Two days ago I really got the bug for talking about this idea of Christian universalism when thinking about what a God who is unconditionally loving looks like to our culture. This then continued with the illustration of a man who preaches on “wine and strong drink” from Micah 2.11. Today I still feel burdened to ring the bell of warning here and so will give a New Testament passage which addresses the issue to look at what it has to add to the mix for us. I do this because I’m not sure just how seriously people out there are taking this rising threat. I’ve done the reading, I’ve participated in the online discussion, I’ve seen it come up and be defended in full force. The threat of an evangelical pulpit declaring a God who ultimately saves all regardless of faith is not some slippery slope consideration; it is, if not already a reality, one that is barreling down upon us fast, so we better be prepared.
That said, the passage I would like to highlight is 2 Timothy 4.3-4, which says,
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
Paul is warning his protege Timothy of the burgeoning threat of popular demand for all sorts of heresy and half-truth. Looking at it compared with Micah 2.11 I’m amazed that the two are not cross-referenced in the study Bible, as they seem to be speaking to the same issue of sin just on opposite sides of the cross of Christ.
But where the Micah verse is inside of a larger segment of prophecy and condemnation, pulling the 2 Timothy passage back into its context of 2 Timothy 4.1-5 we receive direction on how to defend against such a threat:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Paul chose to flank this warning with strong words about Scripture and the job of the Bible teacher as evangelist. He “charges” Timothy to be equipped with God’s word, which is “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4.12) in his fight to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort” the people.
This strategy of course holds true for us still today. In fact, as I mentioned on Saturday, the reason why such things as Christian universalism have been able to grow is because we have weakened in our proclamation of the truth (of which I will talk more about tomorrow). We cannot hope to continue on with wobbly armed, soft bellied pulpits hoping to coddle along our people and not expect to see the number of heresies on the rise. A preacher who is not ready to “endure [the] suffering” of a diminished image among the world in order to “do the work of an evangelist” has no place in our church today. I speak these words tongue-in-cheek, as I know the temptation to waiver is sure to rise up against me as well someday, but even if it does that does not negate the call of Scripture so clearly delivered in 2 Timothy.
Christian universalism, the belief that God ultimately saves everyone regardless of faith confession, surely is a scratch to itching ears. It is the job of true Bible teachers to make those who feel this itch aware that the burning sensation they have is nothing else but the fires of hell beckoning for their souls.