I want to tell you about a tragedy in the Amazon jungle earlier this year.
Multiple news agencies circulated reports about a massacre in an uncontacted tribe in Brazil. Illegal gold miners were overheard bragging at a bar about how they had killed ten of the tribesmen, and they were waving around tribal artifacts to prove it. They said the tribe attacked them first, and they killed only in self-defense.
Brazilian inspectors have begun to investigate these rumors, but thus far no final determination has been made.
That tribe is called the Yanomami, and here is a picture of their typical communal dwellings.
The photo was taken by helicopter in 2016. Fascinating, isn’t it?
A group called Survival International which advocates for tribal peoples describes in this report what you see in the picture. “The village, which is close to the Venezuelan border, has a typical Yanomami ‘yano’ – a large communal house for several families. Each of the yano’s square sections is home to a different family, where they hang their hammocks, maintain fires and keep food stores.”
Sadly, it was less than a year after this photo was taken that the miners were overheard bragging about the killings. If the miners’ story is true, it is a tragedy. Ten people murdered.
But there is a much larger potential tragedy in this story. Those tribal people are born, live and die, just like us. When they die, do those tribal people go to hell?
While the murder of ten people is horrible, what if every single Yanomami who ever lived has gone to hell? Why would I say this, you ask? Because the Yanomami are an uncontacted tribal group. Survival International estimates that there are about 100 uncontacted tribes worldwide, most in the Brazilian jungle.
What does it mean when we call these tribes “uncontacted”? In a press release, Survival International said, “They’re not savages but complex and contemporary societies whose rights must be respected. They are perfectly capable of living successfully without the need for outside notions of “progress” and “development.” In Brazil, at least, the Brazilian government has set up protected zones in the Amazon basin to preserve the uncontacted status of the tribes.
Further, Survival International says that uncontacted Yanomami have made clear their desire to be left alone by fleeing from outsiders and avoiding contacted members of the tribe. How do we know if they are uncontacted and they want to stay that way? Because when outsiders fly nearby in helicopters, the Yanomami shoot at them with bow and arrows. When the photo above was taken, the people in the helicopter counted around 200 arrow shots. You know what those bow and arrow attacks are saying? “Go away. Leave us alone.”
Around 22,000 Yanomami live on the Brazilian side of the border with Venezuela, and at least three of the groups have never had any contact with outsiders.
So back to the question: What happens to uncontacted tribal people when they die?
The next Sola has something to say about that. During these five Sundays of October we have been celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation by looking at the Five Solas of the Reformation. The word sola means “alone”. The protesters, the reformers, who broke away from the Catholic Church summarized their main concerns and teachings in the five Solas. The five Alones. So far we have looked at how we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, as taught in Scripture alone.
Today we add the next one, Solus Christus, which means Christ Alone. So let’s add that to the summary of the Solas so far: We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as taught in Scripture alone.
Last week we learned that Scripture is foundational. It doesn’t matter if the Reformers taught Solus Christus, if it cannot be sustained by the teaching in the Bible we should not hold to it. So does the Bible teach Solus Christus? Perhaps the clearest passages are these two:
John 14:6 where Jesus himself says, “I am the way, truth and life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
Or Acts 4:12 when the Apostles say, “There is no other name by which we can be saved.”
Do you see where the Reformers got this idea of salvation in Christ Alone? Furthermore, Christ alone means that Jesus did all the “work” of salvation. When Jesus was born, lived, and died on the cross, he died for us, the Bible teaches. When his dead body miraculously came back to life on Easter morning, he rose victorious over sin, death and the devil. For us! He alone did something that we could never do. Salvation is in Christ alone.
This is why he himself taught that he is the only way to saved from sin and death. Christ alone is what the Apostles taught, and this is why the Protestant Reformers taught the Five Solas, that we are saved by God’s gift of grace, which we receive by placing our faith in Jesus.
One of Jesus’ earliest followers, Paul, said this in Romans 10:9-10 “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Paul is describing an act of turning away from the sin in our lives, from trusting in ourselves, and turning to Jesus, trusting in him and what he did to save us. That is called repentance. It is saying, “Jesus, I believe in you, and I choose to make you Lord of my life. I will follow you.”
When we do that, Paul says, we are saved. God confers on us the righteousness of Jesus, places his Spirit in our lives, and begins to transform us right here and now, which is itself a major act of salvation, but in addition to that, he gives us the hope of eternal life with him. Salvation is an amazing gift. And as Paul says in Romans 10:9,10, we are saved when we believe in him and confess him as Lord, which means that we choose to follow him with our lives. If you are thinking, “I don’t know that I have done that,” I would love to talk with you. Please write a comment below and let’s talk.
But here’s where it gets troublesome: the Yanomami tribes people can’t do what Paul teaches in Romans 10:9,10, can they? They have no idea about Jesus. Are they, therefore, unsaved?
What about sincere believers in other religions who never hear about Jesus? There are plenty of countries around the world where there are high percentages of adherents of other religions. Take for example the country of Turkey. Guess what percentage of Turkey is Muslim? 99.8% is one stat I found this week.
That means there are plenty of Turks who will be born, live and die, never having heard the Gospel of Jesus. Will God send them to hell? Someone could say, “How could God do that when they never even had a chance to confess Jesus is Lord? When they couldn’t believe in their heart that God raised him from the dead?” If you look at it that way, it seems like God is not fair.
What about those with diminished mental capacity to understand the Gospel? What about babies? These are groups of people for whom it is intellectually impossible to understand the Gospel. They don’t have the brain development necessary to confess Jesus as Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead. Does Solus Christus, salvation by Christ alone, mean that God will send them to hell? Does Solus Christus mean that God is unfair?
Check in tomorrow as we try to answer this difficult question.