Q – I recently visited the church I attended in high school. Well, I walked in and could cut the tension with a knife. I thought it might be money troubles or something. Then, this week, I was informed that the pastor has begun teaching that there is no hell and no eternal damnation.
He has always been a teacher I respected as someone who diligently studied Greek and Hebrew versions of scripture, and held to the grace of Romans 5, so this feels like a left hook that has left me, and it seems like half of that church confused as to where he’s coming from.
Here’s a quote from this week’s church bulletin: “I can now boldly preach God’s justice because God’s eternal judgment (Heb. 6:2) is that His justice must be paid in full which in Christ was completely covered at the cross. One does not die to pay for their sins because there is no longer a sacrifice for sins other than the cross. But there will be punishment or pruning until one comes to the place of not paying for their sin but to the place of receiving the payment which has been paid which is Christ.” …so forth and so on. It seems contrary to what you taught about limited atonement.
Are you familiar with this position? Do you know if it should be refuted and how to do it?
Jim – This is very interesting. I have to give this guy credit. At least he was brave enough to follow his Arminian theology to its logical conclusion. Most folk aren’t that committed. But, he comes to a faulty conclusion because he began with a faulty premise.
You are absolutely right; this has to do with limited atonement, or particular redemption. Limited atonement is an absolute theological necessity (besides the fact that it’s a Biblical imperative). Here’s what I mean. If Jesus did die for all the sins of everyone who ever lived – which is the fundamental Arminian position – then it’s an inescapable conclusion that absolutely everyone must be saved. But, Arminian thinkers have had to struggle with the fact that the Bible is replete with references to people being lost, condemned, eternally punished, etc. So, they have had to figure out a way to divide the saved from the unsaved without sin being the causal factor (seeing as how all sin was paid for). So, they’ve posited several different theories.
For instance, some say that faith is the deciding factor. Everyone’s sins were paid for, but that payment is not effective unless you activate your faith, make Jesus your Lord, and personally take advantage of His gracious offer of forgiveness. According to that thinking, Jesus did not actually save anyone. He simply made salvation available. He made it a possibility. But, it is up to individual people to validate His work and get themselves into a saved condition. Quite unbiblical, but very popular.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, went the rest of the way and decided that universal atonement (Christ dying for the sins of the whole world) will indeed result in universal redemption. Everyone – including Satan himself – will one day be gathered to Heaven, because an all-loving God simply couldn’t exist in a universe where there was any suffering or torment. In fact, it would be an utter failure on God’s part if He does not fully redeem any part of His creation. So, in order to get everyone to Heaven eventually, the Church at Rome created Purgatory, where people can work off their sin debt after they’ve died. Of course, this also reduces the work of Christ at Calvary to practical negation. He failed to fully redeem anyone. He simply created a method for salvation, but individual people have to say enough prayers, attend mass, confess their sins, do their penance and spend their time in Purgatory, atoning for their own sinfulness.
The pastor you’ve spoken of here has taken those two concepts and blended them. He seems to have started with the idea that Jesus died for every sin of every person and then raised that notion to its logical conclusion – universal salvation. All he did was skip Purgatory. But again, I have to give him credit. At least he recognizes the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ’s atoning work. He errs in that he assumes that Jesus died intending that every individual who ever lived is equally covered in that atonement. Hence, the salvation Jesus accomplished is both sufficient and efficient in every case, with deference to all. That’s attractive sounding because it gives Jesus all the authority and praise, which He surely deserves. But, it also dramatically truncates the very nature and character of God.
Throughout Scripture we read of God’s jealous defense of His own holiness. He says repeatedly that He will punish the wicked. He will separate His people (hagios – saints, sanctified, set apart) from this “wicked, adulterous generation.” Jesus spoke of sheep and goats. He spoke of friends and enemies. He spoke of His church, against which the gates of Hell will not prevail. All of that language bespeaks a definite separation between saved and unsaved people. And, that separation is said to continue out into eternity.
Okay, so let’s take a look at the details for a moment. Assuming that this fellow’s position is true and there is no Hell and no eternal punishment, then Jesus was seriously deluded. And, if Christ was wrong on this point, how many other points was He wrong on? Should we really trust our eternal, ever-living, never-dying souls to a Savior who simply doesn’t understand the eternal consequences of His words? For instance, Jesus taught:
“But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” (Matt 11:22-24)
There are two very important concepts in that passage: judgment and punishment. There’s no sign of forgiveness in Jesus’ diatribe; only condemnation. Or, He also taught:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” (Matt 23:14-15)
Jesus spoke of damnation, hell, hypocrisy and punishment. Was He simply deluded? Or, did He actually know what He was talking about? Or, how about this?
“And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.” (Luke 12:4-5)
Or, perhaps the most obvious passage:
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” (Luke 16:22-24)
You cannot ignore the contrast Jesus created here. One man went to flames of torment while another rested comfortably in the bosom of Abraham. Jesus posited two destinies, after death, for two different people.
My point is obvious. Either Jesus was seriously confused, or this pastor you’ve written about is seriously confused. Pick one.
The Apostle Peter was equally clear about such matters when he created contrasts such as:
“The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished.” (2 Peter 2:9)
We could also site the distinctions between the first and second deaths in Revelation 20 and the multiple references to the lake of fire. Or, language such as:
“The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.” (Rev 14:10-11)
It’s just that plain. The Bible speaks of punishment, hell, condemnation, damnation, judgment, and everlasting torment.
Now, just because some guy stands up and declares that those things simply do not exist, it does not eliminate them from God’s economy. It’s like denying that Detroit exists. It will continue to exist whether we deny it or confirm it. It is axiomatic, self-evident, it proves itself.
For as long as God’s word has existed, there have been those who have perverted it. It happened in Paul’s day as readily as it happens today. People, raised up in their ego and self-confidence, deny the Word and create theologies that are more to their liking, preaching a gospel that simply is not equal with the true gospel.
“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:6-8)
You were right to feel uneasy with this preachment. It’s wrong. It’s dead wrong. It’s deadly wrong. It will create a false confidence in folk, who will cease striving for the Christian life and walk because Christianity itself loses its distinction if everyone ends up rewarded equally. I mean, why not commit adultery? Why not kill? Drink? Abuse? You’re going to Heaven anyway. There’s no risk.
This position should not sit well with you. And, it’s a very encouraging sign that it doesn’t. Paul argued that the Spirit of God that indwells His people testifies to the truth of the Word. If you cannot stomach lies about God, it is only because God has taken up residence in you and is pulling you toward His truth. That’s a very cool thing.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.” (Rom 8:16-17)
Thanks for being true to the Word and not letting heresy undermine your faith. And, don’t be fooled. This is heresy, plain and simple. Call it what it is. This will not redound to God’s glory. It will serve confusion, in the end. Plant yourself firmly in “thus sayeth the Lord” and you’ll be fine. 🙂
Yours in Him,