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Must people hear the Gospel to come to faith?

Published: 23 June 2018 (GMT+10)

The problem of the fate of those who live and die without hearing the Gospel leads some to propose that God may have other ways of revealing the knowledge of salvation to people to whom missionaries have not yet gone. Ian M., Australia, writes in response to What about those who have never heard? (Creation 40(2):38–39), claiming that God has revealed the Gospel in the constellations:

sharing-gospel

I became a Christian at 7 years of age and am still Christian 60 years later. A short time after becoming a Christian I heard a missionary talk about how so many people could not at that stage be reached for the gospel. I thought about how unfair this seemed that they would be judged by God never having had a chance to become a Christian. I prayed about it, and then forgot all about it.

A few years later I heard a missionary who had just returned from Africa relating an amazing situation she had experienced. She had gone to visit a very remote village and told the gospel to them. They were very attentive and at the end of her talk they had tears in their eyes. They thanked her very much. They said, “We know the story and believe but did not know that His name was Jesus”. How could such a remote tribe with virtually no contact with the outside world know the story of the gospel? That night they went outside and the tribal elder pointed to individual and groups of stars and told her the gospel in the stars that led to their salvation. This Gospel had been passed down to them possibly over thousands of years.

I have since heard this same situation told by Missionaries who went to remote tribal groups who had little to no contact with the outside world in Japan, the Middle East and South America. The tribe visited by missionaries in the Middle East region also related that the Magi passed through their region after seeing the baby Jesus, and when leaving by a different route to avoid King Herod. I have since read of other groups who all have a similar understanding of the Gospel that results in salvation for those who believe. There are still other peoples who have knowledge of the constellations but the meaning is lost.

When God answers our prayers so clearly, are we to deny the method of conveying His Grace because it does not fit our knowledge or understanding? No, we are to accept what God has done and accept His Grace and Mercy shown to those who may have had no eternal hope otherwise.

Psalms 147:4. “He counts the number of stars; and gives names to all of them.’’

The writer of this Bible passage definitely understood that God gave names to the stars. The names given to the stars had nothing to do with describing the star. by joining the visible stars with a line you do not get a meaningful picture. The picture is the one God named for the group of stars. For example the sign Libra has two stars yet pictures a tilted set of Scales of Justice, the same as seen associated with law courts.

Numbers 24:17. I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob.

The constellation Pisces is associated with the Jewish nation and so with Jacob.

Job 9:9 Who makes the Bear (Arcturus or Boötes), Orion, and the Pleiades…

God questioning Job and using these three constellations. God says to Job in Job 38:31–-33. ”Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades? Or loose the cords of Orion? Can you lead forth a constellation (or Mazzaroth) in its season? And guide the Bear with her satellites? Do you know their ordinances of the heavens? Or fix their rule over the heavens?

When God asked Job these questions, Job would have had to known what these star signs were and what they represented or the question is wasted.

[A long section on the Mazzaroth and a lengthy quote from David Catchpoole’s Aboriginal knowledge amazes evolutionist astronomer has been removed for length—Editor.]

Having the complete Word of God in the Bible there is no need to study the Mazzaroth today. However by its existence we gain a greater understanding of God and that he has a program of events fixed in time by His will and revealed in the stars.

And yes there are other sources of the same gospel that leads to salvation in Jesus Christ!

HOW GREAT IS OUR GOD!

Lita Cosner, CMI-US, responds:

Dear Ian,

Thank you for writing in. I am glad you have such a long history of faith in Christ. Did you come to faith through the preaching of the Gospel, or did you find it out in the stars? I don’t ask the question to be sarcastic, but to point out that you, and every single other Christian I’ve ever spoken to or heard of, came to faith through the preaching of the Gospel.

Can God use dreams, or the ‘gospel in the stars’, or any number of other ways? Well, God could do anything that’s not logically impossible, so asking what is possible for God to do is rather a wide question. Rather, we should ask what God has told us about how He saves people in His Word. And Christians are commanded explicitly to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). Paul asks, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have not heard?” (Romans 10:14) He doesn’t say, “Well, of course, they can figure it out through the constellations.”

If someone actually believed that lots of these unreached people already knew the Gospel through other means, it would have disastrous results for missions and for evangelism in general. The famous anecdote about William Carey comes to mind. He posed the question “Whether the command given to the apostles to ‘teach all nations’, was not obligatory on all succeeding ministers to the end of the world, seeing that the accompanying promise was of equal extent?” Another minister’s response typified many in his day. “As soon as Dr. Ryland could command sufficient composure to reply, he exclaimed, ‘Young man, sit down; when God is pleased to convert the heathen world, He will do it without your help or mine.’”1

Your error is like that of the old-earth creationists who say that because a day is like a thousand years to the Lord, the days of creation can be a thousand years long. You take a verse of Scripture, which in its context is absolutely true, and apply it to something it never meant to speak about. In doing so, you ignore Scriptures which actually do speak about how people come to faith, and the related commands to Christians regarding evangelism.

Listen to the Apostle Paul, and try to defend third-hand accounts of the Gospel in the stars in light of this:

But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

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? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news! But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:8–17).

God could have spread the Gospel in one day by giving every single person dreams about Jesus. Indeed, He could have sent an angel to everyone. And yes, He could have put the Gospel in the constellations if He wanted. But He has given us the Great Commission. We are privileged to be the messengers of the Gospel when we share the Good News of salvation with others, whether in our own local area, or whether we go to distant nations. We should not presume that God will work in ways other than He has revealed in Scripture.

Incidentally, God’s Word tells us why Daniel was placed at the head of the Magi. He was able to tell Nebuchadnezzar his dream and its interpretation (Daniel 2). This did not come from divining the stars, but from direct revelation from God Himself. This was a strong rebuke to the astrologers, who didn’t have the slightest idea from their stars what the king dreamed. Daniel also delivered a prophecy about the timing of the coming of the Messiah (Daniel 9). Is it possible that the Magi kept these records over hundreds of years, so that they knew when to expect the Messiah, and so were prepared to recognize the supernatural star for what it was? This explanation actually fits with what we see in Scripture.

I am so glad that someone preached the Gospel to you 60 years ago, and you were saved as a result. But emphasizing this ‘gospel in the stars’ idea makes it seem like missions and evangelism may not be that important after all, which is why we have to oppose it in no uncertain terms.

References and notes

  1. Howell, C.G., William Carey: Pioneer Baptist Missionary to India, wholesomewords.org, accessed 15 March 2018. Return to text.

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