by Clete Hux –
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
In our religiously pluralistic and post-modern age, more and more attention is given to human potential. New-Age philosophies and political correctness are giving mankind an unprecedented array of props for narcissism and idolatry. One way we can understand why is to understand the history and belief-structure of Unitarian Universalism.
History and Background
Liberal theology in many respects has its roots in Unitarianism. Historically Unitarians have rejected belief in the Trinity, seeing God as one “unit” instead of a “triunity” and aligning themselves with early theological heretics and nonconformists such as Arius, Origen, and Pelagius. Anti-trinitarian views began taking hold in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries when men like Frances David, Socinius, and John Biddle carried the unitarian torch. But none championed the cause for the movement as much as Servetus (1511-1553) who is seen by some as the founder of Unitarianism. In 1532, he wrote On the Errors of the Trinity. According to J. Gordon Melton, Servetus compared the triune God to ancient mythology’s three-headed Hound of Hell.1 He did so supposedly in reaction to the religious intolerance of the orthodox position. Servetus’ writing received severe condemnation and he was executed in 1553. He is still seen as a martyr by Unitarian Universalists today.
Universalism is the teaching that salvation is certain for everyone. It developed alongside unitarianism in America in the early 1800s. Influenced by transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson (who was deeply influenced by Hinduism), universalists and unitarians discarded the Bible and the traditions of the church in favor of man’s innate reason and intuition. This opened the way for humanistic “free thought” societies to emerge in the culture. These societies were clearly under-girded by unitarian philosophy as seen in the fact that the majority of the Humanist Manifesto I signers were Unitarians.2
Both unitarians and universalists were in one accord in their general denial of the doctrines of the Trinity, original sin, eternal punishment and miracles. Thus, it was no surprise when they merged in 1961 into the liberal organization known as Unitarian Universalist Association, headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Today the association has more than 1,000 congregations in the U.S. and Canada, and its ministers are trained particularly at one of three places: Harvard University, Meadville-Lombard (University of Chicago), or Starr King School of the Ministry in California.3
Beliefs and Practices
Unitarian Universalists are not creedal in their beliefs. Instead, they would say that they are covenanted together as liberal congregations open to all (universal) religious beliefs. They believe that all people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation have inherent worth and should celebrate together in accordance with their different experiences, opinions, and lifestyles.4
At a Unitarian Universalist worship gathering, it is easy to find Jews, liberal Christians, Buddhists, Atheists, and Agnostics. Some members would say that they are religious humanists, “world religionists,” or feminists. Many would embrace eastern mysticism and Earth-centered traditions which teach the divine oneness of all things. Here are six beliefs of Unitarian Universalists:
As expected, the Bible is just one among many religious books for Unitarian Universalists. As a theologically liberal group, they view the Bible as a fallible human book. It is a spiritaully important book, but no more so than other books such as the Koran or the Vedas.5 Unitarian Universalists believe that the Bible contains much myth and therefore cannot be taken literally. Any truth-claims the gospels make are subordinate to the judgments of human reason, conscience, and personal experience.
Since they have no creed, there is no defined doctrine of God for Unitarian Universalists. They interpret the word “God” in many different ways. Some are theists, while others are non-theists. Some would see God as personal, while others as impersonal. There could be atheist, polytheist, pantheist, deist, agnostic, neopagan, or feminist views of God represented in any Unitarian Universalists group.
Unitarian Universalists have diverse opinions about Jesus. However, the one view consistently rejected is the Christian view that he is the only way to God. He is viewed as a moral teacher and is respected for his influence, but He is not seen as God. He is a way to God, a divine principle, or an individual who attained the “Christ Consciousness” that is available to us all. He may be one who is able to help us find the “divine spark” within us, but He himself was not a supernatural being.
Unitarian Universalists also reject the Christian view that man is fallen. They seldom, if ever, use the word “sin.” Instead of drawing attention to any human weakness, man’s goodness and potential are elevated. For those Unitarian Universalists who are pantheists, man is seen as able to realize his own divinity.
Any supposed way that leads to spiritual enlightenment or to God is acceptable so long as there is no claim to having the one and only way. They would regard Christian exclusivism as narrow-minded and intolerant. Unitarian Universalists embrace the “do it yourself” and “all roads lead to God” approaches. This comparable to the remarks of Sophie Burnham (a guest on Oprah Winphrey) who said, “We must respect each person’s entry into God…just like the spokes of a wheel lead to the same center so do all paths lead to God.”6 For many Unitarian Universalists, the word “save” or “salvation” isn’t used. These are discarded for other terms like “enlightenment,” “increased wisdom,” “character improvement,” “inner and outer peace,” “patience,” or “compassion.”7
One cannot respond to Unitarian Universalist views on the Bible, God, Christ, man, and salvation without first understanding that the their view of truth is relativistic. They deny the existence of absolute truth. Yet, they also claim that one’s reason has a primary position in one’s belief structure. But they cannot have it both ways. To say that truth is relative is to deny that reason can establish any objective, universal truths. Moreover, to say that all truth is relative is logically self defeating for it amounts to saying that it is true that there is no truth!—which is absurd.
Unitarian Universalists claim to be tolerant of all peoples’ beliefs. However, they are very intolerant of Christians who believe the Bible to be the infallible word of God. So, they are tolerant so long as it does not offend their own view. They would claim that God’s being a trinity is unreasonable and unbiblical. However, since the Bible teaches that there is only one God by nature (Isa. 44:6, 9; John 5:44; 17:3; Rom. 3:29-30; 16:27; I Tim. 2:5) and that this nature is shared by three eternal persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (I Pet. 1:2; John 20:28; Acts 5:3-4)—it is neither unreasonable nor unbiblical. For example, in the Great Commission passage of Matthew 28:19, the word name is in the singular, but is applied in the context to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This text indicates, therefore, that there is one God but three distinct persons in the Godhead. So, Unitarian Universalists are mistaken when they say the Trinity isn’t taught in the Bible.
Concerning Jesus, he was more than a good moral teacher come from God. He was God come to teach! He is not only the only way to God (John 14:6), He is God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14; Co;. 2:9). And it is important to point out as well that any attack on religious exclusivism is self-defeating. Alan Gomes notes that “it is impossible for Unitarian Universalists to exclude all exclusivistic positions since the very act of excluding these positions is itself an act of exclusivism.”8
The Bible does teach the dignity of man. He is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26, 27). But this is a far cry from the Unitarian Universalist’s elevated view of man. The Bible is clear that man is fallen (Rom. 3:23) and in need of restoration by the One in whose image he is created. No amount of “pulling oneself up but the bootstraps” will achieve salvation. Only as he recognizes his need for deliverance and his inability to save himself, is he a candidate for God’s salvation.
Ultimately, Unitarian Universalism can be compared to the prideful mentality that originated at the tower of Babel in which man came to believe that he is the measure of all things. But, God has no competitors and will not tolerate such arrogance on the p art of sinful human beings. Unitarian Universalists need to realize that it is the chief end of man that he glorify his Creator and enjoy Him forever.
Clete Hux is the Counter-Cult Apologist for the Apologetics Resource Center.
1J. Gordon Melton, Encyclopedia of American Religions, 6th edition (Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1999), 122.
2Alice Blair Wesley “Common Questions” located at www.uunhf.org/unitarian/ common-quest/index.htm
3Ron Rhodes, The Challenge of the Cults (Grand Rapids: Zondrevan, 2001), 235.
4Article, What do Unitarian Universalists Believe? website, http://www.uunhf.org/Unitarian/believe/
5 Fritjof Capia, The Turning Point (New York: Simon and Shuster, 1982), 322.
6 Quote from the Oprah Winfrey Show (Date unknown); tape on file with ARC.
7 Rhodes, The Challenge of the Cults, p. 240.
8 Alan Gomes, “Unitarian Universalism” in Walter Reaction, The Kingdom of the Cults, ed. Hank Hanegraff (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1999), 635.