Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Door Standing Open – Post Conference Report

“The conference was PIVOTAL and only enhanced my Faith.”  

“I feel so much better prepared now to give an answer for the hope that lies within!”  

“For me it was exactly what I needed to put the lingering doubts about Universal Salvation to rest.”  

“I believe I speak for most when I say we were sad to see it end.”

Those were some of the comments from participants who came to the Door Standing Open Conference 2018 from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York State, Pennsylvania, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Oregon, Ontario and British Columbia, Canada, Finland and Sweden.

“Never-ending hell is not Good News!” said George W. Sarris, award-winning author of Heaven’s Doors . . . Wider than You Ever Believed!  “It is not good news that God loses . . . forever . . . most of those created in His image.”  He explained, “That was not the teaching of the Early Church.  It is not the teaching of the Bible.  And it’s contrary to what the Bible teaches about the nature and character of God.”

Just recently Pope Francis questioned the traditional translation of the Greek word peirasmos as temptation,” said David Konstan, Brown University Professor Emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature.  “This is just one of many Greek words in the New Testament being translated differently these days, involving such fundamental ideas as sin, repentance, faith, punishment, forgiveness – and eternity,” he added.  In his talk, Konstan, who is co-author of Terms for Eternity: Aionios and Aidios in Classic and Christian Texts, explained in detail “Why Greek Matters.”  

Brad Jersak, professor of New Testament and Theology at St. Stephen’s University New Brunswick and author of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, discussed why “the concept of universal restoration is far from heresy or even a novelty among fringe groups.”  In fact, it was the central theme of some of the most respected teachers and theologians in the first five centuries of the Christian Church.

“The Universalist interpretation of the Bible is far more plausible than either a Calvinist or Arminian interpretation,” argued Thomas Talbott, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Willamette University and author of The Inescapable Love of God.  His talk explained the reasons why.

W. Scott Axford, the 19th Pastor of the nearly 200-year-old First Universalist Church in Providence   a Trinitarian Christian congregation upholding the Bible and the historic creeds of the Christian Church – discussed the history of the Universalist Church in America.  It began as a denomination that adhered to the Early Church’s teaching that God will ultimately restore all, and some individual churches still remain true to that vision.

 “Who’s Your Daddy?” asked Peter Hiett, Lead Pastor of The Sanctuary in Denver, CO.  His presentation, based on I John 3:1-3, shared what Scripture teaches about who God is and what He is really like.  He explained that God treats those made in His image as a father treats his children.  He disciplines them, but always in love.  “We are saved by Grace through Faith,” Hiett said, “but God does not love just a few.  In Christ, our Father chooses to redeem all.”

Petri Tikka is working on his PhD in Helsinki.  “All the speakers were really committed and interesting,” he said.  “Another highlight was talking with people personally.”  He told the conference of his work, and later invited the conferees to join him in Finland April 24-26 AD 2020 for the Love Is Strong As Death conference! 

One participant summed up the conference well, “God is doing wonderful things.  I believe we are on the tip of a reformation . . . What an awesome truth that God loves all humanity.”

Friday, February 02, 2018

Conference Challenges 1500 Years of Church Teaching about Hell

For the first 500 years after Christ, Church leadership and laity believed that God would ultimately redeem all of His creation.  Then beliefs changed. 

And for the last 1,500 years, Christians have been told that the majority of the billions of people who have lived on this earth will suffer in hell forever.

So which view is correct?

"Hell is real," says George W. Sarris, award-winning author and speaker, "but it doesn't last forever, and its purpose is to transform sinners, not torture them for all eternity."

The Door Standing Open Conference 2018 will be held the First Universalist Church in Providence, RI April 27-29.  Promising to challenge many traditional beliefs about heaven and hell, it addresses Church teaching from the time of Christ till the present from a historical and Biblical perspective.

Speakers include Peter Hiett, Lead Pastor of The Sanctuary in Denver, CO.  As former Senior Pastor of one of the largest and fastest growing churches in his conservative denomination, Peter was forced to step down because of his belief that God will ultimately restore all. 

W. Scott Axford, 19th Pastor of the nearly 200-year-old First Universalist Church in Providence, says he often finds himself a lone voice upholding the Bible and the historic creeds of the Christian Church in his generally liberal denomination.

Other featured speakers include prominent scholars in the areas of Church history, ancient languages and Biblical studies. 

David Konstan is Professor of Classics at New York University, Professor Emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature at Brown University, and co-author of Terms for Eternity: Aionios and Aidios in Classic and Christian Texts. 

Thomas Talbott is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at Willamette University, author of The Inescapable Love of God, and lead contributor to Universal Salvation? The Current Debate.

Brad Jersak teaches New Testament and Theology at St. Stephen’s University New Brunswick and is the author of Her Gates Will Never Be Shut.

George W. Sarris, author of Heaven's Doors . . . Wider than You Ever Believed! is conference coordinator.  His book is the 2018 Illumination Awards Silver Medal winner in Theology.

"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," says Nigel Wright, Principal of Spurgeon's College, London, and Council Member of the Evangelical Alliance, UK.

For more information on A Door Standing Open Conference 2018, go to https://www.doorstandingopen.com/

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Controversial Christian Book Wins National Award

Heaven's Doors . . . Wider than You Ever Believed! received the prestigious 2018 Illumination Awards Silver Medal in Theology from the thousands of Christian books published in the past year.

The book challenges many traditional beliefs about heaven and hell, addressing Church teaching from the time of Christ till the present from a historical and Biblical perspective that the judges deemed "exemplary."

Winners were selected from publishers large and small, including HarperCollins, Zondervan, Oxford University Press, Faith Words, Thomas Nelson and Tyndale House Publishers.

Author George W. Sarris says the book exposes a 1,500-year-old myth about hell that began with 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.  He says that for the first 500 years after Christ, Church leaders and laity believed that, ultimately, all the people God created will be in heaven. 

"Hell is real," Sarris says, "but it doesn't last forever, and it's purpose is to transform sinners, not torture them for all eternity.  That's the only answer that's consistent with an all-loving, all-powerful God."

David Konstan, Professor of Classics at New York University and Professor Emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature at Brown University says the book is "gracefully written, deeply thoughtful, and based on careful scholarship; it deserves the widest audience.”

Pastor, author and speaker Brian McLaren says Sarris’ book “could be the breakthrough book among Evangelicals and conservative Catholics especially . . . It is readable, clear, focused and free of red herrings and distracting baggage.”

George W. Sarris is a popular author, speaker and performer who has spent a lifetime addressing Biblical and family issues throughout the U.S.  He’s the narrator of Zondervan’s 2011 revision of the Holy Bible New International Version featured on BibleGateway.com and the creator of an award-winning series of children’s CDs that bring the Bible to life. 

Heaven's Doors is available from Amazon.com in paperback, ebook and audio book formats.

For more information about Heaven’s Doors, go to https://www.heavensdoors.net/

For a complete list of the Illumination Award winners, go to http://www.independentpublisher.com/article.php?page=2283

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.