Was the church always “hell-bent” on warning unbelievers of eternal damnation? Was there a time when proclaiming the GOOD NEWS and inviting others to receive Jesus as their Savior was not coupled with the selling of "fire-insurance?"
I had heard about Christian Universalism, also known as Universal Salvation or Universal Restoration, the notion that God will save all of mankind not apart from, but because of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Obviously not a popular doctrine among evangelicals, I did my homework, aided by my pastor who was reaching the same conclusions. I learned that far from being some “new revelation”, the universal and ultimate inclusive plan for all is actually quite old and quite “original.”
Strong evidence exists that God's plan to save all was the prevailing and predominant thought in the early church, from biblical times just after Christ’s resurrection throughout the next 400+ years. Led by Paul, Peter and the other apostles and disciples, this belief system was handed off to other generations and carried on by noted theologians such as Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), Origen Adamantius (184-254 AD) and Gregory of Nyssa (335-394 AD). Here is an excellent article about the early, “Original” Church; The History of Universalism.
Other more current and notable supporters of Christian Universalism include:
• William Law (1686-1761) Church of England Priest
• Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813 ) Signer of the Declaration of Independence
• Andrew Jukes (1815-1901) English Theologian
• Thomas Allin (1838-1909) English Theologian
• Jurgon Moltman (1926- ) German Theologian
• George W. Sarris (1952- ) Narrator, 2011 NIV, Zondervan Publishing House
• Dr. David Bentley Hart (1965- ) American Orthodox Theologian
• Dr. Robin Parry (1969- ) English Theologian
• Dr. Ilaria Ramelli (1973- ) Italian Theologian
• Dr. David W. Congdon (1983-) Academic Editor
• Thomas Talbott - Professor Emeritus
I became convinced that until the emergence of Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD), known as St. Augustine to many, Universalism was the majority viewpoint of the early Church! Augustine acknowledged as much when he was thus quoted, "There are very many (‘imo quam plurimi’, means ‘majority’ in Latin) who though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments" (Enchiria, ad Laurent. c.29).
If true that Universalism was widespread, how and when was it usurped? It’s no secret that Augustine had great disdain for the Greek language and rather, preferred Latin. His heaven and hell soteriological views were expressed in his famous writings called THE CITY OF GOD, which presented human history as a conflict between the Earthly City and the City of God. Per Augustine, the ultimate destiny of those aligned with the Earthly City would be conscious, unending punishment, while those united in the City of God while on the earth, would go on to eternal life with God in Heaven.
This thinking became a hallmark of Western church, now seen as the “traditional” one, while the the Eastern church remained largely, proponents of the original Greek and their belief in "APOCATASTASIS", a Greek word that means "restoration" and the conviction that God would one day restore all things, as per Acts 3:20-21.