"The Gospel of Inclusion" [part 1] by Bishop Carlton Pearson
“In the universe, there are things known, and things that are unknown, and in between there are doors.”The presentation I am about to submit to you is a work in progress. I have been working on and through the development of these thoughts and reflections now, for over 25 years, and more openly and perhaps aggressively the last four or five. It is a work of faith and conviction-a mindset I have unsuccessfully tried to either avoid or delay fully accepting.
This presentation is part of my witness and testimony, as one who desires to both minister and worship as a citizen of the modern world and be able to think as I do so. I
write it as a person to whom the Christian Church, particularly the Pentecostal/Charismatic Community has accorded honor, rank, and the privilege of leadership in the Episcopal office. It comes, thus, from the life of a Bishop, Pastor, Evangelist and Christian Diplomat, whose vows at the time of ordination and
consecration included both a promise to defend the faith and to guard the unity and sanctity of the Church.
I should like to say before you read any further, that you will read nothing in this theology that should be considered “anti-Christian” or that undermines the powerful work of the cross, the deity of Christ and His substitutionary death, or the shedding
of His precious blood for the remission of sins.
You will read nothing that challenges the fact of Jesus’ Virgin birth, that He suffered and died on the cross for the sins of the world, that He was buried and rose again and is presently seated at the right hand of the throne of God, where He ever
intercedes for the saints and will ultimately return to receive into eternal life with Him, the fruit of His “Finished Work” at Calvary, demonstrated by His unconditional love, grace and reconciliation of all things.
As a 4th generation Classical Pentecostal preacher, brought up in the tradition of “holiness or hell” convictions and consciousness, I will admit that over the last nearly 30 years since coming into the larger Charismatic world, and after graduating from High School in 1971 and moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to attend Oral Roberts University, I have finally come to the end of a road or perhaps just a turn in it, with
regard to my presupposed thinking about God, the universe and how I relate to Him in it, especially with regard to heaven, hell, the purpose of the Church and my role as a minister in it and “doing the work of an evangelist.”
I have preached to thousands-leading them to accept and confess Christ. I have fasted from as little as half a day, when I was as young as 7 or 8 years old, to as many as 40 days as an adult, seeking the anointing to reach lost souls and bring people to deliverance and a saving-knowledge of Christ. I have preached to hundreds of thousands, both in person, as well as to millions by way of television and radio. I’ve ordained Deacons and Elders, installed Pastors, consecrated Bishops, recorded successful albums and CDs, written books, hosted some of the largest conferences and gatherings of the people of God.
However, in the midst of all my work and my unmitigated commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and my life’s dedication to the ministry of His great Gospel, I have come to a most liberating and encouraging realization, both through Scripture and personal revelation. This revelation was put best in words, while I was hosting a live national Christian television program and my guest was the great Missionary Evangelist, T.L. Osborn. In the course of this interview with one of the greatest soul winners of the 20th century, he blurts out a statement that burned into my spirit in a way no other single statement has, in my over 45 years as a born-again Christian. The statement
was: “The world is already saved, they just don’t know it!”
According to my subsequent studies of Scriptures to verify this statement as a true and a most powerful and inspiring revelation, I had to face the fact that, not only does the world not know it, but, most of the Evangelical church doesn’t believe it, and therein lies the greatest deception the enemy has ever convinced the world of, second only to his success at deceiving Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
In the Biblical and Classical Christian theology, Salvation is sometimes pictured in a restrictive sense, belonging only to those who respond in faith-(Matthew 25:31-46 ‘sheep and goats’, ‘the least of my brothers’, (v. 41) and John 3:16, 17, and several more. A more careful study of Scriptures will reveal that Salvation is also and perhaps more often or more comprehensively pictured in a universally inclusive way, in which God is Redeemer of the whole world or creation, including all human beings.
(Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, Revelation 5:13, I Timothy 4:9-10, I John 2:1-2, John 1:29, Romans 5:12-14-21, II Corinthians 5:12-21, Romans 11:32).
Christianity centers on the Person and work of the God-man, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He is the touchstone and power of all Truth. Any seeming truth that does not glorify Him as such is counterfeit, or only partly true. I earnestly stand for
the right of private interpretation, judgment and guidance of God in an illuminated conscience; yet, at the same time, I desire to apprehend with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and the depth and height, and to know the love of Christ which passes all knowledge, the truest and most accurate perception.
THE CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS
There are fewer matters more urgent in a pluralistic culture than the centrality and centricity of the Cross. The meaning of the cross and resurrection is not only that God loves, but also that He has the power and the will to overcome evil, not just
personally as Jesus did, but to do so universally or cosmically, and bring victory out of what could only be described as eternal defeat. To believe that such a God could or would permit a single soul He created, to be destroyed, or even eternally separated from Him is a contradiction in terms. It would also be an inadmissible defeat for God.
Just a common-sense acknowledgment of the Sovereignty of God would make it almost impossible to be reconciled to the thought that God could have created a world and man or mankind if, in fact, He foresaw hell as an eternal destination for any He created in His image and likeness. It would mean that creation is essentially a failure and the earth project a farce. Moreover, a God, who deliberately allows the uninterrupted existence of endless or eternal torments, is not God at all, but more like what we describe as the devil. If the atonement means the reconciliation of God and man or man to God, (and that is the only thing it can mean), then it must end in
universal salvation or redemption of humankind.
What’s Wrong with This Picture?
The is the most religiously diverse nation in the world. Christianity is by far the greatest single element in that diversity. According to recent statistics, 70% of Americans belong to some brand of Christian religion. What may be even more distinctive is that it is certainly the most religiously diverse country that has ever
existed, in terms of voluntary participation in the expressions of faith and the freedom to do so. In light of this, it seems interesting that has by far the largest prison population in the civilized world. And Tulsa, the city I live in, known to some as
the “buckle of the Bible belt” has the 2nd largest divorce rate in the country-second only to Las Vegas. In addition, I regret to mention that we have, as well, one of the nation’s largest recorded “out-of-wedlock” teenage pregnancies and a higher than normal per-capita homosexual population to boot. Such statistics should cause any critically thinking person to ask, “What’s wrong with this picture?”
After 30 years of preaching holiness, with the accompanying hellfire and brimstone warnings to final judgments and eternal damnation, I have been arrested by the Holy Spirit and convinced that I have not been preaching an accurate Gospel message and that overall, the Christian Evangelical church has become more indicting than inviting and should be less attacking and do more attracting of those spiritually
unresolved. In addition, I have been emphatically reminded of the writer of Hebrews admonition in chapter 6 verses 1-3, that we leave the elementary teachings of (fundamental Christianity) and go on to perfection (maturity).I’m sure you will admit
that there is hardly an Evangelical church anywhere in America that, should you visit them on Sunday morning, the message would be along the lines of one of the doctrines the Hebrew author lists as things we should leave, to go on to maturity, [i.e.
“repentance from acts that lead to death”, “faith in God”, instructions about “baptisms”, “laying on of hands”,“resurrection from the dead” and “eternal
While all these are important subjects, I’m sure we’d all agree that most of us have mastered them in one form or another and can preach or teach them (so to speak) blindfolded and walking backwards.The mysterious idea of, “going on to maturity,” has many in the larger Evangelical Christian, and even the Charismatic/Pentecostal community intimidated. Why? Because mature Christianity insists on removing the fear tactic used to persuade children or the immature, to eat, drink and obey their parents, or in this case, the Word of God.
Mature Christianity demands “mature (perfect) love, the kind that casts out fear, the fear that torments (really tortures) the believer and cripples his trust in God’s ability to love unconditionally (1 John 3:18). Verse 17 in this same chapter of 1 John suggests that Love is the one thing that gives us confidence on the “day of Judgment,” which in many ways seems to be the greatest fear I am confronted with by
those who oppose the Gospel of Inclusion. The looming question indelibly etched in the mind of many (most) believers is, “What will happen on Judgment Day and will they make it to heaven?” We all say “we love Him because He first loved us,” (1 John 4:19), but while we seem confident enough that He “first loved us,” many are quite unsure whether or not He will “last love us” or love us at the last or at last, love us.
Sometimes I think it’s much easier to speak what we believe to be true, than to “speak the truth in Love.” (Ephesians 4:12)
A Christian can be a Universalist, but not all Universalists are Christians, and I think this distinction may be where I have run into the greatest opposition. What actually is modern Universalism, or in my particular case, the Gospel of Inclusion?
My research has brought me to any number of similar, but varying definitions of Universalism, but for the purpose of this particular discussion, I will use the definition I believe best or most accurately typifies my understanding of the “Finished Work” of Christ and the Cross-the work of redeeming or reconciling humankind, moreover, the entire world, all of creation, back to God. A Christocentric Universalism (as distinguished from a humanistic or Unitarian Universalism) seems to be gaining ground and interest among the more critical thinkers in Christianity. The basis for this trend lies in a deeper realization of the powerful implications of the incarnation of Jesus Christ for the nature of God.
The theory of Universal Reconciliation (the Gospel of Inclusion) maintains that Christ’s death accomplished its purpose of reconciling all mankind to God. The death of Christ made it possible for God to accept man and, in fact, and indeed, He has done so. The substitutional death of Christ not only made it possible for God to accept mankind as totally clean before Him but, more importantly, it demonstrated or proved God’s unconditional love for His own creative handiwork. As a result, whatever separation now exists between man and the benefits of God’s grace is subjective in nature; it is illusionary, existing only in man’s unregenerate mind, his unenlightened
or uniformed way of thinking. The message (Good News or Gospel) people need to hear, is not that they simply have an opportunity for Salvation, but that they, through Christ, in fact, have already been redeemed, reconciled and saved, and that this information, (Good News) frees them to enjoy the blessings that are already theirs in Him. Most Christians believe in the atonement but do not realize that “atonement” is
simply another word or expression for “reconciliation.” The terms are basically identical in both Hebrew and Greek.
Reconciliation is not something which is to be-it is an accomplished fact, a present reality! It was accomplished by Jesus as His commitment to His Father God, for which
He was duly awarded. (Philippians 2:5-11) It appears to me, that salvation is not so much an issue between God and man, as it is more significantly, an agreement between God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ. This agreement or arrangement is based entirely on God’s great love for the world, as indicated in John 3:16-17. The Scriptural basis for putting the onus almost exclusively on God is II Corinthians 5:18, ‘All this is from God who through Christ reconciled us (mankind), to Himself and gave
us, (the Church) the ministry of reconciliation. (19) That God was reconciling the world (not just the Church) to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them...”We Christians, in our innate preoccupation with “judgment and judgmentalism,” continue to hold the sins against both ourselves and others,
erroneously expecting that this is the rule of the house, over which Christ presides as both Head and Cornerstone.
It is almost as if we Christians have been and still are being raised in a home where a mean, intolerant, and abusive father terrorizes the children, threatening them with swift and painful punishment for any and every mistake made during the day, while he is away at work. We run to Jesus in the same manner children living in households with abusive and incorrigible fathers, run to their mothers for protection from him. These abusive and “impossible-to-please” fathers literally terrorize both the children and the mother, producing what psychologists call “dysfunctional homes,” (no fun in the unction).
Our experience as Christians should be an unction that is enjoyable and fun! Christianity is not only something we endure, it should be something we enjoy. Isaiah 12:3 says, “It is with joy that we draw water from the wells of salvation.” That is joy, not dread, drudgery or desperation. We must ask ourselves, “Do we need Jesus to protect us from God?” Or might we be presenting an inaccurate image of God, who is a warm, longing for and loving Father, who would spare no pains, and in fact didn’t, in order to reclaim His cherished family, the inheritance of His son Jesus Christ, from condemnation, loss and ruin?
It has been my experience in talking with people who panic over the very term, “Universalism” that they immediately either connect or construe the term with Unitarianism, a totally different philosophy that prides itself in being a creedless
denomination. Perhaps you can decide whether or not you are opposed to or offended by the results of these findings: In 1899, the general convention of Universalists formulated a brief statement of the five essential principles of the Universalist faith and the “Winchester Profession” was commended as containing these principles.
1. The Universal Fatherhood of God
2. The spiritual authority and leadership of His Son, Jesus Christ
3. The trustworthiness of the Bible as containing a revelation from God
4. The certainty of just retribution for sin
5. The final harmony of all souls with God
“Eyes that look are common, eyes that see are rare” Plato said, “You can forgive a child for being afraid of the dark, it is, however, a tragedy when adults are afraid of light.” Rabbi Kushner in his book, How Good Must We Be? Says, “Religion is first and foremost, a way of seeing or perceiving things. Religion can’t always change the facts about the world we live in but it can change the way we perceive those facts.”
With regard to the controversy surrounding my teachings on the Finished Work of redemption, I would submit that, perception is the ultimate reality, but not necessarily
the ultimate truth. I like Barclay’s commentary on Matthew 6:22, “The light of the body is the eye”. He says, “Light requires an organ designed or adapted for its reception. Unspiritual or unregenerate man by nature is incapable of receiving spiritual light in as much as he lacks capacity for it. Believers, however, are called children of light, (Luke 16:8), not merely because they have received revelation, but because in the new birth, they have received the spiritual capacity for it.” It seems to me, that while unbelievers are blinded by the darkness, many believers today are blinded by the light.
It has been said, “The difference between a prophet and a heretic is often time.” So called false doctrine does not necessarily make a person a heretic, but an evil heart
can make any doctrine heretical. When you make religion your God, you lose the God and often the good of the religion. Many Christians have made the religion itself pre-eminent to Christ. They defend the religion, while ignoring or perhaps never
experiencing the relationship. Between man’s realities and God’s absolutes, there is an obscure place where most people tend to get either trapped or entrapped. Our imprecise realities have betrayed us and, thus, alienated us from the world we are
called to inform, love, and evangelize.
It has taken me nearly 50 years to learn to distinguish the difference between God’s creations and my illusions; to know truth as God created it and not as we in our religious zeal have invented it. My desire is to know God totally rather than
selectively. I’m even willing to suspend what I think I already know about God, in order to know Him in a way I have never imagined.
As residents of the Kingdom of God on earth, we should seek cultural relevance in order to connect with the spiritually unresolved-those who are unsure and/or insecure concerning Faith in God or the God of our faith. A crisis in truth is a crisis in
trust. Our role as Christians is to create environments that are conducive to the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts, heads, and hurts of people. While our style and approach may change or experience adjustments over time or according to the times, the truth we preach is constant, ageless, and timeless-Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world!
[PART 2] TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK