I will never forget the day I sat with a group of young men who had recently become Christians. They had grown-up in a country with few Christians and limited access to the gospel. They received Christ with great joy, but were immediately struck by the reality that no person in their families, living or dead, had heard. They asked, “What is to become of our family? No one ever told them about Jesus?”
Questions about what happens to unevangelized is more than a theoretical exercise. It is attached to faces, names, and experiences. Honestly, I wish I could ignore the question; however, the consequences are too great. Millions have not heard and the Bible is clear, unless a person hears and personally responds to the gospel, there is no hope for salvation. People are not protected from wages of sin because they have never heard. God’s mercy and justice do not allow for a broader path to forgiveness through ignorance.
1. Humans are condemned because of personal sin and idolatry.
Many mistaken believe that those who have never heard are innocent; however, Paul’s letter to the Romans shatters this myth of an innocent unbeliever. According to Romans 1, all people are idol worshipers. Because of God’s creation, men and women experience inward emptiness or guilt. Neither of these experiences draw us to God; instead, humans fashion religion (or man-made worship) to eliminate guilt or they worship the creation. Both reactions violate God’s first and second commandment. The Bible says that everyone on the planet has sinned, created idols, and worshiped wrongly.
Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.”
Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death. . .”
Those who have not heard are not right with God in their ignorance; the truth is, they are enemies of God because of their knowledge.
2. The mandate and mission of the Scriptures exposes the futility of this claim.
Many have observed, if a person is free from judgement if they remain ignorant, then the most wicked act one could commit would be tell them. If ignorance is an excuse, telling creates instantly culpability. By preaching, you condemn some to hell.
The problem is, even a cursory reading of the NT shows the first Christians compelled to proclaim Christ to the whole world. They preached the message far and wide because Jesus had commanded them. Paul’s passion was to, “Evangelize where Christ has not been named.” (Rom 15:20). He sought to evangelize to the ends of the earth because he knew that God’s gift of salvation, placed him under obligation to those who had never heard. (Rom1:14-15) This cost him his life
It may be possible for someone who does not affirm the full authority of scripture to embrace a broader path of inclusivism. But, I do not believe that anyone who takes the Scriptures seriously can do so without denying significant parts of the New Testament.
3. The consequences are too great to be wrong on this issue
Philosophers refer to Pascal’s Wager as a reason to believe in God. In Pascal’s work Pensèes he describes a simple bet. To summarize, a person must bet whether God exists or not. If a person believes, and God exists, she has won everything. If God does not exist, she has lost nothing. However, if she does not believe in God and he does exist, she has lost everything. The wise bet, he claimed was to believe in God.
Many philosophers have argued that this formula is problematic. For the sake of this post, we will leave that discussions to my philosopher colleagues. However, considering the implications of our current discussion, a similar wager could be used.
If (unconvinced by my previous two points) someone believed that those who had never heard would not face God’s judgement, no harm has been done by aggressively seeking to obey Jesus’ commission to make disciples of all nations. However, if I am right, our lack of obedience sentences millions to an eternity separated from God. The consequence is simply too great.
Sometimes, when I travel to places where clear proclamation of the gospel is lacking and when people who reject my witness, because mine is their first encounter, I wish I could believe differently. The numbers are so great, eternity is so long, the penalty for sin and idolatry is so severe. However, my heart and mind is captive to the Word of God, and I believe that Scripture clearly teaches that a person must hear the gospel and intentionally place their faith in Christ to be saved. Therefore, we must continue to proclaim Christ to the whole world.