Are the Heathen Lost?
By Dr. D. James Kennedy
The information on “Are the Heathen Lost?” is from pages 163 – 166 in the 4th edition textbook called Evangelism Explosion by Dr. D. James Kennedy which is part of Evangelism Explosion International’s comprehensive training for personal witness. You can find out more about EE by visiting their website at www.eeinternational.org. All rights reserved including translations. Content used by permission.
…The problem revolves around the question: “Would God send the heathen to hell simply for not believing in a Christ they never heard of?”
The answer to the question stated in this form is no. This is not to say that they will not go to hell, but it is to say that this is not the reason. Too often the person asking the question assumes that the heathen living in primitive lands are innocent. They may be ignorant of Christ, but they are not innocent, for the Bible teaches that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God….There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:23, 10). And “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).
They are indeed lost and on their way to eternal perdition, which, or course, is a basic motive for the entire Christian missionary enterprise. The argumentum ad absurdum (argument to absurdity) is applicable here. If everyone who did not hear of Christ went to heaven, then I have a far more effective plan for world evangelization than any heretofore devised. Simply close all the churches, fire all the ministers, burn all the Bibles and all other religious literature, and in a few generations no one will have heard of Christ, and everyone will go to heaven! Obviously, this is absurd.
Instead of moving into the future, the same argument can be used about the past. And if we go back to the day before Christ died, practically no one had heard of Him, and therefore everyone was on his way to heaven. Therefore, Jesus came into the world and succeeded in getting a great many millions of people lost. This, too, is an absurdity. Christ did not come to condemn, but to save those who were already condemned. Men are condemned for only one thing—their sins. To hear of Christ and to reject Him is indeed the most heinous sin a man can commit, but it is, nevertheless, only one of thousands of sins which he has committed.
The fallacy of the argument rests in this: No one is truly ignorant of God or of God’s will for his life. The Scripture declares that God has mercifully revealed Himself to all men in at least one of the following three ways (see accompanying illustration):
All men receive either justice or mercy. If they receive Christ, they receive mercy. If not, they receive justice. Justice means that men get precisely what they deserve in light of what they have done based on what they know. God will be unjust with no one.
1. The light of creation.
God has revealed Himself to all mankind in the light of His creation. The psalmist said, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (Psalm 19:1-3). The apostle Paul said, “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world 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). Thus, we see that the creation of the cosmos bears eloquent testimony to the existence of a Creator, as can be seen by the fact that everywhere, even among the most primitive of tribes, there is found a belief in a god. The only exception to this is in modern times where, by sophisticated and ungodly evolutionary arguments, men have been taught to pervert the truth and their eyes are blinded to the obvious. “They suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
2. The light of conscience.
God has placed within each one of us a moral monitor that continually passes judgment upon the rightness or wrongness of our deeds, words, and thoughts. The apostle Paul describes this thusly: “Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another; in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my Gospel” (Romans 2:15-16).
By repeatedly ignoring the still, small voice of conscience, a man’s heart may be hardened in sin and his conscience seared as with a hot iron, but he is nevertheless guilty for each of these acts of sin that brought him into that condition.
That man has such a conscience and is not altogether devoid of a sense of right and wrong, and thus cannot plead ignorance at the Judgment, is witnessed by two obvious facts:
A. Everywhere, throughout the world, men condemn one another for doing wrong and thus remove any possibility of saying at the Judgment, “I did not know it was wrong.” The apostle Paul speaks eloquently of this: “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” (Romans 2:1-3).
B. Everywhere, men commit sins under the cover of darkness. They may not be so hardened as to commit cannibalism at lunch, but they steal chickens at night.
3. The light of Christ.
As I said earlier, there is another way in which we can come to the knowledge of God. He has come from where He is to where we are, and He has condescended to give us knowledge of Himself, His purposes, and His will for us. The Christian church has held that God did reveal Himself preeminently in His Son. So now the question is not what either of us thinks; rather, the question is, “What has God said in the Bible and through His Son, Jesus Christ?”
4. Those who seek will find God.
God has obligated himself when anyone responds positively to what little information about God they possess to give them the rest of the information they need for salvation. In Acts 8:26-31, an Ethiopian eunuch sought to know more about God, and God sent Philip to give him the rest of the information needed. In Acts 10:1-6, a Gentile named Cornelius exhibited a heart after God, and God sent Peter to tell him what he needed to know to be saved. Missionaries report many similar instances today.
5. Old Testament people were saved on the same basis as those in the New Testament.
When someone asks how people in the Old Testament were saved without hearing about Christ, we reply that they, too, needed to acknowledge their sin. They recognized their need for a Savior by offering a substitute sacrifice which pointed to a future Messiah. They looked forward in faith to the Savior, while we look back in faith to the same Savior who died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and rose from the grave to provide a place in heaven for us.
6. God will not hold accountable those with no capacity to seek him.
People unable to consciously choose Christ, like babies or those born with brain damage, will not be held accountable for not trusting Christ. Revelation 5:9 states that there will be people from every language group in heaven. Certainly many of those will be those who died not having the capacity to believe or reject Christ.
7. God holds Christians responsible to proclaim the Gospel in all the world.
Christ ordains that those who have not heard must hear, and that the Gospel be proclaimed in every land, nation, tribe, and tongue—to every living person. If the church took this mandate seriously, we wouldn’t have to deal with the question of the heathen being lost because they have not heard. Furthermore, as I said earlier, if those who have never heard the Gospel are not lost because they have never heard about Christ, it would be better that we never proclaim the Good News. That’s because when we do proclaim it, there are always some who reject Christ and are lost, so the Gospel really becomes bad news. Hence, we should burn all the Bibles, close all the churches, and bring all of our missionaries home. No, the heathen of the world are lost. You and I have a responsibility to bring them the Good News of Jesus Christ.