Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hell and the Restoration of All Things


Historically, there have been three main views in the Church concerning hell. All three of them express a belief in hell and claim scriptural support, but they each understand the function and purpose of hell differently. The Church has never held a unified position on the matter, nor were any of these views addressed in the early and ecumenical creeds of the Church. Briefly, these views are:
  • Eternal Conscious Torment (ECT). Common in modern Western theology, this is the view that the “fire” of hell, whether understood literally or symbolically, is the endless torment of the wicked.
  • Annihilationism (also known as Conditionalism). In this view, the wicked are tormented for a time before they are finally destroyed. The “fire” of hell is a fire that consumes completely.
  • Restorationism (also known as Universal Reconciliation). The restorative view understands hell as a fire that refines so that there may ultimately be restoration.
All three views are represented to some extent among the early Church fathers, but the Restorative view prevailed in the eastern portion of the Church for about the first 500 years. It was the view held by some very influential Fathers of the Church, such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory Nazianzen (and his brother Basil), Gregory of Nyssa, Theodore Mopsuestia and Eusebius (Bishop of Caesarea and early historian of the Church). There were six major schools or centers of Christian theology back then. Of them, one taught hell as endless punishment and another taught Annihilationism. Four of them taught Restorationism.

The Restorationist view was taken quite seriously by some of the heavy hitters among the Church Fathers. But there were also many lesser known Church Fathers who taught Restorationism, including Didymus the Blind (appointed by Athanasius to the Catechetical school of Alexandria, where he served for 60 years), Diodorus of Tarsus, Marcellus of Ancyra, Ambrose of Milan, Ambrosiaster, Serapion (colleague of Athanasius), Macarius Magnes, Marius Victorinus, John Cassian, Theodoret the Blessed and others.

Up until recent years, I held to ECT, which is the view that Fundamentalists and many evangelicals have traditionally grown up with. But now I have noticed some things in Scripture that have persuaded me differently, and I cannot go back and unnotice them. I have no dogmatic position to offer on the matter; I can only report on what I have seen and what I have been persuaded towards. What I have begun to see is the universal nature of the language Paul in particular uses when he speaks of what God had done or is doing through Jesus Christ. What if “all” really does mean all?
Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. (Romans 5:18)

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

When he [Christ] has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:28)

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment — to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. (Ephesians 1:9-10)

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)
There are also other Scriptures and several biblically-based arguments that can be offered in support of Restorationism. But, of course, seeing that ECT is still a very prominent view in the Church today, there are also several objections that have been raised against the Restorationist view, and I will be addressing these in future posts. For now, though, I will add this important provision: The restoration of all things in heaven and on earth does not happen apart from Jesus, apart from the blood of the cross, or apart from turning to God through faith in Christ.