Did the Early Church Fathers Promote Inclusionism?
The doctrine of inclusion teaches that everyone is righteous, holy, and saved. Everyone, whether they believe it or not, has been raised with Christ and is now in union with him.
Since this idea is so clearly at odds with Scripture, those who preach it are forced to draw on extra-Biblical sources. For instance, one argument used to support inclusionism is that the early church fathers taught it. Apparently guys with cool names like Irenaeus and Athanasius went around teaching this stuff.
Is this true?
Happily, you don’t need a seminary degree to find out. You can just Google it. Let’s take Irenaeus as an example.
According to one website which promotes inclusionism, Irenaeus taught that everyone was saved at the cross:
Irenaeus sought to show that… through the Incarnation, the entire human race was “born again” in Jesus…
Is this true? Did Irenaeus really say the entire human race was born again at the cross? You can find out for yourself by reading his book Against Heresies online. In chapter 22 of that book Irenaeus says this:
For he came to save all through means of himself…
“Yes!” says the inclusionist. “Jesus is the Savior of the world, not a potential savior. He saves all.” But wait a second, Irenaeus isn’t finished:
— all, I say, who through him are born again to God.
Who are saved? Not everyone, but only those who are born again through Christ.
Inclusionism typically denies the “born again” conversion experience. “You were never born again. The phrase ‘born again’ is not in the Bible.” Yet here it is in the writings of the early church fathers.
“Irenaeus must have been referring to the human race – the human race was born again.” But that’s pushing an inclusionist interpretation onto a non-inclusionist text. How about we let Irenaeus interpret Irenaeus:
The acceptable year of the Lord, again, is this present time, in which those who believe him are called by him, and become acceptable to God.
Who is acceptable to God? Irenaeus says “those who believe him.” The inclusionist says humanity has been united to Christ, but Irenaeus says the acceptable are those “who unite themselves to him.”
In summary, Irenaeus is not only preaching something completely different from inclusionism, he is using words and phrases that inclusionists dismiss. It seems Irenaeus has been hijacked and we have been misled.
Even if it were true that the early church fathers preached inclusionism, that would be no reason for embracing a message that is different from the one Jesus revealed and the apostles taught.