What Is The Fate Of Those Who've Never Heard?
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On the Destiny of the Unevangelised
I hope to use this as a launching pad for further thinking on salvation, 'personal relationship' with Christ, 'dimensions' of faith, Catholic theology, etc.  The piece below was my first write-up on the topic (call it an Intro) to which I plan to elaborate as well as address some of the more common objections to the thesis.

So then, what is the destiny of the UNEVANGELISED?

The answer of which I'm most firmly convicted of at present is: Non-exposure to the Gospel does NOT automatically cut-off people from salvation; they who have not heard the Good News of Christ (and thus cannot 'accept' Him at all) are NOT instantly disqualified from receiving the grace of God which need not be contained by the limitations of the church.

Here's why I think so... (go here for issues/questions raised)

1. God's nature and power is present throughout the world; His grace and compassion is similarly unbounded and active wherever His Spirit is.

Titus 2:11, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to ALL men."
Psalms 19:1-4, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they POUR FORTH SPEECH; night after night they DISPLAY KNOWLEDGE. There is NO speech or language where their voice is NOT heard; their voice goes out into ALL the earth, their words to the ends of the world"
(Natural theology i.e. divine revelation in creation, is truly global in character and attests strongly to the Person of God)

Rom 1:19-21, "...what may be known about God is PLAIN to (wicked men), because God has MADE IT PLAIN to them...God's eternal power and divine nature has been CLEARLY SEEN, being understood from what has been made, so that men are WITHOUT EXCUSE. For although they KNEW God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him..."
(This passage states clearly that non-exposure to the Gospel does not – and should not - prevent Man from glorifying God, let alone knowing Him)

Acts 17:26-27, "God determined the times set for (humanity) and the exact places where they should live (so that) men would SEEK Him and perhaps REACH OUT for Him and FIND Him, though He is NOT FAR from EACH ONE of us"
(It's clear that people who have yet to hear the Gospel can still 'find God' somehow)

Acts 14:17, "(God) has not left Himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; He provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."

Psalms 145:9, "The Lord is good to ALL; He has compassion on ALL He has made"

The key point to be made is that the scope and activity of God's grace parallels His love and revelation which is spread all across the globe. Given that God has revealed His Personhood and Love to ALL mankind, it seems a fallacy to conclude that He hasn't provided every society with at least SOME measure of 'saving knowledge' as well (imperfect as this may be compared to the Gospel).
 

2. There will be in Heaven representatives from EVERY tribe, language, people and nation.

Rev 5:9, "...with Your blood You purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation; You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God..."

Rev 7:9, "...there before me was a great multitude that no onecould count, from every nation, tribe, peopleandlanguage, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb."

When we couple this with the point that surely NOT every human community had exposure to the Gospel it seems that there MUST be a route to God accessible to Man which does not require a specific historical/theological(?!) knowledge of the person of Jesus Christ (let alone 'personal acceptance' of this).
 

3. A PRIESTHOOD of believers (what 1Pet 2:5,9 call Christians) implies that there are people NOT AMONG the priesthood to whom the priests must 'minister' to and who are under the care of God. This was basically the function of priests: To administer God's grace to those who were NOT priests, with the implication that the non-priests can still be accepted/saved by God.

1Pet 2:5,9 "...you are being built into a spiritual house to be a HOLY PRIESTHOOD...a ROYAL PRIESTHOOD"

Exo 19:6, "...you will be for me a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS and a holy nation..."
(Even in the Old Testament, Israel was expected to minister to the surrounding nations where salvation was expected to occur as well)


4. There are Old Testament individuals who were NOT counted among the covenant community of Israel YET possessed authentic and somewhat developed knowledge of God (‘pagan saints’, as some have termed them).  Consider:

  • Melchizedek (Gen 14)
  • Balaam (Num 22)
  • Nebuchadnezzar (Dan 2)
  • Abimelech (Gen 20)
  • Job
  • Magi from the East (Matt 2)
  • Laban (Gen 24)
  • The implication is that God's self-revelations - which presumably includes the salvation 'theme' - are by no means restricted within the locale of His covenant people.  It's clear that God has His own special ways of 'getting His Word around'.
     

    5. One may actually be 'living for Jesus' despite not having any explicit knowledge of Him(!).

    Heb 11:24-26, "By faith Moses...regarded disgrace FOR THE SAKE OF CHRIST as of greater value than the treasure of Egypt..."
    (Moses' actions in Exodus were done 'in the Name of Jesus')

    John 6:45, "(Jesus said) Everyone who listens to the FATHER and LEARNS FROM HIM comes to Me"
    (This is the remarkable counterpoint to John 14:6 - "No one comes to the Father except through Me" - and I believes highlights a wideness in God's redemptive arms in addition to the glorious unity between Father and Son).

    No doubt Jesus is the ONLY Way to Heaven, yet could it be that there are varied routes leading TO Him (e.g. obedience to the Father)!? (Yes, more work is forthcoming on this point!)
     

    6. A person will be judged according to his overall character i.e. his HEART, in longing for truth and doing good; intellectual comprehension of the Gospel content is not even primary(!) as there are many dimensions of faith than merely the cognitive.

    Rom 2:6-10, "To those who be PERSISTENCE in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality God will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger...there will be trouble and distress for every human who does evil...but glory, honor and peace everyone who does good."
    (This implies that there could be people who, though sinful and in need of grace, are in general other-centered, truth-loving and good-seeking; the element of persistence would not require a 'perfectly sinless' life, but rather one which, despite not being in reach of the NT Gospel, still reaches out to God)

    Rom 2:14-15, "...when Gentiles...do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves...since they show that the requirements of thelaw are WRITTEN ON THEIR HEARTS..."

    1Tim 1:5, "The goal...is love, which comes from a PURE HEART and a GOOD CONSCIENCE and a SINCERE FAITH"

    Acts 10:34-35, "...God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from EVERY nation who fear Him and do what is right"

    Matt 18:3-4, "...unless you change and become like little children, you will never entire the kingdom of heaven...whoever humbles himself LIKE THIS CHILD is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven"

    Luke 18:17, "Let the LITTLE CHILDREN come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these...anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it"
    (How much intellectual 'grasp' of the Gospel would a child have? Virtually none, but he WOULD have a heart which loves God in a pure way...*smile* - is it possible that some unevangelized adults demonstrate a similar 'faith like a child'? )

    Matt 25:37-41, "Then the righteous will answer Him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you , or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clotheyou? WHen did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
    (It may not be overly speculative to hold that among the 'righteous' in the passage would include those who don't possess an explicit knowledge of Christ and the Gospel YET whose other-centered lives regularly demonstrate the impact of grace in their hearts)

    .....................................................................................................................................................
    All the above are presented to support the notion those who have never heard the Gospel, through no fault of their own, are still provided the opportunity for salvation. God's grace is as omnipresent and dynamic as His Spirit, and can operate even in times and places yet to welcome evangelists.

    One need not belong to the covenant people of God in order to be saved and cared for by God. This is already evident in the Old Testament under the old covenants, what more the gloriously new and superior ministry/covenant of Jesus Christ (2Cor 3:6-11!).

    To summarise my position (and hopefully give a 'table of contents' for future work):

    A.  Salvation is MEANT to occur outside God's covenant people - whatever knowledge humanity needs for salvation (at least) is abundantly available through natural theology (points 1 and 3)
    B.  Salvation was ALREADY PROVIDED to those outside the specific covenants (points 2, 4 and 5)
    C.  Salvation is primarily PERSONAL with specific cognitive content being a SECONDARY issue (point 6)

    What I've written above may be 'slightly' controversial (grin), but let me make clear some overarching caveats before you fire away:


    Still Pondering,
    AL
    Note 1: See the issues/questions raised.
    Note 2: Don't miss out on Glenn Miller's piece of the same topic from which the below was heavily influenced.  Also, check out a very extensive article by Alan Nairne who discusses, among other things, the issue of post-mortem evangelisation.



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