Tag Archives: destiny of the unevangelized

Surprising ways people come to know God (and never hear about Jesus!)

25 Oct

Image result for Jesus is not the only way?

Is God fair?  Will he send people to hell who never had a chance to know about salvation in Jesus?  Yesterday we looked at some options for how Christians try to answer this difficult question.

Today we seek for any other biblical passages that might give us some help.  Thankfully there are some.

Last week I talked about how God speaks through nature. Remember these verses?

In Isaiah 6:3 we read that the earth of full of his glory.

In Psalm 19:1, we read that the heavens declare the Glory of God.

And in Romans 1:19-20 we read this:

[S]ince what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Scripture teaches, therefore, that God speaks through Creation.  Of course God speaks a lot more through Scripture, but in Romans 1:19-20 Paul tells us that what God speaks through creation is enough that men are without excuse.  Meaning, when people stand before God one day, and God says to them, “Why did you not choose to believe and follow me?” those people can’t say, “Well, we never had the Bible in our language, we never heard about Jesus.”  There is enough, rather, in Creation, in nature, in the universe to point to God, without the need for people to hear the story of Jesus.

Some Christians say tribal people like the Yanomami in Brazil can know God just by nature.  It seems Paul was saying something like that.

Additionally, many reports have come out of Muslim nations in the past few decades, where God has come to individual Muslims in dreams, telling them the truth about Jesus.  Google it.  There are loads and loads of reports of these occurrences.

But what about those that mentally incapacitated?  They cannot look at nature and perceive God.  To respond to this question, many Christians fall back on God’s love and say that he will still accept the mentally incapacitated into heaven.  There is one story in the Bible that many Christian parents who have lost babies and infants look to for hope that they will again see their child in heaven.  King David lost an infant son and in 2 Samuel 12:23 he says “”Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me”.  That makes it seem like he, David, will one day go to where his son is.  We presume that David, a man after God’s own heart, as he is often described, will go to heaven one day, and that David himself believes he will go to heaven, so thus his son is already there.  That view is also in line with God’s love and mercy.

At this point you might say, “Wait a minute, don’t those views conflict with Solus Christus?”  Solus Christus means “Christ Alone”, and as we have seen this week in our continuing study of the Five Solas of the Protestant Reformation, the reformers taught that we are saved by Christ alone.  If we can see God in nature and if God allows babies or mentally handicapped people into heaven, then neither of those situations need Christ.  The same could be said of believers in the Old Testament.  Any believers before Christ’s death and resurrection.  On what basis were they accepted into heaven?  Were they accepted into heaven?

These are good complex questions, but the general answer is that when Jesus died on the cross and came back to life, this act of God was sufficient for all people, for all time.  Those true believers before Christ are accepted by God on the basis of Christ’s anticipated death and resurrection. Those true believers after Christ are accepted by God on the basis of Jesus completed death and resurrection.

We might not be able to answer all these questions, but we know this: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.  I am not telling you what to believe today.  You have to search the Scriptures and decide for yourself.  But I urge you to search the Scriptures.

There is something is even more compelling to me in this discussion.  And we turn to that tomorrow.

Will God send people to hell who never had a chance to hear about Jesus?

23 Oct

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.

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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.