The deception and heresy of Christian Universalism

by Mike Ratliff

8 Therefore it says,
“ When HE ascended on high,
HE led captive A host of captives,
And HE gave gifts to men.”
9 (Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) (Ephesians 4:8-10 NASB)

I have always taught here that the Bible very clearly refutes universalism, which denies the existence or permanence of the Lake of Fire or Hell. What prompted this study was two separate encounters with professing Christians who disagreed with our understanding of the Gospel, God, Man, and Eternity claiming that they had a better more correct ‘vision’ that was given to them by God Himself.  These visions stated that our teaching of the Gospel was wrong and contaminated by churchianity and was , therefore, not the genuine Gospel as taught by Christ and the Apostles.

It wasn’t long ago that universalism was regarded as an extreme minority position held by Unitarians and a few cults. However, a new version of this heresy has emerged which we refer to as Christian univeralism. What is the difference?

Christian universalists, unlike Unitarian universalists, believe that the only path to the Father in heaven is through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Like Unitarian universalists, the basic doctrine of Christian universalism centers around the belief that all men will finally be saved without the emphasis of religious relativism of the Unitarian beliefs. The Christian universalist believes those whom die a temporal death without receiving Jesus Christ as their Savior will come to repentance in the many ages to come in the after life. Christian universalism claims that God’s qualities of divine love and sovereignty demand satisfaction and that the only way this can be accomplished is through the salvation of all peoples throughout history. Christian universalism also advances the like idea, that since universalism is true, then, the doctrine of an eternal conscious hell is false.

Within Christian universalism there exist three different views as to how the ultimate salvation of all peoples is accomplished. The majority view is that the wicked dead are placed in the lake of fire either for a set duration (an age) determined beforehand at a judgment, or until they repent of their sins and receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior in submission onto God. The minority view within Christian universalism denies the lake of fire altogether; stating that wicked man will be slowly purified in the age to come through the transcendence of ages to come until which time they may fully join with God. It is at this time that God shall be “all in all” (ref. 1 Corinthians 15:28). Yet another faction of universalism which denies the existence of a literal hell holds that the punishment of sin is administered in this life and that God’s role in our lives is for the purpose of purifying all of mankind through correction. These same universalists also hold that this process of purification is nothing of our own merit and is not counted towards our actual salvation which has already been attested to through the work on the cross. Rather a persons receptiveness towards God’s purifying ministrations will determine their eternal rewards in heaven, with those who did not receive Christ as their Savior receiving less that those whom have and obey His voice.

The doctrine of universalism is of ancient origin and has existed among many schools of Christianity. There are biblical passages in both the Old and New Testaments which are interpreted as furnishing Scriptural authority for the belief. Such men as Clemens Alexandrinus, Origen, Diodorus, Theodore of Mopsuestia and others laid the foundations for the belief system. They taught that punishment was remedial, that the nature of God was love, and that the Divine mercy could not be satisfied with partial salvation or everlasting punishment.

The doctrine of universalism was condemned as heretical at the Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in the sixth century (553 A.D.) and was largely neglected during the Middle Ages. It was revived during the latter part of the 18th century and was transported to the New England colonies where it was organized into a church largely through the efforts of George DeBenneville, a physician, John Murray, an excommunicated Wesleyan evangelist, and by Hosea Ballou. Ballou wrote a work entitled Trestise of the Atonement (1885), which gave Universalists their basic philosophy of belief. Ballou based his doctrine on the errors of the Unitarians. Universalism has became wide-spread during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The modern movement of Christian universalism originated in England, being a logical development of anti-Calvinistic teaching. It carried the Wesleyan system of free grace to the point where the grace of God would be accepted by all. (ref. Encyclopedia of Religion, ed., Vergilius Ferm, Philosophical Library, New York, 1945, p. 805.)1

Why should we be concerned about this? What does it matter that a few people believe that there is no Hell as long as they believe in the necessity of the cross?  It is wrong because it is heretical. It is not what the Bible teaches. It changes the very words of our Lord and the Apostles to appease the demands of people to be included into God’s family who refuse to repent and believe the Gospel. No matter how it is dressed up, it is still a lie with it’s roots in Genesis 3:4:1-5

1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “ From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die. ’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:1-5 NASB)

We know what happened after this don’t we? This is the original sin which cast all of Adam and Eve’s descendants into fallen separation from God. Universalists challenge the Word of God by misinterpreting vast numbers of passages to suit their desires while ignoring others that refute what they teach. Universalism is rooted in Satan’s original lie and no matter how new and exciting its proponents try to package it, it is a very old heresy.

9 ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9 NASB)

What is the synagogue of Satan? I have had a few visit Possessing the Treasure who have vilified what we teach and hold here claiming that we are the synagogue of Satan. Jesus is speaking to the Church at Smyrna here about their coming tribulation and persecution. These who say they are Jews, but are not are of this synagogue and they are a big part of the persecution coming upon this church. Our Lord knows all things. What was He speaking of here and what has this to do with universalism?

When Jerusalem was destroyed by Titus in 70AD many Jews fled to Egypt. The City of Alexandria was the cultural and intellectual center of the Roman Empire during this time, rivaling even Ephesus, Athens, and Rome itself. A survey of Alexandria in the 2nd Century revealed over 800,000 Jews living there.The culture at Alexandria was Greek. Greek philosophy was at its height. During the period after 70AD some Jewish thinkers who had become greatly influenced by their Greek culture worked to combine Greek philosophy with Christianity. This movement heavily influenced Clement of Alexandria and his pupil Origen. This form of philosophy was highly allegorical and Origen became an expert at it. Later, Origen was proclaimed a heretic by the Church. Why? The basis of universalism was laid down by him.

Origen desired to provide his students with a superior education. Thereby he endeavored the study of the most celebrated pagans in the land. Considering such Scripture as “Learn not the way of the heathen” (Jeremiah 10:2), Origen:

felt it necessary to make himself more extensively acquainted with the doctrines of the Grecian schools, that he might meet his opponents upon their own ground, and for this purpose he attended the prelections of Ammonius Saccas, at that time in high repute at Alexandria as an expounder of the neoplatonic philosophy, of which school he has generally been considered the founder. The influence which the study of philosophical speculations exerted upon the mind of Origen may be traced in the whole course of his after-development, and proved the fruitful source of many errors which were afterwards laid to his charge, and the controversies arising out of which disturbed the peace of the Church during the following centuries.

Origen pilfered many errors that give rise to the utmost suspicion, but one the lighter side, Origen’s perverted interpretation of Matthew 19:12 led him to castrate himself. This is the most unlikely application of the passage -especially if he had read Deuteronomy 23:1. Edward Gibbons, concerning himself with Origen’s preference for allegorical interpretation, made the ironic observation of, “It seems unfortunate that, in this instance only, he should have adopted the literal sense.”

It is interesting to note that when Origen often applied the allegorical method of interpretation that he was often way off the mark. Commenting on John 2:6, he wrote:

And six water-vessels are reasonably (appropriate) to those who are purified in the world, which was made in six days–the perfect number.

This exemplifies Origen’s basic ignorance of biblical numerology. However, that is a small error considering that Origen denied the eternality of the Holy Spirit, writing:

For even although something else existed before the Holy Spirit, it was not be progressive advancement that He came to be the Holy Spirit.

Origen plainly taught that the Holy Spirit was a created being:

We therefore, as the more pious and truer course, admit that all things were made by the Logos, and that the Holy Spirit is the most excellent and the first in order of all that was made by the Father through Christ.

Origen also denied salvation by grace in contradiction of Romans 4:4, writing:

After these points, also, the apostolic teaching is that the soul, having a substance and life of it’s own, shall, after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts, being destined to obtain either an inheritance of eternal life and blessedness , if it’s actions shall have procured this for it, or to be delivered up to eternal fire and punishments, if the guilt of its crimes shall have brought it down to this.

Origen writes elsewhere:

For as we see it not to be the case with rational natures, that some of them have lived in a condition of degradation owing to their sins, while others have been called to a state of happiness on account of their merits.

It almost looks as though Origen believed that the fate of the wicked would be to spend their eternal existence in the lake of fire doesn’t it? As with the Origen’s modern equivalent, the Christian universalist, it is a case of duplicity and double-speaking. Origen writes:

But in the meantime, both in those temporal worlds which are seen, as well as in those eternal worlds which are invisible, all those beings are arranged, according to a regular plan, in the order and degree of their merits; so that some of them in the first, others in the second, some even in the last times, after having undergone heavier and more severe punishments, endured for a lengthened period, and for many ages, so to speak, improved by this stern method of training, and restored at first by the instruction of the angels, and subsequently by the powers of a higher grade, and thus advancing through each stage to a better condition, reach even to that which is invisible and eternal, having traveled through, by a kind of training, every single office of the heavenly powers.

To translate: this means that Origen taught that people would subsequently become more and more holy through subsequent ages to come until which time God would become “all in all” -the universalist interpretation of 1 Corinthians 15:28. Origen expands on this doctrine of purgatory:

Heaven, in which heaven and earth, the end and perfection of all things, may be safely and most confidently placed, -where, viz., these, after their apprehension and their chastisement for the offences which they have undergone by way of purgation, may, after having fulfilled and discharged every obligation, deserve a habitation in that land.

While the notion of an ultimate salvation of all isn’t unique to the world’s religions, combining Christianity with the philosophy of universal salvation in the ages to come was Origen’s idea. Origen writes:

But those who have been removed from their primal state of blessedness have not been removed irrevocably.

Origen affirms this, writing:

The end of the world, then, and the final consummation, will take place when every one shall be subjected to punishment for his sins; a time which God alone knows, when He will bestow on each one what he deserves. We think, indeed, that the goodness of God, through His Christ, may recall all His creatures to one end, even His enemies being conquered and subdued.

The problem with Origen’s position of universal salvation is that it is not to be found in the Scriptures and it slaps Christ in the face. For Origen illustrates a works righteousness apart from Christ and the belief that He alone saves.

Grady points out other heresies that Origen embraced: “the preexistence of the human soul (i.e., John the Baptist was previously an angel), baptismal regeneration (beginning with sprinkling infants) and transubstantiation, that Christ’s death was paid as a ransom to Satan to allow the new birth to be entered by a “mystical kiss,” while denying both the coming “bodily” resurrection and the millennial kingdom.”

Because of Origen’s scholarly pride common to Alexandria, and his acceptance of the allegorical interpretation methods first begun by Philo the Jew (as opposed to literal interpretive methods), his rejection of basic fundamental Christian beliefs -the legacy he has left behind has led others to: consummate the idea of evolution in the fourth century (later to be picked up and expanded upon by Darwin and Huxley in the 19th century); include a wide variety of heresies against the teachings of Scripture, and due to textual criticism has led many a Christian to say, “Yea, hath God said?” Recall that is Satan’s first recorded lie. Further, not only did Origen doubt the authenticity of the Word of God, by embracing universalism he fully adopted Satan’s second lie as well, which is as Genesis 3:4 records: “Ye shall not surely die.” Therefore, we have discovered that heretical Jews, the synagogue of Satan, have infused itself within Christian thought and lead to the doctrine of universalism.2

What scriptural ‘proof’ do universalists claim? Without a doubt, one of their favorite verses would be 1 Timothy 4:10.

10 For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (1 Timothy 4:10 NASB)

Here is the verse in Greek from the NA28 Greek text.

10 εἰς τοῦτο γὰρ κοπιῶμεν καὶ ἀγωνιζόμεθα, ὅτι ἠλπίκαμεν ἐπὶ θεῷ ζῶντι, ὅς ἐστιν σωτὴρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων μάλιστα πιστῶν. (1 Timothy 4:10 NA28)

The word of contention here is ‘especially’ or μάλιστα or malista. This word carries with it the idea of superlative or ‘in the greatest degree.’ So what is Paul saying here? The Greek word for ‘Savior’ here means ‘deliverer.’ Who is delivered and who is not delivered? This verse seems to suggest that ‘all’ are delivered while those who believe are saved to a higher level. However, we must remember to interpret scripture with scripture. We know that there can be no disagreement in God’s Word.

13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:13-18 NASB)

Who has eternal life? Only those who believe in Him have eternal life. God gave His only Son that WHOEVER believes in Him may have eternal life.  The key here is belief. Who is condemned? Those who do not believe are condemned, but those who do believe are not condemned. Therefore, if we go back to 1 Timothy 4:10 don’t we see that the ‘all’ and ‘especially’ are referring to the capacity and offer of the Gospel to everyone, but only those who believe partake of eternal life?

Now let us take 1 Timothy 4:10 and paraphrase it like so: For the living God we toil and strive because we have our hope set on Christ Jesus resurrected who is the Savior of all people, all those who believe. Do you see how clear Paul’s meaning becomes?

If you believe the words of the Bible, you can logically conclude that only those who have received Christ as their Savior are saved and receive eternal life with the Lord in heaven. Therefore, 1 Timothy 4:10 isn’t saying that all peoples are saved and receive eternal life, rather, it is saying that all are justified to stand before the Lord, and in addition, to receive eternal life, one must believe. Again for clarity, 1st Timothy 4:10 says that Christ’s sacrificial atonement on the cross was to atone for the sins of all people, but that in order to gain eternal life one must believe (ref. 1 Corinthians 15:22). Therefore the spiritual truth that 1 Timothy 4:10 presents to us is that Christ, who is God, is the Savior of all men -be it one man, or all men. The verse further tells us that those whom believe are saved and will receive eternal life to dwell with the Lord in heaven. The word “specially” used in the verse designates the position in the household of God a believer holds rather than their relationship to God.  Any attempt on the part of the universalist to refute this would mean that men can be saved apart from Jesus, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). The apostle Paul affirmed this as well when he wrote: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Further, the writer of Hebrews agreed, affirming of Christ, “For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26). And “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God… For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12, 14). As the apostle Luke recorded when he wrote the book of Acts, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The universalist will acknowledge that belief in Jesus Christ is a requirement for salvation but will quickly affirm of the after life, that the unsaved will be granted all the opportunity necessary to come into the fold and be saved by Christ’s blood. Not only does this directly contradict Jesus’ own words of “And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die,” as recorded in John 11:26, but there are ample reasons to outright reject the reasoning of any sort of after life salvation.

The defenders of Christian universalism along with many cults claim that God shall grant a second chance to receive salvation. Universalists further explain that the “length” of this second chance will be “as long as is needed.” Orthodox Christians outright reject this notion. The Bible clearly declares in Hebrews 9:27: “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Notice that this doesn’t imply more than one judgment -as in a judgment that is one of many as many parole hearings may be, but that this is the judgment. This urgency to accept Christ as Lord and Savior right now is supported by the many parables Jesus Himself taught that speak of the urgency to accept Him as the Savior in the here and now. All of which indicate that one must make the decision to do so now and not in the after life. Looking about at the glory of all creation dictates that God has so many ways to reveal Himself to unbelievers before their deaths, that it is unnecessary He do so in death. Further, if we are saved by divine grace through faith -where is faith when it is made plain to the observer? Did not Jesus declare unto doubting Thomas: “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). The spiritual truth of this verse, as a man once pointed out to me, “When the author of the play gets on the stage, you can be sure the show is over.” But more than that, the belief in a second chance (or chances) undermines the missionary mandate. For what purpose is the Great Commission, given in Matthew 28:18-20, if people can be saved apart from receiving Christ as their personal Lord and Savior in this life? 3

Please understand that the lie of universalism is part of the great deception, the delusion that is coming upon the whole world. Therefore, consider this, those who accept this teaching are deceived and that means that they are spiritually blind and will not see the truth unless God allows it. Let use pray, therefore, that God will keep us from this error and give us wisdom and discernment so that we will remain firm. Difficult times are ahead for those who will refuse to compromise here. We are studying these things in order to be prepared, not to condemn anyone or sensationalize this by dragging down certain deceived teachers and preachers. No, we must be harmless and doves, but wise as serpents as we stand in the power of our Holy God.

Soli Deo Gloria!

1Eric Landström, All the (((all’s))) all covered



2 thoughts on “The deception and heresy of Christian Universalism

  1. This was very well written and I finally think I understand this point and see the error and the deception, and also know how so many have seen this as truth, but is really a lie! I once had a lady call me and to ask me to pray for her Grandmother, I said I would so I asked what was wrong, and she said she died and we need to make sure she gets to heaven!!! What, I then had my first discussion of the fact her time and her chance was over! Thanks! Keep up the great teachings.


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