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Yes, insists Carlton Pearson, pastor of Higher Dimensions Family Church of Tulsa, Oklahoma. But not everyone agrees. Pearson's church, whose membership swelled to 5,000 before he announced his theological convictions, has dwindled to about 500. Pearson was ordained by the Church of God in Christ, the largest black Pentecostal denomination in the U.S. According to Pearson, everyone will end up in heaven whether or not they exercise conscious faith in Jesus Christ. The door even remains open to Satan himself, if he'd only repent (one immediately wonders why Satan must repent to enter the kingdom but all other non-Christians need not).

There are some who agree with Pearson. Rev. Bill Wiseman, a minister at Trinity Episcopal Church of Tulsa is quoted as saying: "We like him and we agree with what he's saying" (The Dallas Morning News, 3/4/06, p. 3H). Following foreclosure on Higher Dimensions' building, Trinity has allowed Pearson's congregation to meet in its facilities.

I haven't heard how Pearson defends his belief, but I suspect he may well appeal to Paul's statement in Colossians 1:20. There the apostle writes that God was pleased, through Christ, "to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."

Although at first glance it might appear that Pearson has a case, there are two possible ways of interpreting Paul's words that avoid the heresy of universalism (in fact, there are others, but I don't find them persuasive).

This first view begins by noting that Paul has clearly asserted in v. 16 that Jesus Christ is the creator of "all things," whether angelic or human, visible or invisible. The "all things" in that verse unmistakably refer to the "original creation" and are inescapably universal in scope.

But observe that in v. 18 and following Paul turns to a description of the "new creation," the Church, of which Christ is the Head and the Beginning and the first among those who will be raised from the dead.

Could it then be that the "all things" in v. 20 which are said to be reconciled by the blood of the cross are those that belong to this new creation, the Church? If so, the "all things" of the original creation in vv. 16-17 and the "all things" of the new creation in vv. 18-20 are not coextensive. The former is quite universal and all-inclusive in scope (humans, both good and evil, as well as angels, both good and evil). The latter is restricted to those, who are the beneficiaries of the blood of the cross and who have thereby experienced "peace" with God.

On this view we would then take the phrase, "whether on earth or in heaven," to refer respectively to both elect humans and elect or holy angels.

But how can holy, elect angels experience "reconciliation"? The fact is, the ministry of angels brings them into constant contact with sin and its evil and corrupting effects (cf. Heb. 1:14). It is from the disheartening and disturbing necessity of ministering within such a fallen world that the holy angels will one day be released. It isn't so much that they are personally reconciled. They are, after all, "holy". Furthermore, Jesus didn't die for angelic beings, whether good or evil. Their release into the unqualified purity and beauty of heaven, rather, is the fruit of a reconciliation that Christ effected by means of his cross.

The strength of this view is that it pays close heed to the context in which v. 20 appears and the progression in Paul's thought from the first creation to the second, from the universality of all things made to the particularity of all things redeemed.

But is there another possibility? Yes. To be continued . . .

Pursuing truth with you,