Friday, 4 September 2015

The fallacy of universalism: Jesus had preferences among people

One example of destructive nonsense which has been imposed on Christianity is the notion of 'universalism' - that a good Christian should have, or must have, equal regard for everybody - and that love for one person more than another is a failure and a corruption.

It is hard to know where this idea comes from, but its pseudo-plausibility and destructive potential is so great, and it has been so hard to eradicate, that probably it originated with Satan.

Perhaps the clearest and quickest way to refute the universalist fallacy is to show that Jesus did not live by it. This was brought out for me by a few sentences from William Arkle:

No one knows the ultimate secrets within loving friendship any more than we know the ultimate secrets within loving friendship any more than we know the ultimate nature of humans we call friend. These things remain to be endlessly disclosed and constitute a further reason for valuing one another. As a guide, we notice that the man Jesus could not help being closer to his disciple John in the personal sense, although He loved them all. There is nothing any of us can do about this, it is the mysterious personal chemistry of love which can never be tamed and will always apply. Even amongst the most intensely beautiful treasures, those who are able to view them will be drawn to one thing rather than another.

It is clear throughout the Gospels that Jesus had a special love for this Apostle - evidenced by (for instance) John's unique non-abandonment of Christ at his arrest and presence at the crucifixion, Jesus leaving his Mother in John's care, and John's special mission to live until Christ's second coming.

(Yes, this does mean that John is still alive today - somewhere on earth; which knowledge should be a source of great wonder, consolation and hope.)

Jesus's special love of John seems to have led to some jealousy from the leader of the Apostles, Simon Peter. After Peter had been told of his own mission including a prophecy of the sufferings of its ending - this led to a mild rebuke from Jesus and a statement of John's contrasting destiny (this is one of several occasions when Jesus found it necessary to rebuke Peter!).

John 21:

15 So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 17 He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 
18 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. 19 This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.
20 Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? 21 Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do22 Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. 

('The disciple whom Jesus loved' is the way that the Apostle John refers to himself in his Gospel.)

At any rate, Jesus's clearly special love for John ought to be enough, in and of itself, to refute the incoherent and anti-Christian notion that our ideal should be a personally-indifferent universalism.


  1. I remember reading a beautiful exposition on the Gospel passage you quote by Sergius Bulgakov. I recall him saying that what he called the 'Church of Peter' had its legitimate sphere of authority - primarily in the organisational and legalistic realm - but that the 'Church of John' had its own sphere too - secret, invisible and mysterious - and that what's really happening in this passage is that Christ is counselling Peter not to interfere with John's mission.

    I think you're right to flag up the personal element in it all - the vibe and rapport between Christ and John - what Goethe might have called an 'elective affinity'. It's that personal, unpredictable, slightly irrational element that makes Christianity stand out for me. There's a warmth and humanity there, and it amazes me how many of our contemporaries actively seek to turn their backs on this. I was reading a 'New Age' type piece a bit ago which said men and women were like 'radio transmitters' for the Divine energies surging through the cosmos. It saddened me to think how many would actually prefer that very mechanistic comparison to what Christ calls us to be, which is the very human concept of Sons and Daughters of God.

    The idea that St. John might actually be still alive is an astounding one, and one that I've never contemplated, despite their being nothing in the above passage to specifically rule it in our out. When I think of the scale of deception and delusion sweeping the world at the moment, and all the Satanic sleights of hand which so many are falling for - so many good people as well, shovelling their own graves - I feel at times utterly helpless and impotent, like a lesser King Canute trying to turn back a Tsunami. The thought, therefore, that the Beloved Disciple himself might be somewhere in the world, sharing in what's happening, watching and praying as the great dissolution unfolds, is, as you say, inspirational and comforting.

  2. @JF - The continued life of John the Evangelist is standard doctrine in the CJCLDS - for example in the Book of Mormon -

  3. In some mystical practices, especially in Buddhism, there is a state one can achieve where there are no preferences in the relative sense. However, even in Buddhism, the dharma expresses that this should not override distinctions. Wisdom and compassion are two sides on a coin. While someone may have universal compassion, they must also have discerning wisdom. I once heard the Dalai Lama say, we should not love everyone, but love each person.

  4. In the Old Testament God has a chosen people. In the New Testament the opportunity to join the Church is opened up, but the world is not automatically and universally enrolled. There is opportunity, but only on conditions of faith and repentance.

  5. @ted - Usually, the Dalai Lama is reported as saying the things that most people want to hear - did he deny universalism - e.g. saying we should *not* love everybody equally?

  6. I wonder if the passage might reflect a possible falling away of the organized/hierarchical church (and countries, state churches, etc.) such as Peter established, but the permanence (until the second coming) of the personal loving relationship to God that John embodied.

  7. I can understand you having the opinion that John could be alive on earth but how can you be sure? The way you wrote it you sound sure?

  8. @BB - Yes, I am sure. But I have not met him - if that is what you mean; at least not knowingly.

  9. @Nathaniel - That's essentially my reading too. Not that those organised/hierarchical churches are bad or defective but that they don't tell the whole story. For all their qualities they can't quite reach to those deep, personal levels of intimacy and connection with Christ that John ushers us towards.

  10. It would be best to quote verse 23 when you quote the above passage.

  11. ἐξῆλθεν οὖν οὗτος ὁ λόγος εἰς τοὺς ἀδελφοὺς ὅτι ὁ μαθητὴς ἐκεῖνος οὐκ ἀποθνῄσκει. οὐκ εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς ὅτι οὐκ ἀποθνῄσκει ἀλλ’· Ἐὰν αὐτὸν θέλω μένειν ἕως ἔρχομαι, τί πρὸς σέ;

    My reading is something like:

    Therefore this rumor went out to the brothers: "that disciple will not die." But Jesus did not say to him "he will not die," but "If I want him to stay until I come, what's it to you?"

  12. @Joel - AV: " 23 Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?"

    That is: He will die, but he will not die until I come again.

  13. Verse 23 is moving in itself, that even the most loved disciple must die (as Christ did - that we all, every last one eventually) as part of God's plan.

  14. The AV translation is great -- my favorite translation -- but I'm not sure that the interpretation you present of it is correct. In the Greek, ἐὰν θέλω is a "more vivid" future construction. Jesus is expressing a plausibility -- stronger than a possibility -- but he's not saying "I will that John should tarry until I come, but what is that to thee." The emphasis is on the "if." And John himself appears not to know what Jesus' desire in this might be.

  15. @Joel - You probably already know that I am sure that scripture cannot be, and never was intended to be, understood line by line, and especially not word by word; and that the Authorized Version was divinely inspired for the use of English readers (and to help clear-up some un-clarities of the preceding 1600 years); and that there has been a further clarification of uncertainties (and a new emphasis on forgotten or neglected aspects) by the Mormon Restoration.

    All this clarification is what leads me to believe that the Apostle John is still alive, and will not die until Christ's return - and also that this is a highly significant fact: he is alive for some very important reason that is part of Christ's mission.

    @Nathaniel - Yes indeed. I personally find it vastly helpful to keep in mind that death (and transition to the post-mortal resurrected state) is in its essence a great benefit for Man - such that the primary reason for our incarnate mortal life is to die.

    We must die to progress - even Christ had to die in order to progress - there is no other way. John lives to serve Christ's mission, and the delay of his death for so many centuries is not a reward or privilege, quite the opposite.

  16. Bruce, I just came across your blog and found several of your posts very interesting. In this one you mention the apostle John as " the beloved disciple". I have no intention of introducing controversy to your blog, so I pass this on only for your curiosity as I found it quite compelling. The link is A gentleman by the name of Eller has written an interesting argument that the author of what we call the Gospel of John was actually Lazarus. I will let his argument speak for itself.

    On a completely trivial aside, there was an episode in the original Star Trek TV series in which a character called Lazarus appeared. The episode was called "The Alternative Factor". It is one of the more despised episodes for more than one reason. At the end Kirk says, in a possible faint reflection of the last chapter of John's Gospel: "But what of Lazarus, what of Lazarus?"

  17. @TC - The fact that the Gospel of John was written by John the Apostle has been conformed by the revelations of innumerable Holy persons whom I trust over the last 2000 years. It is not something that modern secular scholarship by non-Holy persons whom I do not trust can refute - since secular scholarship denies the reality of divine inspiration.

  18. Well said! Universalism, which you quite rightly say is a corruption inspired by Satan to set so-called love against truth, is easily disproved by the fact the Jesus said he did not come to bring peace but a sword. And also because it would logically lead to the absurdity that truth and falsehood, good and evil, are equally valid.