Universalism, the doctrine that God will ultimately save all humanity. The adherents of universalism use as a major support Acts 3:21, "Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began." In this passage they find the assertion that everything that God has created will once again be restored to its original state in the creation, whereas most exegetes construe it to refer only to the things foretold by the prophets.
The first proponent of the restoration of all things was Origen. The most important champion of this doctrine in the period of the Reformation was Hans Denck. In his booklet, Wer die Wahrheit wahrlich lieb hat, he makes the reference to it in Gegenschrift 16, 17, and 28. He mentions it also in other writings, as in Vom Gesetz Gottes. His premise is the idea that the nature of God is love and mercy, and that He can therefore not keep His anger forever. His support he took from passages like Isaiah 28:21; Jeremiah 3:21; Romans 5:18; 11:32; 1 Corinthians 15:22; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20; and 1 Timothy 2:4.
Article 17 of the Augsburg Confession (1530-Lutheran) assumes that all Anabaptists held this doctrine, when it says, "Therefore the Anabaptists are condemned, who teach that the devil and damned persons will not have eternal pain and suffering." But this belief of Denck's was never really accepted in Anabaptist circles. It is found nowhere else except perhaps in Jakob Kautz and Hans Hut. In more recent times, however, some Mennonites in Baden and Württemberg, under the influence of the theologians C. F. Oetinger and Michael Hahn, accepted the doctrine of the restitution of all things and organized a separate church group, the "Hahnische" Mennonites. But even this movement did not reach any considerable proportions. However, a few Mennonite preachers in the German Verband and in Switzerland have occasionally leaned toward this view. (See the polemic written against it by Jakob Vetter, Warum ich die Wiederbringung aller Dinge ablehne, 1911.)
In Russia and America, Mennonite bodies have stood firmly against universalism, and the doctrine is practically unknown, although disciplinary action was taken against an elder on this ground in a Canadian conference (General Conference Mennonite) in 1950. A curiosity is the fact that the refusal of Joseph Stucky to discipline a member in his central Illinois congregation in 1871 for propagating this view was the occasion for the schism that led to the formation of the Central Illinois Conference.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, p. 783. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Neff, Christian and Harold S. Bender. "Universalism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1959. Web. 22 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/U573.html.
APA style: Neff, Christian and Harold S. Bender. (1959). Universalism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 22 May 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/U573.html.