Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Biblical Exclusivism and the Destiny of the Unevangelized

"We deny that anyone is saved in any other way than by Jesus Christ and his Gospel.
The Bible offers no hope that sincere worshippers of other religions will be saved without personal faith in Jesus Christ."
The Gospel of Jesus Christ:
An Evangelical Celebration
From the movie Starzan, Joey De Leon's spoof of Tarzan. With him is his sidekick Rene Requiestas playing the role of Chitaeh

One of the purposes of the church is reaching the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ for it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes. This is one of the reason's of the church's existence. Because of this, the church must be faithful in keeping the gospel pure. We must reject means and methods of evangelism that will dilute or alter the biblical message. There is only one gospel and the other alternatives are no gospel at all. We must therefore strive for precision when it comes to the saving message.

Yet there are loud voices all around saying: The gospel is not essential. God will save people without it.

“is the view that all major religions are equally valid and lead to God and salvation. Thus, no one religion is inherently better or superior to any other major world religion. With Religious Pluralism, all the major religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam are equal. For pluralists, there may be differences in rituals and beliefs among these groups, but on the most important issues, there is great similarity. Most religions, they claim, stress love for God and love for fellow human beings.” (-Michael Vlach)

This is Oprah's view

Oprah:   It talks about, one of the points it brings out is one of the mistakes that human beings make is believing that there is only one way…to live. We don’t accept that there are diverse ways of being in the world; that there are millions of ways to be a human being. And many ways, no(to an audience member commenting to her remarks), many paths to what you call God. That her path might be something else and when she gets there she might call it the light. But her loving, and her kindness, and her generosity brings her to the, brings her to the same point that it brings you. It doesn’t matter whether she called it ‘God’ along the way or not.”

When some members of the audience objected, Oprah reasoned:

Oprah: No!  You think, do you thing that if you are somewhere on the planet and you never hear the name of Jesus but yet you live with a loving heart. You lived as Jesus would have had you to live. You lived for the same purpose as Jesus came to the planet to teach us all, but you are in some remote part of the earth and you never heard the name of Jesus. You cannot get to Heaven you think?

“... the position that one religion is uniquely true but salvation is accessible to those outside of that faith. For example, a Christian inclusivist might say, "I am a Christian and I think Christianity is the most correct religion, but I also think there is saving truth in other religions like Islam and Hinduism. People of other faiths can be saved by Jesus even if they do not explicitly believe in Him." Inclusivists do not go as far as pluralists in that inclusivists do not claim that all religions are equal. They do believe, though, that truth and salvation can be found in other religions." (Michael Vlach)

This is the official position of the Roman Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)

“Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience”

This is a million miles away or even totally opposite to what the Roman Catholic Church has traditionally believed for many centuries. There was a papal bull issued by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302 which says:

“extra ecclesiam nulla salus” 
(“no salvation outside the church”).

That is significant because while we believe in Sola Scriptura, the Roman Catholic Church is for Sola Ecclesia-- that is the Roman Catholic church is the infallible interpreter of both  Scripture and Tradition; Whatever the church defines as a dogma, that is certainly true and the faithful must believe it. But how can an infallible authority pronounce two contradictory dogmas? We hear Martin Luther's protest once again: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and by plain reason, and not by popes and councils who have so often contradicted themselves...”

INCLUSIVISM in the Evangelical Camp
But sadly, the problem of inclusivism has penetrated the evangelical camp as well. There are numerous proponents of this view within our ranks but I'll mention the two most popular. The first one is Joel Osteen at Larry King Live!

King: What if you're Jewish or Muslim, you don't accept Christ at all?

Osteen: You know, I'm very careful about saying who would and wouldn't go to heaven. I don't know

King: If you believe you have to believe in Christ? They're wrong, aren't they?

Osteen: Well, I don't know if I believe they're wrong. I believe here's what the Bible teaches and from the Christian faith this is what I believe. But I just think that only God with 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. I know for me, and what the Bible teaches, I want to have a relationship with Jesus.

You know what he is saying here: those who subscribe to Hinduism (the predominant religion in India), those who believe in these cycle of karmas-- you are what you are today because of what you did in your past life and your ultimate goal is to live as best as you so you can be united to Brahman-- and you  don't even eat beef because you believe cows are divine. Osteen said these people are sincerely in love with God!

In fairness, Osteen apologized for not being clear on the gospel on that TV appearance. If forgivesness is being sought, Christians should grant forgiveness. I can forgive Osteen. But since that is Larry King Live!, you cannot deny the magnitude of the damage that has been done.

Another popular figure is the preacher we all respect, Dr. Billy Graham. In another TV program (The Hour of Power)

Schuller: "Tell me, what is the future of Christianity?"

Graham: "I think there's the body of Christ which comes from all the Christian groups around the world, or outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the body of Christ. And I don't think we're going to see a great sweeping revival that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time." In other words, what he is saying is there are people in the body of Christ who have never heard of Christ so we don't need to expect that they're all going to come to Christ. They're going to come another way.

 "God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name and that's what God is doing today. He's calling people out of the world for His name whether they come from the Muslim world or the Buddhist world or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have and they turn to the only light they have and I think they're saved and they're going to be with us in heaven."

Schuller: "What I hear you saying is that it's possible for Jesus Christ to come into a human heart and soul and life even if they've been born in darkness and never heard and never had exposure to the Bible. Is that a correct interpretation of what you're saying."

Graham: "Yes it is because I believe that. I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, have never heard of Jesus but they've believed in their hearts that there is a God and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."

Schuller: "This is fantastic. I'm so thrilled to hear you say that. There is a wideness in God's mercy."

Graham: "There is, there certainly is."

This is a man who has spent most of his life preaching the gospel. We ought to thank God for the souls saved through his ministry. But this interview is really devastating for the cause of the gospel. He is saying that his message is not even necessary for the salvation of men. We spend millions of dollars for  training missionaries and sending them to the remote corners of the world. Some of these missionaries like Jim Elliot and his gang shed blood for the cause of Christ. Some of the missionaries we sent died as Martyrs for the gospel. Yet here is a man, who is very much respected, who is supposed to be our spokesman saying people can be save even without missionaries.

What is the destiny of the unevangelized?

We are saved Sola Fide-- by faith in Christ alone; Will they be save without the instrumentality of faith in Christ?

Are there two ways of salvation then; first way-- by grace through faith in Christ  and second way by grace as long as I am sincere?

Will good boy Tarzan who lives in the middle of the jungle be accepted in heaven by on the basis of his goodness and sincerity?

If jungle men Starzan and Chitaeh have never heard about Jesus crucified and his resurrection, yet they live exemplary lives and recognize that they need something they don't have, are they members of the body of Christ as Graham said? Can we then call them Bro. Starzan and Bro. Chitaeh?

The view that I will advocate here is EXCLUSIVISM:

“the view that there is only one way to God and salvation. Thus one religion is uniquely and supremely true and all other religions are false.” (Michael Vlach)

I have to modify the word exclusvism with the word Cristian to distinguish it from other forms of exclusivism.The claim to be the only way to God is not unique to Christianiy. Judaism claims to be the exclusive way; Islam claims exclusivity; same is true for cults like Iglesia ni Cristo and The Jehovah's Witnesses. The form of exclusivity I'm advocating here is the Christ-centered one; the exclusivity of the biblical gospel as the only way for man to be reconciled to God. Yet because of the broadness of the issue, I cannot touch on things that are related to the topic which might be of interest to you-- like the destiny of those who die in infancy or those who are mentally underdeveloped. But I encourage you to check out John Macarthur's The Salvation of Babies Who Die (Part 1; part 2)

1. There is a revelation outside the Holy Scriptures which are available to all people at all times.

~theologians call this General Revelation (Psalm 19:1-4; Acts 14:15-17, Acts 17:24-31; Romans 2:14-15)

    Psalm 19:1-4 This portion of the Psalm mainly teaches that the created order sends a message to the people everywhere. Today, we are aided by powerful telescopes and see the complexity and the beauty of the created order. And in our awe we declare the greatness and power of our God! You know what, those powerful telescopes are not even available when this Psalm was written. That technology is not available to the tribes living in the jungle. But look at verses 3-4. It says the proclamation made by the heavens has been heard everywhere. It has reached the ends of the earth. Tarzan is without the Hubble Space telescope but with his bare eyes alone, he has seen the majesty of the Creator.

    It is a 24/7 non-stop proclamation of God's glory (v.2)-- When an atheist demands “give me an evidence that God exists", the very sun and the clouds above him are calling upon him, “Hey Mr. Atheist!, look at us. We are the evidence you are looking for.

    Acts 14:15-17- Paul and Barnabas went for mission in Lystra (in modern day Turkey). Paul healed a man who has never walked all his life. All of a sudden, this man jumped and started to walk. The people were deeply pagans in their hearts that they concluded “The gods have come down to us in human form”. They called Barnabas as Zeus, the chief of the Olympian gods. Barnabas, who did the speaking most of the time was thought to be Hermes, the messenger of the gods in Greek mythology. There was a temple for pagan worship nearby and the priest of Zeus brought bulls and flowers for sacrifice.

    Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes in grief. In a crowd like that  you have to shout and so they did. “Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."

Notice what they say the present religion of these pagans are worthless. Why then should we credit too much weight for Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and other world religions when the Bible labels them as worthless things. Paul and Barnabas called for the abandonment of such religion and turn to serve the true God.

Now about general revelation, we can glean here that though God let all the nations go their ways, he never left himself without testimony. How? By showing kindness to them. He sent rain, and gave them bountiful harvest. He provides food and provides the things that makes them happy. And so we see hear that when Tarzan catches a fish with his spear and is happy with it, it is God's act of kindness to him and at the same time God's testimony that He alone is the true God that Tarzan must worship him.

Acts 17:24-31-This time in Athens; Ruins of structures such as the Parthenon testifies of the idolatrous pagan worship of the ancient people there. When Paul arrived there, the sight is so distressing. The city is full of idols. There were idols for all sorts of gods and for fear that they may have left out someone, they have an altar for the Unknown god.

    Now when Paul gets a chance to speak, he told them that they have indeed left out someone. And of all the gods that they honor, what they have missed is the true God. We can read in verse 27 that this true God did something for the purpose of planting a desire in the hearts of men a desire to seek him. What is this thing that God did? In context, it is God's sustaining acts. He gave men life and breathe and everything else. Included here is his sustaining the universe is his control over history. From one common ancestor (Adam), men multiplied and nations were formed by his providence. Kings and Kingdoms rise and fall by his will. He determined the eras when each one shall live and their geographical locations. I was born in San Carlos City in the province of Pangasinan because God wants it that way. God has sovereignly decided that I should be a 21st century Filipino and not a 13th century Scottish lest I should compete with William Wallace as the national hero of Scotland.

Romans 2:14-15 Aside from God's revelation in nature and history, God has also implanted in the heart of man  a conscience that tells him what's right and what's wrong. By instinct, men of every place and time know the basic moral demands of God. Paul says here that though the pagans were not recipients of God's written law, though they don't have a Moses who would present the 10 commandments written on tablets of stone, they sometimes do by nature things required by the law simply because the requirements of the law were written on their hearts.

    That's why, even non-Christian Governments institute laws that punishes stealing, murder, and rape. In a biblical worldview, it's not surprising to find out that an ancient Chinese philospher like Confucius can teach a passive version of the Golden Rule “Do not do unto others what you don't want others do unto you” which sounds very similar to Jesus' active Golden Rule “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you" (Matthew 7:12)

 2.God's Revelation was Repaid by Men With Universal Rejection  (Romans 1:18-32)

The section starts with... “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men... ” Oh, how could that be? Earlier we have seen the kindness of God. He sends rain, makes our crop grow; he provides us with food and everything else we need; and fills our hearts with gladness. What could be the reason for this fierce anger of God? What makes him angry is man's suppresion of truth.

    The information about God in Nature is so plain because God made it plain. All humanity scattered in all the islands and continents on the face of the earth witnessed it. It is clearly seen says verse 20. They know God but refused to give him glory; and refused to give thanks for all the kindness that he has shown. Total Depravity in action.. Men chose images of created things at the expense of God's glory. They exchanged the glory of God for a lie; choosing created things rather than the Creator.

From general revelation, men ought to know that God is separate and distinct from his creation. But men would rather believe in Pantheism (all is God; God is in everything; God and the Universe is identical) such as Hinduism. The are culpable. So in verse 20, Paul declares that they are without excuse.

From general revelation, men ought to know that God is very active in the universe; he is very much involved in operating this world, yet Men would deliberately suppress that truth and adapt the Deistic position. What is Deism? The view that God created the world, he puts fixed seasons and physical laws such as gravity but he left it to run on its own course. He doesn't interfere with the world's affairs anymore. Lies, lies, lies, and more lies to suppress the truth.

    Look at verses 26-27. The point is, applying simple anatomy, humanity has clearly seen  that God has designed that a man should take a woman as a partner; and a woman should take a man as a partner. That is God's natural design and simple anatomy confirms it. Yet men suppressed the truth once again, disregarding the design in exhange for what is not natural: homosexual relationships.

    You might have heard the recent news. Proposition 8, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman was put into vote in the state of California. The traditional view won by a slight margin. The losers brought the case to the court and by the power of one judge, it was decided that the citizens of California does not have the right to define what a marriage is. That is Romans 1:26-27 demonstrated.

    And what did men do to the conscience God has given them? The conscience which is supposed to be a storage for God's moral demands, they perverted it until their minds were so darkened and made heroes out of evil doers (Rom. 1:28-32).

    Let us turn for Psalm 14 for a while. Verse 1 says, that through all the revelation God has given, only a fool would turn out to be an atheist. They are fools indeed but you may be surprised to know that the next two verses of the psalm teaches that not only professing atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are fools but all people on the face of the earth. We may confess the existence of God with our lips but we live as if he doesn't exist. Some call this “practical atheism”. This foolishness is universal.

Russel Moore says: “It is not just that persons ought to know God throught general revelation. It is instead that they do know  God through this revelation, and they despise him anyway.”

God's verdict: the jungle man is guilty and he is without excuse for the sins he has committed.

3.The only way for any man to be saved is to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ
(Romans 10:9-15)

Paul here explains that the way to salvation is through an explicit faith in Jesus Christ. Everyone who runs toward him for refuge shall never be put to shame. They will surely be saved. But God works through means in saving individuals. In verses 14-15, the Apostle Paul just moves backwards through the process of evangelism. Yes it true according to verse 13 that ALL men  who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

“But how could Tarzan call upon the one whom he has not believed in?”
“How could Tarzan believe on him if he has not heard the message?”
“How could Tarzan hear without a preacher?”
“And how could there be a preacher if we are not sending them”
verse 17: “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message,
and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

There is no way for Tarzan to have faith if the message about Christ will not be preached. And the message about Christ is not heard through general revelation. There is no way you can look at the stars and conclude that Jesus is God incarnate, crucified, buried, and raised from the dead on the third day. Chitaeh cannot learn the gospel from Alingawngaw. Someone must bring the message to them if they are to be saved.

John 14:6 "Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except by him"

Acts 4:12- “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

The Greater Blessedness and Accountability of the Philippines Compared to Her Neighbors
I just would like to note that despite of our economic difficulties, we Filipinos are still blessed! The evangelical population in this country is less than 10%. Yes that is small. But in a study made by Christianity Today, 2% of the population is enough to make a significant impact in reaching the community. Based on this study, peoples who have less than 2% of Christians in its population are labeled as unreached or least reached with the gospel.

We Filipinos are still blessed compared to our neighbors based on these numbers:

Percentage of the Unreached 
Indonesia: 25.5%
Thailand: 66.7%
Japan: 67.6%
Cambodia: 71.4%
China: 82.8%
Laos: 91.2%

God has blessed us so much! We and our relatives are saturated with the gospel message. Our Asian neighbors are not as blessed as we are. Many peoples doesn't have an access to the saving message. But let us also remember that to whom much is given, much is required. We will be judged more strictly for if the general revelation is clear, how much more is the gospel clearer? If by the dim light of nature, conscience and history, men are held accountable for their sins, how much greater terror a man must face if he has trampled upon the message of Jesus' incarnation, sacrifice and resurrection?
Recommended Resources:
John Macarthur, The Exclusiveness of the Gospel (parts 1 & 2)

Gordon Lewis & Bruce Demarest, Integrative Theology, Vol.1

Russell Moore, Natural Revelation (chapter 2 in A Theology for the Church; edited by Daniel Akin)

Curt Daniel, Destiny of the Unevangelized (mp3)

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