Salvational Exclusion

Universalism was an interesting phenomenon in early America. New England is often described as the home of the movement but the new thinking sprouted in other places too. Historian Ann Bressler argues that the movement climbed in popularity in the Northeast because it filled a gap created by the end of Puritanism’s community after the revolutionary war. In part a response to Congregational establishment, it still flourished after anti-prejudicial rules became law in Massachusetts in 1780. Baptists were angry with taxation and its role in religion. But as Janet Lindman observes, at least part of the national debate over the nature and applicability of salvation began in Pennsylvania and it was motivated by more than just taxes. There,

Elhanan Winchester. All God's Children Gonna Be Saved.

Elhanan Winchester1 was advocating Unversalism and at the same time acting as head of an important Baptist congregation in the Delaware Valley.

Part of the popularity of Universalism stemmed from American politics and Enlightenment philosophers. It was natural that many found Calvinism to be distasteful in the fever of self-government. Shouldn’t an enlightened religion accompany an enlightened government rather than gloomy old Calvin?

John Calvin: Am I Saved - or Doomed to Hell Fire? - less importantly, is RH doomed?

Perhaps Universalism is best defined by its critics (grin): even bad men (yes and especially bad women) and the devils of hell will eventually be restored to Divine Bliss. Or something like that (I’m talking 18th century version here – later Universalism was different in important ways). Lindman observes that the upheavals of revolution were founded in some respects on the principles that Americans began to find old hat and old worldy in Calvinism. Challenging the idea that salvation was for a select few who had no say in that grace seemed to run counter to all that was holy about the new United States. In Winchester’s case, it was his personal experience that led him to declare Calvin’s predestined grace false: missionary success.

In Mormonism we have sometimes flirted with a kind of predestination (we sometimes confuse this with the term “foreordination”). With the idea that everything happens for a reason. With the notion that our lives are tailor-made for our personal preexistent needs. On the other hand we tout the notion of free agency (ok, moral agency). The paths we choose are not preselected for us. We come to earth as agents, not pawns.

The early American Calvinists fought back, calling Universalists emissaries of the antichrist, carrying the papal insignia in heart if not on breast. (Purgatory, you know.) Preachers came into play on both sides of course. Calvinists proclaiming Universalism as plague! The sick must be quarantined! Then, preach the gospel to them so they can breathe the fresh air of Truth (hmmm). Universalists channeled their doctrine through the prediction: The Restoration of All Things….

So where are we? Or more particularly (pun indended), where are you? Is kingdom (celestial, terrestrial, telestial) progression going to happen? I mean is the lowest sinner going to see the light and make the jump to light speed (sorry, can’t resist the flights of fancy)? Maybe even the devils and sons of perdition? Eternity is a long time. Put in more familiar Mormon terms, is the opportunity for choice ever really revoked forever? (Not exactly universal grace, grace by choice I suppose.) I ask you. Are you Mormon Universalist, or (shudder) Mormon Calvinist? Or somewhere else?2

1. Yes, see Winchester’s pamphlet-sermon here: “The Outcasts Comforted; A Sermon Delivered at the University of Philadelphia, January 4, 1782, to the Members of the Baptist Church, Who Have Been Rejected by Their Brethren, for Holding the Doctrine of the Final Restoration of All Things, Published at the Earnest Desire of the Hearers.” (Philadelphia, 1782). Preaching is fun.

2. Lindman’s article in Journal of the Early Republic 31/2. Bressler in her book, The Universalist Movement in America, (New York, 2001).


  1. I am a quasi universalist. I think the opportunity to change is open through all eternity and that most people will take the chance eventually. The plan of salvation is explained schematically as a progression of this earth and it inhabitants through a telestial state (now), terrestrial state (millenium), and into a celestial state (when earth becomes a celestial kingdom in D&C 88). So the description of heaven as a place with all three kingdoms and ministering angles from the higher to the lower kingdoms seems like as big a hint as can be given that people can progress from kingdom to kingdom.

  2. Spiritualists believed that there were 7 heavens and that mediums could travel to the afterlife and preach to those at the lowest level and help them to move up levels. It was a very difficult process and took a very long time and effort to get anyone to move up even one level, let alone 7. So maybe something like that could happen.

  3. Steve, I’ve heard the 7 heavens in a Mormon context, but now I can’t recall where. The progressive heaven seems a natural one for Mormonism I think.

  4. The Spiritualist also found that a whole lot of people were not willing to listen to them. Swedenborg had similar ideas: he also went in the spirit would and taught people. He was able to convert Luther but not Calvin, so Calvin ended up in hell (but it was a hell of his own making). It could be that some or many people will only want to move up so far.

  5. Oh, and if you come across the 7 heavens idea in Mormonism, I’d appreciate hearing more.

    Universalists believed that no one would resist God for eternity. I think Elhanan Winchester taught that there would be several stages to the afterlife, but ultimately everyone would end up with God. But again, Swedenborg has no success with Calvin.

  6. All those Sunday and seminary lessons were a great opening to really get a kick out of Huck and Jim floating on a raft arguing over “preforeordestination.”

  7. Gloomy old Calvin. In Steve Peck’s hell, I think anyone will change their mind, eventually. Winchester is an interesting guy.

  8. A couple of thoughts:

    – I have a hard time figuring out what is going on with the Pennsylvania Baptists during the eighteenth century.

    – This seems like a regular debate among evangelicals, e.g., second probation debates in the last quarter of the nineteenth century; more recently Rob Bell.

    – Hard to read a societal cosmology as completely exclusive.

  9. The second probation discussion(?) has wonderful parallel in language to the “no second chance” debates in 20th century Mormonism. “Poison,” “Damning,” etc. And it has an interesting connection to the sons of perdition arguments.

  10. Agreed. That would make a wonderful article, actually.

  11. I am not sure I can catagorize myself into one of the two options you offer. Free agency and foreordination do seem to conflict. Perhaps it is less foreordination and more God can see what we are going to do and what we are capable of based on his infininite knowlege.

  12. EAG, that is often offered as a solution, but if God can see what we are going to do, then do we really have any choice to change anything? If something is inevitable, isn’t choice an illusion? This debate really is enormous and many great minds have weighed in.

  13. Rob Osborn says:

    We live in the telestial kingdom. We then go to the terrestrial kingdom and finally into the celestial kingdom- the only kingdom in the end that Christ will save (thus why He will be on the earth to perfect the “kingdom” during the millennium).

    Even the temple shows us that we progress from our state now in the telestial kingdom on up through the terrestrial and eventually into the celestial kingdom.

    Revelations speak specifically that all of the saved will dwell on this earth at the end of the millennium.

  14. How is it that we continually conflate “saved” and “exalted”?

  15. Exaltation is the things we’re talking about here, I mean, it’s the thing we all talk about when we say saved, isn’t it. No one counts Telestial as saved. We don’t even count Celestial as saved, do we? The heavens of Mormonism are not to be the final destination in the Universalist concept. If you’re a Mormon Universalist, you are one who believes that the choice and ability for exaltation remains forever. At the same time, the choice exists to go “down” too. Forever. No?

  16. I mean, it’s the thing we all talk about when we say saved, isn’t it.

    I don’t. If that’s what everyone else is talking about, maybe I’ve spent far too much philosophical time in TrinitarianWorld with one heaven, one hell, and nada in between. “Saved,” to me, means not going to outer darkness and having a decent afterlife. In evangelical parlance, this translates to heaven. “Exaltation,” to me means attaining the Celestial Kingdom. In evangelical parlance, this translates to heaven in the most chi-chi neighborhood with the biggest crowns of gold and the most jewels and a bunch of angels to wait on you hand and foot. (Oh, wait…)

    It’s not like the Telestial Kingdom is gonna be all about eternal suffering and torture in a lake of fire, is it? This earth is pretty darn nice when you start looking at it. I can think of worse things than spending the rest of eternity wandering around in a world like this without Satan’s influence. It might be the lowest order, but it’s still better than what we have right now.

  17. Mormons are per se universalist in the sense that no one will be in hell forever. Getting out of hell and being resurrected with an immortal body qualifies as salvation for Christians. And we believe that good people of any religious faith can have Terrestrial glory in the presence of Christ, fulfilling all they are looking forward to in heaven.
    In the survey done by the authors if “American Grace”, they found that 100% of all Mormons believe people outside the Church can “go to heaven”. That conforms to our theology. However, it was remarkable that 75% to 85% of other Christians had a similar view, in direct contradiction to what their pastors taught them. This is an example that people have an innate sense of fairness that trumps doctrinal denials of salvation outside their own denomination.

  18. universality Mormon here

  19. clarkgoble says:

    Raymond (17), even by that standard Mormons aren’t universalist due to our doctrine of sons of perdition. Admittedly they probably are a small number (at least in terms of humans – we’ll ignore the 1/3 for now). I’d also say that merely getting a resurrected immortal body isn’t sufficient for more Christians as full salvation. Consider this passage from the Catholic Encyclopedia:

    All shall rise from the dead in their own, in their entire, and in immortal bodies; but the good shall rise to the resurrection of life, the wicked to the resurrection of Judgment.

    Mormon doctrine really isn’t a different on this point as I think many tend to assume.

    One should also distinguish between the evolution of the doctrine of salvation amongst protestants (especially in the US) versus other forms of Christianity and their evolution. (Say Catholicism for instance)

  20. I’ve noticed a number of people who have left the Church have gravitated to Unitarian Universalism.

  21. Count me as a universalist.

    I thought I’d toss up this quote from President Lorenzo Snow given in General Conference, the morning of October 6th, 1893. It’s not completely universalist, but more so than most quotes from LDS leaders.

    God has fulfilled His promises to us, and our prospects are grand and glorious. Yes, in the next life we will have our wives, and our sons and daughters. If we do not get them all at once, we will have them some time, for every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus is the Christ. You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity. When Jesus went through that terrible torture on the cross, He saw what would be accomplished by it; He saw that His brethren and sisters — the sons and daughters of God — would be gathered in, with but few exceptions — those who committed the unpardonable sin. That sacrifice of the divine Being was effectual to destroy the powers of Satan. I believe that every man and woman who comes into this life and passes through it, that life will be a success in the end. It may not be in this life. It was not with the antedeluvians. They passed through troubles and afflictions; 2,500 years after that, when Jesus went to preach to them, the dead heard the voice of the Son of God and they lived. They found after all that it was a very good thing that they had conformed to the will of God in leaving the spiritual life and passing through this world. God will have His own way in His own time, and He will accomplish His purposes in the salvation of His sons and daughters.

  22. Sharee Hughes says:

    My understanding is that eternal progression is only for those in the Celestial Kingdom; those who inherit the Telestial (these are the “bad guys” who will be punished in “hell” for a time prior to receiving the Teletial glory) or Terrestrial (the “good guys” who, nevertheless, rejected the Gospel on earth but accepted it in the next, or, as my limited understanding thinks, those who accept Christ in the next life, but perhaps don’t fully accept the Gospel) Kingdoms will stay there. But they will not mind, because the lives they live there will be to their liking. There will be very few sons of perdition to join the original 1/3 in outer darkness, from which “there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come” (D&C 76:34). Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think only those who have received the second sealing have enough knowledge to then deny in order to be a son of perdition. And although it is true that everyone will eventually recognize Christ as their Savior, they won’t necessarily accept the whole Gospel and qualify for exaltation. According to D&C 76:109, most people (“as innumerable as the stars in the firmamen of heaven, ot as the sand upon the seashore”) will be in the Telestial (very unfortunate that so many will wait until the very last minute to accept Christ), and they “will be servants of the Most High; but where God and Christ dwell they cannot come, worlds without end.” (D&C 76: 112)

    Although the D&C does not use the word “reject,” in our lesson on the final judgment, the word is used in the description of those who inherit the Terrestrial Kingdom “These are they who rejected the gospel on earth but afterward received it in the spirit world” (Gospel Principles, p 272). My queston here is, what does it mean to “reject” the gospel? I’m sure it is more than saying to the missionaries that come to your door, thanks but no thanks. Does it mean having a testimony and then turning it aside? Or could it mean people saying, well, the LDS church is very nice and teaches some good things, but I just can’t accept all this stuff about men becoing like God or Jospeh Smith seeing God, so count me out? I’m thinking of people who are married to non-members and, the minute a year has passed after that non-member spouse has died, they run to the temple and have the work done and are sealed to them. Would not someone who has lived with a good LDS spouse for many years and has not joined the church be rejecting the gopel? They obviously know much about the gospel from the way their good Mormon spouse lives. I asked this in Relief Socity when we discussed the issue, but did not receive a satifactory answer. So does anyone here have any ideas? What is meant by “rejecting” the gospel?

  23. Rob osborn says:

    Rejecting the gospel could mean anything from saying “no” to the missionaries to, as you say, living their whole lives with a mormon and always reject it. One thing to think about here-

    Even though they do not accept in mortality, they will accept it in the spirit world. This means that they will accept it and accept it on the same conditions and principles- they will become the same type of figures as if they had accepted it in mortality. Because their temple work is done by proxy, they will thus be judged as if they themselves accepted it while in mortality

  24. Sharee, we have a theoretical structure in place regarding sons of perdition. They must be insiders, receiving the greatest of blessings apparently, then they go the other way, as the title suggests, in imitation of Satan, much as early Mormons thought to imitate Christ. I have some sympathy for Winchester, who felt that man could not resist God’s invitation forever. But in Mormonism at least, no forcing allowed. So, rejection is possible, But what it must entail is not clear to me.

  25. Sharee, that’s my understanding also, whereby I see terrestrial and telestial as “saved” and celestial as “exalted.” I also fervently agree with the notion that people will be happy about where they land.

  26. You have to repent and be baptized to be saved, so if that is a requirement for telestial glory, then the inheritors thereof are certainly saved, so much as the scriptures have anything to say about the subject.

    The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation. (D&C 138:58-59)

  27. I’m aware of the distinction Mormons and their texts may make here, but it should be completely obvious that no Latter-day Saint considers ending up in the Telestial kingdom as being “saved.” Indeed, finding oneself in degree 2 of the Celestial is nearly as bad. We don’t talk about heading there as a reward. It’s a punishment. As a practical matter among Mormons, the idea of various rewards in the afterlife is certainly common knowledge, but hardly personally rewarding. In the words of Joseph Smith himself, those who end up in lesser kingdoms will look up to what they might have had and find cause for sorrow. True or not, it illustrates I think, the grasp most Mormons have of the matter.

  28. …it should be completely obvious that no Latter-day Saint considers ending up in the Telestial kingdom as being “saved.”

    It’s obviously NOT completely obvious or we wouldn’t be speaking in terms salvation and having to work for it, to mind every jot and tittle, right down to green versus black tea, and completely negates the Atonement. It’s why I like to make the distinction, to remind people that we work for exaltation and are not required to work for our salvation.

    If we believe in the atoning sacrifice of Christ, why are we constantly in fear of some nebulous hell we don’t truly believe in? Seems to me we simply have an inexplicable need to believe in a hell.

  29. To add: An explicable need to believe in a hell and to perpetuate the ages-old terror of going there.

  30. I am definitely a universalist. The way I understand the gospel, it is based on a free and willing association with Jesus and our Parents. We will live as near to them as we are willing to, through repentance and the Atonement. The ultimate goal is complete unity and it is freely given to everyone who turns to Christ and repents.

    Honestly, though, I think that the final judgement will be surprising to most of us – we can’t look on someone’s heart, we can’t know their intents. It is hard enough to try to look on our own hearts and know our own intents.

    Not the clearest explanation, but I am still working through my thoughts on the issue.

  31. Moriah, I think you’ll like an upcoming post on hell, Mormon style.

  32. WVS, LOL. Can’t wait.

    I do have a working theory that this life IS the hell.