Sunday, 15 July 2007


Back in the Seventies and Eighties there was a good deal of speculation in the WCG diaspora about “universal reconciliation.” My memory is hazy, but some prominence was given at the time to publications from Concordant Publishing Concern, a non-COG ministry that, apart from producing an unreadable literal translation of the New Testament, championed a conservative Protestant view of universal salvation. Someone may remember whether this was a particular interest of Ernest Martin's... it was a long time ago.

These days the diaspora has ballooned out to tens of thousands, and the interest on unitarian-universalist matters has shifted to the unitarian end with Ken Westby and others pushing a “One God” teaching. The universalist strand remains however, even if it has gathered dust for a while. Back in the pre-reformation WCG a version of universalism was popular, based on the idea of three resurrections (Wayne Cole, for example, expressed the view that the number of those who would eventually wind up in the Lake of Fire would be the merest handful.) Many members found this one of the most attractive elements in Armstrong theology. The genocidal Calvinist god, like “predestination”, is a monster concocted from well down the reptilian brain-stem. Calvin, however, was simply standing on the shoulders of one of the truly dark influences in the history of Christendom, Augustine of Hippo, author of the Confessions and the man who put the book of Revelation in the Western canon, laid the groundwork for persecution of heretics, invented the “just war” theory, and cooked up the dismal dogma of predestination in his spare time. The Protestant tradition owes much to Augustine (Luther started out as an Augustinian monk), which may explain why apocatastasis now seems a novel idea. Augustine was also a relentless self-promoter and personal myth-maker, which has long protected his reputation (the biography by James O'Donnell goes a long way to correcting this.)

So I feel a bit of an idiot to have only recently stumbled over this thing called apocatastasis, courtesy of a reference by - of all people - Bob Thiel. This is an admittedly obscure term, but it describes a view, or speculation, that is perfectly acceptable both in Roman Catholicism (despite Augustine) and the Eastern Orthodox churches. In simple terms it means universal salvation.

Some of the great luminaries of early Christianity taught that all people would ultimately be saved: notably Origen (who took the position that even Satan would ultimately be reconciled to God) and Gregory of Nyssa. That much I already knew, but assumed it had been declared heretical long ago. Not so; and I was completely ignorant of the fact that one of the most significant Catholic theologians of modern times, Hans Urs von Balthasar, also advocates a version of universalism. While apocatastasis is not a sanctioned teaching, neither is it a heresy in the Catholic and Orthodox communities.

So Herb Armstrong wasn't all that unique after all. Mike Feazell – who seems to lean toward a similar reconciliation position – isn't a heretic.

As they say, “live and learn.”


Douglas Becker said...

The debate rages on:

Catholic theology moves from limbo – Vatican commission sees unbaptized babies
welcomed by God in heaven

As a lad baptized as a Lutheran at age 6 and having attended a Catholic Parochial School from the age of five for 11 years, I absorbed a great deal of Catholic Teachings, which have become obsolete as of Vatican II. It was with this background I entered into the Wonderful World of the Radio Church of God at age 13 through my brother and received my first issue of The Plain Truth in 1962. I learned the Mass in Latin and also took three years of Latin, which mercifully, not only qualified me for College [not AC, thankfully], enabled my vocabulary level at the top 99% in the nation [according to college testing] but also has been mostly forgotten. I spent many happy hours in the School Library looking up references in the Catholic Encyclopedia, proving the Catholics wrong [in at least my own immature mind] from their own writings.

So it is with that background I ponder the teachings I received decades ago from the Catholics themselves. The best news I can impart is that God will be merciful to non Catholics who will eventually end up in heaven after the Second Coming [at some vague time in the quite very distant future], if and only if, they have never heard of Catholic doctrine [and refused it].

It's hard to say whether this view is current dispensational universalism, but it is probably the best Catholics will ever do in promoting the idea of Universal Salvation through the unfathomable mercy of God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost and the Virgin Mary, Queen of Heaven.

I am, alas, left with the concept that the Catholic Church was a man made invention from the Fourth Century, established by the Emperor Constantine to consolidate all the pagan religions under two gods and declare it Christianity.

I guess I will go to an ever burning hell for an eternity. Alternatively, I shall be burned up in the Lake of Fire for my stubborn obstinence for opposing the excesses and abuses of the blasphemous church of gods in view of my previous Catholic classmates who received salvation during the second resurrection period of 100 years after which follows the Great White Throne Judgment.

DennisDiehl said...

Bear with me a moment:

With regard to original sin, the difference between Orthodox Christianity and the West may be outlined as follows:

In the Orthodox Faith, the term "original sin" refers to the "first" sin of Adam and Eve. As a result of this sin, humanity bears the "consequences" of sin, the chief of which is death.

In the West, humanity likewise bears the "consequences" of the "original sin" of Adam and Eve. However, the West also understands that humanity is likewise "guilty" of the sin of Adam and Eve."

One might look at all of this in a completely different light. Imagine, if you will, that one of your close relatives was a mass murderer. He committed many serious crimes for which he was found guilty ­ and perhaps even admitted his guilt publicly. You, as his or her son or brother or cousin, may very well bear the consequences of his action -­ people may shy away from you or say, "Watch out for him -­ he comes from a family of mass murderers." Your name may be tainted, or you may face some other forms of discrimination as a consequence of your relative’s sin. You, however, are not personally guilty of his or her sin.

NOW..Original Sin and guilt by association all depends on the mythology of Adam and Eve being literally true.

If no original parents, at the behest of a talking serpent, defied the gods and ate from trees giving the kind of info only gods could have, never happened, then there is no original sin for which we scum humans forever after must pay.

IF "For as in Adam, all die..." never was literally true, then the whole story and all the theology that follows falls apart. Humans are not really having to pay for the sins of two mythological first humans who did literally nothing.

Even the idea of who pays for whose sin evolved in the OT. Ezekiel notes that inspite of what the Ten Commandments say about "visiting the sins of the fathers for three or four generations..." that the son shall now not pay for the sins of the father, nor the father for the son. (Ezekiel 18:20) There were always competing schools of thought.

Of course there are massive theolgical meanderings to counter this simple observation. I believe in more in the value of the story of the Gordian Knot than that of the mythology of Adam and Eve. You're results may vary...

Sin didnt reign from Adam to Moses (Rom 5:14) it's just a part of human behavior and depends on who is making the definitions and rules and what's the motive.

Just so you know, I almost choke on saying that since there was no original sin literally, then atonement by execution and blood oozing or flowing was never the intent and not necessary. It's a strong meme. And if I end up in someone's hell, I promise to rethink my view.

Humans evolved over millions of years. If one never addresses that reality, then of course one can enjoy the story of the Bible as literally true and we can all attend church and argue over just how God sent a human as himself, to die (getting off easier than tens of thousands of other humans the Romans killed for sedition). We can muse on billions of yet unborn having to pay because they are guilty of offending this deity approximately 5800 years ago in a Garden near Basra, Iraq goaded by a talking snake, who used to be one of the God's best friends.

At least grab onto Ezekiel and claim you don't have pay for the sins of others nor they for us anymore! not think this is an easy concept to speak. It is easy to understand, but very difficult to say with all my own personal background. It makes me uncomfortable, but to me it is so.

Born right the first time and as consciousness trapped in a limited five sensed carbon based wetsuit, ok as is with a great future after droping the suit? That's a pretty encouraging possibility and no hell to pay.....

Whoever and whatever "God" is and whatever his/her plan for us might be ( I have hope) He did not start out Hebrew, create the imperfect and defective humans that got away from Him and needed now to hang himself on a Roman cross for part of day, (that's about four days shorter than the others got to hang out)knowing it was more a play and he gets back to normal in three short days guranteed.

At least the theology would be more impressive if Jesus stayed dead, as God, as that's what a sacrifice does in the real world of humans. God giving his "only begotten son" loses emotional weight when we all know he gets him back in three days, because that's the plan. But that would mess up lots of other goodies the church had in store for the masses to do and believe, if Jesus, as God, stayed dead for us all.

Sorry..too long again and makes me nervous this topic..True believing turned skeptic is not a fun place to be at times.

Universal Salvation? Sure, when you screw up just apologize and move on. I didn't kill Jesus and Adam and Eve are not my mythological problem.

*The above represents the current opinion of the author and not that of this station or it's affiliates.

Felix Taylor, Jr. said...

Hey Gavin, talk about great minds think alike. On my blog ,I discuss about an American minister, Carlton Pearson who now believes in a form of universalism. As said in my blog, I do sympathize with his sentiments but I disagree with his conclusions.

Felix Taylor, Jr. said...

Hi Dennis,

I have found the Eastern Orthodox view on the fall of man a hell of a lot sensible and humane than the Western view which caused a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering thanks to the likes of Augustine and John Calvin.

Samuel Martin said...

My father, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, confidently held to the teaching of universalism from the mid-1950's until he passed away in 2002.

His own words on this subject are as follows:

Just forty-six years ago (just after my birthday on April 20th, when I became twenty-one years of age), a profound change took place in my life that made me abandon my profession of being a Meteorologist (a weather forecaster) and to
devote myself to biblical study and teaching. Up to then I had specialized in Meteorology in my hometown college in Visalia, California and the Air Force sent
me, at government expense, to the University of New Mexico where I completed my meteorological training. And here I was for the past eight months forecasting
the weather for the United States Air Force in Sondrestromfjord, Greenland located just north of the Arctic Circle. I enjoyed being a Meteorologist. Not only did the base commander in Greenland and many Air Force pilots give me
accolades for my professional forecasting abilities, Major Zimmerman (head of the weather station) finally presented me with a "superior" rating (the highest
possible) for my attitude toward work and for my professional abilities as a Meteorologist. With these awards and recommendations I was on my way to a
successful career in Meteorology. But this was not to be.

While at the University of New Mexico I had been introduced to the teachings of the Holy Scriptures by a close personal friend, Howard McLaughlin. All of a sudden the Bible began to take on an importance to me. And just after my
twenty-first birthday (when I had a day off from work at the weather station), I decided to walk south toward Lake Ferguson and then up to a mountain ridge out of sight of the base. There, I knelt down and looked into the heavens. All I
could see were low stratocumulus clouds moving toward the Greenland ice cap from Davis Strait some 90 miles to the west. To me it was the loneliest spot on earth with nothing in view but the monotonous arctic tundra that dominated the
terrain. But it was at that spot that I turned my back on my meteorologicalcareer and I redirected myself toward knowing and teaching the Holy Scriptures.
I gave God the Father and Christ Jesus that very day a promise IF they would do one thing for me in a personal way in order for me to help all members of the human race to know the truth of the Gospel. I requested of the Father and Christ
that they progressively give to me the divine truths of the Scriptures (and not simply what the denominations were teaching). I wanted to know THE REAL TRUTHS
OF THE BIBLE, not the watered down teachings of the churches. I promised that IF they would give me the real truths, I would teach them to the world.

Brethren, the Father and Christ answered my prayers for help. From that very moment, my whole attitude toward learning and education changed. And though when I walked down that mountain side the clouds were still there and the wind was
howling around my ears as when I went up to that ridge (and I saw no vision or even heard a voice), but for some reason I knew that God and Christ at that special time had not only heard my request but they decided to take me up on my
promise. And you know, the very first teaching from the Bible that I began to understand (and I have not backed down from teaching it ever since) was that God
had in His plan to save every human being in the whole world (both past, present
and future) and that even Satan the Devil and his evil angels would one day be saved when they and humanity repent of their sins. In the next few weeks I saw these truths in the Bible. I could hardly believe that such a thing was possible
(because of my former erroneous teaching from my early Baptist and Methodist upbringing), but I began to see that this doctrine was one of the paramount teachings of the Old and New Testaments. I learned this vital teaching on my own
(with the help of God and Christ) when I was in Greenland and living in one of the most desolate areas on earth. (ASK Communicator Newsletter - May 1999)

Doug Ward said...

I hope and pray that universalism is true but of course leave that up to God, who knows best.

DennisDiehl said...

"My father, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, confidently held to the teaching of universalism from the mid-1950's until he passed away in 2002."

I took classes from your father and if this is so, then he, as many theologians, kept it well hidden and close to his chest. Don't misunderstand. I understand that very well.

Either those who knew him, knew his perspectives and didn't "correct" him, or it didn't matter. If it didn't matter, then I can think of lots of average ministers and members who had other perspectives and it did matter to the administration and out they went.

I can't imagine Satan being saved as very popular with HWA during the years of Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 ad naseum. I guess it's not much of a motivator to the brethren with Satan attacking GTA, HWA and WCG constantly (it was not a real was the leadership shoothing themselves in the feet often), if WCG let it be taught that Satan would be fine too. Can't motivate people with fear if the roaring lion himself gets turned back into a pussy cat.

I deeply appreciate your Dad's sincerity. I had the very same, "God if you want to use me in you're work" attitude as a teen and of course at AC (I was weird in hindsite). I find it difficult to believe now that all my personal appeals to God to "lead me," "Guide me," "Use me," fell on anything but deaf ears. "Please show me your true church," sure turned out to be a joke.

Perhaps the trick is to have an Angel rip the steering wheel from your hands as HWA always talked about, or an overwhelming feeling, or see a vision in ones head, or say "God told me" and then be sure to tell everyone, so some will follow you to the ends of the earth. Or at least, if you don't really have that as a story, make up a good one. I don't know.

I do know that as a pastor I made up my mind to try my best never to expect others to do what I would not or judge them for that which I also could not do or be. That's the only thing that seemed to pay off. Most don't remember me as that SOB WCG minister. I say most as I am not naive...

I was talking to my son a few days ago about my latest encounter with ex WCG members who either walked around me at the hospital or gave me warnings from god to repent. He summed it up nicely.

"Dad, you looked to them as your friends. They weren't your friends, they were your customers. You were providing them a product and you serviced their accounts. They were customers, not friends. When the store closed, you lost your customers, not friends."

Smart kid. I now accept that as a better explanation of where'd they all go?

Anyway, in the whole scheme of things, I like the hope that somehow..

"But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well."
Julian of norwich

Neotherm said...

I had an acquaintance at AC Big Sandy back in the Seventies and recently tried to locate him over the web. He had been a ministerial assistant in K. Westby's region. My search for him led to Concordant Publishing and universalism. Also, I discovered that he is now deceased.

I am curious about universalism. I have a background in Quakerism and there are Quakers who believe in universal salvation. There are a couple of recent books on the topic authored by two Quaker universalists.

But how do universalists deal with the straightforward statement by Christ that few will receive salvation. Broad is the way that leads to Hell and many will enter into that way, to paraphrase.

The image of Fewness runs throughout the scripture, whether it is the Few saved in Noah's Ark or the Few to receive salvation. Is it possible for universalists to sound a counterpoint without addressing these scriptures.

Christ is saying that the majority of human beings, when confronted with the decision between belief in Christ or Hell, will choose Hell. And further they will never repent, so Hell must be eternal perforce.

I am not a hyper-Calvinist and I do not believe in the Calvinistic view of predestination. I believe that scripture bears out that people make choices and that there is a limit to what God can do to convince them of what is right. At some point, like C.S. Lewis said, God must say to them "not my will, but yours."

Seriously, I do not know how the universalists re-engineer exegesis to come up with salavation for all.

-- Neo

phc said...

The short article at the following link is one of the better overall explanations of Christian Universalism:

Anonymous said...

Shades of Wade Cox.........

Byker Bob said...

It was nice to have some additional background material on Dr. Martin. Thanks for your post,
Samuel. I had no idea your father was a universalist.

Universalism would seem to be a litmus test for Christians. We all know how dogmatic people can be about those who don't believe the one true way. Lake of Fire, or H3ll! But, I've encountered some from the Christian persuasion who are actually distraught over the people whom they think are going to be lost souls. I would say that those Christians are certainly filled with love for fellow man, a love that even cultic programming cannot destroy.

I read one lady's account of what universalism meant to her. As she reached the conclusion that everyone would be saved, a huge burden was lifted from her, and tears of joy streamed down her face. I thought that was so refreshing, as compared to the self-righteous gloating which would be more typical amongst people who thought themselves to be the only true group.


Neotherm said...

I just reviewed the statement by Joseph E. Kirk about universalism. He clearly fails to distinguish between the universal availabilty of salvation and the universal implementation of salvation.

The scriptures Kirk cites concern universal availability. This forms a good argument against the Calvinist concept of Limited Atonement. But it does not support the idea of universal salvation. Stated simply, the fact that Christ died for everyone does not mean that everyone will be saved. There are other conditions that must be met that are defined at other places in the Bible.

One of the reasons I was attracted to Armstrongism was the near universal salvation that it seemed to put forward. One of the most difficult ideas I have had to swallow in becoming a Christian is the clear message of the Bible that most people will not receive salvation. But then can God really force salvation on someone who adamantly doesn't want it?

Christ spent a lot of time talking about hell and our need to avoid it. I can't help but believe that this had significance.

-- Neo

Samuel Martin said...

My father was not able to share his theological views with anyone until he resigned as the Chairman of the Theology Department at Ambassodor College. Then he began to share them quite openly which I am sure all of you are aware of.

He gave a message once which documented precisely his membership in the WWCG. it is quite an interesting discussion and it gives the perspective on the higher echelons of the WWCG from 1955 - 1974 or so when dad left. i have that cassette and anyone who is interested in it is welcome to contact me ( It talks about his doctrinal beliefs associated with universalism, but even more it details his interaction with the leadership of the WWCG. It does in my view help shed some light on a period in the history of the WWCG which saw many people leave the denomination after the failure of the prophecies concerning 1972 and 1975.

Byker Bob said...

Samuel, it was something your dad said in one of his final sermons for WCG that set off my thought processes which culminated in my leaving. He stated that if we weren't happy, it was because we weren't living right. That statement is just as basic as it is profound. I soon realized that living in accordance with the legalistic Armstrongite belief system simply could not make one happy.

John Trechak was a personal friend of mind during the time when I was leaving, and used much of your dad's materials in his discussions with me. I learned that we in WCG had believed much that was totally erroneous, and easily disproven.

I took another path, the one into agnosticism, but I always held your dad in the utmost respect for his integrity and intellect!


Minimalist said...

Just curious, why did you leave JLF ?

Douglas Becker said...

Shades of Wade Cox.........

Referring to the idea that Satan will repent during the Second Resurrection, based upon a perverted view of a parable by Christ: Cox has not read Revelation 20 very closely. Neither have the Armstrongists: The sequence of events is: Satan is loosed, the Second Resurrection, Satan gathers the rebellious during that Second Resurrection [not a picnic for those living it] and then The Great White Throne Judgment. I'm not saying this is a reality, just that it is the correct doctrine for died in the wool Armstrongists -- it solves all the problems created by Gerald Watermouth.

This is a clear warning to those who embrace Universalism: Be careful what you wish for. Cox's CCg is one of the worst example of abuse based on Universalism gone wrong. It was painful to the participants who are pretty much gone now.

For those of us who have lived it, unbridled Universalism is as destructive and abusive as any other doctrine applied to the extreme and whether or not it causes collateral damage is highly dependent upon the administration of the belief system.

Caveat Emptor.

It has been demonstrated that Universalism can be just as unjust as any other system in practice.

Neotherm said...

To Minimalist:

I left JLF because it tended to be strident. That can be interesting at first but soon cloys.

I have lots of respect for Mark Tabladillo and what he is doing.

-- Neo

Richard said...

Thanks for teaching me a new word with that title -- not to mention a new tongue-twister. :-->

Minimalist said...

Neo: Mark Tab is a good example of an ex WCG who has converted to Calvinism - Good luck to him, but if he's a saved Calvinist, he already has good luck being chosen before time to be one of the lucky few who get to go to heaven.

How do Calvinists know they're one of the chosen ? Probably it's a "feeling" they get - not unlike those lucky Jehovah's Witlesses who 'feel' they are one of the heaven-bound 144,000.

Neotherm said...

Something fishy:

This is totally unrelated to the topic before us, but have a look at:

I was looking at this webpage on the UCG website when an epiphany occurred. I was looking to see if there were names I would recognize and have done this many times before. Being a recovering Armstrongite, I was in Armstrongite mode as I began to scan this PDF and noticed nothing unusual.

Then I realized that there must be many more graduates in the UCG than what appear in this PDF. And all the graduates that do appear are photogenic and have noteworthy credentials.

I believe this group of graduates was carefully screened by the United News editors to give the impression of a superior flock of graduates.

And this seems so much like Armstrongites to do just this -- to emphasize the appearance, to spin things in a self-congratulatory way, to want to give the impression that their way of life produces Millenial children.

I must say that this makes me a little queasy. The same evil of information manipulation is still being pursued. And behind all these smiling faces lurks someting dark and malevolent.

-- Neo

Questeruk said...

I find it alarming that a plot can be dreamt up based on nothing other than pure speculation.

There ‘must be many more graduates in UCG’ – so therefore ‘this group was carefully screened’ and this turns to ‘evil of information manipulation being pursued’ and ‘something dark and malevolent lurks’.

And what is this based on – a big zero, except for Neotherm being convinced that anything mentioned by a COG group has to be lies or spin.

Before blasting off accusations which seem to be based solely on a desire to show evil in anything, how about putting a little though into the matter.

Checking the US Census Bureau - Census 1st April 2000 figures show a total US population of 281 million. Aprox 4 million per year of this population are in their late teens. 4 million in 281 million represents 1.4% of the population.

These graduates represent one year. If we assume UCG in US has an age range that corresponds to the average US age range, then with a US attendance of 12000, 1.4% gives us 168. But there are several other factors:-

We know that the average age of UCG is actually higher than the general population, so you would expect the number of late teens to be lower than the national average.

Only those that send in details will get published (There is actually no requirement to send anything in).

Any teen that did not do too well isn’t going to send in their details in to be scrutinized by the whole church, and others (such as Neotherm), after all would any of you?. Indeed some are not going to graduate at all. Probably only those that are relatively active in UCG would want their details published.

Taking all this into account, I am somewhat surprised that there were over 70 young people in the write-up.

Incidentally, I noticed that there was not a single person from outside the USA listed. Does this mean that there are no UCG young people outside the USA, or is it just that they are all ugly?

dewdrop said...

Yes, your memory is correct. Ernie Martin was influenced by the writings of the Concordant group. Richard Place & Charles Hunting started meetings with a "chosen few" on the Bricket Wood Campus and used a lot of material that Ernie Martin had sent them from Concordant. Also, Dr Martin came over to the UK after Plache/Hunting left and conducted meetings in the home of an ex WCG member in Radlet (near Bricket Wood). He brought over some Concordant literature, which most of us purchased from him.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Were you like one of his close personal friends that was at his house all the time? I never heard anyone else call the good Dr. "Ernie" before.

Richard said...

Now now, Mr. Conspiracy Theorist. UCG takes submissions from members for the graduation section -- and considering how many members UCG has (not a lot), that could well be most of the graduates.

My congregation has one NOT listed in the United News. But it could be that she didn't submit herself, or the parents didn't. I'll try to ask about it this weekend.

minimalist said...

White makes Right:
Those pictures really do look like something out of the Envoy. Their good looks (indicating superior genetics) would be just what the Ambassador College Manpower Committee would approve of.

For more information on how God favors the white people of America and Northwestern Europe, write to the UCG for your free copy of THE UNITED STATES & BRITAIN IN PROPHECY.

Jordan Potter said...

This is an admittedly obscure term, but it describes a view, or speculation, that is perfectly acceptable both in Roman Catholicism (despite Augustine) and the Eastern Orthodox churches. In simple terms it means universal salvation.

It's quite erroneous and misleading to say that "Apocatastasis" is perfectly acceptable both in Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox churches. The doctrine known as "apocatastasis" (that all humans and even the demons and Satan will be saved, and that hell will at worst be a temporary purgatory) was formally and definitively rejected as heresy in A.D. 543 at the Council of Constantinople. Prior to its condemnation by the Church, the doctrine was proposed by Origen and espoused by important writers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa, and even by St. Jerome for awhile. Just check any Eastern Orthodox website, and you'll see how "perfectly acceptable" that doctrine is.

What is acceptable in Catholics and Orthodoxy is not "apocatastasis," but hopeful speculation that no human soul has ever been or will ever be damned. Apocatastasis maintains that final damnation is impossible, but the "Dare We Hope" speculation admits that final damnation is a real possibility.