Archive for January, 2010
This is part of a blog series concerning the question of the eternal fate of those who have not heard the gospel by the time of their death.
So far, 77 people have participated in the first survey and 41 in the second, follow-up survey (which are part of this blog series).
The tabulated results can be seen in the graphs below. Even though these results are not statistically significant due to the low number of respondents, they do seem to show that there is a fairly significant divergence of opinion regarding this issue.
And although the results are not correlated to any particular religious profile or general beliefs, it is probable that the respondents are largely made up of regular visitors to the ABI website – and therefore most would probably self-identify as conservative evangelicals.
Question: What do you believe concerning the eternal destiny of those who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
(Note: answers that no one chose are not included)
76% (57 responses) I believe the Bible teaches that all who have never explicitly trusted in Christ for their salvation are eternally lost.
14% (10 responses) I believe that God may save those who have not heard the gospel based upon their belief in God and faithfulness to whatever light they have received.
2% (1 response) I believe that God will save the elect apart from their knowledge of the gospel.
5% (4 responses) I believe that this is not for us to judge, that this is a matter for God alone and we cannot know what he will do.
5% (4 responses) Other
Question: What do you believe concerning the eternal destiny of Ayanna? (this question is explained in the survey)
16% (5 responses) I believe Ayanna might be saved and spend eternity in the presence of the Lord because she believed in God and was sincere and faithful to what she knew about him.
3% (1 response) I believe Ayanna may have an opportunity to hear the gospel and receive Christ after she dies.
3% (1 response) I am confident that Ayanna will be saved and spend eternity in the presence of the Lord because of her faith in God and her faithfulness to the light she received.
3% (1 response) I believe that God is the judge and we should not presume to speculate about someone like Ayanna.
78% (24 responses) I believe the Bible teaches that if she never heard about Christ and so never personally trusted him for salvation, Ayanna is lost and will spend eternity suffering in the Lake of Fire.
The graph on the right is also based on the second survey results, but includes those submissions for which no answer was given for this question. I think this may be significant, because all but two of the respondents indicated that they had participated in the first survey. (Although, admittedly, this might not be a correct assumption.)
If the 40% did not answer the question because they weren’t prepared to affirm the belief that those who haven’t heard are lost, then this is consistent with a 2008 Pew Study that asked about the possibility of salvation in other religions besides Christianity.
The full report in PDF format (1.4Mb) can be downloaded <here>
In addition to answering the multiple choice questions, a number of respondents left comments, some of which I have quoted below. I have followed each section of comments with some of my own. I will be addressing these issues further in future articles in this series.
Quotes and Comments
David said of his baby that died that he (David) would go to be with him. 2. Every name is recorded in the book of life so its up to our Blessed Lord whose name is taken out. That being so puts us in good Hands.
There are at least a couple of issues here. One involves the question of what happens to babies when they die. My observation is that many who wrestle with the question of the eternal destiny of those who haven’t heard the gospel tend to think the answer to both questions is necessarily the same. However, theologically, this isn’t the case. In the case of babies and small children, they lack the capacity to exercise faith in Christ for salvation. This would seem to suggest that they also lack the capacity to consciously reject God. However, this is not the same situation as with those who haven’t heard, but do possess the ability to reject God.
The second issue concerns the names which are recorded in the Book of Life. The most common view is that one’s name is written into the Book of Life when they become believers. A somewhat less common view, and the one expressed here, is that everyone’s name is initially recorded in the Book of Life, but at some point it may be blotted out if someone does not “overcome” – presumably, if someone falls into particular sins or if they die without ever having become a true believer. This is based on a particular interpretation of Revelation 3:5.
I do believe that Scripture clearly teaches that all infants, and those not having the ability to “trust” (mentally dificient [sic]) here on earth, will be saved and are only saved as all are, through the shed blood of Christ. No unbelievers in heaven.
I would question whether the matter is clearly settled in Scripture, although I do think there are solid biblical reasons to hold this position in general.
Beyond this, another group is mentioned, apart from infants, who “will be saved” – those who lack the mental capacity to exercise faith. Again, although often combined with those who haven’t heard, they are arguably in a different category (as will be discussed).
This quote also introduces another concept that needs to be evaluated. The respondent seems to be suggesting that although someone may lack the capacity to believe in this life, they will no longer have this deficiency after they die. Of course, virtually everyone would agree with this, but there are two additional issues raised by the comment.
The first is the question of what is sometimes referred to as “post-mortem evangelism” – that the gospel will be presented to someone after death. But included in this is the second question of whether or not anyone will actually have the opportunity to respond to the gospel in faith after they die such that they can be saved.
If so, then yet a third question arises: Will this post-mortem opportunity be extended only to those who lacked the capacity to believe in this life? Or will this opportunity to be saved also be presented to those who had never heard the gospel in this life? And if this is true, would it also possibly include those who had heard the gospel in this life, but consciously rejected it – or at least chose to “put it off” to another time when they would “be ready.” In other words, is there a “second chance?”
I will be dealing with these issues as part of this series.
My answer only applies to this and future dispensations though. In past dispensations the required content of man’s trust in God was different from dispensation to dispensation, but the basis has always been Christ´s effective crosswork [sic], the means has always been faith, the object of such faith has always been God. Merely the content of the required faith has changed over the dispensations in light of progressive revelation. I.e. although David, for instance, has never explicitly trusted in Christ — the way he has been revealed to us in light of progressive revelation — he, nevertheless, is eternally saved. The same goes for Abraham etc. Otherwise the biblical principle for today and all dispensations is: the light received on account of general revelation by an individual will favor the giving of more light in terms of special revelation, but mere assent to general revelation does not suffice to save. Only the thus far revealed content of required faith and that very faith exercised is saving faith according to Scripture.
Along the same line, another respondent wrote:
Almost went for number 2. But if they have responded to what little light they may have, God requires himself to “send more light”. We have numerous and ample examples of this through Wycliffe, New Tribes, etc.
Again, there are two primary issues raised in the first comment, one of which is echoed in the second. Another respondent put it this way:
Theoretically, if she had not suppressed the truth of the one true God and not clung to idolatry but if she had rejected it and consistently [sic] longed and prayed to meet the on true God, she — according to my understanding of the Word of God — would have received the opportunity to hear the gospel and trust Christ. The person who receives the light of natural revelation, will receive more light. If that is received in turn, they will receive even more light, i.e., eventually the Gospel of the substitutionary death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
The first issue relates to the salvation of those who lived prior to the incarnation and the cross. As with the question of small children, the situation with them is often seen as equivalent to that of those who haven’t heard. But is this true from a biblical perspective?
On the other hand, the second respondent above isn’t exactly equating the two, but rather, in providing an explanation, he (or she) actually introduces another view that is also fairly commonly held among conservatives. In this view, which is also expressed in the third comment, the information necessary for salvation cannot be known from simply observing the creation (which I would suggest is the biblical view). However, if someone does respond positively to whatever “light” they have received, again for example, the witness to God in the creation, then through some means (perhaps through receiving a Bible or through a missionary, a radio program, a book, etc.) God will send additional “light” (information) that is sufficient to form a basis for saving faith (of which the object is Christ in this dispensation). In fact, it is suggested that God is obligated (apparently by his nature or what he has promised – which isn’t stated) to “send more light.”
Also, implicit in this view, is the assumption or conclusion that someone who has not heard the gospel might or can actually respond positively to the truth about God that can be known from the creation. This ability to respond positively to general revelation apart from special revelation needs to be considered in light of Scripture.
The problem is your question stated wrong, “never heard the Gospel”, it should read “never except [sic] the Gospel.” Everyone “WILL” hear the gospel, either from those that preach, angels, or Jesus Himself, everyone living or dead will hear the Gospel. The question then becomes what happens when you reject it, and the answer is that you will be eternally separated from God. Hell (Gahenna) [sic] is forever.
Rev 14:6-7 – “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim…”
I Peter 3:18-22 – “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago…”
As with the two previous comments, this one is representative of yet another view concerning the solution to the issue in question. This probably isn’t the majority view, but neither is it uncommon. In this view, whether in this life or after death, everyone, without exception, will be presented with the gospel and therefore have an opportunity to consciously accept or reject Christ. As with some other views, one of the bases for this view is the argument that it wouldn’t be fair if someone were eternally lost if they have never had an opportunity to hear the gospel. And since we know that not everyone hears the gospel before they die, then it follows that there must be such an opportunity after they die and before they are judged. Among the passages used to support this view (again, “post-mortem evangelism”) are those noted by this respondent.
Given that this is a genuine attempt to deal with this question in a biblical way it at least needs to be considered as a potentially plausible solution and evaluated in light of the context of these and other relevant biblical passages.
There is a very fine line between the first and the second option there. However, if you seek Him with all your heart, you WILL find Him. The promise is not that if you seek Him with all your heart, you will be able to believe whatever light you have received. God is powerful enough to bring the gospel of “faith in His Name” to any soul of man who genuinely seeks Him.
Most would probably not agree that there is only a fine line between the first and second answer in the first survey. However, the important distinction between the two answers does tend to blur in the view reflected in this comment. This view is similar to the previous one, except that those who hold this view would tend to go one step further by proposing that God will get the truth of the gospel to anyone who seeks him, even if in some supernatural, revelatory way – which would include dreams, visions and even visitations by angels or the Lord himself. For example, for many years now, there have been an increasing number of people who have been promoting as true the reports that Jesus is actually personally appearing to Muslims in closed and limited-access countries for the purpose of giving them the gospel.
If Jesus appears to Ayanna in her final moments to give her the message and she accepts then she will either return to Earth to share with others or go on to Heaven. I believe there is a point of passing between Earth and Heaven or Hell.
This represents yet a further concept that stops short of “post-mortem evangelism” – but rather postulates that there is some sort of intermediate or transitory state between life and death, during which time someone can hear the gospel. Although it might initially seem that this would be a very narrowly-held view, this is may not actually be the case, given the wide-spread reports of and fairly firm belief in near-death experiences. There are even books which describe in detail what are claimed to be such experiences.
Many of us are very tempted to at least tentatively accept that this anecdotal evidence may be credible. Therefore, it is important to examine these reports in light of the Word of God to see if they might actually be true.
In the next article, we will be looking specifically at Romans 10 to begin to lay a foundation for the answer to the main question. Then we will look at other relevant passages as they relate to this and the other issues mentioned in the comments – because overall, they tend to represent the broad spectrum of views (except for the full universalism view that simply states that all will be saved without exception).
This is a follow-up to the first ABI Quick Survey in this current series on an important theological and practical issue.
It is well-known that the way survey questions are framed can have a significant influence on the way people respond. One factor can be when questions are posed in such a way that they seem more real or personal to the respondent – and aren’t just theoretical / hypothetical. This can be particularly true with questions related to difficult theological issues.
I hope you will take a moment to read the following scenario and then continue to the second survey in this series.
Note: If you haven’t responded to the first survey, please go to that one-question survey first and then return here. (Available through the ABI Bulletin Board on the home page.)
I have traveled to India twice to teach in a seminary south of Bangalore. The seminary is located in a very rural area, which is home to what I suspect are some of the poorest, third-world villages in the world.
I have been to one of these nearby villages and briefly in the home of a Hindu family. As is true of most of India, this area is almost 100% Hindu. So, in the main room of this tiny house with a dirt floor there are pictures or small statues of Hindu gods, prayer beads and an altar where candles are lit each day.
Let’s suppose that one day, a baby girl is born to this honest, hard-working, faithful Hindu family. They name her “Ayanna,” which means “Innocent.” As she grows into a beautiful young lady, she stands out among her friends and has a reputation in her village for being especially kind, compassionate, honest and devout.
She looks at the world around her and knows in her heart that there must be a God who is immense and powerful. She has never had any exposure to Christianity, but she has been taught the importance of treating others as she would wish to be treated. She has never heard the name of Jesus – and never will, but she sincerely believes all that she has learned from her parents and the elders in the village. She prays each day and tries to the best of her ability to please whomever this unknown God might be. With so many in her village dying at a young age, she often wonders what might happen when she dies.
As I mentioned, the seminary is out in the country – and I have been on the road between the seminary and Ayanna’s village several times. It is narrow, hilly and winding, with drivers going far too fast and taking far too many chances – as seems to be typical in India.
One day, as 17 year-old Ayanna is walking down this road, the driver of a large truck doesn’t see her as he comes over a hill. In her final moments of life, she has a moment to wonder about what will happen to her after she dies.
Please continue to the survey. (Available through the ABI Bulletin Board on the home page.)
Again, please make sure you have taken the first survey before proceeding to the second one.
Paul Barreca is one of the co-founders of The Alliance for Biblical Integrity. He is the pastor of Faith Bible Church in Vineland, New Jersey.
What’s a Church to Do? A Word to Pastors.
By Paul Barreca
How should churches respond to the crisis in Haiti? No further reminders of the devastation are necessary. Anyone with internet or television access knows that the poorest nation in the western hemisphere is in the throes of incomprehensible human suffering.
As churches gather Sunday, every member will have been moved by the images and news from Haiti. They will want to know “how do Christians respond when there is a need so desperate as this?” Christians should be moved with the same compassion for the world that was demonstrated by Jesus. Only the most uncaring and detached would be able to simply ignore these needs. Although Pat Robertson also encouraged meeting the needs of the people, his commentary was not helpful when he said the earthquake was the result of a curse upon Haiti because of a pact with the devil. Rather than providing a biblical response with theological clarity, these kinds of remarks only serve to give the impression to many that born-again believers are callous and ignorant.
Bible-believing Christians are deeply concerned with sharing the gospel as Christ commanded. We understand the dangers of the social gospel which tends to confuse meeting physical needs with the biblical balance that necessarily includes meeting spiritual needs. We are committed to efforts that are comprehensive and gospel-centered. We need not allow the priority of presenting the gospel message interfere with the priority of Christian compassion. Churches that fail to respond to known crises in their communities or the world eventually lose their platform for sharing the gospel.
Here are three suggestions that offer God’s people an opportunity to respond with genuine Christian compassion.
1. PRAY: Spend time this Sunday in prayer for the people of Haiti. Corporate prayer is an important part of our worship. It also serves as a model that members can follow in their private prayer times.
2. GIVE: Encourage members to give through your local church. This strengthens the testimony behind these gifts and provides a positive way for believers to respond to the crisis. Designate these gifts to a Christian organization with a sound reputation to provide help in the name of Christ and with the accompanying message of salvation. ABI has links to two recommended ministries organizing disaster relief funds.
3. SEND: The Lord can use the stirring of our hearts as part of His call to missions. Encourage medical personnel to go now, with your church’s support. Discuss the possibility of a church work team to travel to Haiti later this year to help rebuild a hospital, church or mission. Right now, security, medical and basic human needs like clothing, food and shelter are the highest priorities. But construction and rebuilding will go on for years to come. If it is practically impossible to send someone now, then begin plans to send a team in the future. Haiti is just one of many third world countries in desperate need of the gospel and the most basic of necessities. The pictures, stories and attention should focus us on meeting those needs.
Each church may respond in a different way, but a response at some level is entirely appropriate. As noted before, the responsibility to meet spiritual needs with the gospel message does not exclude the necessity of meeting physical needs. If food and medicine does not quickly arrive in Haiti, many will perish and the opportunity to reach those souls with the gospel will be forever lost.
The following is an article by John MacArthur, which recently appeared on his Shepherd’s Fellowship website.
(By John MacArthur)
I don’t watch much television, and when I do I generally avoid the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). For many years TBN has been dominated by faith-healers, full-time fund-raisers, and self-proclaimed prophets spewing heresy. I wrote about the false gospel they proclaim and the phony miracles they pretend to do almost two decades ago in Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992. See especially chapter 12). I had my fill of charismatic televangelism while researching that book, and I can hardly bear to watch it any more.
Recently, however, while recovering from knee-replacement surgery, I decided to sample some of the current fare on TBN. From a therapeutic point of view it seemed a good choice: something more excruciating than the pain in my leg might distract me from the physical suffering of post-surgical trauma. And I suppose on that basis the strategy was effective.
But it left me outraged and frustrated—and eager to challenge the misperceptions in the minds of millions of unbelievers who see these false teachers masquerading as ministers of Christ on TBN.
I’m outraged at the brazen way so many false teachers twist the message of Scripture in Jesus’ name. And I’m frustrated because I’m certain that if these charlatans were not receiving a large proportion of their financial support from sincere believers (and silent acquiescence from Christian leaders who surely know better), they would have no platform for their shenanigans. They would soon lose their core constituency and fade from the scene.
Instead, religious quacks are actually multiplying at a frightening pace. One thing I discovered to my immense displeasure is that TBN is by no means the only religious network broadcasting poisonous false doctrine around the clock. The channel lineup I receive includes at least seven other channels whose schedules are filled with false teachers and charlatans. There’s The Church Channel, Daystar, GodTV, World Harvest Television (LeSEA), Total Christian Television, and several others. Some of them feature blocs of family television programing and a few fairly sound teachers who provide moments of escape from the prosperity preachers. But all of them give prominence to enormous amounts of heresy and religious claptrap—enough to make them positively dangerous. And TBN is singularly responsible for kicking that door open so wide.
The continued growth and influence of TBN is baffling for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the thick aura of lust, greed, and other kinds of moral impropriety that surrounds the whole enterprise. A long string of scandals involving notable charismatic televangelists between 1988 and 1992 should have been sufficient reason for even the most credulous viewers to scrutinize the entire industry with skepticism. First came the international spectacle of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s moral, marital, and financial collapse. That was followed closely by the revelation of Jimmy Swaggart’s repeated dalliances with prostitutes. Shortly afterward, an episode of ABC’s Primetime Live exposed clear examples of deliberate fraud on the part of three more leading charismatic televangelists. Those incidents were punctuated by a score of lesser scandals over several years’ time. It is clear (or should be)—based on empirical evidence alone—that preachers promising miracles in exchange for money are not to be trusted. And for anyone who simply bothers to compare Jesus’ teaching with the health-and-wealth message, it is clear that the message that currently dominates religious television is “a different gospel; which is really not another” (Galatians 1:6-7), but a damnable lie.
TBN is by far the leading perpetrator of that lie worldwide. Virtually all the network’s main celebrities tell listeners that God will give them healing, wealth, and other material blessings in return for their money. On program after program people are urged to “plant a seed” by sending “the largest bill you have or the biggest check you can write” with the promise that God will miraculously make them rich in return. That same message dominates all of TBN’s major fundraising drives. It’s known as the “seed faith” plan, so-called by Oral Roberts, who set the pattern for most of the charismatic televangelists who have followed the trail he blazed. Paul Crouch, founder, chairman, and commander-in-chief of TBN, is one of the doctrine’s staunchest defenders.
The only people who actually get rich by this scheme, of course, are the televangelists. Their people who send money get little in return but phony promises—and as a result, many of them turn away from the truth completely.
If the scheme seems reminiscent of Tetzel, that’s because it is precisely the same doctrine. (Tetzel was a medieval monk whose high-pressure selling of indulgences—phony promises of forgiveness—outraged Martin Luther and touched off the Protestant Reformation.)
Like Tetzel, TBN preys on the poor and plies them with false promises. Yet what is happening daily on TBN is many times worse than the abuses that Luther decried because it is more widespread and more flagrant. The medium is more high-tech and the amounts bilked out of viewers’ pockets are astronomically higher. (By most estimates, TBN is worth more than a billion dollars and rakes in $200 million annually. Those are direct contributions to the network, not counting millions more in donations sent directly to TBN broadcasters.) Like Tetzel on steroids, the Crouches and virtually all the key broadcasters on TBN live in garish opulence, while constantly begging their needy viewers for more money. Elderly, poor, and working-class viewers constitute TBN’s primary demographic. And TBN’s fundraisers all know that. The most desperate people—”unemployed,” “even though I’m in between jobs,” “trying to make it; trying to survive,” “broke”—are baited with false promises to give what they do not even have. Jan Crouch addresses viewers as “you little people,” and suggests that they send their grocery money to TBN “to assure God’s blessing.”
Thus TBN devours the poor while making the charlatans rich. God cursed false prophets in the Old Testament for that very thing (Jeremiah 6:13-15). It’s also one of the main reasons the Pharisees incurred Jesus’ condemnation (Luke 20:46-47). It’s hard to think of any sin more evil. It not only hurts people materially; it deludes them with groundless hope, deceives them with a false gospel, and thereby places their souls in eternal peril. And yet those who do it pretend they are doing the work of God.
That’s not all. Almost no false prophecy, erroneous doctrine, rank superstition, or silly claim is too outlandish to receive airtime on TBN. Jan Crouch tearfully gives a fanciful account of how her pet chicken was miraculously raised from the dead. Benny Hinn trumps that claim with a bizarre prophecy that if TBN viewers will put their dead loved ones’ caskets in front of television set and touch the dead person’s hand to the screen, people will “be raised from the dead . . . by the thousands.”
Ironically, one doesn’t even need to be an orthodox Trinitarian in order to broadcast on the Trinity network. Bishop T. D. Jakes, well known for his rejection of the Nicene creed in favor of oneness Pentecostalism, is a staple on TBN. Benny Hinn has repeatedly attempted to revise the doctrine of the Trinity in novel ways, notoriously teaching at one point that there are nine persons in the godhead.
And yet evangelical church leaders typically show a kind of benign tolerance toward the whole enterprise. Most would never endorse it, of course. They may joke about the gaudiness of the big hair and tawdry set decorations on TBN. Ask them, and they will most likely acknowledge that the prosperity gospel is no gospel at all. Press the issue, and you will probably get them to admit that it is a dangerous form of false doctrine, totally unbiblical, and essentially anti-Christian.
Why, then, is there no large-scale effort among Bible-believing evangelicals to expose, denounce, refute, and silence these false teachers? After all, that is what Scripture commands church leaders to do when we encounter purveyors of soul-destroying substitutes for the true gospel:
The overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, who must be silenced because they are upsetting whole families, teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain (Titus 1:7-11).
Those who remain silent in the face of such grotesque lies may in fact be partly responsible for turning people away from the truth. Consider the testimony of William Lobdell, religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times, who once considered himself a devout evangelical Christian, but after doing a series of investigative reports on the moral and doctrinal cesspool at TBN; then “finding that his investigative stories about faith healer Benny Hinn and televangelists Jan and Paul Crouch appear to make no difference on the reach of these ministries or the lives of their followers, he [gave] up on the beat and on religion generally.”
All those who truly love Christ and care about the truth have a solemn duty to defend the truth by exposing and opposing these lies that masquerade as truth. If we fail in that duty because of indifference, apathy, or a craving for the approval of men, we are no less guilty than those who actively spread the lies.