Revisiting the newsletter

I have one, valedictory issue of the Liberal Christian to publish. At this point, I’m looking towards a spring date.

That 2009 experiment was helpful, for me, for a couple of reasons and one was an appreciation of print publications for certain settings. Also my current Esperanto studies, since that community has been heavily dependent on print and web publications. (Liberal Christian is a web-only publication, and I think that was one of its problems.) Contrast the mode of work of a dispersed religious group — say, like one of the former independent affiliates of the Unitarian Universalist Association — and something more immediate, like a conventional church. A church is made real in ways we see and touch. Spiritual realities are manifested in physical gatherings, in a particular space with recognized tools and artifacts. Information — more than just the date of this meeting or that potluck — need not come in a newsletter, though it may, because people will learn what it means to be a part of the church primarily from living in it. A congregation that publishes its news in a RSS feed isn’t too far in my mind that one — as was the norm not many decades past — the announced all its news in worship.

Groups that don’t regularly meet — that appeal to a commonality, by web and mail — must be more intentional about how people (literally) sense them. Some have real-world meetings or retreats. Many send some kind of artifact — televangelist were famous for this — but most rely on a news publication.

One ministry I particularly like is the Saviour of All Fellowship. Universalist in theology, but never structurally a part of the Universalists. Indeed, its readers seem to have more affinity for the Concordant Publishing Concern, with its own biblical translation and theological works. The physical manifestation of the Saviour of All Fellowship is a one-page monthly newsletter. It comes in a long envelope with my bills and fliers, and I’m always happy to get it. Far more happy than if the same content were mailed to me.

The format is simple. A fragment of devotional literature, notices of future in-person conferences, obituaries and the like. One page per month. So simple, but a lifeline for that community.

More on this subject next time.

Independent universalist church in Arkansas

I got an email from a universal salvation Facebook group that included some links, including the Indian Hills Church, North Little Rock, Arkansas.

It was founded — and was until 2004 affiliated — Southern Baptist, but its universalism, or more accurately restorationism — is pretty obvious in its still-Baptist-formatted statement of faith and who they quote. It’s a good example — if you need one — of how you can believe in total, eventual salvation without theological pluralism. (And I bet they do a mean church dinner.)

Can this be plainer?

Few are those that will be restored to God by believing in Jesus during their lifetimes. They come through the baptism of the refining fire of God’s judgment, his remedial pruning and corrective discipline before they die. These people are called the church and will be a part of the first resurrection with Christ. The purifying fire of God at work in the church is not literal but spiritual. Accordingly, the purifying fires of God at work in the remainder of humanity after they die are spiritual as well. The rest of humanity will come through this process of refining until the consuming fire of God’s love has reached its purpose in their lives and has removed everything that is not of God.

Death, therefore, is not the end. There are, of course, other ways to come to universalism. This approach is more Elhanan Winchester — another former Baptist — than, say, John Murray or Hosea Ballou. It is also none of these men’s theology, and I find it a comfort to know that the belief will spring up even where name-brand Universalists didn’t plant it. Which, I believe, is a witness to God’s goodness, but also a relief given Universalist institutional failure.