Click the links below to jump to each answer:
- What is Universalism?
- What is Christian Universalism?
- Why do Christian Universalists need an organization?
- Can I join the CUA even if I am not a Christian?
- Other than belief in universal salvation, how does the CUA differ from “standard” Christian churches?
- How does the CUA differ from the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association)?
- Does the CUA have a statement of faith?
- Do churches affiliated with the CUA all have the same worship style?
- Is the CUA politically liberal or conservative?
- Does the CUA consider itself a separate denomination?
- How does the CUA run its affairs?
- Can I continue to belong to another church while being a member of the CUA?
- Can a church that belongs to a denomination also affiliate with the CUA?
- Can I become an ordained minister and start a new church through the CUA?
- What are the benefits of joining the CUA?
What is Universalism?
Universalism is a view of spirituality that is inclusive and open-minded, rather than narrow and dogmatic. It is the opposite of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism, in all its various forms, teaches that only one religious tradition, book, creed, church or organization is infallibly true and all others are false, and that some people will be permanently condemned by God to hell because they chose the wrong religion. Universalism, on the other hand, teaches that God’s essential nature is Love, that all religions contain both truth and error, that the only commandment that really matters is to love other people as oneself, and that all souls will eventually be saved and perfected as part of God’s unfailing plan.
The word Universalism has mainly been used historically to refer to a universalist view of Christianity, because it was in the context of the Christian faith that Universalism was most fully developed into a comprehensive spiritual worldview. Only during the past few decades has this meaning of the word been largely forgotten. But in recent years, the term Universalism is being revived and reclaimed by many Christians who believe in a God of love and the salvation of all. The Christian Universalist Association is following this trend and using the word Universalism as the proper name for a major Christian belief system with a rich heritage.
What is Christian Universalism?
Christian Universalism is a term that has gained currency as a way of explicitly expressing the close connection between original Christianity and original Universalism, and distinguishing between the Christian type of Universalism and Unitarian Universalism. Other terms and euphemisms that are sometimes used to mean basically the same thing as Christian Universalism include: (Universal or Ultimate) Reconciliation, Restoration, or Restitution; the Larger, Wider, or Blessed Hope; (the Gospel of) Inclusion; the Victorious Gospel; and Irresistable Grace. Most of these alternative expressions are used primarily by people in the conservative Christian community who believe in universal salvation, who wish to avoid confusing or losing their audience by calling their beliefs “Universalist” — a word that is negatively associated in the minds of some Christians today with the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Christian Universalists believe that the correct interpretation of Christianity and the Bible is not the exclusive fundamentalist view (“convert or burn”), but an inclusive view of salvation in which all people — even the sinful and unbelieving dead — will eventually find reconciliation with God by repenting of their sins and going through a transformation process, so that nobody will spend eternity in hell. God’s judgments work for the purpose of correction and reform; they are not the expression of vindictive rage.
This view is based on the New Testament declaration that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, not accusing it for its sins, and that God sent His Son to save (heal and restore) the world, not to condemn it. The Bible teaches that Christ is the “Express Image” of the Heavenly Father in character. He conquered sin and death by laying down his life for us and rising from the dead, so sin and death cannot be permanent. In Christ’s resurrection, the life of God has “swallowed up” death, according to St. Paul’s writings. Hence, as God’s cherished human offspring, our destiny is to become conformed to the image (that is, the character) of Christ, “the Second Adam,” and be as he was and is — the manifestation and fulfillment of our creation in the divine image, according to Genesis, from which we have only temporarily fallen away into sin. God has promised to transform and restore all people: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Cor. 15:22).
These all-embracing and hopeful ideas were the original teachings of the Christian church during its first few centuries, and are being revived today among many Christians from several denominations and traditions. The Christian Universalist Association promotes the universalist understanding of the Gospel and seeks to publicize its existence and expand its popularity.
Why do Christian Universalists need an organization?
During the past few decades before the founding of the Christian Universalist Association in 2007, there has been no well-organized, publicly visible, diverse organization of churches and ministries proclaiming the teachings of a theological, Christ-centered Universalism. For this reason, a whole generation of people have grown up with little or no awareness of this great religious message — one of the major types of Christian faith throughout history — and do not know it is a credible option for them to believe in. The CUA considers this a tragedy, and the founding of our organization was in large part inspired by our desire to rectify this terrible situation.
Many people who come to believe in Universalism — especially those who have a background in fundamentalist churches — tend to have negative experiences and feelings about organized religion. Therefore, they may question whether it is a good idea to be involved in any religious organization, especially a new one that they fear may become “yet another sect.” The Christian Universalist Association understands these legitimate concerns. However, we also understand that there are many advantages of having an organized, unified, visible presence in the religious world. Universalists must come together and work together for more effective evangelism and community building. And in relating to the media and generating large-scale pubic awareness of our beliefs, it is essential for there to be a recognized mouthpiece speaking for Universalism as a spiritual movement, and to correct people’s common perception that Christianity and Universalism, like oil and water, don’t mix.
There are several dangers of having no organization. One is that various charismatic leaders who believe in Christian Universalism may develop cult followings, drawing attention to themselves and their own personal opinions, interpretations, and agendas rather than to this belief system in general. Second, without an organization it is much more difficult to gain attention from journalists who cover religion, and to secure a place at the table of dialogue among established religious denominations and traditions. Third, no organization means no common spiritual identity, and thus no way for people who are new to these beliefs to feel they truly can belong to something larger than themselves and their local church or meeting group — if they are lucky enough even to find one that shares their beliefs.
Having an organization will help to separate a more clearly defined, historically and scripturally based Universalism from the broader “New Age” movement, with its cacophony of competing prophets, psychics, and self-proclaimed gurus peddling often contradictory claims of spiritual authority and truth. An organization will help to separate Christians who truly believe in the importance of Universalism and a more open-minded form of spirituality from the increasing number of Christians who wish to stop talking about hell while remaining fundamentalist and traditional in most of their beliefs. Drawing these distinctions is a good thing, because it will help to make it clear that Universalism is its own belief system, worthy of being treated as such and taken seriously as a religious option.
Can I join the CUA even if I am not a Christian?
The Christian Universalist Association reveres Christ as the perfectly divine spiritual Master he is, and we strive to follow and spread his teachings. However, that does not mean we believe that other great spiritual leaders of history were “false” if they did not operate within the Christian tradition, nor does it mean that we agree with all of the religious doctrines that have come to be known collectively as “Christianity.” In fact, it is our view that Jesus Christ himself would probably feel very uncomfortable in most of today’s so-called Christian churches, because the religion that bears his name has strayed so far from some of the basic spiritual truths that Christ came to earth to proclaim.
Saintly souls who are identified with religions other than Christianity, but who actually walk the path of Christ in the way they live their life, are far more truly Christian than fundamentalists who focus on converting everyone to their narrow church creed to avoid being tortured forever in the fires of hell. For example, Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu who rejected many Christian doctrines but had great reverence for Jesus and sought to live according to his teachings. It doesn’t matter that he never called himself a Christian. In fact, people like him are more truly Christian than many people who claim the mantle of Christianity and proudly declare themselves “Christian.” Jesus himself said that many of those who loudly call him “Lord, Lord” will be told they never really knew him (Mat. 7:21-23).
We believe there is much common ground between authentic, original Christian faith and the teachings of many philosophers, saints and mystics who were not Christian in the doctrinal sense of the word. Instead of walling ourselves off from ideas that have historically been considered outside the sphere of normative Christian thought, we strive to discover and bring to light the foundational truths that go beyond the limitations of religious labels, fundamentalist dogma and orthodoxy. Universalism is a liberating view of spiritual reality that enables freedom of thought and conscience, and the possibility of appreciation for diverse expressions of the human quest for the divine.
If you identify with what we are seeking to accomplish, we invite you to join the Christian Universalist Association regardless of whether or not you currently consider yourself a “Christian.” Perhaps you are uncomfortable with identifying yourself as belonging to the religion of Christianity, because you disagree with many doctrines that have come to be part of the Christian tradition, and many people think of this as a very fundamentalist religion. We believe that the faith of Jesus Christ has been fundamentally misunderstood! Though we believe in Christ and seek to follow his path, we also disagree with much of the religious ideology that has been developed by the church in Jesus’ name.
As you get involved with the CUA, you may find that the way we present Christian teachings resonates with you in a way you never thought was possible. You may have been so disillusioned with church doctrine that you did not think you could ever again find inspiration in the Bible or within the context of Christian thought. Or you may never have been interested in Christianity because the way it was presented made no sense to you or was even repulsive. Seen through the lens of Universalism, your view of Christ and Christianity will change. We encourage you to consider the way we present the Gospel and see if it is something you can be comfortable with.
Other than belief in universal salvation, how does the CUA differ from “standard” Christian churches?
The CUA teaches a view of the Gospel that is quite different from what has come to be known as mainline Protestant or Roman Catholic theology. In addition to the teaching that everyone will eventually be saved, we also teach that all people are the offspring of God, created in the divine image, and destined to be perfected and patterned after Christ as the ultimate outcome of salvation in the fullness of time. We see salvation as more of a process of growth and transformation of the soul to become one with the Christ Spirit, rather than being saved from God’s anger and the threat of punishment. This concept, called “Theosis” (Greek for divinization) is one of the original teachings of the Bible and most of the early church fathers about human nature and destiny, which was mostly lost in the Western churches (Catholic and Protestant) but has been retained to some limited degree in the Eastern Orthodox churches.
Our view on divinization is only one way in which the CUA seeks to return to the teachings and practices of the early church. In general, we seek to educate Christians about the prevailing beliefs of the apostolic and patristic era of Christian history, and the great work of early systematic theologians such as Origen of Alexandria. We wish to return to the roots of Christianity rather than blindly accepting the later distortions of Augustine and Roman Church theology, and the errors that were passed on into Protestantism. The Universalist Gospel has been taught by many Christians during the past 2000 years, and is a major historical faith tradition.
We also promote the idea of close-knit fellowship and true community among believers as brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than the church being modeled after the modern corporation with its members as “consumers” of a “religious product.” The CUA encourages the formation of small churches and home-based meeting groups, and the creation of programs within larger churches to encourage members to develop authentic relationships of caring and friendship and to build each other up in the Spirit, rather than focusing excessively on charismatic leadership, hierarchy, and ritual forms.
If you find the standard Christian understanding of the Gospel and manner of “doing church” to be uninspiring and unappealing, we think you may find the Christian Universalist Association to be a refreshing change, both in the substance of our message and the way we seek to practice our faith. Not only are our beliefs more authentically Christian, but at the same time we are also more open to universal spiritual truths that transcend any one religion or church tradition. The Bible is a great repository of truth that remains relevant today, but it is not the only source of truth. Nor is there only one correct interpretation of the Bible. We study the Bible with an open mind and an open heart, and with an understanding of the cultural context in which its various books were written. And wherever else truth may be found, we are not afraid to explore and gain wisdom. We believe Jesus would want us to do this, because it is the spirit that matters rather than the religious label. Jesus was not a fundamentalist.
How does the CUA differ from the UUA (Unitarian Universalist Association)?
The Unitarian Universalist Association was formed in 1961 from a merger of the Universalist Church of America and the American Unitarian Association. The Universalist Church of America was organized in the eighteenth century as a Christian denomination and grew to several hundred thousand members in the nineteenth century, with a strong emphasis on proclaiming the teaching of universalism as the basis of the Gospel. A variety of dynamics contributed to its decline during the twentieth century, and since the merger with the Unitarians many of the churches no longer put an emphasis on universalism. Furthermore, many Unitarian Universalist churches today do not necessarily proclaim faith in God, Christ, life after death, and other spiritual beliefs as their core principles, because the UUA includes many secular humanists and considers itself a non-creedal religious organization.
We in the CUA seek to resurrect the spirit and tradition of the earlier Universalist Church of America, and take over where they left off in spreading the liberating message of a deeply spiritual, Christ-centered Universalism — and not only in America, but also around the world. If you share the Universalist belief in the ultimate salvation of all people, we invite you to join us as we work together to spread that wonderful message.
Does the CUA have a statement of faith?
Yes, we have several important spiritual and moral beliefs that we as an organization agree upon and proclaim. These were adopted at the founding meeting of the Christian Universalist Association in 2007 and revised in 2011. Our Statement of Faith is short and simple, leaving much room for diversity of thought, personal opinion and conscience, while upholding the basic essentials of the Gospel.
Please click here to read the beliefs our organization teaches as truth. On that page you will also find links to short articles with scriptural references in support of our beliefs.
We encourage anyone who agrees with our Statement of Faith to join our organization. Members are free to believe whatever they want about other issues, and to interpret our shared beliefs in their own personal way. We do require all members to pledge that they do not endorse any form of hatred or discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, or disability.
Do churches affiliated with the CUA all have the same worship style?
No. Each minister or congregation is free to decide what kind of worship style is right for their own church. The CUA does not require churches to use any particular hymn book, type of music, liturgy, set of rituals, or uniformity of worship in other areas. You will find a diversity of worship styles in CUA-affiliated churches.
Is the CUA politically liberal or conservative?
The CUA believes in the separation of church and state and does not focus on preaching politics from the pulpit. Individual ministers affiliated with our organization may fall anywhere on the political spectrum, but if they are more interested in converting people to the Democratic or Republican Party or endorsing political candidates and causes in their sermons, rather than teaching people about God and Christ and encouraging spirituality in their congregation, then they would not be part of our organization. There is an appropriate place for politics, and it is not in church. We want all our members to feel comfortable worshiping and fellowshiping together in the Spirit of Christ, even if they may disagree on political issues.
The CUA does support the values of a mature, compassionate civilization. These include individual freedom; equality of women and men; non-violence; opposition to hatred, racial discrimination, terrorism, torture, and other barbaric attitudes and practices; respect for discoveries of science and intellectual progress; the right of all children to receive an education; strong families as the bedrock of society; the importance of charity and socioeconomic development to fight poverty; and the responsible stewardship of our planet’s environment. However, our organization exists primarily for the purpose of spreading the message of Universalism. All other issues we may discuss from time to time are subordinate to our focus on sharing the Gospel of God’s love for all people and helping the formation and networking of Christian Universalist communities of faith. Anyone who wishes to use the Christian Universalist Association as a platform for advocating their own particular favorite “hot button issue” in society should think twice before joining this organization, because we will not allow it to become yet another religious tool for political activism.
Does the CUA consider itself a separate denomination?
The word “denomination” is often used to describe a religious organization with a detailed creed and hierarchical structure, in which pastors and congregations must answer to leaders who oversee and regulate the affairs of the church. The CUA does not fit this description. We do not require affiliated churches to obey any orders from our organization. CUA-affiliated churches are legally independent. They are free to worship and teach the Gospel in the way they think best, as long as they share our most important beliefs and values. If at some point this is no longer the case, the relationship of affiliation may be amicably ended for the benefit of both their organization and ours.
We believe Christianity today is moving away from denominationalism and toward a realignment in which two broad categories of Christian belief will emerge: fundamentalism and universalism. The Christian Universalist Association seeks to represent and serve the needs of Christians who support a universalist view of the Gospel. The CUA does not have a sectarian spirit, and in fact one of our goals is to promote ecumenical dialogue and reconciliation among various types of Christians, as well as among the many religions of the world. We believe the time for sectarian divisions among Christians has passed, and today God is calling all Christians — and indeed, all people — to move beyond petty differences of religion that have divided us, and strive to come together in a universalist spirit of brotherhood. If we are willing to look honestly at our various religious traditions, we will find much truth that can unite us, and also many doctrines that must be put aside as outdated or simply erroneous. The Christian Universalist Association calls upon all people, both Christian and non-Christian, to move toward a more universalist understanding of spirituality, and to reject the scourge of angry, hateful and violent fundamentalism that threatens to destroy the planet upon which we all must live together.
How does the CUA run its affairs?
As a legally incorporated non-profit religious organization, the CUA operates according to written Bylaws and policies decided upon by our Board of Directors. All major decisions are made by the Board as a group, and are carried out by the Officers of the organization.
The CUA has chosen to define itself legally as an association of churches. Congregations and ministers affiliated with the CUA are independent, free from our control, bound to us only by the bonds of Christian friendship and fellowship. Our goal is to represent their interests and proclaim their faith to the public with one loud voice. We perceive ourselves as the organized central representative body of the faith of Christian Universalism. We strive to conduct our business with the awareness of this responsibility, in a manner that will lift up the true Gospel of Jesus Christ in the eyes of the world. And we hope to be taken seriously as an organization in which Christian Universalists from many denominational backgrounds and from many places, nations and tongues may come together and work together in a spirit of cooperation and community-building.
Can I continue to belong to another church while being a member of the CUA?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, we encourage people who are members of a denominational church (such as Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Catholic, Orthodox, etc.) to join the CUA and continue to be actively involved in your church if you wish. You can be a great help to the Body of Christ by spreading the word of God’s Good News for all people, to Christians who do not yet believe in the teaching of universal salvation. Continuing to participate in a non-universalist church is one way of doing this.
Can a church that belongs to a denomination also affiliate with the CUA?
Yes, if that denomination allows it. Many denominations allow their churches to join and support other religious organizations while remaining a member of the denomination in good standing. Because the CUA is a network of congregationally independent churches rather than seeing itself as “the Church,” we have no problem with accepting member churches that also wish to remain part of a traditional denomination — in fact, we encourage dual and multiple affiliations. However, if a conflict of interest develops and the minister feels pressured by his or her denomination to uphold denominational orthodoxy rather than the beliefs of the Christian Universalist Association, we would encourage the minister to consult with the congregation, pray about it, and choose which organization the church should be affiliated with.
Churches may choose to express their connection with the Christian Universalist Association in three different ways, depending on the level and type of affiliation they wish to have with our network. There is Associate Church status, which is a stronger type of affiliation that may be more desirable for independent churches and house churches seeking to belong to a larger community of faith. There is Dual-Affiliate Church status, which is for churches that wish to continue to belong to a denomination, while also building a strong relationship with the CUA. And there is Supporting Church status, a lesser degree of support that is perfect for denominational churches that want to be connected with the CUA but see their primary identity in their denominational heritage rather than the Christian Universalist ecumenical movement. If you are a minister and would like your church to express support for the CUA and be networked with us, without taking the risk that your congregation or denominational leadership could view your church’s membership in the CUA as inappropriate, Supporting Church status may be the best option.
Can I become an ordained minister and start a new church through the CUA?
The Christian Universalist Association offers a ministerial education and ordination program, providing extensive knowledge in Christian Universalist theology and history as well as some study of pastoral care, ethics, discipleship and church planting, and a mentorship with an experienced CUA minister. We encourage both laypeople and already ordained ministers to apply for legal ordination credentials from our organization and to start new CUA-affiliated churches and meeting groups based on the teachings of Christian Universalism.
The CUA recognizes any two people holding regular face-to-face meetings for prayer, discussion, and spiritual fellowship, as a church seed. Any new group with three people or more is a church plant. This is based on Jesus’ teaching that “where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Mat. 18:20). You can meet anywhere: in somebody’s home, a school, a library, even a coffee shop or outdoors in a park. The style can be formal or casual, traditional or contemporary, structured or Spirit-led — whatever the members want and whatever you think will serve people in your community the best. Just get something started!
We want to help you in any way we can, so that this message will keep spreading and people who come into it will keep maturing in their faith. Our Church Planting and Evangelism Committee is currently working on developing a comprehensive how-to guide for people ordained by the CUA to start churches, Bible study groups, campus ministries, and other meeting groups to spread the Gospel of Christian Universalism.
As the CUA grows and gains resources, we would eventually like to be able to provide grants to church planters for purposes of evangelistic outreach and other important financial needs of a new, developing church community. This is a long-term goal, however. Right now, we can only offer encouragement, some literature and study materials, the knowledge that you are not alone, and the ability to network with others through this website. If you are interested in church planting or any other type of ministry in the Christian Universalist message, the first step is to apply for the CUA ordination program to gain the knowledge, training, and legal credentials you need.
What are the benefits of joining the CUA?
As a Supporting Member of the CUA, you will be kept informed of important things that are happening in the Christian Universalist community of faith (both inside the CUA and among other Christians who are not affiliated with our organization). All types of members of the CUA will have first priority for attending our conferences and special events. You may be invited to members-only retreats and functions.
If you are the leader of a church or meeting group, you will also gain additional benefits by affiliating your congregation with the CUA. In addition to those listed above, you will also receive a listing in our online churches directory, enabling you to reach thousands of people interested in Christian Universalism who are looking for a place of worship in your local community. Your listing may include detailed information about your church, its worship style, philosophy and programs, plus photos if you wish. We want to help promote your church, so that you can grow and reach more souls than ever before!
Above all, the greatest benefit of joining the Christian Universalist Association is that your support will help raise the visibility and viability of your own faith, Christian Universalism, as a major religious option for people looking for something to believe in. In these troubled times when millions are questioning their faith and seeking spiritual truth, do you want them to know that they can have a wonderful spiritual home in a worldwide Christian community that boldly proclaims God’s unfailing love for all people?