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A Letter to a Friend


The Jesus Christian approach to universalism (which is not the approach of any Australian Quakers that we know of apart from ourselves) is that Jesus somehow enabled God to provide universal salvation. Below is a letter we wrote to a conservative believer who challenged our claim that non-Christians may actually be saved through the blood of Christ (and the grace of God) as long as they are walking in all the light that they have.

Dear Friend,

Thanks for taking the time to comment on our article Universalism, Pros and Cons. It would probably help in our communication if we could remember that neither of us has perfect understanding of all things. Truth is truth and God is God regardless of our various teachings (whether they be heresies or otherwise). In other words, truth is not an argument.

If, for example, my understanding about the grace of God is wrong, then no amount of arguing on my part is going to make it right. Nor am I going to be able to "save" anyone just by getting them to accept what I teach. But remember that the same is true for everyone, including yourself. We must each be careful that we do not defend our doctrines in preference to finding God's Truth.

So let's work on the assumption that you are right. Certainly you have produced some interesting verses in support of your argument. I think the best one is the statement by Jesus that you and I are not Christians if we are not obeying his teachings. (e.g. Luke 14:33, John 8:31, and John 15:10-12) You say that these heathen people could not be obeying Jesus if they have not even heard what he taught. (See Another Cornerstone.) But let me ask you: How strongly do you believe that obedience to the teachings of Jesus is the mark of a true Christian? How obedient have you yourself been to the teachings of Jesus?

I ask this, because although you made reference to Jesus saying that we must obey him, the overall gist of your letter seems to be pointing toward something other than obedience to Jesus as the key to salvation. In particular, you referred to a lot of verses that mentioned our need to "preach the gospel" to the heathen. You seem to be saying that these people cannot be "saved" until they hear something from us (the "gospel"), which, after they have properly understood it, will then result in them being saved. But I feel that this is something of a leap in logic.

Can I change the scene a bit in order to illustrate how I feel that this is a leap in logic? Suppose that I tell my children that I have deposited $1,000 into the bank accounts of each of my grandchildren, and I want my children to pass on that good news to the grandchildren. There is nothing in what I have said which clearly states that my grandchildren will not get the $1,000 if their parents fail to tell them that I have given it to them. The money has already been given to them. It's sitting there in their bank accounts right now. It's possible that they may never check their bank account if they don't know that it is there, but it would still be there. Of course it would certainly be helpful for them to know ahead of time that it is sitting there waiting for them, so that they can start drawing on it right now. But the bottom line is that I have the right and the ability to give them the money totally at my own discretion (with or without co-operation from my children in telling them), and the money only came because of my love for them. The gift is not dependent on whether or not my children ever tell them about it.

Can you see how this contradicts what you are saying about all of the instructions in the Bible about preaching the gospel? You are saying that these commands about preaching the gospel necessarily say that there is no salvation for anyone until and unless they have been preached to by someone like you or me. That makes their salvation contingent upon our works, which I think is contrary to the whole spirit of the gospel. As I understand it, their salvation comes entirely at the discretion of God himself. He has given us the exciting task of telling people about what he has done; but it has been done whether or not we ever tell them.

Jesus tells a story about the day of judgment and says there will be a lot of people who will be totally surprised to be rewarded, and they will say, "When did we ever do something for you?" and he will say, "Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it unto me." (Matthew 25:40) This seems to be an accurate picture of someone discovering the money in the bank account only after they get to heaven. But the point is that they still get there. It is not our job to give them their salvation, but only to inform them of what has already been done through the blood of Christ.

The Jews wanted to believe that they had a monopoly on God, and that the world could not know God without coming through them. This bothered God, and he wanted to teach the world that this is not true. But what you seem to be saying is that God booted out the Jews and then replaced them with yet another institution, and that the new institution was made equally indispensable as his instrument of salvation. You seem to be saying that unless you or I or someone like us acts as the mediator for the people of the world, they are eternally lost.

I don't think Paul would agree with you. After all, he himself was brought to Christ through direct revelation, or a voice from heaven. God could see that Paul was sincere (i.e. that he was acting in genuine faith, even though he was doing the absolute wrong thing, by persecuting Christians) and so God stopped Paul in his tracks and set him straight. That is a good example of what I am saying about someone being saved on the basis of their sincerity and faith, and not on the basis of their doctrinal understanding of certain key passages from the Bible.

Actually, Abraham is an even better example. He never did "accept Christ" and he wasn't even a Jew. He was basically a "heathen" in every sense of the word, and yet he was saved. In Romans 2:14, Paul says that when the heathen do by nature the things that are taught in the Bible, then they do not need the Bible to be saved. They are responding to the voice of God in their own heart... like Abraham did. Abraham is praised as the ultimate example of faith (Romans 4:1-3), and yet he never heard of Christ, and presumably was never "born again" in the way that most people understand being born again today. But he was saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus.

Can you see how he would have been saved, i.e. been a "Christian" without actually having a full understanding of the facts? And do you see how this is perfectly consistent with the verse that says Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him? (John 14:6) Abraham was only saved through Jesus' sacrificial death; but it was not necessary for him to understand all of that in order for God to do the work.

But let's get back to all of those commands about preaching the gospel. We believe very much in that. Every member of our community works full-time preaching the gospel in all the world. There are only a few of us, but we have travelled all over the world sharing our faith. We do not do it because we are trying to save people from hell, but we do it because we are trying to save people from the frustration, confusion, and depression that can come from being a sincere believer in God in the midst of a corrupt and unbelieving world. In other words, we do not try to turn goats into sheep. They are sheep already before we locate them. But they are "lost" in the sense that they don't understand how they fit into God's overall plan of salvation for the world. We take the good news of the teachings of Jesus to them, to encourage them in their faith. See? It's good news... right from the start. The good news (for the sincere and believing) is that they are saved... already. Like my children telling their children the good news that the money is right there in their bank account. The money was there before they shared the good news, but the grandchildren just did not know about it. It is only religious pride on the part of the preacher that would try to make people think that they could not have been saved without the efforts of the preacher.

It may be tempting to extend the illustration of the bank deposits and say that the grandchildren cannot receive their inheritance unless they put in some kind of a claim for it, and they cannot put in a claim for it if they do not know that it is there in the bank waiting for them, and so, on that basis, they will never receive the inheritance without their parents telling them that it is there for them. But that extension of the illustration is not backed up in the gospels. No one ever had to take legal action against God to collect their salvation. You don't make a "claim" to get salvation. It's there. No ritual prayer needed. Technically, I don't think they even had to say thank you, although it's probably likely to be the first reaction when they really believe our good news. The problem in the church world today is that we are afraid to make it that free, and so we evangelicals have devised this clever little ritual prayer, which only confuses the matter.

And now let's go on to the commands of Jesus. You have rightly argued that God wants us to introduce people to the Jesus of the Bible, so that they can obey the Gospel. Everything that Jesus said indicates that he intends for us to obey the things that he commanded his followers to do. It is not enough to just tell people that Jesus is the Son of God and that he died for their sins. He wants us to "teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matthew 28:19-20) I think we agree on that.

Notice that, at the end of his sermon on the mount, Jesus told the story of the wise man and the foolish man. The foolish man actually heard the teachings of Jesus. In other words, someone "preached the gospel" to him, introduced him not only to Jesus but also to Jesus' teachings. And yet the foolish man did not obey the teachings of Jesus. The wise man, on the other hand, did obey the teachings of Jesus. (Matthew 7:24-27)

At the same time that I offer the heathen the message that it only takes faith in God for them to be saved, I expect that if they have faith in God, they will respond in obedience to the teachings of his Son. Of course, I expect the same thing from those who profess to believe that Jesus is the Son of God too... only more so. To whom much has been given, much shall be required.

But what is the church doing with the teachings of Jesus? It's handy to be able to damn the rest of the world to hell because they are not following Jesus. But what if we are not following him ourselves? If you really think that we must teach the heathen to obey Jesus, that's fine. But if you don't teach the same thing to the rest of the church, then you are worse than a heretic. You are a hypocrite.

I suggest that you read Many Paths Up the Mountain, What is Faith?, Another Cornerstone, and What is a Christian? if you want to get a fuller picture of what we believe it means to be a Christian. Hopefully you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that we believe very strongly in the passages that you quoted in your letter. The only disappointment (which we hope and pray will not be a disappointment to you) could be that we also believe that the church world must take those verses more seriously if they hope to be saved.

Christian love and peace,

Dave, for Jesus Christians

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