Are You A Functional Universalist?

At GAFCON 2018 in Jerusalem, I attended a breakout seminar led by The Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon from the United States and The Rev. Rico Tice from England. I chose this seminar for several reasons: 1. Kendall Harmon has been one of the leading voices in our movement to uphold Biblically Faithful Great Commission Anglicanism, 2. I have personally benefitted from Rico Tice's teachings in the Christianity Explored videos where they use the Gospel of Mark to preach the Gospel, and 3. The topic was Hell.

 

The reality of Hell has long been a primary motivating factor for me in leading churches through the process of revitalization. You see, turning a reclining or declining church around to be a missional church for the unchurched is hard. It takes time. It is emotionally painful because it means change, and change means loss and loss means pain. The fact that there is a Hell and that people who die without believing in Jesus will spend eternity there makes the hard work, time, and pain worth it. I believe the local church must do whatever it takes to reach non-believers to make them Jesus' disciples. Maintaining the status quo is simply not an acceptable option when even one more person out there might go to Hell. So, since there was a seminar on Hell being led by two men I greatly respect, I had to go. I wasn't disappointed.

 

Somewhere in the midst of the presentation outlining some of the various reasons why Hell is often not talked about, even in our Biblically faithful churches, the term "Functional Universalism" was mentioned. I immediately thought, that is one of the saddest yet most accurate descriptions of many - not all, but many - Anglican churches.

 

Universalists don't lead people to salvation through Jesus because they don't believe people need to be saved through Jesus. If we, as Bible-believing Anglicans, don't lead people to salvation through Jesus because maybe we're too embarrassed to share, or too afraid to invite someone to pray a prayer to repent and believe in Jesus, or any number of other excuses, what is the difference? Isn't that just functional Universalism? We're achieving the same results, right?

 

It is particularly sad because so many of us are Anglicans specifically because we didn't want to be a part of the Episcopal Church that largely adopted Universalism. As Anglicans, we actually believe all of the Bible is true. We believe where it says that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through" him. (John 14:6) Jesus is not "a" way but "the" way to salvation. Yet are unbelievers being saved in our churches? Are we bringing unbelievers into an eternal relationship with the Father through Jesus in our churches? Or do we just talk about local mission and evangelism and feel good about ourselves for not being those bad Universalists?

 

Now I'm not suggesting that we all start talking about Hell all the time and try to scare people into Heaven (although I personally have always held that I would rather be scared into heaven than blindly walk into Hell). However, I am suggesting that if we took the truth that Hell is real more seriously and that Jesus suffered Hell for us so we don't have to, maybe we'd overcome our fear of evangelism and start doing it.

 

In the seminar, Rico Tice talked about having to overcome what he called the, "Pain Threshold" of broaching the subject with people. That is so true. It is not easy. It is fear producing. Yet, it is necessary. I still remember the first time I prayed with someone to believe in Jesus for salvation. I was literally physically trembling. But for me, a person's not spending eternity separated from God in Hell is more important than my not feeling fear or pain. Love for them compels me to take courage for their sake.

 

I wonder what it would look like if every Anglican in North America, in view of the reality of Hell, loved people enough to overcome their pain threshold and started practicing evangelism seriously. Wouldn't our hearts be transformed? Wouldn't our congregations be transformed? Wouldn't our communities around us start being transformed? I long for, pray for, and work for a day when that vision becomes a reality.

 

And since we Anglicans do believe the Bible is true, we can know for sure we're not alone when doing evangelism. We are partnered with Jesus in his mission. Remember what the Great Commission says, "And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'" (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV, underline added). He is with you always! May God bless you as you love him, and in partnership with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit courageously go out and DO evangelism.

 

Canon Mark Eldredge is Director of Church Revitalization and Coaching for the American Anglican Council. You can also see an Anglican Perspective video from Canon Mark on this subject below. 

 

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