Suggestions for Reform of the Christian Universalist Association: A Message by the Founder

In 2007, I founded the Christian Universalist Association (CUA), with the help of a diverse team of twelve other ministers and evangelists. I had spent the previous two years building a ministry to connect a wide diversity of people throughout the United States and around the world who believed in Christian universalism. During that process, I identified religious leaders from across the denominational spectrum — especially Pentecostals, Evangelicals, and Unitarian Universalist Christians — who believed in the importance of coming together to teach that God’s judgment upon sinners is limited and that all will be saved in the end.

Christian Universalist Association logo

The Christian Universalist Association was intended to be a broadly ecumenical umbrella organization for people with that belief, including both liberals and conservatives and a wide range of Christians of various denominations. Our focus was the Biblical teaching of the ultimate reconciliation of all souls and the temporary and reformative nature of hell or divine judgment (e.g., see Luke 15:4, 2 Cor. 5:19, 1 Tim. 4:10, Phil. 2:10-11, 1 Cor. 15:22-25, 3:12-15, Mark 9:49) — an interpretation of Christian eschatology called “restorationist universalism.” The CUA also emphasized the Biblical teaching that humans are children of God, called to grow up into greater perfection in Christ (e.g., see Gen. 1:27, John 10:34-36, Acts 17:28, Rom. 8:16-17, Heb. 2:10-11, 12:5-11, Luke 6:40) — a vision of salvation that goes beyond mere faith in Jesus as Lord to the higher callings of discipleship, sanctification and theosis, or being made more divine in God’s image.

From the beginning, the CUA was inclusive of marginalized people and rejected a spirit of hatred or harsh judgment toward anyone. However, our organization did not take positions on controversial social, cultural, political, or moral issues. We did not see ourselves as a specifically liberal or progressive religious organization, and in fact, many of the CUA’s founding leaders were Baptist, Evangelical, or Charismatic Christians and had generally conservative views. I, myself, was an ordained minister in the Pentecostal Latter Rain movement at the time — a version of Pentecostalism in which many people had come to believe in restorationist universalism and theosis, but still held a high view of scripture and accepted most of the teachings of orthodox Christianity.

The Story of Christian Faith: Summary and Key Verses of the Bible

The Bible is a long and complicated book with many different authors, literary styles, stories and ideas. For many people, reading the Bible from cover to cover may seem daunting, and as a result, they never do. This is unfortunate, because to have a good understanding of the message of Christianity one must have a broad knowledge of the contents and themes of the Old and New Testaments, which comprise the Judeo-Christian scriptures commonly known as “the Bible.”

Psalm 136 in the Old Testament

People who grow up in a church may absorb many Biblical teachings through sermons and Sunday school lessons. But what about the many people who come from a non-religious family and have never decided to read the Bible on their own? And what about the huge percentage of the world’s population who belong to a different religion and are unfamiliar with the scriptures of the Christian faith? For such people, a simple distillation of the Bible could be very helpful — and even for those who grew up with it or are already familiar with it, this could be a useful refresher and study tool.

Below, I have compiled a list of what I see as the most important themes of the Bible, with links to verses that present these stories and teachings. Every student of the Bible will have their own idea about what would be worth including in such a list. This list comes from my own spiritual perspective, which could be described as Restorationist Christian Universalism. Therefore, I tend to emphasize Biblical messages that are hopeful and inclusive. To sum it up, my view of the Christian Gospel — and the overall story of the Bible in general — is of a God who has created and loves human beings with a parental love, and who leads us on a journey from our fall into sin to our redemption and exaltation through the awesome, all-encompassing power of our divine-human brother and perfect exemplar, Jesus Christ.

With that introduction, here is what I would encourage all people to take from the Bible as a starting point, to learn the things that matter most in this great book of Christian teachings.

Why Christianity Should Not Be Politicized

Would you feel comfortable going to church with somebody from a different political party? In America today, many people wouldn’t — because they feel self-righteous disgust, even hatred toward people on the other side of the political divide.

Polling data reveals a nation of people filled with partisan anger and convinced they are morally superior to those who disagree with them about politics. For example, over 40% of both Democrats and Republicans believe members of the opposing party are “downright evil.” About 20% of people in both parties believe that people in the other party are “like animals” and “lack the traits to be considered fully human.” And perhaps most disturbingly, 20% of Democrats and 15% of Republicans believe “we’d be better off as a country” if most people from the other side “just died.”

These polls were taken before the incredibly divisive year 2021, which has polarized Americans even further. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that seemingly the only thing many people can agree on is that if the wrong party controls the government, it might be appropriate to resort to violence. In early 2022, according to a Washington Post poll, more than one-third of Americans said they believe anti-government violence is sometimes justified — including 40% of Republicans, 41% of independents, and 23% of Democrats.

A second civil war or a Rwanda-style genocide might be in America’s future, if we continue down the path of mutual hatred, dehumanization, and escalation of tensions between opposing political factions. Is there anything Christianity can do to help reverse this terrifying trend?

New Beginnings: The Future of Christianity and Our Church

A year ago, I started the Universal Church of the Restoration. With the help of my friend and fellow liberal Christian, Colin Mills, we began weekly video services and online small group meetings last January. We continued this for six months, then cut back to once per month. In total, during the year 2021, we produced 28 video services with sermons and stories of spiritual heroes, and we held a similar number of online meetings for prayer, fellowship, and discussion.

Starting a nondenominational church is not easy, even when the leaders do a good job of creating inspiring and meaningful content. Colin and I believe we have done that to the best of our ability. Despite our best efforts, however, the UCR has not attracted an audience as large as we hoped it would during the first year of its existence, and there are few signs of growth or increasing engagement with our church and its message.

After much thought and prayer, we have decided to stop producing videos, which we have learned is an inefficient way to spread our ideas. We have also discontinued the small group meetings for now. We will be continuing the ministry as a blog about religious teachings and issues from the perspective of Restorationist Christian Universalism.

Ascension

From our service on May 16, 2021, a sermon by Pastor Eric Stetson. Watch video below.


Last Thursday, May 13, was the Feast of the Ascension, the holy day in the Christian liturgical calendar commemorating the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, forty days after his resurrection from the dead on Easter. The first chapter of the Book of Acts describes how the resurrected Jesus ministered to his disciples and spoke to them about the Kingdom of God, and then, at the end of the forty days, he rose into heaven and has never publicly returned to the earth again.

As we call to remembrance the departure of Jesus, in his glorified and exalted state of immortal perfection, from this imperfect world to the eternal world beyond, it is an appropriate time to consider what it means for any human soul to ascend from the earthly plane to heaven. Going to heaven to live forever with God — salvation, as Christians call it — has been characterized in various ways. Some believe we go to heaven if we have the correct religious beliefs. Others believe we must live a Christlike life of love and service to our fellow human beings if we wish to attain the heavenly state of salvation. Still others believe everyone will go to heaven no matter what, even if they had the wrong beliefs and lived a life of sin.

May 16, 2021 Service: “Ascension”

What is the meaning of salvation? Some say that people are saved if they have the right beliefs. Others say we must live a good life, following the example of Christ. And some believe that in the end, everyone will go to heaven. But how do we really ascend from the sinful world of the flesh to the heavenly world of the Spirit and attain to eternal life with God? In this week’s service we explore these important questions. We also tell the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 20th century minister and martyr who taught that true faith can be costly.

Triumph

From our service on March 7, 2021, a sermon by Pastor Eric Stetson. Watch video below.


Many Christians believe that all we need to do to get to heaven is to say the magic words that “Jesus is Lord.” You know the type: the Christian who focuses more on professing beliefs about Jesus than living the faith of Jesus. Such believers are especially common in Evangelical churches, where Christianity is seen as something of a tribal identity group to which we must belong if we wish to be saved from damnation — and within which, we can rest easy in the knowledge that confessing Christ with our lips will cover a life of habitual sin.

But as easy as it is to criticize Evangelicals nowadays, a loose and largely meaningless view of salvation is also increasingly common among liberal Christians. As the teaching of universal salvation has grown more popular in recent years, and as liberal churches struggle to fill the pews in an increasingly irreligious age, there is a tendency to shy away from challenging our brothers and sisters in Christ to aspire to high standards of religious discipline, spiritual growth, and a life of extraordinary sacrifice for the cause of God. If God loves everyone as they are, why do we need to do anything?

March 7, 2021 Service: “Triumph”

The Apostle Paul used the metaphor of athletic training and competition to inspire us to live a disciplined life of the spirit, striving to win the eternal crown of glory with Christ. The world of sports offers profound lessons for our spiritual quest.

In this week’s service, we focus on the Triumph of the soul that is possible when we understand salvation as more than just believing in Jesus. We also remember Eric Liddell, an Olympic athlete and missionary whose deep religious principles propelled him to a truly triumphant victory.

The Ministry and Teachings of Jesus: Charity, Healing, and Forgiveness

From our service on January 17, 2021, a sermon by Pastor Eric Stetson. Watch video below.


Two thousand years ago, in Israel, there lived a very special man. Jesus of Nazareth, the son of a carpenter, was put to death for claiming to be the Son of God, the Jewish messiah. He was one of many men at the time who made such a claim and died for it. But he is the only one who became the founder of a great world religion. Today, Jesus is remembered not only for his bloody death on the cross, but for what he said and did before the crucifixion — and the Christian religion he founded is a source of moral and spiritual guidance for over 2.4 billion people, nearly one-third of the world’s population.

January 17, 2021 Service: “The Ministry and Teachings of Jesus: Charity, Healing, and Forgiveness”

Two thousand years ago, a Jewish teacher of humble origins became the founder of a movement that has grown to become the largest religion in the world. There are many different interpretations of the man and his message — but who was the real Jesus Christ, and what did he really teach?

In part one of this two-part series, we focus on the themes of charity, healing, and forgiveness. And we tell the story of Lillian Trasher, the “Nile Mother,” a brave and devoted servant of God who lived up to the calling of Christ by serving people in need.