Thursday, July 05, 2018

Not Just Fire Insurance!



In any discussion about the possibility that Hell may not be forever, one question always comes up:

 If everyone eventually gets to heaven, why share your faith?

Some time ago I received a fund appeal letter from a mission organization that directly related to this issue.  The letter explained,

"The work of missions is not a numbers game, but numbers don’t lie.  Statistically, in the time it probably took you to scan the envelope, open the letter, and read these first two sentences, 10 human beings died having never heard the good news about Jesus.  Gone forever.

I’m told that about 150,000 people will die today!  Nearly half of them will have never heard that Jesus came that they might have life.  In fact, most of them live in places where they have no reasonable access to that truth . . .

We can sensationalize the numbers, but people are not numbers.  Jesus died for people, and as Dr. Henry said, 'The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.'”

Won’t proclaiming the message that God will ultimately restore all of His creation to its intended perfection strip people of the motivation to share the message of Christ with others?  Why should missionaries and other dedicated Christians subject themselves to ridicule and deprivation by going out of their way, often to distant and backward lands, to tell others the “Good News” if everyone will get to heaven someday, anyway?  Won’t the message that God will eventually restore all have a dangerously negative effect on missions and evangelism?

The “Good News” Really Is Good News!

The Gospel does much more than simply provide a fire insurance policy to keep people out of Hell. 

People are not individuals whose lives may be important for a while, or even for a lifetime, but who are ultimately meant to be burned up or thrown away.  People are created beings of inestimable worth who need to be rescued by God from pursuing wasted, meaningless lives.

The Great Commission that Jesus gave commands us to make disciples, not just to make converts.  Evangelism is a by-product of making disciples and loving your neighbor.  If you are a true disciple of Jesus Christ who is growing in faith and in your relationship with God, you will be prepared and have a desire to share the truths you have learned with others.  If you genuinely love your neighbor, you will be alert to opportunities to not only try to convert them, but to help the whole person by ministering to the various needs in their lives that the Gospel addresses. 

Jesus came to give people an abundant and meaningful life.  The eternal life that He gives begins in the here and now, not just the hereafter.  As people fit in with God’s plan for their lives, they will experience reconciliation with God and one another, forgiveness of their sins and the ability to forgive those who have wronged them, power to overcome sinful patterns and behaviors, freedom from bondage to addictions, and true purpose.  The result is the greatest joy and true fulfillment possible. 

The “Good News” really is Good News!  And as the prophet Jeremiah explained when lamenting the fall of Jerusalem, God’s goodness doesn’t have a time limit attached to it.

“No one is cast off by the Lord forever.  Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing love.”

Available in Paperback, eBook and Audiobook formats

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Is the "Good News" . . . Good News?


I just returned from a trip to the Middle East where it became increasingly clear to me that the traditional concept of endless suffering in Hell is not good news! 

It’s not good news for a Muslim to hear that every ancestor, relative, friend or loved one who has died, and the vast majority of those still alive, have no hope.  It’s not good news for a Hindu or Buddhist to be told that all or almost all of the people they love and honor are experiencing or will experience endless, conscious suffering at the hands of the God you are telling them about.  For them, the message of never-ending punishment in Hell is not the most joyful news ever announced.  It’s the most dreadful news ever announced. 

That is one of the reasons it has been so hard for the gospel to take root in cultures that place a high value on family relationships.  The first Christian missionary to Japan, St. Francis Xavier, experienced this response to the message he preached.  He sent the following letter back to the Vatican in 1552:

One of things that most of all pains and torments these Japanese is that we teach them that the prison of hell is irrevocably shut.  For they grieve over the fate of their departed children, of their parents and relatives, and they often show their grief by their tears.  So they ask us if there is any hope, any way to free them by prayer from that eternal misery, and I am obliged to answer that there is absolutely none . . .

They often ask if God cannot take their fathers out of hell, and why their punishment must never have an end.  We gave them a satisfactory answer, but they did not cease to grieve over the misfortune of their relatives; and I can hardly restrain my tears sometimes at seeing men so dear to my heart suffer such intense pain about a thing which is already done with and can never be undone.

Not Then  . . . Not Now

The greatest time of expansion in the Christian Church was in the first few centuries after Christ, when the dominant view of the Church was that God would ultimately restore all of His creation to its intended perfection.  For them, Hell was real, but it didn’t last forever.  And it had a positive purpose.  They knew something about God's sovereign power coupled with His unfailing love for all that we have forgotten.

Punishment for sin is not the issue.  The real issue is whether or not suffering in Hell goes on forever, and the true teaching of Scripture is that it does not.

Over the years, I have listened to many people share testimonies of how and why they became Christians. 

Many have mentioned the example of a friend or acquaintance who demonstrated an inner strength, power over sin, or quality of life that impressed them.  Others have said that entering into a personal relationship with God gave them a sense of purpose in a world that seemed to have no direction, or that He provided a solid source of security at a time in their lives when everything else was falling apart.  A number have mentioned that Biblical Christianity provided clear answers to questions about life and the world around them that had a ring of truth to them.  

I can honestly say, however, that very few of the people I’ve talked to have said that they came to faith because they were afraid they would suffer endlessly in Hell if they did not believe, and becoming a Christian gave them peace of mind in that area.  In fact, in my experience, the doctrine of never-ending suffering has caused far more people to be driven away from the faith than drawn to it.

The experience of a friend speaks to the issue very well.

I used to be afraid to share the gospel, for fear that the conversation would come around to the subject of hell. I was afraid that someone would ask, “What about those who have never heard”? or “How can a good God allow billions of people to be tormented forever?” or “What’s the point of bringing people into existence only to suffer in this life, die, and then suffer forever with no hope of relief?” I had no good answers. Sure, I knew all the standard answers, but they didn’t satisfy me any more than they satisfied those who asked the questions.

Now I am free to share the gospel without worrying about getting trapped by good questions that have no good answers.  I can confidently proclaim that God is Love, that He is not a monster who allows people to spend eternity in perpetual suffering apart from Him.  At the same time, I can confidently proclaim that He is holy and righteous, He is a consuming fire, and He will not let anyone get away with anything.  He will do whatever it takes to make sinners holy, fit for spending eternity in His presence.

Now that is Good News!


Available in Paperback, eBook and Audiobook formats

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.