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Stories : “Thank God, a Universalist! A story about Rev. Rasnake

Rev. James Madison Rasnake was the best Baptist minister in Georgia. His first career had been as a lawyer, and he was known for his splendid reasoning abilities. After creating a well-known law practice, he found his true calling—ministry—in particular, the Baptist ministry.

In 1896 he was accepted into the Baptist ministry proudly and gladly by the Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. For the next six years he pastored churches that thrived with his devotion and ministerial ability. At one point he was ministering to six different churches at one time, and all six were growing!

Then one day Rev. Rasnake was opening his mail. He’d been away ministering to his churches, so there was quite a stack of mail. It was an ordinary day, at least it began that way. The buds were bursting on the trees, the flowers were blooming, the grass was green on the rolling hills, a green you could find only in spring in Virginia. His churches were growing, his faith was firm and life was settled.

One package stood out among the rest. He saved it until the last. He opened all his mail, read over each letter quickly and finally he had only the one left to open. He went to his favorite chair and settled in. He opened the wrapping carefully. He undid the sides, cut the string, and there he found the volume he had been waiting for. A volume bound in leather, lettered in gold, containing 12 sermons of the most famous Baptist ministers alive. These twelve sermdns were guaranteed to win souls to the Baptist faith. Rev. Rasnake read each carefully and thoroughly. Ministering to six churches was difficult work and he needed those sermons to feed his own faith.

Suddenly he saw an inconsistency that made him reread the sentence, “Jesus either did pay the debts of all people or he did not.” A simple point to us. “Jesus either did pay the debts of all people or he did not.” This means all people are saved, but to be a Baptist minister in 1900, if he agreed with this one sentence, then he was not a Baptist, not a Baptist at all. Instead, he was, oh I shudder to think if he believed that all people are saved, he was... (What do you think he was if not a Baptist? Can anyone tell me?)

A Universalist. That’s right, a Universalist. For in the year 1900, the Universalists were the only church which believed that all people were saved.

Well what had begun as a wonderful spring day with a book meant to nurture his soul was instead a day of struggle. Rev. Rasnake had found a truth that he could not avoid. He was not a Baptist, not a Baptist at all. He was a Universalist.

So to the great surprise and dismay and dislike of many of his Baptist colleagues and parishioners, Rev. Rasnake resigned his six Baptist churches and became a Universalist minister.

Rev. Rasnake grew to believe not only that all people are saved but that God is good and merciful. He preached these ideas to Universalists throughout the South, all because he read one phrase in one sermon written by the best Baptist minister in the world.

To that I say, "Thank you, God" to the best Baptist minister in the world (in 1900) for putting such good ideas into the head of the best Baptist minister in Virginia.

Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

For more information contact worshipweb@uua.org.

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Last updated on Thursday, April 24, 2014.

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