Does Everyone Get A Chance to be Saved?

English: A "Jesus Saves" neon cross ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter the other day. Someone I follow tweeted II Peter 3:9. That was quickly followed by another tweet saying “That’s a hard truth for many to accept but ALL have been offered the chance to repent.”

I couldn’t help myself so I replied to this person: “All people who have ever lived in the entire history of the world?”

They gave the standard response of “all means all” so I attempted to take it a step further, hopefully pushing them to think a bit:

“A native American living in what is now Montana in the year 1300?” I replied.

That’s when things got interesting. At first the person claimed they would not respond to “semantics.” However, I assured them this was not semantics but a specific application of their stated belief. After all, if what we believe does not work in application, perhaps we should rethink what we believe.

They next claimed that we don’t know how God works it all out but since we do know “all means all” there must be a way.

But, the truth is we DO know how God works it out. Romans 10:17 tells us faith comes by hearing the words of Christ. People who do not have the opportunity to hear the gospel cannot be saved. Now that’s a really hard truth.

So back to our native American in Montana in 1300. If the “all” of II Peter 3:9 includes him or her, then one of two things must be true:

  • There was a gospel witness in North America several hundred years before our current knowledge of history tells us there was.
  • There is a way other than hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ by which men may be saved.

Not being in possession of exhaustive historical knowledge, I cannot rule out the first option completely but I will say it is highly unlikely, especially as far west as Montana. And the further back we move this date toward the date of the resurrection, the more certain we can be no such witness had yet come to these shores.

That leaves the second option, which is where logically consistent Arminianism  must go – God has made some provision other than the one revealed in the New Testament for people to be saved.

As with history, even less do I have an exhaustive knowledge of God. But, I can know what He’s chosen to reveal. And one of the thing’s He’s revealed is that general revelation is not sufficient for salvation (Romans 1). No gospel witness (special revelation), no salvation.

But, some may say, couldn’t God give such people a gospel witness directly, not coming through human beings or the scriptures? A better question is, does the New Testament allow for such a belief? When speaking of God, it’s never a matter of ability. It’s not what can God do but what does God do. Can God fill my living room with Snickers bars? Yes. Is there any biblical evidence to suggest He will do so? No.

In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts we encounter a man named Cornelius:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” (Acts 10:1-3)

So what did this angel say next? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” No, the angel instructed him to send for Simon Peter. Despite his reputation as a devout man, Cornelius needed salvation. So God’s messenger instructed Cornelius to send for a man who would share the gospel with him. Could the angel have shared the gospel with Cornelius? Yes. Did God choose to work that way? No.

In fact there is not one example in the entire New Testament of anyone receiving the gospel apart from the preached or taught word. The only possible exception would be the apostle Paul. But, like the other apostles, Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ that not only saved him but set him apart for special service as an apostle – an office that no longer exists.

So does “all” then not mean “all?” Actually yes, it does – in context. When not speaking hyperbolically (I tell you that ALL the time) “all” means the complete number of people or things in view. If I say, at the start of a church business meeting, “are we all here?” I do not have in view a farmer in Uzbekistan or a banker in London. I mean, of the group of people we expect to be at this meeting, are any of them still missing?

Any time we see the word “all” in scripture, or elsewhere in literature, we need to ask “who is in view?” and in II Peter, that “who” is the elect.

The simple but hard truth is that everyone does not get a “chance.” There were thousands of people who perished in areas of the world where the gospel was unknown for generations. There are thousands of people today who perish apart from a gospel witness. This is why the Great Commission is so important. In fact, it’s why the Great Commission exists at all. If the going and the telling are not necessary for the salvation of the lost, then it’s merely a Good Option, not a Great Commission.

Church History: What was Donatism?

Augustine_and_donatists

Suppose you came to Christ and were baptized as a teenager. Suppose years later, while at another church, you found out the pastor who baptized you was having an illicit affair with the church organist the whole time you’d been at his church, including during the time you were baptized. Was your baptism valid? Should you be re-baptized now by a ‘real’ pastor? Most of us would not think twice about answering those questions ‘yes’ and ‘no’ respectively but the answers were not always so obvious to believers.

There were two great persecutions of the church in the pre-Christian Roman Empire. One under the emperor Nero who ruled from 54 A.D. to 68 A.D. and the other under Diocletian who ruled from 284 A.D. to 305 A.D.

However, things changed dramatically for the church after Diocletian. By 312 A.D. Constantine, a professed Christian, had unified the eastern and western empire under his rule and Christianity was on it’s way to becoming the majority religion of the Roman world.

As the church found rest from external enemies, internal tensions began to surface. During the Diocletian persecution, church officials were often ordered to turn over copies of the scriptures to the imperial authorities for destruction. Some were jailed or even killed for refusing to do so. Others, however, turned over the scriptures or, in some cases, lesser church documents, knowing the government authorities would not know the difference between those and true scripture documents. After the persecution ended, those in this second category became known as traditors , Latin for “those who handed over.”

In the important North African city of Carthage, a dispute arose over whether traditors could ever again hold church office. Some felt they should be forgiven and allowed to again be priests or bishops. Others felt, though they may be forgiven and welcomed into the church as members, they should be forever banned from holding office in the church. This second group went so far as to say that baptisms and ordinations performed by repentant traditors were invalid.

This dispute came to a head in 311 A.D. when Caecilian became Bishop of Carthage. It was reported that one of the men who’d ordained him (three were required) had been a traditor. This, according to many in North Africa invalidated Caecilian’s ordination, making him ineligible to be a bishop. Those in opposition to Caecilian elected Majorinus calling him the ‘true’ Bishop of Carthage. Before the controversy could be settled, however, Majorinus died and was replaced by Donatus, from whom the movement gained its name.

Eventually (in 314) the emperor Constantine called a council at Arles to settle the matter. The council decided the Donatists were in error and validated Caecilian as the bishop of Carthage. The Donatists, however, refused to acknowledge this and continued to worship separately under their own bishops for hundreds of years, sometimes facing persecution for their beliefs. They were still a force during Augustine’s tenure as Bishop of Hippo (also in North Africa) and he often disputed with them. Donatism finally faded away only after the Muslim conquest of North Africa in the 7th Century.

Why is this controversy important? There are certainly some things that would disqualify a man from the pastorate and refusing to stand for Christ during persecution could reasonably be one of them. However, there was more at issue here than who could or could not be a bishop. The underlying issue was where the power and authority came from to admit someone to the fellowship of the church (or remove them for that matter). Donatists said that power came from the purity of the individual and only baptisms performed by worthy priests or bishops were valid. Their opponents argued that the keys to the kingdom had been given to the church and baptisms done by the church were valid baptisms, even if the person administering the baptism had been a traditor.

Most protestant churches today also see the Ministry of the Keys (from Matthew 16:19, 18:18) as belonging to the church, not to specific individuals, meaning, for example, the moral condition of a pastor has no bearing on the legitimacy of baptisms he performs. That’s not to say the pastor’s moral condition is unimportant, just that it’s the Holy Spirit, not the pastor’s personal righteousness that empowers the means of grace.

Bring Me His Head on A Platter

Beheading of John the Baptist
Beheading of John the Baptist (Photo credit: Walwyn)

When rulers are more worried about saving their reputation than being righteous because they’ve made rash and unwise public promises:

At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the fame of Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead; that is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 3 For Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, 4 because John had been saying to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.” 5 And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. 6 But when Herod’s birthday came, the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, 7 so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask.8 Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.” 9 And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. 10 He sent and had John beheaded in the prison,11 and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus. – Matthew 14:1-12

 

Dear New Christian, Please Don’t Start A Ministry.

Congregation
Congregation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Years ago I volunteered with an organization that ministered to men in bondage to sexual sin. A man who claimed the Lord set him free from bondage to sin had started the ministry soon after his “conversion.” However, when the Christian life did not prove to be trouble-free, this man turned his back on Christ and went headlong back into sin damaging the name of Christ among those to whom he “ministered” and jeopardizing his own soul.

Sadly this kind of thing happens a lot. Flush with the high of a conversion experience, many people want to go right into ministry, even ministry leadership. While they may be sincere, this is virtually always a recipe for trouble. And if they have placed themselves in ministry leadership, that trouble will impact others, sometimes many others, beyond themselves.

Just in the last few weeks in Birmingham, Alabama, Matt Pitt, founder of a high-profile ministry called “The Basement,” was arrested for impersonating a police officer – for the second time. One of the things that jumped out at me as I read the accounts was that he founded the ministry in his parents’ basement less than a year after a conversion experience.

Let me just say it, if you were converted less than a year ago, you’re not qualified to be in ministry leadership. The Apostle Paul is clear when laying out qualifications for elders in the church: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.” (I Timothy 3:6). And if you’re not qualified to serve as a leader in Christ’s church, you’re definitely not qualified to strike out on your own and start a ministry.

By most accounts, there were approximately five years between the Apostle Paul’s conversion and the start of his first missionary journey. Of course, he was not a hermit during that time, we see him preaching occasionally and, most importantly, interacting with established church leaders such as James, Barnabas and Peter. If Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ was not enough for him to jump right into ministry leadership then whatever experience you or I have had is not likely to be either.

So what should a new convert do? Take time, a lot of time, learning at the feet of those who’ve gone before you. Join a Bible believing and teaching local church, read books, listen to sermons, participate in Bible studies, enter in to one-on-one discipling relationships. But, until you have several years of these things under your belt – don’t start a ministry. And even when you do have several years of those things under your belt in most cases you still should not start a ministry but that’s a topic for another post.