Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Jesus and Hell

It has often been claimed that Jesus spoke of hell more often than any of the other New Testament writers.  I’ve read that claim in books.  I’ve heard it preached from the pulpit.  And many people have told it to me as if this was the definitive proof that Endless Punishment is the true teaching of Jesus and the Bible. 

The claim is based on the number of times Jesus used the word Gehenna – the term most commonly translated “hell” in the modern versions of the Bible.  Gehenna is used twelve times in the New Testament, and eleven of those times it is used by Jesus Himself. 

However, Gehenna never meant endless punishment beyond the grave during the time of Jesus.  It didn’t mean that in the Old Testament.  And it didn’t mean that for Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament.

What Was Gehenna . . . Really?

What comes to your mind when you hear the word Auschwitz? 

For my grandchildren, it’s possible that the word will take on a more metaphorical meaning.  But for me right now, and even more so for those of my father’s generation who fought in Germany in World War II and saw it firsthand, Auschwitz is an actual place.  A place reminiscent of the repulsion, shame and horrible deaths experienced by those who suffered in Nazi concentration camps. 

Like Auschwitz, Gehenna was a place the people of Jesus’ day could actually visit.  It was well-known as a specific location near Jerusalem that had been associated with gross idolatry and child sacrifice in the past, and was then used as the common dump of the city.  The corpses of the worst criminals were flung into it unburied.  Its stench was stifling.  Fires were lit to purify the contaminated air. 

To those listening to Jesus, it spoke of corruption, filth and shame.  Instead of experiencing honor like their ancestors whose bodies were treated reverently when they died, those cast into Gehenna would experience immense dishonor – their bodies disposed of in a dump to become an object of scorn for the masses.

Solomon expressed very well the thought that would be in the minds of those listening to Jesus’ words.

 “A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.”

In an honor/shame culture like that in the ancient and even modern Near East, that was a fate worse than death.

When Jesus spoke of Gehenna, it brought to mind ideas of repulsion, shame and horrible death, but not anything like the meaning that is pre-packaged in the English word, “hell.”  His listeners did not think of it as a place of endless punishment beyond the grave. 

If it had not been translated by such a loaded term into English, we wouldn’t, either.

Adapted from Heaven's Doors . . . Wider Than You Ever Believed!

If you’ve read the book and liked it, please share it with others.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Gospel - More than Fire Insurance!

For far too long, Christians have been told that the most wonderful news ever announced is really little more than an insurance policy designed to save people from the fiery wrath of a very angry God.  

God hates sin, we are told.  And by implication, God hates sinners.  He is too holy to look upon sin or have sinners stand in His presence.  So make a decision right now, or endless, conscious suffering awaits you!  

Forgotten is the fact that the Great Commission that Jesus gave His followers is to make disciples, not just converts.  Forgotten is the fact that the message we proclaim is designed to transform lives, not just keep us out of hell.

What Did Jesus Do?

If we look at Jesus (who is God), we will notice something rather amazing.  He was not too holy to look upon sin or have sinners stand in His presence.  He actually ate with tax-collectors and sinners – and told the Pharisees (who were too holy to look upon sin or have sinners stand in their presence) that the sick needed to be healed. 

Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn sinners.  He came into the world to save sinners.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.  As in Adam all died, so in Christ all will be made alive. 

Does God hate sin?  Of course!  But He didn’t just turn His back on sinners and leave them forever in a sinful state where they would continue to hate Him and endlessly suffer the consequences of their actions and attitudes toward Him. 

God actually hated sin enough to do something about it.  He hated it enough to love it out of existence – with harsh discipline if necessary . . . but not discipline that never ends.

God has a unique and positive purpose for each person’s life.  His laws are just and true.  His desire is to see all people experience true purpose, reconciliation with Him, forgiveness, and power to overcome and defeat sin and wickedness in their lives.  And He will accomplish all that He desires to do. 

The greatest time of expansion for the Christian Church was in the first few centuries after Christ, when the dominant view of many of the leaders and laity was that God would ultimately restore all of His creation to its intended perfection.

They knew something about the Gospel that we have misunderstood.  They knew that God’s love is unconditional . . . His power is irresistible . . . and He never gives up. 

They knew that the Gospel provides much more than fire insurance against hell. 

If you've read Heaven's Doors and liked it, please share it with others.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Am I Really a False Teacher?

In my book, Heaven’s Doors . . . Wider Than You Ever Believed! I share about a sad experience of having a dear friend who I had known well for over a dozen years come up to me at a conference to inform me that, in essence, he didn’t want to be my friend anymore.  His reason?  He had concluded that I am a false teacher who is leading people astray by my blog posts and a then-to-be published book addressing the issue of ultimate destinies.

Neither my friend’s words nor the spirit in which they were communicated motivated me to change my beliefs.  However, his words did make me think. 

What Characterizes False Teachers?

Both Paul and Peter expressly warn us to stay away from false teachers.  And Jesus told us to watch out for ravenous wolves who dress in sheep’s clothing.  But, what exactly is it that makes someone a true “false teacher?” 

Are Calvinists false teachers because their theological understanding of God’s sovereignty and grace differs from that of Arminians?  Are Baptists heretics because they disagree with their Presbyterian friends about the mode or age at which people should be baptized?  Are Charismatics really wolves in sheep’s clothing because they disagree with non-Charismatics about whether or not the gifts of the Spirit are relevant to life today? 

False teachers are deceptive in their dealings.

It would seem reasonable from a quick look at the actual phrase itself to expect false teachers to teach something that is false.  Peter pointed out that the false teachers he was referring to lied by exploiting others with stories they have made up.  Wolves who come to you in sheep’s clothing” are seeking to deceive those they are preying upon. 

In contrast, Calvinists and Arminians, Baptists and Presbyterians, and Charismatics and non-Charismatics who differ with one another do not generally lie to their followers about what Scripture actually says.  Rather, they each look at the text and come to different conclusions.  They definitely believe their theological opponents are mistaken, but they don’t usually see them as being deceitful.  As a result, they don’t generally call each other heretics or false teachers. 

In my particular situation, it has been my goal to point out truth.  In a former blog post for example, I noted that the original NIV translators inappropriately used the word “hell” to translate the Greek word “hades” in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and that those same translators never translated hades that way anywhere else in Scripture.  I didn’t lie.  I didn’t seek to deceive my readers.  I stated the truth.  And, in fact, the 2011 revision of the NIV actually corrected their error.  

False teachers are interested in profits.

The false teachers Peter speaks of are greedy for gain.  They follow the way of Balaam son of Beor, who loved the wages of wickedness. 

I have known – or known of – those within the religious community who have been motivated to a great degree by a desire to make money.  Some have built large empires that later collapsed when fraudulent fundraising and accounting practices were exposed. 

My motivation for writing my book and blog posts has not been to get rich.  In fact, I have lost far more money than what I have gained from what I have written so far.  I was terminated from a ministry that I had worked with for over ten years after passing along a copy of my manuscript to the head of the ministry to let him know my thinking on the issue.

False teachers pursue sensual pleasure

They carouse in broad daylight.  Their eyes are full of adultery.  They seduce the unstable, and appeal to the lustful desires of sinful human nature. 

Major scandals have plagued the religious world in recent years involving well-known figures whose moral failures have brought disrepute on the gospel of Christ. 

My wife and I celebrated our 46th wedding anniversary this year.  I have never been involved in an illicit affair.  And, I can honestly say that I love and admire my wife more today than when we were first married.

Who Decides?

I honestly love my friend – and, yes, as far as I am concerned he is still my friend.  I am honestly sad that he no longer wants to continue in fellowship with me.  But, I am also honestly convinced that I am not a heretic, and that my friend does not really understand what actually constitutes a false teacher. 

Jesus followed His warning about wolves in sheep’s clothing by explaining how we would be able to know who they are – By their fruit you will recognize them.” 

Because someone disagrees with us on a theological issue doesn't automatically make that person a false teacher.

We need to look at their lives.  Are those we label as false teachers deceptive, or greedy, or immoral?  If not, we should be very careful about labeling them that way.

The views I have expressed on these blog posts and in my book are not new.  In fact, much of what I have written has been an attempt to inform people in this generation of ideas that were held by the Christian Church in the earliest years of its existence – when it was closest to the Apostles, when its leaders read the New Testament in their native tongue, and its influence on the surrounding culture was the greatest.  

In a tract written in about AD 1627, a little known German divine named Rupertus Meldenius penned three short and very profound statements about how Christians should treat those with whom they disagree:

In essentials unity. In nonessentials liberty. In all things charity.

We would do well to follow that advice today.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished?

By George W. Sarris

It's not actually a debate.  It's part of the Mars Hill Forum series where two opposite sides of a controversial question are addressed.

The format is simple and straightforward.  Each side is given 12 minutes to present its case.  A 20-minute discussion between the presenters follows.  Then the audience is given the opportunity to ask questions for about 45 minutes.

In this case, the question is about the nature and duration of Hell.

Mars Hill Forum #157

Will Hell Eventually Be Abolished?

Yes:  George W. Sarris
Author:  Heaven's Doors . . . Wider Than You Ever Believed!

No:  John C. Rankin
Author:  The Freedom to Choose Hell

Monday evening, July 24, 2017, 6:30 p.m. 
Willimantic Camp Meeting Grounds, 453 Windham Road, Willimantic, CT 
– $15.00 suggested donation at the door –
(Presentations, Conversation and Questions from the Audience) 

George W. Sarris is a 1978 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  He has served on the staff of three missionary organizations, including a ministry outreach to New York City media professionals.  Mr. Sarris has published numerous articles on “ultimate restoration” at ChristianPost.com, is the narrator of Zondervan’s 2011 revision of the Holy Bible, New International Version featured on www.biblegateway.com, and the creator of an award-winning series of children’s CDs that bring the Bible to life.  He and his wife Suzan have been married 46 years.  They have five grown children and eight grandchildren.  For more information, visit his website at www.HeavensDoors.net.

John C. Rankin is president of the Theological Education Institute, International.  He has 
degrees from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Harvard Divinity School (Th.M., Ethics and Public Policy), and is now working on his MPhil and PhD at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies (A Political Theology of Freedom).  His books presently in print are: The Six Pillars of Biblical Power; The Six Pillars of Honest Politics; Jesus, in the Face of His Enemies; Genesis and the Power of True Assumptions (Second Edition); The Real Muhammad: In the Eyes of Ibn Ishaq; The Judas Economy; Moses and Jesus in the face of Muhammad; and Changing the Language of the Abortion Debate.  He and his wife Nancy have been married 40 years, with four grown children and six living grandchildren.  For more information, visit his website at www.teii.org.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Critique & Response

By George W. Sarris

A friend recently sent a copy of my book, Heaven's Doors, to a pastor, speaker and former seminary professor who sent back a 39 page, very negative review assailing both the book and me personally.

Because the Critique was also sent to several other people, I felt it was important to post both the Critique and my Response on my website.  

I expected resistance to my book.  Belief in eternal punishment is deeply rooted, and people don't change their convictions easily!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

It's NOT a Sin!

The Shack movie, much like the book that preceded it ten years ago, has stirred up a hornet’s nest among a small but loud group of evangelical Christians for the sins it’s committed – sins so grievous that they’re calling it “HERESY.”
One sin in particular has been brought up in several of the reviews and treated as if it were a dirty word.
According to some critics, the simple mention of this word should make any Bible believing Christian feel ashamed of even thinking that it could be true. So dangerous and potentially destructive to one’s faith is this “heresy,” one commentator equated it with a complete failure to understand the Gospel of Christ.
What is this sin? It’s the “sin” of universalism.
True universalism is not the misinformed belief that any and all roads lead to heaven. It’s the Christian idea that the all-powerful, all-loving, all-wise God of the Bible will ultimately get each person He created in His image into heaven! The idea that through His death and resurrection, Jesus Christ actually succeeded in His mission to seek and save the lost.
Almost completely absent from any of the discussions of the film is the fact that true universalism is one of the three major views the Christian Church has held from its beginning in answer to the question of what happens when we die.
NOT Heresy!
True universalism is not heresy! Contrary to popular opinion, it was never declared to be that by a General Council of the Church, and it was actually the dominant view held by Christians in the first five centuries after Christ.
Of the six major centers of Christianity in the ancient Church, four held the view that God will ultimately restore all of His creation to its intended perfection. One believed the wicked will ultimately be annihilated. And only one strongly favored the doctrine that the wicked will experience conscious suffering that will never end.
These early Christians include the man who wrote the first system of Christian theology. He’s considered by many to be the most important theologian and Biblical scholar of the early Greek Church – a man named Origen.
Another man of great influence was Gregory of Nyssa – who was instrumental in defining the Christian doctrine of the Trinity that we still stand on today. Gregory added the phrase “I believe in the life of the world to come” to the Nicene Creed, and was acknowledged in later centuries by the Church as “Father of the Fathers.”
They and others believed that God doesn’t defeat evil by shutting it up in a corner of His creation and leaving it there forever – like some kind of cosmic graveyard keeping sinners imprisoned for all eternity. Instead, they were convinced that God will destroy evil completely – transforming evil-doers by purifying their hearts.
It was their understanding that at the end of time, God will actually get everyone He created into heaven.
Critics vs. People
On the review website, Rotten Tomatoes, critics have given The Shack a 21% approval rating. By contrast, the audience approval rating is 86%. Somehow, there is a major disconnect between the critics and the people. That disconnect seems evident in the reviews by some in the evangelical Christian establishment as well.
People are drawn to The Shack because it addresses some of their heartfelt questions and provides answers they haven’t heard before. One of those answers is that the God of the Bible is good. He actually loves all those created in His image. He has a plan to ultimately restore all of those He created through Christ’s death on the cross. And He never gives up.
That’s not a sin! Those are good words that all Christians should seriously consider!
Portions excerpted and adapted from Heaven’s Doors . . . Wider Than You Ever Believed!
by George W. Sarris
Now available in paperback and eBook on Amazon.com

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Exposing a 1,500-Year-Old Myth About Hell!

 “Evangelicals congratulate themselves on their willingness to submit to the final authority of scripture.  Yet they also have cherished beliefs that they defend to the hilt . . . Quite rightly, George Sarris insists that even these beliefs should be subjected to the test of scripture.   In this work he engages in detailed and challenging scrutiny of the biblical teachings on hell, eternal punishment and condemnation.  Even those who do not agree with his conclusions need to pay attention to his arguments.”
 - Nigel G. Wright, Principal of Spurgeon’s College, London
   Council Member of the Evangelical Alliance, UK

Heaven’s Doors . . . Wider Than You Ever Believed!  is a book about unlimited power and unfailing love working together to accomplish the greatest plan ever conceived.  It’s a book about God’s plan to ultimately get each and every person through heaven’s doors.

The Myth

For the first 500 years after Christ, most Christians believed that God would ultimately redeem all of His creation.  Hell was real, but it didn’t last forever, and it had a positive purpose.

Then beliefs changed.  For the last 1,500 years, most Christians have been told that the majority of the billions of people who have lived on this earth will remain separated from the love and mercy of God for all eternity.  The moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, sons and daughters, relatives and friends who have not exhibited the “right kind” of faith here in this life will be shut up in a place called hell to suffer forever.

But is that really true?  Will most of the people God created in His image never walk through heaven’s doors?

That was a question I wrestled with after God's love captured my heart and transformed my life when I was a student in college.  After graduating, I served on the staff of a large campus missionary organization and later attended one of the finest seminaries in the country – a school the Rev. Billy Graham helped found.  I wanted to tell others about this wonderful Being who had done such marvelous things in my life.  But a voice deep inside kept saying something was wrong with the prevailing teaching about hell within the Christian Church. 

Endless, conscious torment for anyone didn’t seem consistent with what I knew about God's character.  It didn’t seem consistent with what I knew about real love.

As a result, I decided to address the issue with extensive research to find out for sure what the Bible actually teaches about hell. What I discovered was that hell, as a place of never-ending suffering, is not a Biblical concept.  And it has not always been taught by the Christian Church throughout its history. 

It’s a myth that was forced on the Christian Church by a power-hungry Roman emperor, was supported by a highly respected but misinformed cleric, and has endured for centuries because it became the status quo.

How Wide Are Heaven’s Doors?

Why would an all-powerful, all-loving, all-wise God allow billions of people to suffer forever in hell?  Maybe He doesn’t! 

David Konstan, Professor of Classics, New York University; Professor Emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature, Brown University wrote,

George Sarris has performed a splendid service in tracing the Christian view of universal salvation, which has deep roots in the Bible and in the Church Fathers. . . . Sarris’ book is gracefully written, deeply thoughtful, and based on careful scholarship; it deserves the widest audience.

Perry G. Phillips, Author/Lecturer; MA Institute in Holy Land Studies; MDiv Biblical Theological Seminary; PhD Cornell University added,

My view has changed.  I find ultimate restoration as a reasonable position . . .  I thank you deeply for opening my mind on eternal punishment/ultimate restoration.

I invite you to read what history and the Bible really say about God’s ultimate plan for you and for those you love. 

Heaven’s doors may be wider than you ever believed!

Heaven’s Doors will be released on March 15.  Pre-release orders are currently available on Amazon.com.

For more information and a free preview, go to HeavensDoors.net