The Fate of Non-Hearers

One of the most wonderful aspects of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is the concept of God’s justice and kindness in preparing a way for all of us sinners to have an opportunity to hear and accept the message of salvation, including the opportunity to accept baptism. For those who missed that opportunity in this life, we know that the message of redemption is also preached to the dead in the spirit world, where they can accept baptism done in their behalf by the living (i.e., batism for the dead). Thus, no one is damned for all eternity simply because they had the misfortune of being born before the coming of Christ or in a land devoid of Christianity. God does more than simply offering a milder eternal punishment for such people, but treats them with love and justice in offering each of His precious children an opportunity to choose Him and His Son. How else could He be just?

While there are brief biblical references to baptism for the dead (1 Cor. 15:29) and the preaching of the Gospel to the dead (1 Peter 3:18-20, 1 Peter 4:6), the plain and precious concept of the redemption of the dead was lost from mainstream Christianity centuries ago, though references to it can still be found in many early Christian documents such as the Pastor of Hermas.

Today, though, we find many people who are taught that those who never heard the Gospel, through no fault of their own, cannot receive the blessings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a difficult concept to reconcile with the concept of a loving God, in my opinion, but valiant efforts are made. For example, the discussion offered at the official Web site of one major protestant denomination represents an excellent good-faith attempt to deal with a painful doctrine, but still boils down to “horrible doom” for those who don’t hear the message of Christ, with an a assertion that somehow “they are not without excuse” – but fortunately, their punishment will be lighter than those who heard of Christ and rejected Him.

I would probably have made similar arguments from my own understanding of the Bible had I not known of the really good news of the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ and the ancient and joyous principle of the redemption of the dead, in which the scope of the redeeming power of Jesus Christ is far greater than many have supposed: it reaches to all lands and all times, making it possible for all the children of Heavenly Father to repent and have faith in Jesus Christ, that they may receive His divine grace, if only they will accept it on His terms – terms that include making a covenant to follow Christ through the sacred ordinance of divinely authorized baptism.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

6 thoughts on “The Fate of Non-Hearers

  1. This may a problem created by sola scriptura. If you regard the Bible as the only source of doctrine, it isn’t hard to come to the conclusion that the unbaptized are eternally lost.

    This is not, however, what the Catholic Church teaches, since it also relies on Tradition which complements and expands on Scripture. This what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says on this topic:

    Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it, can be saved. It may be supposed that such persons would have desired Baptism explicitly if they had known its necessity.

    And while I am less familiar with Protestantism, there are probably many Protestants who hold similar views. Baptists, for example, do not believe that baptism is necessary for salvation, so maybe this would be a moot point for them.

    Mormanity: the plain and precious concept of the redemption of the dead was lost from mainstream Christianity centuries ago

    I think you’re overstating your case a little. Catholics also have a concept of the redemption of the dead. Consider another passage from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

    “The gospel was preached even to the dead” (1 Pet 4:6). The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

    Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (Jn 5:25; cf. Mt 12:40; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9). Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15). Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10).

    [Then the Catechism quotes an ancient sermon delivered on Holy Saturday:] Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”

  2. I was raised evangelical Protestant, and the doctrine that those who don’t hear the gospel are damned was most troubling to me. Interestingly, though, I couldn’t support the doctrine from the Bible. In addition to passages that suggest that is the case (similar ones are in the Book of Mormon), there are also passages that suggest some sort of universalism (everybody is saved). But the fact is that there is nothing in the Bible that says any opportunities we have to accept salvation disappear at the moment we die (although Hebrews 9:27 is sometimes taken out of context to support that belief). My study of passages related to this issue was among the factors that led me to the LDS church.

    What I find interesting these days is that many evangelicals are backing away from this harsh doctrine. Even Billy Graham, interviewed by Larry King a few months ago on CNN, said that the question about salvation in such cases ultimately is a judgment of God. He agreed with King that he had mellowed a bit in his beliefs since he was a hellfire-and-brimstone preacher in the 1950s. I have heard megachurch leader Joel Osteen say the same thing.

  3. Anon at 7:14:
    I was raised agnostic, but I had interaction with evangelical-type denominations when I was a teenager.

    To me, it’s kind of sad that evangelicals don’t see how they have more in common with LDS beliefs than they do with white-bread WASP-ish “mainstream” Christians. And many Mormons don’t see the connections and similarities that I see, either.

    Most of the overlap I see is in areas such as personal revelation and in the workings of the Holy Ghost and spiritual gifts.

    A friend/customer invited me to his church which has an evangelical flavor. The adult Sunday School lesson was almost entirely in line with LDS beliefs.

  4. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. SO THEY ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1:18-23).

  5. Nic,

    Who are “they” who are “without excuse”? In any case, you should probably sure to tell my Hmong friends this (you know, the ones who hardly recognize Jesus when they see a picture of him). They at least deserve a heads up.

  6. Paul is saying that all mankind is “without excuse,” both hearers of the Word and nonhearers. That’s why we have a SAVIOR. Without one, we would all be lost.

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