Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

One perennial question lingers that plagues the redeemed believer. If it does not bother us deeply—cause us to lose sleep even—we have every reason to suspect the validity of our own conversion. The question is this: what happens to those tribes who do not hear the gospel? 

Let’s answer this question two ways, first logically and then directly with Scripture. 

Suppose that God saves those who have not heard the gospel on the pretense of their being isolated from the announcement of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What premises would this conclusion demand? It would require one of two premises (possibly both) to be true; (a) that the taint of the sin-plague did not cause this tribe’s ultimate bodily and spiritual death or else (b) that God saves some other way than through the announcement of the gospel. Neither of these premises fit the data of Scripture. 

In fact, if such a tribe’s salvation had been guaranteed through their NOT having heard the gospel, the most dangerous and reckless thing would be for a Christian to preach it to them! At that moment, their soul would then be put in jeopardy after having heard the good news. This would make missions a danger to unengaged tribes by bringing knowledge that, if rejected, could condemn them. 

Let’s allow the Apostle Paul to answer the question in Scripture. In fact he addresses this question head-on in Romans 10:13-17, 

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

In this passage, Paul marches through a logical progression which reaches the same conclusion to the one I gave above. Paul enumerates the following points, 

  • The Gospel saves all who call upon the Lord (quoting Joel 2:32).
  • One calls upon the Lord by believing The Gospel (defined in Romans 10:9-10).
  • We must know the gospel in order to believe it.
  • The Gospel must be preached in order to be made known.
  • In order to be preached, the gospel requires preachers (missionaries) to those place where it is yet unheard.

In conclusion then, Paul answers the question of the fate of the unreached, not with fire and brimstone (although I believe he had full Scriptural warrant to do so), but rather by pleading with the Roman Christians to march outward with the global gospel proceeding joyfully from their lips. 

(This blog post has been excerpted from Pastor Matthew's book Un-Precious: An Invitation to the Joy of Christian Missions). 

Matthew Everhard is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Fl. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard.

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