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Question:
This is something I have always struggled with – if someone has lived their entire lives without hearing about Christianity (say in a tribe in Africa, or raised in a segregated religious community), will they be punished for dying a non Christian? My Pastor says yes.

Answer:

Your Pastor proclaims to know things he can’t possibly know. As humans we can only be categorical and dogmatic about the TRUTH we can know. So we know categorically, and can state definitely, that if someone hears the Gospel and rejects it, they are lost. If someone follows a religion whereby they try to earn their way into heaven, they are lost. If someone lives their entire life ignoring the divine law written on their heart, and rejecting the Creator that creation clearly illuminates, then they are lost.

“But the Bible says there is no other name under heaven by which a man is saved – Jesus Christ. There you have it… plain and simple. If a person does not believe in and obediently respond to Jesus Christ, they will go to hell. How much plainer can it get?” many sincere Christians and Pastors will say.

Acts 4:12 – Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (NKJV)

It cannot get ANY plainer for those who have heard exactly that. Once you have been exposed to that Truth, you are responsible for it. But what about the Old Testament believers? They never heard of Jesus. Abraham was saved by faith. Job was saved by faith. Noah was saved by Faith. Enoch was saved by faith. Faith in God, faith in God’s plan that was fulfilled in Jesus… so they were saved by the name of Jesus too.

But that was BEFORE Christ, right? Yes, so for those who NEVER have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, is it still possible they are capable of the same faith? Did God remove the ability to have genuine faith after the Cross except when the Gospel is present? I’m not trying to create new doctrine here, I’m just saying that we should not make the Bible say something it does not say. It does not say “there is no other name under heaven by which you must be saved and that includes people who never even had the chance to hear EXCEPT if they lived AND DIED before Jesus rose from the dead…” The Bible doesn’t say that. For anyone who reads or hears “no other name under heaven…” BAM!!! They are now responsible for that Truth, period. No exception. Reject it, go to hell. Ignore it, go to hell. Try to get to heaven by any other effort, go to hell.

All through the Bible we find both example and principle that God holds us responsible for the Truth as it has been revealed to us. Before Jesus, that Truth came from the divine law written on every heart, expressed in the written Law (if you were Jewish or exposed to Judaism) and revealed in nature (creation declares a Creator). All of that led to faith, faith in God, faith in God’s plan of salvation via Jesus, alas… saved by Jesus name.

“No, no, no Brent… you’re tap dancing around plain Scripture, using your own wisdom and ignoring clearly what the Bible says. The people before Jesus were saved differently, by faith, looking towards Jesus. Once Jesus came, then it was only by physicall hearing and responding to the Gospel message of Christ”. Really? Does the Bible draw that distinction: PHYSICALLY hearing the Gospel and responding? It’s not possible to have the same faith as Abraham if you never physically hear the Gospel? Does the Bible declare that?

What about the deaf, blind and dumb? The mentally disabled? Babies? If your Pastor can declare “hell” for native in the deep dark jungle who never heard, then he should be brave enough to spread the condemnation equitably.

What about the people who lived during Jesus day? And especially those who died not long after His resurrection? The Gospel took DECADES and DECADES to spread even through that larger region. So some person in Asia, living by faith like Abraham, was automatically condemned to hell because he was unfortunate enough to live after Jesus ascended but before the Gospel message came his way? Wow… what a bummer. But wait… if believe a person who genuinely could have never had the chance to hear of Christ during that time (because it had not come to his area yet) COULD be saved by faith, like Abraham, by what Biblical precedent do we dogmatically claim that cannot be possible today?

The Gospel had not spread all over within decades, did they get a break? Two thousand years later it still hasn’t reached everyone… any grace for them? If the person in Asia could be saved by faith 50 years after Christ, can the native in the jungles of a Pacific island two thousand years later be saved by the same faith that saved Abraham? No? By what Biblical grounds can you say “no”?

Again, I’m not trying to make up loopholes to the Gospel. Anyone who reads my writing knows that I categorically teach ONE WAY to be saved. What I don’t do, and this is my point here, is make the Bible say what it doesn’t say. If you hear about the Gospel, you are responsible to it. If you never hear it, and never had a chance to hear it, but like Abraham, Enoch or perhaps the guy in Asia in 50 A.D. live by FAITH and respond to the divine law written on your heart and worship the Creator that creation declares MUST exist, then is it really the place of Brent Riggs or some Pastor to say “nope, go to hell buddy. You didn’t hear about Christ.” I think we try to step in to God’s place and declare what is neither our business or within our ability when we make such claims.

What IS our business and within our ability is to say: I will teach no other way to salvation than Jesus Christ. I will believe in no other way to salvation. I will say that anyone who has heard the Gospel now can only be saved by obediently responding to the Gospel. And I will say that anyone who never has the chance to hear the Gospel AND does not live by faith worshipping the Creator cannot be saved either. Otherwise, for those folks who never have a chance to hear the Gospel but live by faith, that is in God’s hands, and God’s business. It doesn’t change or affect my responsibility as a Christian.

I’ll get roundly criticized and called a heretic for this one, so let me finish by reemphasizing one last time: I’m not trying to create a doctrine here. Far from it. What I’m trying to point out is the danger of making categorical statements like this Pastor, going BEYOND what Scripture says, injecting our own conclusions where the Bible is silent, and avoiding some obvious questions at the same time.

As a closing note, my personal belief is that God is quite capable of getting the Gospel to anyone, anywhere, anytime on this entire earth… so I don’t sit around worrying about this question unless it is to try and answer it for others like today.

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