The Heresy Hunters of “Come Sunday”

Courtesy of Pixabay

The other day, I watched the Netflix original film “Come Sunday,” which chronicles Bishop Carlton Pearson’s deconstruction out of Infernalism (the doctrine that states some humans will burn in hell for all eternity). My goal in this piece is not to offer a review or to drop spoiler bombs on y’all. (Just go watch the film. It’s great.) Rather, I wanted to discuss one specific thing that happened in the film and talk about why it annoyed me so much.

As many of us can imagine, after Bishop Pearson announced that he no longer believed in hell, the charges of heresy began to fly. No surprise here, amiright? But what struck me as odd is that some folks in Pearson’s life wanted to use Romans 10:9 as a prooftext that hell is a reality and that many will one day find themselves consigned there. They could have used so many others, but they chose this one. The verse reads:

“Because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Of course, this raises the questions: Saved from what? And saved for what? But that’s probably a topic for another time. In this piece, I wanted to focus on the first clause in this verse, the one that says one must confess Jesus as Lord and believe that he was raised from the dead in order to be saved. Hopefully by the end of this post, then, we’ll see why it is absurd to suggest that this verse argues that some will be forever lost to the flames of hell.

To begin, let’s jump forward to chapter 14 of Paul’s letter to the Romans. In verse 11, the Apostle writes:

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

This same thing is also repeated in Philippians 2:9–11, which reads:

“Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Chris is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

That’s fairly straight forward, right? While Paul says everyone must confess that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved (Romans 10:9), he also seems to think everyone will do this (Romans 14:11).

Now, here’s where things get messy. Many Christians will still be inclined to argue that while everyone will declare Jesus as Lord, not all will be saved because for many, it will be too late. In other words, once everyone makes this declaration, God will still toss many aside due to the fact that some are bowing their knees as if defeated soldiers on a battlefield. But is that what Paul is really saying?

To answer, let’s jump over to his first letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 12, verse 3, Paul writes:

“Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking by the Spirit of God ever says ‘Let Jesus be cursed!’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

Did you catch that? According to Paul, in order to declare Jesus as Lord, one must be speaking through the power of the Holy Spirit. Which raises the question: Won’t the very same “all” that Paul speaks of in Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:9–11 be speaking by the Spirit of God when they declare “Jesus is Lord?” How could it be otherwise? And why would God then still toss them aside? That would make no sense, unless God is some sort of sadistic monster (which many seem to think he is).

I really can’t quite understand why so many Christians fail to grasp this. If Christians were honest, I bet they’d admit that they did nothing in order to be saved. Even those who argue for libertarian free will would probably admit that it was, first and foremost, the Holy Spirit that compelled them to confess Jesus as Lord. Why wouldn’t the same be true for those whom they say will still be thrown into the pits of hell?

Why?

Now, I know I could dig deeper, but this isn’t the place for such dense exegetical work. Instead, I’ll simply close with this: If we say that God is a God of love—that God IS love in fact—then we must never say that God is coercive. Compelling, sure. But not coercive. To that end, when it comes to bowing to Jesus and making the declaration that he is Lord, we must say that those who do this are not coerced, but compelled. Hence, they are not to be thought of as a legion of soldiers who begrudgingly bow to Jesus—as if we are supposed to be preaching the gospel according to Caesar—but as a great multitude of brothers and sisters who have finally come to the realization that the merciful Lamb of God is Lord over all.

Again, it’s compelling but not coercive. Praise be unto God for that!

Until next time.

*If you want to hear our interview with Bishop Carlton Pearson, subscribe to the Heretic Happy Hour podcast on iTunes, or follow us on Podbean. And, to get a sneak peak of our chat with Pearson, become a monthly supporter on Patreon, where you can unlock this and lots of other extra goodies.

About Matthew J. Distefano
Matthew J. Distefano is the author of four books, including the recently released "Heretic!: An LGBTQ-Affirming, Divine-Violence Denying, Christian Universalist's Responses to Some of Evangelical Christianity's Most Pressing Concerns," out now on Quoir Publishing. He is married, has one daughter, and likes to spend his free time hiking, gardening, and cooking. You can read more about the author here.
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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • WisdomLover

    It is one thing to say “Jesus is Lord”. The devils say that and tremble.

    It is another thing to say “I trust in Jesus’ finished work to save me”. That’s what believing in Jesus is.

    The devils will be among the universal multitude of those who fall to their knees and cry that Jesus is Lord, and it will be to the Glory of God the Father that they do so.

    Then they will suffer the Second Death.

    So also will all those who fall to their knees and acknowledge that Jesus is Lord…hating the fact that it is so…and who refuse to trust in Him for their salvation.

  • I’m glad you’re so certain of this. But when does a Christian not act so certain of their certainty these days?

  • WisdomLover

    Who said anything about certainty?

    I have my views and have expressed them, just as you have your views and express them. Of course, I believe my views are true. If I did not believe that, they would not be my views.

    Don’t read anything more into it than that.

    I’m simply noting that someone can say Jesus is Lord (moved by the Holy Ghost even) and not be saved.

    The fact that everyone (which would include the devils) will bend their knee and say “Jesus is Lord” is not a claim of universal salvation. It is a claim of the universal victory of Christ.

  • It’s just funny to me that your views include what others are going to do, what their motivation will be, and then what God will do to them afterwards. Of course when you bow and confess (or, “give praise”) it will be accepted by the Lord, but when others do it, it will be rejected and thus they will go to hell. Both through the power of the Holy Spirit, but only one accepted and the other rejected. Sounds about right.

  • WisdomLover

    Well, I guess it’s a matter of recognizing that agreeing that Jesus is Lord, even from your knees, can be done gladly, or it can be done with hate (whether the Holy Spirit makes you do it or not). And it can be done with no trust at all in, or even a desire for, Christ to save you from your sin. Or it can be done with such trust.

    The passages you’ve marshaled do not seem to guarantee that the knee-bending occurs without hatred and distrust.

    Since the devils will also be bending their knees, I suspect that there will be at least some hatred and distrust in that universal submission.

    The fact that God accepts some worship and rejects others is nothing new in Scripture.

    Remember Cain and Abel?

  • I don’t read the myth of Cain and Abel as some sort of theological truth. It, like Romulus and Remus, is a founding murder myth.

  • WisdomLover

    I don’t read it as a myth if “myth” implies “false”.

    And the story is about the sacrificial system. At a minimum it gives the message that not just any sacrifice is cool with God. It doesn’t get much more theological than that.

    Note that neither of those guys were ‘founders’ btw. One was dead, and all the offspring of the other was drowned.

    Seth was the founder if that’s what you’re looking for.

  • Myth doesn’t mean “false.” And God is not cool with any sacrificial system (cf. Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, Amos 5, and others). The only sacrifice God wants is a living one. And what I mean by founding murder myth is that after an originary murder, a city is founded. Case in point, after Romulus kills his brother Remus he founds Rome. After Cadmus kills the dragon and a group of “fierce armed men” he founds Thebes. And after Cain slays Abel, wouldn’t you know it, Enoch is founded. I guess Enoch was a city of a few people, eh?

  • At the end of the day, based on our engagements here and elsewhere, I’m guessing we’re not going to see eye to eye. This is fine. I spent 25 years in the conservative Evangelical church, where I believed in inerrancy, hell, and all that jazz, and there is no way I could ever go back. I had too much spiritual and emotional trauma. To go back would be to suffer from Stockholm syndrome.

  • WisdomLover

    Was going to have this in a single comment, but Disqus’s Spam filter seems to have gone nuts.

    I’ve found that when that happens, breaking comments down helps.

    We already knew that we don’t see eye-to-eye on Hell, Substitution and Inerrancy. Though I think we’ve both agreed that being wrong on these points does not immediately make one a heretic.

    So, see, we do see eye-to-eye on something!

  • WisdomLover

    “Myth doesn’t mean “false””

    Excellent. We agree on that too. I honestly didn’t think we would when I read the first post where you mentioned myth. So maybe it’s really not as bad as you think.

    We also agree that God is not cool with just any sacrifice. While the Israelites did do some forms of grain offerings, the important ones, the ones that linked one to the forgiveness of sins, were the blood offerings.

    It seems to me that the Israelites reading Genesis would naturally read that in as the problem with Cain’s offering…doesn’t that seem right to you? It was not acceptable because it was not a blood offering. It wasn’t really necessary for that to be spelled out in the text.

  • WisdomLover

    Cain’s story is like the bronze serpent in the wilderness. God said that you look at the serpent and you get healed. Now, someone might reason that God could heal a snakebite victim without his looking at the serpent. And indeed, they might be right about that. Nevertheless, having faith in God, in that context, meant looking at the bronze serpent. If you were bitten by a snake and you carefully kept your eyes averted from the bronze serpent, then you would not be trusting God.

    Cain was in the same boat. God required a blood offering in OT times. That’s what would connect you to the forgiveness of sin. Maybe God could have conferred forgiveness on Cain without the blood offering (as He does for us through the Lord’s Supper), but it is still fair to say that by trying something else Cain was not trusting in God.

  • WisdomLover

    As for Enoch, I’d say that it was a fairly irrelevant city, since it was destined to be swept away in the flood, blotting out Cain’s line. Because of this, while the murder myth/city foundation story might be of some importance in the narrative, it seems relatively minor compared to the sacrifices.

  • Cleanslate

    And what sort of Lord is the Crucified/Risen One? Not a cosmic potentate demanding submission before His almighty power.

    “YHWH will kneel
    before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection.

    YHWH will illuminate the wholeness of his being toward you bringing order and
    he will give you comfort and sustenance.

    YHWH will lift up his wholeness of being and look upon you and he will set in
    place all you need to be whole and complete.” (a Hebraic translation of the Aaronic Blessing – Jeff Benner)

    At Golgotha we see that God goes far beyond
    knelling to present His all-bountiful gifts (His very Life) to the Creation. He
    submits to being hung powerless on a Roman cross in order to bring into the
    depths of the Abyss of Nothingness His full presence (Life).

    What Golgotha reveals is that God will not
    forsake even the most “godforsaken”, parts of the Creation. God has become the
    bottom of that abyss and nothing in Creation will fall into that abyss and be
    lost to God.

    The resurrection of Jesus is the wellspring
    of God’s life rising from the Abyss of Death to become the river of life
    flowing from the throne of YHWH, the all-bountiful and the lambkin. The whole,
    wide, ever expanding universe will be inundated with the Life of God so there
    will be no place for death, torment or separation from God.

    And this is why all of us, and all creation, will bow before the All Bountiful One who has given all that He is to all that
    there is.

  • Tim

    “I really can’t quite understand why so many Christians fail to grasp this. If Christians were honest, I bet they’d admit that they did nothing in order to be saved. Even those who argue for libertarian free will would probably admit that it was, first and foremost, the Holy Spirit that compelled them to confess Jesus as Lord. Why wouldn’t the same be true for those whom they say will still be thrown into the pits of hell?”

    I remember thinking this when I first began to come to the same realisations that you (and Pearson, and so many others) have, Matthew. The only thing I can come up with is that it is very hard for people to change their paradigms. It’s much easier to believe something false about God and our relationship to God than it is to believe that everything you were taught on this subject growing up was a lie (albeit an honest mistake, because the people who taught you were also erroneously taught the same thing).