Carlton Pearson, a high-profile pastor who lost 90 percent of his church's 5,000 members after publicly teaching that everyone will eventually be saved, held the final service in his church building on New Year's Eve.
With its property lost in foreclosure and sold to an investment company, Higher Dimensions Family Church now meets as New Dimensions Worship Center on Sunday afternoons at an Episcopal church.
Higher Dimensions, founded by Pearson in 1981, was one of Tulsa, Oklahoma's largest and most prosperous churches. Its high-energy, sharply dressed pastor appeared regularly on the Trinity Broadcasting Network and at national conferences, wrote several books, and hosted an annual Azusa Street conference that drew national figures such as T. D. Jakes.
Pearson also ran for mayor of Tulsa, earned a Grammy nomination, and met with President Bush in a small group of black church leaders.
Higher Dimensions' slide began about four years ago when Pearson began preaching a form of universalism that alienated his Pentecostal/evangelical followers. His "gospel of inclusion"—that Christ died for the sins of the world, and therefore the whole world will be saved—denied the classic Christian belief that salvation involves turning from sin and accepting God's forgiveness through faith in Jesus.
His alma mater, Oral Roberts University, banned his church buses from the campus. National church leaders and publications condemned him. His own denomination, the Church of God in Christ, the nation's largest Pentecostal group, Pearson said, denounced "my doctrine, but not me." Still, Pearson said, "[I am] as confident and resolute as I've ever been."
"This is the price we paid for presenting the unconditional love of Jesus Christ," Pearson said. "I have no regrets, except that the town said no."
Faced with declining revenues, the church could not make mortgage payments on its 30-acre site in an upscale neighborhood. In August, Gold Bank filed foreclosure papers. Late in 2005, the bank notified the church to vacate the property by January 1.
Higher Dimensions accepted an invitation to worship at Trinity Episcopal Church, Tulsa's flagship Episcopal church with 1,600 members. The Rev. Stephen McKee, Trinity rector, said he is comfortable with Pearson's gospel of inclusion. "I have difficulty believing in a God that's going to put my colleagues in hell."
Pearson said the two men may have some theological differences, but "Father McKee and I are pretty much on the same page."
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Higher Dimensions has more information on Carlton Pearson.
NPR's This American Life (audio) profiled Pearson.
Christianity Today's earlier coverage of Pearson includes:
Heresy Charge Torpedoes Pastor's Political Debut | Tulsa Christian leaders reject Pearson's 'gospel of inclusion' as universalism. (June 12, 2002)
News elsewhere includes:
Theologians offer new ideas about limbo, hell | Even as evolution and religion continue their public tug-of-war over truth, another sort of evolutionary drama unfolds. Call it the evolution of religion. (Ray Waddle, The Tennessean, Jan. 28, 2006)
'Inclusionism' deemed heresy | A popular black preacher has been found guilty of the "heresy of inclusionism" after a year-long debate among his fellow bishops on whether non-Christians can be admitted to heaven. (The Washington Times, April 21, 2004)
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