St. Paul‘s conversion brought about in him a true change of mind and attitude toward many things. One which he struggles balancing in his epistles is the notion of the election of Israel and the universal message of the Gospel. As a Pharisee St. Paul had no doubt in Israel’s election by God. But his encounter with the risen Christ and subsequent conversion experience led him to believe God’s plan of salvation incorporated the Gentiles and ended the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile which was so clear in Judaism. Israel was to be a light to the nations, but it was to be a light which brought the nations to belief in God. God’s election was ultimately not to be the cause of eternal and irreconcilable separation between Jew and Gentile, but was supposed to be Israel’s call to bring all the nations of the world to God. This proved to be a difficult concept for the early Christians who initially debated how this could happen and whether in fact Gentiles had to become Torah keeping Jews in order to be Christian. In Acts 15 the apostles gathered in Council reject keeping Torah as a requirement for the Gentiles. St. Paul takes that idea to its logical conclusion – then neither is it required for Jews to keep Torah in order to do God’s will. Fr. St. Paul his conversion revealed to him that all along, before the Torah and even when the law was given, God really wanted people to keep faith with Him. The Torah was simply to aid that possibility. Unfortunately the Jews had fallen into the trap of keeping Torah without keeping faith (Romans 9:31-33).
As an example of St. Paul’s embracing universal salvation for all of humankind, take a look at Ephesians 1:9-10, which I will quote from several different English translations/bibles:
“For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fulness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (RSV).
” having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth-in Him” (NKJV).
” 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” (TNIV)
“He has made known to us his secret purpose, in accordance with the plan which he determined beforehand in Christ, to be put into effect when the time was ripe: namely, that the universe, everything in heaven and on earth, might be brought into a unity in Christ” (REV).
God’s mystery revealed – His plan of salvation – was that all things in the universe were to be united in Christ. This the Torah never could do for it had in fact become the very thing separating not only Jew from Gentile but also Pharisaic Jew from the less diligent Jew.
Orthodox Christianity also needs to remind itself about the universal nature of God’s salvation and not fall into the trap of sectarian Judaism thinking that keeping Torah/tradition is God’s design to separate humanity again. We are to be a light to the world, to bring all to salvation. That is the very mission of the church.
Think about a few lines from our Divine Liturgy:
For peace of the whole world, for the stability of the holy churches of God, and for the unity of all, let us pray to the Lord. (Great Litany)
Your own of Your own, we offer unto You on behalf of all and for all (behalf of all things and for all things)
We also offer to You this spiritual worship for the whole world, for the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, and for those living in purity and holiness.
Remember also, Lord, those whom each of us calls to mind and all Your people.
And all mankind!
In the Liturgy we pray for all the world and for all mankind and for everything in the universe. Like the Jews we can be tempted to think salvation is for us alone, but with the Apostles, we need to remember the universal message of the Gospel. Christ’s descent into Hades was for the salvation of the world, for all mankind. That is the universal proclamation of Pascha: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.”
5 thoughts on “The Universal Gospel: For All Mankind”
All Creation finds its end and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. For those who enter into communion with Him in His Church, eternity will be a joyful life full of love, with endless beautiful experiences in His New Creation. The way into our Lord’s Church in Heaven, is His Church here on the earth. However, not everyone has the opportunity to be joined to His Church in this life. Because of God’s great love for mankind, His Spirit is active in the hearts of many people outside the communion of His Church who are sincerely seeking the way to truth and life. Those who never hear the true Gospel in this life will be fully illumined when their mortal lives end, and will be judged by Jesus Christ according to what they did with what they where given (Rom. 2:14-16). Due to His infinite love and mercy, many people may enter through the baptism of their physical death into the communion of His Church in Heaven without ever being called into the communion of His Church here on the earth (Matt. 20:1-16; John 6:44). However for those blessed to enter into His Holy Church here on the earth, Holy Tradition provides unchanging doctrines, meaningful worship, and Holy Communion to sustain the faithful and strengthen their spiritual lives while they await the eternal joys of the age to come.
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Very interesting post… My theology has changed in the past few years after dealing with many things…. (Death and stuff) I don’t even attend church at the moment trying to sort it out…
The question of “hell” has really made me ponder with new radical teachings out there but find myself drifting more in that direction… Anyways… Hey! I linked to your blog and subscribed to it tonight… Peace to ya’ll…
You said, “Christ’s descent into Hades was for the salvation of the world…” I’m not sure if you mean that Christ suffered in Hell in our place. But the Bible doesn’t support that doctrine. Eph. 4:8-10 and 1 Pet. chapeters 3 & 4 make it clear why Christ descended.
In the teachings of the Orthodox Church, the descent of Christ into Hades was not for further suffering, but for the destruction of sin and death. Christ goes to the place of the dead in order to liberate all humanity from the power of sin and death – He goes there to destroy death, which is His victory and our salvation. This was the message of the ancient church which you can even say in the sermon of St. John Chrysostom from the 4th Century. You can read St. John Chrysostom’s sermon at http://www.oca.org/FSsermons-details.asp?SID=4&ID=10