What About Those Who Have Never Heard?

Vanuatu_blondeThe following article is a guest contribution by Peter Kemeny, pastor of Good News Presbyterian Church in Frederick, Maryland. It first appeared in the March issue of the church newsletter and is reprinted here with permission.

The Bible is unyielding in its claim that Christ’s work on the cross is God’s only provision for the salvation of sinners. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Peter preached, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul wrote, “there is one mediator between God and men” (I Timothy 2:5).

If we could attain a right standing with God by way of moral reformation or religious exercises, then surely, the Apostle Paul argues, righteousness would have come that way: “If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law” (Galatians 3:21). If there were other ways for sinners to be made right with a holy God then surely the Father would have allowed Jesus, who prayed, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt. 26:39), to circumvent the cross.

One of the difficulties people have with Christianity’s claim to be the only road to heaven, “the scandal of particularity,” as it has been called, concerns those who have never heard the name of Jesus. “What about the person in the Muslim world who was never taught of Jesus? What about the poor soul in the outer reaches of Asia or Africa who has never been in earshot of the gospel? That’s a fair question. Four things may be said in reply.

First, remember that God does not send people to hell for never hearing about Christ. He sends them to hell for their sin, and is just to do so.

Second, if those ignorant of the gospel can be saved, then Christian preaching and evangelism has had the unintended consequence of sending millions of people to hell, for it has given men a knowledge of the gospel for which they are now culpable. Multitudes would have been better off never having heard of Christ; those who have learned of Jesus are now rendered unable to plead ignorance when they stand before God’s judgment seat.

Third, the desperate need for unbelievers to hear the gospel is the driving motive behind missionary enterprise. The apostle Paul wrote, “But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:14-15). If there are many roads to God, then why make such sacrifices to take the gospel to foreign lands?

Fourth – and I say this to unbelievers – while it is good to ask honest questions like, “What of those who have never heard of Christ?”, more pressing is the fact that you have heard the good news. What will you do with Christ? Will you rest on him for your salvation? Will you join the church’s endeavor to bring him to the nations?