“How then will they 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? …So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans10:14-17)
In my dream I found myself on an island. Sheep island. The sheep were scattered and lost. I learned that there is a forest fire sweeping across from the opposite side. All are doomed to destruction unless there is a way of escape. A glance at my official map tells us there IS indeed a bridge to the mainland. A single bridge, a narrow bridge, built at awful cost. And our job is to get the sheep across. There are many shepherds herding the found sheep and those within easy access to the bridge. But the bulk of the sheep are far distant, the shepherds seeking them few. Those who are near the fire, know they are in trouble and are frightened. Those at a distance are peacefully grazing, enjoying life. But still are lost and doomed.
Some shepherd- or more likely a hireling- often can’t tell the difference in good times- near the bridge whispers the hope that there is another way out. Maybe the chasm is narrow somewhere and the particularly strong sheep at least has a chance to save himself. Or maybe the current is gentle, the stream shallow further downstream and the courageous at least, can make it across. Or maybe, wouldn’t it be great – maybe this isn’t an island at all. Maybe it’s a peninsula and great multitudes of sheep are already safe. At any rate, surely the owner would have provided some alternate route. They relax and go about other business.
Of course there are problems with this: why would the owner have gone to such terrible expense to build the bridge? Especially since it is a narrow bridge and many of the sheep refuse to cross it even when they know about it? As I mused, a voice behind me said, “But there is a greater reason than the logic of it, my friend. Look at your map. This is the main reason. Logic alone can lead in many directions.” So I looked again and carved on the old, rugged bridge was this inscription: “I am the bridge. No sheep escapes to safety but by me.” And then I noticed a notation from the first under-shepherd, Peter, which read, “For neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other way from the island to the mainland whereby a sheep may be saved.”
Do you believe that people without Christ are lost? Do you care? Does your life demonstrate that you believe and care? Some say a person must actively reject the gospel to be lost. Paul seemed to be saying something different. Re-read Romans10:14-17. How then will they 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? ……So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” When new Christians in Japan asked about the final destination of their ancestors, I responded in the words of Abraham who was debating with God the same issue of righteous people being condemned along with the unrighteous, “Shall not the judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen 18.25).
Does that mean that everyone who lacks knowledge is lost? The Scripture does not directly address this question. So I cannot affirm on the basis of Scripture that every person in every time and place who has not heard of Christ will be lost, but neither can I affirm from Scripture that anyone will be. One position, based on the clear teaching of Scripture that all have sinned and the result is death and that faith in Christ, (indeed in the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, crucified and risen) is the only way of salvation, one interprets that to mean that all who do not call on that name are lost. The result of that teaching is to put world evangelization at the top of one’s priority, to obey the great commission, to find Paul’s teaching in this passage life-transforming. Not a bad result.