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Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Sunday, August 28, 2005

What Happens To Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel?

What happens to those who have never heard the Gospel? (See CRI http://www.equip.org/free/CP0207.htm). Also implied in this question is, "What happened to those who were born before Jesus Christ came to the earth?" Another related question is, "What happens to children who die in infancy without being baptized?"

These are difficult questions to answer in brief so it will take a bit of discussion to cover them from my own Anglican perspective. Not all Anglicans are conservative or even Calvinistic, so I won't be speaking for the Anglican communion at large. However, I think I can say that I will be speaking for most who believe in infant baptism and in a Calvinistic or Reformed view of election, salvation, and evangelism.

I think the best place to begin is the beginning, if you will forgive the expression. Who were the first to hear the Gospel? Obviously, the answer is Adam and Eve, the first man and the first woman (cf. Genesis 3:15). But there was no need for the Gospel prior to the fall of mankind in Adam.

Let's make an aside here while we're on that point. Mankind is under condemnation because of the fall of Adam and not because of the fall of Eve. Adam represented all mankind as our federal head. Adam was created prior to the woman because God has placed the man in spiritual authority over the family, including his wife. Though Eve sinned, too, the curse upon mankind did not come when Eve ate the fruit but when Adam ate of it:

Romans 5:12 (NIV)12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned—

Condemnation came upon all of Adam's descendants because of Adam's rebellion against God's command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That means that all of us are under God's wrath and curse from the moment of birth. Not only that but every single person who has been born since Adam's fall has been under God's curse and God's wrath. We are by nature objects of God's wrath (Ephesians 2:3). This is obvious because all who have been born since then have died physical deaths (Romans 5:12ff). Prior to the fall mankind would have lived immortal or deathless lives forever in paradise.

But there are those who would protest that it is unfair for God to condemn the entire human race from its source to the very last descendant at the end of time because of the first man's sin. But who are we to judge God? His ways are above ours and His thoughts are above ours. Imagine an omniscient being who knows everything there is to know from beginning to end.

Furthermore, even today we utilize the principle of federal headship. We live in a democracy but we have a federal government that is centralized and represents us all. We elect our officials, including the President of the United States. One of the executive powers granted to the President is the ability to utilize police powers and declare war. Technically, the President cannot declare war without the approval of Congress. However, when the United States goes to war the whole world holds us accountable as a nation, even though some of us disagree with the war. Nevertheless, the world holds us accountable as a nation for what our federal government does, including the President when he executes his authority to exercise police actions in other places in the world. In the same way, Adam, being the first man, was our federal representative and acted on behalf of all mankind when he rebelled against God and ate of the forbidden fruit.

God is completely just in His judgments. He knew that man's perfect human nature had been corrupted and that all mankind would be evil and rebellious. But God was longsuffering and patient until his patience ran out. Around the time of Noah God ran out of patience and decided to destroy mankind with a worldwide flood. The Scripture says that He saw that the thoughts of mankind were continually wicked and evil (Genesis 6:5, 11-12).

Noah preached to the sinful world and warned them of the coming flood. But Noah couldn't possibly have traveled the globe to warn everyone. Even if the flood were only a local flood, Noah most likely didn't preach to every individual person. So if God were just in destroying every living creature on earth in Noah's time--that would include men, women and children--then surely He would be just in condemning those who have never heard the Gospel.

The Apostle Paul argues that sinners don't glorify God even though they know from creation and from their own consciences that there is a God. They are unthankful and in rebellion against God. It's not that they don't know but that they won't serve God (Romans 1:18ff).

Baptism is for infants and adults just as circumcision in the Old Testament was for both infants and adults. Baptism is the New Testament sign of the covenant and is for both males and females, while the OT rite of circumcision was only for males. The promise is unto us and to our children (Acts 2:39). So we can become children of God by baptism from infancy just as the wicked go astray from infancy (cf. Psalm 58:3).

When we ask how God can be just in condemning those who haven't heard the Gospel, we're asking the wrong question. What we should be asking is how God can have mercy on any of us at all, because justice requires that justice be rendered. In fact, the Apostle Paul says that God declares the wicked innocent despite our guilt before him:

Romans 4:4-5 (NIV)4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.[1]
[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

Too many Christians today are forsaking the doctrine of justification by faith alone. They act as if our justification is based on sanctification or some sort of infused righteousness. The Bible, however, plainly teaches that God makes a legal declaration of "not guilty" and does not hold the sins of Christians against them (Romans 4:7-8).

God would be totally just if he sent all Christians to hell. Why? Because we have sinned and have fallen short of God's glory. Even if we live upright and moral lives we STILL deserve to go to hell! Why? Because God's standards are perfect. Not only would we have to be born sinless (impossible since Adam's fall into rebellion), but we would also have to live an absolutely sinless life from beginning to end. Not once could we sin in this life or we deserve hell as much as any murderer or other pernicious person. Jesus Christ lived a perfectly sinless life and never even once sinned. We cannot say that.

It amazes me that Christians can be so full of pride and arrogance. Don't they know they aren't getting what they too deserve? Mercy is not getting justice! We don't want justice. What we all want is mercy. Lord have mercy; Christ have mercy; Lord have mercy.

Finally, we should remember that God has called us to evangelize the earth. We are to carry the Gospel to every nation, tribe and people and we are to make disciples of all men and women and children. Matthew 28:18-19 and Acts 1:8 make it clear that evangelism and missions are commands from our Lord Jesus Christ. If the world were not lost, He would not have sent us to bring them Good News (Romans 10:12-15). If people have a chance to be saved apart from the Gospel, then we should not preach to them because if they reject the Gospel they are condemned. Why would Jesus die on the cross and be raised from the dead if His message is not necessary? Wouldn't God have mercy on men and women just from their ignorance of their guilt? May it never be said.

Ignorance is no excuse for wickedness or lawlessness. We all stand condemned without faith in Christ. He is the only way of salvation (John 14:6). May God have mercy on those who haven't heard by sending them preachers and missionaries! May God call us to be witnesses to His mercy and His grace. But for the grace of God we too would be without Christ and lost. God help us to trust Him to empower us as His witnesses (Acts 1:8ff).

Amen.

(See also: http://www.oneplace.com/Ministries/Bible_Answer_Man/Article.asp?article_id=1056)

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