GCI Update

Universalism?

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Joe and TammySome claim that Trinitarian theology teaches universalism, the belief that everyone will be saved, regardless of whether they are good or bad, repentant or unrepentant, accepting or rejecting of Jesus, and that, consequently, there is no such thing as hell. I have two problems with this claim, which is a “straw man” argument (a logical fallacy). First, accepting Trinitarian theology does not necessitate belief in universalism. Noted Swiss theologian Karl Barth did not teach universalism. Neither did theologians Thomas F. Torrance and James B. Torrance. In GCI, we teach Trinitarian theology, but not universalism. Our website clearly states our position:

Universalism is a biblically unsound doctrine, which says that in the end all souls, whether human, angelic or demonic, will be saved by God’s grace. Some Universalists argue that repentance toward God and faith in Jesus Christ are irrelevant. Universalists typically deny the doctrine of the Trinity, and many Universalists are Unitarians. Contrary to universalism, the Bible teaches that there is salvation only in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). In Jesus Christ, who is God’s elect for our sakes, all humanity is elect, but that does not necessarily mean that all humans will ultimately accept God’s free gift. God desires that all come to repentance, and he has created and redeemed humanity for true fellowship with him, but true fellowship can never constitute a forced relationship. We believe that in Christ, God makes gracious and just provision for all, even for those who at death appear not to have yet believed the gospel, but all who remain hostile to God remain unsaved by their own choice.

Careful students of the Bible recognize that though we need not rule out the possibility that everyone will in the end repent and receive God’s gift of salvation, the scriptures are not conclusive. Therefore we are not dogmatic about this issue.

My second problem is this: Why should the possibility that all would be saved arouse hostility and accusations of “heresy”?

The creeds of the early church were not dogmatic on the nature of hell. The biblical metaphors are of flames, outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth. They are meant to convey what it is like for a person to be lost forever in a self-enclosed “world,” with their own selfish heart and desires, adamantly rejecting the source of all love, goodness and truth. If taken literally, these metaphors are conflicting. But metaphors are not intended to be taken literally—they illustrate various aspects of the topic. What we gain from them is that hell, whatever it is, is not where we want to be. To have an ardent desire that all humanity be saved and that no one suffer in hell, does not necessarily make a person a heretic. What Christian would not want every person who ever lived to repent, receive forgiveness and experience reconciliation with God?

The idea of all humanity, transformed by the Spirit of Christ and in heaven together, surely is to be desired. That is, in fact, exactly what God desires. He wants all people to come to repentance and not suffer the consequences of rejecting his gracious provision for them. God wants this because he loves the world (cosmos), just as we read in John 3:16. God tells us to love our enemies, just as Jesus loved and served even his betrayer Judas Iscariot at the Last Supper (John 13:1, 26) and on the Cross (Luke 23:34).

However, the Bible does not guarantee that all will necessarily accept God’s love—it warns that there very well may be people who will refuse God’s forgiveness, rejecting the redemption and the adoption he has for them. Still, it is difficult to believe that anyone would make such a choice. And it is even more difficult to imagine that any would persist in rebellion against having a loving relationship with God. As C.S. Lewis described in The Great Divorce, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

Universalism should not be confused with the universal or cosmic scope of the effectiveness of Christ’s saving work. In Jesus Christ, who is God’s elect for our sakes, all humanity is elect.

That does not mean we can say for certain that all humans will ultimately accept God’s gift. But surely we can hope that they do. According to the apostle Peter, God does not want “anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Furthermore, God has done everything possible to save us from the terrible and horrific situation that is hell.

Yet, in the end, God will not violate the deliberate and persistent choice of those who willfully and deliberately reject his love and turn away from him. In fact, for God to absolutely override their minds, wills and hearts he would have to undo their humanity—he would have to uncreate them. Of course, were he to do that, there would be no human being there to freely receive God’s costly gift of grace, which is life in Jesus Christ. God has created and redeemed humanity for true fellowship—a relationship with him that cannot be forced.

The Bible does not blur the difference between believer and unbeliever, and neither should we. When we say that all people are forgiven, saved and reconciled in Christ, we mean that while we all belong to Christ, not all are in communion with him. While God has reconciled all to himself, not all are yet trusting and living in that reconciliation. Therefore the apostle Paul says, “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world (cosmos) to himself…” So, “be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20, NASB). And that is why ours is a ministry, not of condemnation, but of the announcement of Christ’s finished work of reconciliation.

Our focus is to bear witness to the biblical revelation and orthodox teaching concerning God’s own character, mind, heart, purpose and attitude towards all people, manifested in Jesus Christ. We preach the universal or cosmic Lordship of Jesus Christ and so hope in the cosmic reconciliation of all those created according to his image. Since the Bible tells us that it is God’s desire for all to come to him in repentance to receive his gracious and costly forgiveness, that is our desire as well.

With love, in Christ’s service,

Joseph Tkach

Snowblast

This update is from Doug Johannsen, GCI district pastor and Snowblast camp leader.

Snowblast snow shoes

This year, Showblast brought the gospel and fellowship to a diverse group of about 30, ranging in age from 70 something to pre-school.

Since 1997, there has been a winter youth activity in Minnesota called Snowblast. This year it was held at Camp Chicagami near Evelyth, Minnesota. It lasted from noon Saturday to Monday morning, and was led by Pastor Tom and Sandy Kennebeck (from Orr, Minnesota) and Pastor Troy Meisner (from Rochester, Minnesota who also directs Northern Light summer camp).

Snowblast treasure chestSnowblast was begun by Jeff and Sarah Skrove. They were unable to attend this year due to the condition of their 16-year-old son Jonah who is recovering from amputation of his lower right leg due to bone cancer. Using internet video conferencing, we included Jonah and his family in one evening of the camp. Everyone participated in decorating and filling a “treasure chest” for Jonah (see picture at left).

Ice fishing

Outdoor activities included ice fishing, snowshoeing, sledding and hiking. Ice fishing was challenging due to high winds and cold temperatures. Still, the fishermen pulled up a couple of sunfish through the 24 inch thick ice.

Snowblast craftsIndoor activities included worship, decorating and filling Jonah’s treasure chest; making pottery, baking lefsa, leather tooling and making jewelry out of polished rocks. Messages during worship were given by pastors Tom Kennebeck, Troy Meisner and Doug Johannsen.

Monday morning we couldn’t get the three outdoor thermometers to agree whether it was -29 F, -24 F or -23 F (they must be theological thermometers!). All vehicles but one started and after a couple of shots of ether it was up and running too.

Snowblast cooking 2

Christmas evangelism

Christmas evangelism 2Lascan Sikosi, the pastor of GCI’s Kutima Mulilo congregation in Northern Namibia, held an evangelism event on Christmas Day, 2012. As a result, 15 people committed their lives to Christ, were baptized and now attend the congregation, which now has 105 members.

Funding for the event was provided, in part, by GCI’s Canadian Mission Fund. For this support, Lascan is very appreciative. The pictures here show the congregation preparing for the event.

Christmas evangelism

Haiti

This update is from Joseph Franklin, the pastor of GCI’s church in Haiti, which sponsors a school.

Haitian school children
School children

We request your prayers for the safety of the teachers and children in our school here. They need protection against kidnapping! Recently, God saved us from what appeared to be a kidnapping attempt in which the kidnapper was demanding from the school master a ransom of $60,000.00 (USD). Due to risks like these and the constant fear of earthquakes, we have only 134 students, though we can accommodate 200. This is causing us financial difficulties. The devastation caused by the January 2010 earthquake still greatly impacts daily life here.

Despite trials, the work of God advances. One of our youths, Jephte Jaques, recently received Christ as personal Savior and requested baptism. We just finished constructing a baptismal pool inside the school building. Jephte is part of a group that attends our Bible study series on the triune nature of God.

Haitian school teachers
School staff; Joseph Franklin at left

Discipleship pathway

In the video below, GCI pastors Jim and Becky Valekis discuss the discipleship pathway they have developed for use in their church in Tipp City, Ohio.

To learn more about how you can implement a discipleship pathway in your own congregation, go to http://mindev.gci.org/strategy.htm. For other videos highlighting the missional work of GCI-USA churches, go to It Looks Like This http://gci-usa.blogspot.com/.

Bonnie Albrecht

This prayer update is from CAD office manager Charles Albrecht concerning his mother Bonnie Albrecht. Click here for the original prayer request.

Recently, my mother fell out of bed and was taken back to the hospital. Thankfully, she did not break anything. However, her pain level has increased because of the fall and while they were evaluating her they also discovered she has a bladder infection.

The doctors are still running in circles trying to determine the sources and treatments for her condition. It does seem that the doctors are finally talking to one another and we pray that they find answers and solutions soon. They anticipate that she may have to go to a skilled nursing center when she is released from the hospital. Thanks for your continued prayers.

Death of Loretta Cooley

We were saddened to learn of the death of Loretta Young Cooley, wife of Billy Cooley who is the assistant pastor of the GCI church in Meridian, Mississippi. Loretta died on January 14 from a heart attack that occurred shortly after having been in an automobile accident. Her passion for spreading the gospel of Jesus will be missed by the members of her congregation and by the GCI district church planting network of which she was an active part.

Originally from Alabama, Loretta married Billy Ray Cooley of Meridian, Mississippi about 7 years ago. Together they served faithfully in ministry at Christ Community Fellowship Church, the GCI congregation in Meridian. A few years ago, Billy was ordained an elder and soon began serving as the assistant pastor in the Meridian congregation. Billy and Loretta’s love for youth and service in the community birthed in them a desire and passion for church planting. They were one of two couples within their GCI church district who felt called to church planting.

Cards may be sent to:

Billy Cooley
1709 Highway 19 S
Meridian, MS  39301-8223

Brian Queener

This prayer update is from Mark Queener and his wife Rhonda, concerning their 33-year-old son Brian Queener who attends the GCI church that Mark pastors in Belleville, Illinois. The original prayer request is at https://update.gci.org/2013/01/brian-queener/.

Brian Queener, who attends our Belleville, Ill., congregation, had surgery on Friday to remove dead pancreatic tissue and infectious fluid from his abdomen, as a result of severe pancreatitis. The procedure went very well, but his surgeon said Brian may get sicker before he gets better and that he may remain in intensive care for another 2-3 weeks. Please pray that he will recover quickly and completely, without any more complications or setbacks.

Surgay Kalamaha

Here is an update on a previous prayer request, provided by Surgay’s wife Jan.

Surgay remains in a nursing home. Progress is very slow. He is wheelchair-bound, and his back and legs are weak. However, he maintains a positive attitude. He is able to wheel around, sometimes going around filling coffee cups for other residents.

Surgay is experiencing some vision problems that the doctors say will likely not improve. However, they do hold out hope that he may walk again.

Please keep praying for Surgay and his family.

Jan Kalamaha
26101 55th Street SE
Max, ND 58759-9542

Catherwood 50th anniversary

Catherwood weddingWe rejoice in the announcement of the 50th wedding anniversary recently celebrated by retired GCI leader Carn Catherwood and his wife Joyce.

On January 27, 1963 Carn Catherwood and Joyce Sefcak were united in marriage. This month, they celebrated their 50th (golden) wedding anniversary!

Please join with their children, grandchildren and friends in celebrating God’s love expressed through their union.

Congratulations Carn and Joyce!

Cards may be sent to:

Carn and Joyce Catherwood
3941 Andrew Avenue
Denton, TX  76210-3234

Dee Bulante

Dee Bulante, senior pastor of GCI’s churches in Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington, grew up in the Philippines in Metro Manila. “I grew up with the hope that one day our family would move to the US because my mom applied for a workers visa back when I was just a kid. It took many years before the US Embassy reviewed her application; I was already a college student at that time.”

Dee and Lisa Bulante
Dee and Lisa

Growing up, Dee was active in sports and church. “I enjoyed ping pong, tennis, basketball and golf.” Growing up Catholic, Dee’s mother wanted him to become a priest. “I served as an altar boy and a reader.” Dee’s mother got part of her wish. He’s not a priest, but he is a pastor.

Dee started attending GCI in the Philippines in 1984. “I started listening to The World Tomorrow telecast and subscribed to The Plain Truth magazine and was intrigued by the message and teaching. I was baptized in 1986 in the Philippines, just prior to our family immigrating to the United States.”

The family was supposed to live in Florida, but ended up in Los Angeles in 1986. “I attended the Reseda church in Southern California for several years before 1997 when I helped Pastor Bermie Dizon start NewLife Fellowship in Pasadena.”

Dee, who was divorced in 2009, married Lisa on March 18, 2012. “I have two stepsons, Nelson and Eli Heimsoth. Nelson is a freshman college student in Southern California. Eli is a sophomore in high school in Oregon City. My wife Lisa has been a teacher for over 20 years in the North Clackamas School District. She also serves as a union officer in the local chapter of the National Education Association.”

Dee served with Pastor Dizon at NewLife Fellowship for two years as a bi-vocational pastor. “Bermie was my mentor. He saw the passion and zeal I have for our Lord Jesus and acknowledged my sincere desire to serve in pastoral ministry.” The mentoring served Dee well. “I was hired as a full-time salaried pastor in 1999. It was during our time of transition from legalism to grace that I felt the calling of God to enter vocational ministry. I embraced our freedom in Christ through our new theological understanding and was excited, encouraged and motivated to share that amazing grace to our members and others. We were losing many of our pastors at the time, either through voluntary departure or financial difficulties. I sought a meeting with Dan Rogers to convey to him my desire to serve, in whatever capacity, the denomination during this time of transition. This meeting led to my hiring and subsequent transfer to pastor in Tucson, Arizona.”

After serving the GCI congregations in Tucson and Sierra Vista, Arizona for two years, Dee was transferred to Washington and served as the senior pastor of the Olympia and Port Orchard congregations. “I transferred to Vancouver, Washington in 2010, where I now serve as senior pastor of our churches in Portland and Vancouver.”

When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor, Dee said, “This is easy. I love sharing in the lives of the members of our church and their families. I’m especially excited about teaching biblical doctrine and helping people apply it to day-to-day living. Secondarily, I enjoy the pursuit of knowing the Triune God and the privilege of unpacking the truth of the immense love of the Father, expressed through the grace of the Son in the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Understanding the truth of our acceptance and inclusion in the life and love of the Trinity instructs and guides me in loving the people that God brings to my circle of influence.” Dee also mentioned GCI’s fellowship and unity. “I feel at home with our churches and members in other states and countries when I have the privilege to be with them.”

We asked Dee what he would like others to know about him that they may not already know. “It embarrasses me a little bit to confirm this,” he replied, “but I do love reality TV. I was a fan of The Real World on MTV when it pioneered the genre of reality-based TV programming. It has since morphed into reality game shows and other weird shows. I currently like watching Top Chef, Survivor, and yes, The Bachelor/Bachelorette.”

While reality shows provide entertainment, Dee’s real passion is God’s Word. “I am passionate about preaching and teaching the good news of the Father’s love through the Son by the power of the Spirit.”

Dee shared an interesting memorable moment. “I was preaching with fervor and enthusiasm during one of our festival days, when from out of the audience a woman leapt to her feet, ran towards me and kissed my cheeks. At first, I didn’t know what she had in mind, but certainly appreciated that endearing gesture. It has not happened to me since. I guess it went downhill from there (smile).”

Dee finished up by sharing this: “I feel closest to God when I am worshiping him through music because I feel his love for me through the words sung and can express back to him my devotion and gratitude.”