In Defense of the Faith
Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Ahh… the dreaded question. We've all heard it at least once. (If you haven't, you haven't been sharing your faith.) The question that tends to plop a pit of insecurity into even the most intrepid evangelist's stomach: "What about the people that haven't heard?"
It is a hard one to deal with. In our now global society the notion of Christ being the only way to salvation seems so exclusive.
And that's exactly the charge against it by the (unbelieving) majority. Oprah once responded to a guest with this opinion angrily, saying, "There are many paths to God! There couldn't possibly be just one! What if you are somewhere else on the planet and have never heard about Jesus?"
Fair question. The Oprahs amongst us seem to have a point, and the pressure to be likewise broad-minded can be overwhelming. Many, in fact, who really should know better have already caved.
President G.W. Bush, during an interview with Charles Gibson, said that Christians and Muslims "worship the same God… we have different routes to that God, different routes to heaven."
Joel Osteen was questioned by Larry King about the (scriptural) belief that "your record don't count…If you believe in Christ…you are going to heaven. And if you don't, no matter what you've done in your life, you ain't."
Osteen's reply? "I just think that only God will judge a person's heart. I spent a lot of time in India with my father. I don't know all about their religion. But I know they love God. And I don't know. I've seen their sincerity. So I don't know."
Even Billy Graham, when asked The Question, said, "I fully adhere to the fundamental tenets of Christian faith for myself and my ministry. But, as an American, I respect other paths to God…” (Parade Magazine, 1996). "I used to believe that pagans in far-off countries were lost--were going to hell. I no longer believe that. I believe that there are other ways of recognizing the existence of God--through nature, for instance." (McCall Magazine Jan. 1987).
If that's all it takes then we'll see the demons in heaven, as I'm pretty sure they have the existence of God nailed down.
In an interview with Robert Schuller, Graham said, "I think everybody who knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ…. They may not even know the name of Jesus... I think they are saved, and that they are going to be in heaven with us."
And they're the proverbial tip of the iceberg. A 2010 Survey reported by author David Campbell found that an incredible 83 percent of evangelical Protestants agreed that good people of other religions can go to heaven.
Jesus sold separately.
In the face of the ubiquitous enthusiasm for diversity it's hard to voice the dissenting opinion.
I've personally been asked, "Are you saying that all six million Jewish victims of the holocaust are in hell because they didn't accept Jesus?"
Gulp. I don't want to have to answer in the affirmative to that question. I want everybody (especially all of God's chosen people) to be in heaven. (So does God.)
So what is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? What do we know for sure?
1) We know that God said that Jesus is the only way to heaven: "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father but through me." (John 14:6) "There's no other name under heaven through which men can be saved." (Acts 4:12)
2) We know that by God's standards, all have turned away and become worthless and tainted with sin. In other words, no one can stand before God and claim to be unjustly punished. (Romans 3:12)
2) We know that God loves the world and gave His Son so that nobody has to go to hell. (John 3:16)
3) We know that God doesn't want anyone to perish, but all to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9)
4) We know that because God does not want anyone to remain separated from Him, and that He Himself devises ways to bring each person back. (II Samuel 14:14)
5) That begs the question, how? We know that the Bible says that God places people in specific times and places on the earth: "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings." (Acts 17:26 NKJV)
He chooses the perfect context for each person to choose to seek Him.
6) We know that God has provided all men with an omnipresent testimony of His existence: creation. "What may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20 NJKV)
He testifies to His presence by the reality and majesty of the created world.
7) We know is that God acts in each life to encourage people to seek Him. He showers love on the just and the unjust, since His kindness leads to repentance. (Romans 2:4-6)
On the flip side, He sometimes hides His face to the same end. "I will return again to My place till they acknowledge their offense. Then they will seek My face; In their affliction they will earnestly seek Me".
God doesn't give up on us. He keeps prodding us, through our circumstances, to seek Him. That's what He's about. Jesus came to seek and to save those that are lost. (Luke 19:10)
8) (Drumroll, please.) Here's the kicker: we know that he who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and he who knocks has the door opened.
No matter what your address. (He's got the whole world in His hands.)
So what about the people who never heard?
What most Christians haven't heard are the plentiful stories of missionaries who have put that question to bed. One precious little example:
Warrasa lived in central Ethiopia, a member of the Gedeo tribe who believed in a Creator called Magano, but whose religious activities centered on efforts to appease an evil being named Sheit'an. Somehow, Warrasa's heart yearned for a knowledge of the greater God, and one day he whispered a prayer to Magano to make himself known to his people.
Immediately Warrasa had a vision: two men with white skin under a sycamore tree that Warrasa recognized as a tree in his home town. Then Warrassa heard God speak: "Wait for these men. They will bring you knowledge of me, the God you seek."
Eight years later: December. 1948. Albert Brant and Glen Cain, missionaries sent specifically to the Gedeo people, arrive in Warrasa's home town, Dilla, at the very edge of the Gedeo lands (the furthest their permit would allow them to go). It was a very hot day, and they headed for a large sycamore tree which offered a shady place to set up camp. Warassa heard the noise of the truck's engine and headed towards it to investigate the strange sound, arriving just in time to see Brant and Cain under the sycamore tree.
Exactly as he had seen them eight years before.
Today the Gedeo people are nearly 1 million strong, and according to the world almanac, nearly all Christian.
How'd that happen?
Someone told them the Gospel. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing the message. And the message is the Gospel-- Jesus came, died for you and conquered death. The Gospel is the power of God for salvation.
Graham & Co. negate the whole Great Commission if all that's necessary for salvation is just a warm fuzzy feeling about some nameless imaginary friend. How many martyrs died for naught?
Eighty-three percent of evangelical Christians saying that good people of any faith can go to heaven?
Isn't that officially Laodicea?
Somebody's knocking in that church, but it's not a seeker.
It's Jesus, on the outside, trying to get in. (Revelation 3:20)
Ultimately, that's the whole issue. God promises to answer when we knock.
If you seek, you will find. If you knock, the door will be opened. That's the promise He gives us.
God's always knocking, but He has no guarantee that we'll answer Him.
About Wendy Wippel
Last week: Down in the Dogma Disco
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