- In Protestant theological discourse, Universalism holds that all humans will eventually become heirs of the salvation offered in Christ, some immediately after death and others after a period of recompense for their sin. Universalism arose out of the belief that the love of God was incompatible with a belief in eternal torment in hell. Universalists found support from biblical scholars who suggested that eternal torment/punishment was not clearly taught in the Bible, but first appeared in the second century in the writings of Justin Martyr and Ignatius of Antioch.Modern challenges to the doctrine of eternal punishment took one of two approaches. one suggested that sinners would be annihilated in hell, rather than face conscious torment. Among popular exponents of this idea was Charles Taze Russell (1852-1916), founder of what today is known as the Jehovah's Witnesses. However, Uni-versalism proper does not just deny eternal torment, but believes that all souls will eventually enter heaven.Through the centuries, individuals have occasionally voiced the belief, and a few small groups like the Schwenckfelders included it as part of their affirmations. It did not take on organizational form until the 18th century in America.Rev. John Murray (1741-1815) was the founder of what became the Universalist Church in America. An English Methodist minister, he was won over to Universalism by John Rilley, a former Methodist minister who had been excommunicated. Migrating to America in 1770, Murray was invited to pastor a small group of like-minded believers in New Jersey. After a period, he began to travel among the cities of the eastern seaboard. on January 1, 1779, a fellowship of Universalists in Gloucester, Massachusetts, signed Articles of Association that created an Independent Church of Christ. The following year, Murray became its pastor. Other Universalist churches emerged, and in 1785 they held their first convention. In 1793, a more formal organization was created as the General Convention of Universalists.The convention's beliefs were laid out in the Winchester Profession of Faith, adopted at Winchester, New Hampshire, in 1803. They affirmed belief in God, the authority of the Bible, the leadership of Jesus Christ, and the certainty of just retribution for sin. They also professed belief that God, whose nature is love, will restore the whole family of humankind. Two years later, a young Universalist minister, Hosea Ballou (1771-1852), published A Treatise on the Atonement, which rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. From that time, Unitarianism would become more common among Universalists than Trinitarianism.Though unordained, as early as 1811 women preached to Universalist congregations, starting with Maria Cook. In 1863, Universalist Olympia Brown (1835-1926) became the first woman ordained as a minister in the United states.In 1961, the Universalist Churches of America united with the American Unitarian Association to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. The vision of the two organizations had by this time largely converged.See also women, ordination of.Further reading:■ A. L. Bressler, The Universalist Movement in America, 1770-1880 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001)■ Russell E. Miller, The Larger Hope: The First Century of the Universalist Church in America, 1770-1870 (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1979)■ John Murray, The Life of Rev. John Murray, Preacher of Universal Salvation, written by himself; with Notes and Introduction (Boston: Francis & Munroe, 1816)■ George Hunston Williams, American Universalism (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.