There are some verses of the Bible which sound very universal.
- God desires that all humans might be saved.
- The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.
- This Gospel shall be preached to all peoples.
- Go into all the world, and disciple all nations.
- Every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Such notions can be interpreted and understood to mean that one day, every person on the planet will either pledge allegiance to the God of the Bible, or at least acknowledge his divinity and authority.
However, regardless of your beliefs about these verses or others, it is fair to say that Christianity is in no way universally accepted today. When I say “universally,” I mean when compared with the idea that nearly 100% of the planet would agree that the sky is blue.
That’s not to say that there are not Christians in every nation; after 2,000 years, there are. Even churches are everywhere. However, estimates are somewhere around 5-30% of all people adhere to some form of Christianity. (I personally lean more towards to 5-10%.)
I have much praise to heap, and very little critique;
for all my years in evangelical communities.
However, I have always worried that there could be one often over-looked dynamic. And that is the ambiguity over the universality of Christianity. I fear that it has the potential to set some people up for expectations that could lead to disappointment.
Now, in raising this topic, things are instantly opaque and potentially confusing. We have to mention predestination and remember all the additional arguments between the Calvinists and Arminians. And then there is the notion of not wanting to despise the day of small beginnings. Finally, we should acknowledge the role of the Evangelist in the Church. All of these elements, and many more, play a part.
This topic fills encyclopedias, so let me make it brief: Does God preordain certain people to salvation in heaven; the rest be damned? Or are the gates of the Kingdom flung wide in hopes that all will choose to enter? In my humble estimation, the reason there is a debate over this is because certain Scriptures seem to indicate a Christian theology that favors that later. That is, despite the fact that Jesus was originally a messenger only to the Jews, there is a heavy emphasis—especially in New Testament ideologies—that all nations are invited. On the other hand, the relatively small percentage of those who have accepted this message, even after all these years, has maybe led some people to wonder why. Meaning, if God desires that all should be saved, and the door is open, then what’s the hold up? Even if today we see as many as 30% who claim to be some sort of Christian, that’s still nowhere near everyone. And it could be that apparent inconsistency, that has caused various theologians to conclude that maybe only some are destined for heaven (Calvinism).
The most shocking truth in this area of thinking is the extremely low proportion of Jews who have accepted Christianity. To be certain, in the last 50 years, the number of Jewish Christians (or Messianic Jews) has skyrocketed. But for most of the past two millennia, to be Jewish was the opposite of being Christian. Even with recent growth, as a percentage of Judaism, the numbers are still remarkably low. Remarkable in the fact that Christianity started as a subset of the Jewish faith.
What can we say then about predestination? From my perspective, mostly this: that there is no consensus. And yet, the vagueness which with this topic is either presented or tactfully side-stepped in pulpits means that the average church attender has the potential for great confusion. But regardless of one’s position, it is still a fact that not all the earth believes, and never has. And to drive home the point, apparently neither the Calvinists nor the Arminians would have us assume that one day all will be saved.
Day of Small Beginnings
No one serious in Christianity has any desire to quench the Spirit. William Carey is the classic poster child for this premise. He was determined to be a missionary to India back in 1792, but none of the contemporary mission agencies would admit him, much less send him. He was famously told by one mission leader something like: “If God wants to save the heathen in India, he can do it without your help.” The short story is that Carey went anyway and had an amazing, far-reaching impact on that nation. So great and transformational was his work, that some say he is the father of modern-day India.
Well, that’s important since wise leaders today do not want to repeat the failures of Christians who tried to stop Carey. And so, in many circles, there is a kind of a “figure it out yourself” perspective in place. That applies also to revivals and revivalists. See, we never know where the Spirit will move, or on whom, and so we frequently withhold judgement. But that means that we might not really be able to say who is in and who is out; how big the Church really is; and what is to be expected for the future in terms of growth. This too can lead to disappointment and disillusionment.
The Bible seems to instruct all Christians to be ready to be a witness to what they have personally experienced. In Evangelical circles, this is traditionally emphasized more so. Sometimes it’s a simple as “please invite your friends to the Easter service;” or as extensive as requiring members to start house groups.
And yet, certain individuals also have a type of gifting towards evangelism. I call this the role of the Evangelist. These folks want and need to talk to people: sometimes to individuals and sometimes to crowds. They feel their bones as if on fire, until they have the chance to speak. Besides just being heard, the Evangelist is frequently hoping to see social revival break open, so that the hearts of the masses are awakened to love God.
In fact, in times of awakening, this kind of scenario could really happen:
Betty, a simple Christian, hears a knock at her door. She answers to see one of her neighbors, an acquaintance only. The neighbor, Sophie, asks if she can take a few minutes to talk to her. Apparently, Sophie heard from another neighbor that Betty goes to church. And now Sophie says she is desperate to know how to become a Christian. “Betty, please tell me how to become a Christian.”
That is a far cry from what most Christians experience when there is not only no awakening, but instead a spiritual drought. In these current dry times, it is more common for Christians to go door-to-door, trying to find someone—anyone—who has an interest to listen.
Therefore, for people gifted in Evangelism, times of drought are particularly painful. It’s as if God has called and gifted them, but it’s nearly impossible for them to do what they believe God wants them to do. And that’s because the masses are not interested in listening. Sometimes an Evangelist will swivel to the Church to try to find an audience. I have seen frustrated Evangelists who turn their attention to Christians, in order to try to “train them for evangelism,” for example. I can’t really blame them, since I understand that they are trying to do something. Even so, such efforts are often really not about training, but about giving the Evangelist the chance to open their mouths and be heard. I mean, if there is a drought in place, then sowing more seeds will not fix the drought. Similarly, if there is a spiritual drought, I fear it won’t be fixed by having more trained evangelists. Rather water is needed for the former, and the Holy Spirit for the later.
All this to say, that sometimes the Evangelists need some extra special attention to mitigate their heightened disappointment over their occasional inability to live out their calling.
If we believe that every knee will one day bow, do we know if it will be done willingly? And regardless, when? To both questions, we don’t know. It could be that one day everyone will gladly bow, but it could also be that not everyone will be happy to see that God really is King of the universe. (This later group might be forced to bend the knee, against their will.) Even so, it could all be 1,000 years into the future…or maybe next week. There is no way to know.
If I am honest, my effect to draw attention to the potential confusion is likely a reflection of my own inner turmoils. I was raised in a time of great expectations. And I was likely originally steering towards an universally accepted Christian worldview. Even so, in my years on Earth, I see that not all are being saved, and that makes me wonder what we are to realistically expect. That whole process and journey has probably made me more open to the notion of predestination. But upon further reflection…no, I think I can safely reject Calvinism. It’s not just about predestination, but more about the numbers and percentages. I just want to know about how many will be really saved in the end. 100%? 50% 10%? I don’t even really know why I want to know. I guess it is so that I can anticipate what to expect for loved ones, friends and acquaintances. Maybe it is a desire to prepare my heart for either sadness or great joy.
After all the verses are analyzed, and all theologies explored, in the end I just keep coming back to one basic statement. Jesus is reported to have said that narrow is the way to life, and few find it. But wide is the path to destruction and many find it. It is not that I wish this to be true, but I fear that it must be. I find this to be the core of the core. If so, then apparently—despite the wishes of his Father, and the way that some verses imply universal acceptance of Christianity—that is how it all turns out in the end. Yes, every knee will bow, but the vast majority will not be saved. I need not try to explain it away under the guise of “predestination,” but simply because Jesus said it. I will probably never understand why. But at least I know what to expect.
© 2019, Alignment Life