Before I explain why I’m now a heretical Universalist, It’s important to know that I grew up as a conservative, evangelical, “born-again” Christian, and that I believed quite strongly in all of the traditional, “orthodox” ideas that nearly every evangelical Christian out there assumes is taught in Scripture. This means that I believed in the immortality of the soul, that people who died without becoming Christians would suffer forever in the lake of fire, that premarital sex is a sin, that there’s only one Gospel taught in Scripture, that members of the body of Christ should be baptized in water, and, of course, that “going to church” — with all that this entails, such as dressing up nicely so that one can sit in rows in church buildings to sing some songs, donate some money, and listen to a speech, among other things — is something that should be done every possible Sunday.
It’s also important to understand that I wasn’t looking to stop believing in any of the above. In fact, my journey to “heresy” began because I wanted to make sure I really understood all of what Scripture teaches, which is one of the reasons I went to Bible college after I finished high school. And this wasn’t one of those liberal seminaries that teaches you to question God and Scripture. This was a very traditional, conservative Bible college run by members of the Plymouth Brethren denomination, where we were taught that Scripture is the inerrant word of God, and that it should be interpreted as literally as possible (which I still believe to be the case today, I should add).
So what happened, then? How could someone who was simply looking to better understand what Scripture teaches and to grow spiritually end up such a heretic? Well, it’s precisely because I was looking to better understand what Scripture teaches and to grow spiritually that it happened. You see, my ecclesiology teacher in Bible college seemed to recognize that I was indeed looking to dig deeper than perhaps my other classmates were, and because of this he gave me a copy of a book called The Open Church by James Rutz so I could do just that. Little did he know that this would trigger an entire cascade of events leading me to my current heretical beliefs.
He didn’t intend for this to be the end result of his gift, of course, or so I’d assume anyway. I’m pretty sure he just thought I’d find it interesting. The problem was, I took what I learned in the book seriously. As I read the book, I came to discover that the traditional practices and structures of most Christian assemblies, and the meetings held in their church buildings (yes, even in the Plymouth Brethren assemblies, even if they might be closer to the truth than most), is not actually taught anywhere in Scripture. In fact, I learned that Scripture seems to teach the exact opposite of how the Christian religion “plays church,” for the most part, with more organic, relational gatherings being how the first believers actually met, rather than using the rigid structure that “Churchianity” (as many of us now call it) practices today.
At first this might not seem like a big deal. It isn’t a salvation issue, after all. But when I discovered that this all-important church structure is something pretty much every denomination out there assumes to be scriptural yet isn’t, I quickly realized that, if basically every church leader out there could be wrong about this, they could be wrong about other things they assumed were scriptural too, and that I shouldn’t just take for granted that a doctrine or practice I’d been taught is scriptural by my church leaders was, in fact, scriptural. And so my journey into “heresy” moved forward as I continued to dig deeper into Scripture to confirm whether what I’d been taught about it growing up was indeed true or not; and, as I slowly discovered through careful study, that it was almost always “not.”
Now, it took about 18 years, with a number of missteps and detours along the way, to finally come to accept that all of the doctrines I now believe to be true are, in fact, scriptural, and I didn’t come to accept these doctrines which I now hold to simply because I wanted to believe them. In fact, the opposite was often true. I actually resisted accepting a number of the doctrines I now hold to at first, because it’s extremely difficult to let go of traditions that have been strongly engrained into your mind for decades by one’s religious leaders. But, thankfully, I was taught growing up to follow the evidence no matter where it might lead, and eventually I couldn’t deny the truth any longer and came to accept that nearly everything we’d been taught in church was, in fact, horribly unscriptural.
In my studies I came to learn that, because we were never taught certain key principles of scriptural interpretation by our religious leaders, and because we’d, in fact, been taught the exact opposite in many cases, it was nearly impossible for most people to actually understand Scripture at all (which explains why it’s so difficult for Christians who are introduced to the doctrines I learned and now write about on this site to be able to accept them as even possibly being true). In case you’re wondering, these mostly unknown key principles that those of us in the body of Christ have come to understand are 1) what it actually means to “rightly divide the word of truth,” 2) the difference between the absolute and relative perspectives, as well as the difference between literal and figurative statements, in Scripture, and 3) that it’s important to find out what a given word in a passage of Scripture actually means (remember, even if we believe that the words were translated correctly into English, the English words themselves might have changed in definition since the time the Bible was translated, so it’s imperative to not just assume 21st century definitions of words in our English Bible are what these words actually meant when they were originally translated into English hundreds of years ago). Without first learning and understanding these key principles of scriptural interpretation, it’s far more likely that someone who comes across the doctrines those of us in the actual body of Christ believe will just assume these conclusions can’t possibly be true (and often won’t even be able to understand how we can believe such things to begin with) because they just won’t make sense to them.
Once someone does come to understand these principles of interpretation, however, it becomes quite evident that the religious presuppositions we’ve been taught to hold to by our religious leaders don’t actually appear to lead to the most accurate interpretations of Scripture after all, and that there are, in fact, other possible interpretations which seem to be a lot more consistent with each other and with what the rest of Scripture says when the whole of Scripture is taken into consideration.
Either way, the reason I wrote this post in the first place is to make it clear that nothing I believe now is because I wanted to reject the traditions and assumptions I’d been taught by my religious leaders, and that the opposite was actually true. Instead, I came to believe everything I do today because of 18+ years of careful study of Scripture, and that I sometimes had to be dragged kicking and screaming, so to speak, before I was able to agree that some of these heretical doctrines are, in fact, what Scripture actually teaches. If you are someone who is at all curious about what all the conclusions I came to are, however, I wrote about them here. Just be warned, though, that if you are at all open minded to the possibility that you and your religious leaders could have interpreted Scripture incorrectly in places, you’ll likely soon have to endure being called a heretic yourself.