"I Discovered that the Gospel Really Is Good News"
Universalist Christian Testimony of G. A. Roach, M.Div., D.Min. Amarillo, Texas - January 19, 2006
I have always sought to preach good news. My ministry has included helping chemical addicts, the homeless, those who are mentally unstable, and generally those that no one else wants. For some, they heard for the first time that God really loved them, valued them, and was intimately concerned with the details of their lives. Through those years God worked in many lives in ways many people do not think possible.
I never emphasized hell, but had no doubt about its existence. Even though I regularly used the "Roman Road" or the well-known Southern Baptist "plan of salvation," my emphasis was always on God's love for the sinner. I did, however, believe that one was required to exercise faith in order to receive God's "gift" of salvation. Of course that was not "works," but was only "appropriating" what God had already made available. Without that, one's eternal destiny was separation from God.
One day as I was preparing my Sunday message, I had a crisis. The passage for that week's message was Romans 5:18. Romans and Ephesians are my two favorite books in the New Testament. My favorite chapters are Romans 5 and 8. But that day, when I read Romans 5:12-21, it was as if I had never before seen that passage. I read and re-read the passage. The more I read, the more convinced I was that I was misunderstanding what Paul was writing. After all, I earned a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (Preaching / Biblical Studies) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I knew what Paul taught!
I went ahead and prepared a message on the passage in Romans 5. But I resolved to study this out and "prove" that Paul could not possibly be teaching that all will be made alive.
I spent a year in study, with a prejudice against the theology that all will be saved. I did not want to rush into anything that might be a heresy. However, to my consternation (and later relief), the more I studied, the more convinced I became that God did indeed reconcile the world to himself; that all are made alive through one act of righteousness; and that God would eventually bring all men to himself.
This was not an easy transition for me. In fact, I was dragged "kicking and screaming!" I did not mention this to anyone for the year that I was studying, because I wanted to be sure beyond any doubt that I was not going off on a tangent.
After a year, I finally worked up the courage to tell my wife my "discovery." Her response shocked me. I expected weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. Instead, she very gently said, "That is what I have believed for a long time." She didn't have the theological "system" to express it in detail, but she was already ahead of me, the theologian!
I began slowly to introduce this to my church. Although there was some resistance (one of my members has a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Seminary), they generally were tolerant. Before long, they readily embraced it. One of our members (who was raised in a Southern Baptist Church) said, "This makes sense! I never could accept the idea of eternal punishment." We were on our way.
I learned along with my flock. Some have readily embraced Christian Universalism while others have reservations (but they are tolerant and loving, even though they may not fully agree).
Recently, I was contacted by a church regarding coming to them as their pastor. I felt sure they would not want me when they learned of my belief in Christian Universalism. But they were willing to listen before they rejected it (and me). As I briefly taught from Scripture over the course of three months, they gladly accepted that God's love is triumphant. As of January 1, 2006, I am now the pastor of Bushland Community Church. We openly teach Christian Universalism.
The thing that has been most influential on me is the liberation I now feel. After all, Jesus did say that when we know the truth, we will be liberated. I can truly preach Good News! We borrowed a saying, the source of which is lost to me: "The gospel is good news, and there is no bad news!"
People come into the fold as God leads them. Some come quickly, others more slowly. Tradition that has been held for centuries is difficult for some to overcome. But God has led people to us that we could not possibly have reached through our own efforts.
We are discovering more every day that God is "gooder" than we could ever possibly imagine. What a joy to proclaim the truly good news of God's salvation through Jesus.
I believe people are ready to hear the good news. I believe that more and more will accept Christian Universalism as they are given the truth. These are truly exciting times, and I am thankful that God has allowed me to be part of what he is doing in bringing his people together.