fact, I tend to think that the stillborn and perhaps also some of the mentally challenged will receive His mercy (Luke 12:47-48). However, He hasn’t given me the liberty to preach or teach these uncertainties as if they were verities. Instead, where He is clear about the nature of His mercy, hope, and inheritance, I too must be clear and unequivocal. However, where His revelation remains shrouded in mystery and uncertainly, I too must reflect the same in my speech. This is part of what it means to be faithful.

We do not have the liberty to tamper with His revelations or go beyond them. He explained this to the Prophets of Israel:

  • When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. (Isaiah 8:19-20)

In so many ways, Scripture teaches that if we abide in His Word, we will thrive (Psalm 1; Josh. 1:8; John 15:7-14); if we refuse, we will suffer (Deut. 28-29). He warned Isaiah that to go beyond His Word demonstrated willful ignorance and incurred grave consequences:

  • “Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, ‘The Lord says: You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubbornness of their hearts they say, ‘No harm will come to you.’ But which of them has stood in the council of the Lord to see or to hear his word? Who has listened and heard his word? See, the storm of the Lord will burst out in wrath, a whirlwind swirling down on the heads of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back… I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied.” (Jer. 23:16-21)

The false prophets inevitably prophesied a popular message – one that could be successfully marketed. However, they confidently spoke, even though God “did not send these prophets.” They therefore stood guilty before God, along with those who, in “the stubbornness of their hearts,” embraced their comforting message.

I think that we need to take a course in astronomy or simply meditate on what our eyes reveal. Time and space are unfathomable. The galaxies are uncountable, along with the stars in each galaxy! In comparison, our minds are small. And yet we are confident that we can get our minds around the spiritual mysteries of God. We are so confident that we have little hesitation to invent things beyond what Scripture has revealed. It is like an astronomer throwing away his telescope, saying, “I don’t need this. I can learn more about the heavens by just sitting in my armchair.”

This is arrogant presumption and not truth. However, we require truth more than self-absorbed comfort, more than the self-satisfaction we might find by conjuring up in our own minds the nature of the universe. Therefore, God continued to Jeremiah:

  • “But if they [the false prophets] had stood in my council [My Word], they would have proclaimed my words to my people and would have turned them from their evil ways and from their evil deeds.” (Jer. 23:22)

Surgery can be painful, but it is sometimes necessary. The truth can also be painful, but it can bring healing and reconciliation, while the comforting message can enable us to repress the real problem – the turning away from God.

If we play fast-and-loose with what God has revealed, we stand guilty before Him. However, the Apostle Paul claimed that he had been faithful to God’s Word and, therefore, bore no guilt:

  • “Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)

Even the unpopular teachings of Scripture! Paul also warned the church to not go beyond what the Bible states:

  • Now, brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not? (1 Cor. 4:6-7)

The Corinthian church had gone far “beyond what is written!” Therefore, they committed a costly error by boasting of the spiritual superiority of their particular faction. Consequently, Paul had to remind them that, if they had any good thing, they had to regard it as a gift from God and not a reason for boasting.

I’d rather preach a popular and all-inclusive message – “Everyone is saved” or “Everyone has her own path” (Religious Pluralism). I would then be invited on all of the talk-shows and to the exclusive parties.

Instead, we are called to walk a costly road with a toll-booth at every intersection. Jesus had to pay the price and warned that we also will:

  • “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20)

If, instead, you find that the world is readily accepting your message, it is very possible that you are on the wrong road.

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