Issue #158 -------
November 15, 2004
In whatever direction you turn, you will
see God coming to meet you; nothing is
void of him, he himself fills all his work.
Seneca the Younger (5 BC - 65 AD)
A matter about which reflective disciples of Christ have wrestled throughout the ages pertains to the eternal fate of those persons who, through no fault of their own, never had the opportunity to hear the glorious news of God's grace as revealed in Christ Jesus. Countless men and women over the centuries have lived and died never knowing the name of Jesus. It's not that they willfully rejected the Son of God ... they simply had no knowledge of His coming. The question thus naturally arises in the hearts and minds of those who serve this risen Savior: What will our Father do with such unenlightened souls? Are they all saved by virtue of their ignorance? Are they all lost by virtue of their ignorance? Are some saved and some lost? If the latter scenario, what determines who is saved and who is lost? These are difficult questions, and they have been pondered for centuries.
It is my firm conviction, after much study and reflection on this matter over the years, that our Father has not left us uninformed about the eternal destiny of such individuals. I believe His inspired writings give us a glimpse into His divine purpose for those not as blessed as we; those with lesser light from above. However, before penning a single syllable of this article, I sought the input and insight of you, the readers of these Reflections. I value your perceptions, for "as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another" (Prov. 27:17).
Should We Even Care?!
A handful of readers felt this whole matter to be highly speculative, believing God has offered no guidance into His dealings with such persons. We, therefore, should simply "leave it alone, and leave it to Him!" One reader, who lives in North Carolina, wrote, "You know, this situation ranks right up there with 'Who was Cain's wife?' Honestly, and maybe I'm being too blunt, I really don't care about cavemen and lost tribes in the deepest darkest jungles." A reader in Indiana stated, "Why waste time on something that you or I cannot do anything about?!"
Along the same lines, some suggested we should forget about these "distant souls" and simply focus on the unenlightened closer to home. A reader in Vancouver wrote, "These touchy-feely people who want to hypothesize over something such as cavemen or those in deepest, darkest Africa or you name the location, should have greater concern about their neighbors." I certainly agree, as most reasonable disciples would, that our hearts should feel a burden for the lost right in our own backyards. Most of us will never travel to the far corners of the globe preaching to "cavemen." We can proclaim God's grace, however, to our family, friends, and neighbors. And we should be doing this far more than we typically do!
There is certainly a danger that we may become so fascinated with the fate of these "cavemen" that we entirely forget about our obligation to let our light shine brightly right where we are. We need balance in our Christian walk. Let's not shy away from the hard questions, or from deep reflection upon the Word and its application to real life situations. But, at the same time, let's not allow such scholarly pursuits to distract us from our true purpose for being. Both serve a purpose in our overall development and maturity as disciples of Christ Jesus.
Should we be discussing such questions? Does it really matter what fate befalls those who never had opportunity, through no fault of their own, to hear the gospel of Jesus? I believe the answer to both questions is Yes. It matters because these are precious souls that one day will stand before the Creator. We should care what happens to them. It also matters because how God deals with them will speak directly to His character. I believe He has given us insight into the nature of that character, which, if we have perceived it correctly, reveals how He intends to dispense justice and mercy in judgment. The view we take regarding how God will deal with the unenlightened will speak volumes as to our own perception of His divine character. This is no small matter! If we present a false view of His nature, our testimony may well border on blasphemy!
Some, for example, believe God will simply send straight to hell all who have not complied with every tenet and tradition of the Churches of Christ. Period!! Their view of God is extremely rigid, and the thought that grace and mercy might be evidenced in judgment is a concept foreign to them. A leader in the church in Texas wrote, "You touch upon a very important subject which legalism (relationship based upon law) cannot answer." A fellow New Mexican stated, "I am glad this question came up as I have been asked many times about the people who will not, or never did, have the opportunity to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ." This reader went on to say in his email, "I personally believe we serve a just God, not a rigid ruler who is out to get us!" Another reader from the state of Texas wrote, "Legalists and patternists circumvent God's sovereignty seeking for the 'right and only' pattern, excluding His omniscience and omnipotence, thus belying their neopharisaism."
Scripture makes it clear to us that God "loved the world" (John 3:16), not just the "civilized" portions of it, and that He does not wish "for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9). Thus, one would think that He desires every person to come to a saving knowledge of His will. The question is -- has He made provision for this? Has every man been given opportunity? Or, is salvation for those fortunate few, who through the "luck of the draw," were born in areas of the planet where Bibles are readily available to all, and where the name of Christ is common knowledge? If the latter, then most men are, unfortunately, predestined for wrath, through no fault of their own. IF this is true, it raises significant questions about the purpose and character of our God. So .... Yes, these are questions that need to be asked; these are questions that need to be taken to God's Word for reflection and resolution.
They Are All Saved
One popular view, and one or two readers actually suggested this, is that all who are unenlightened as to the teachings of Christ are thereby SAVED. I suppose this gives credence to the old expression: "Ignorance is bliss!" If this is true, then it is argued that we do a disservice to these "heathen" by preaching the gospel to them. After all, if they are all saved, why bother? On the other hand, if we take the gospel to them and they don't respond, then they become lost. Thus, the path of wisdom is to simply leave them alone. R.C. Sproul voiced this view in his book Reason to Believe, stating, "Letting him alone would be the most helpful thing we could do for him. If we go to the native and inform him of Christ, we place his soul in eternal jeopardy. For now he knows of Christ, and if he refuses to respond to Him, he can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse. Hence, the best service we can render is silence" (p. 50).
A minister in Tennessee wrote that if these unenlightened souls are all saved, then "why should we go to them and present the gospel, watch them reject it, and thus become lost? They would be better off if we left them alone and allowed them to stay in that ignorant, but safe, condition." A preacher in Texas, who was a missions major at Abilene Christian University, stated that he believed "one extremist (postmodern) view was -- Those who haven't heard the gospel cannot be held accountable for their ignorance, and therefore they are saved. However, if we attempt to teach them the truth and they reject it, we condemn them to hell. Therefore, we should not bother to go to them lest we damn them." Another preacher in Tennessee expressed this view as follows: "If those folks can be saved without the gospel then the greatest tragedy of their lives would be hearing the gospel, for it would make the gospel God's power to damn, not to save. The greatest thing we could do when we have a child born to us would be to deliver that child to a dark, remote village and then pray no missionary ever finds that village."
I personally reject this position. I do NOT believe all those who have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ are thereby SAVED. That is totally illogical. It would render pointless any missionary effort on our behalf. Indeed, why would Paul spend years of sacrificial service to the Lord in his missionary journeys if these people were all saved by virtue of their ignorance? It makes no sense! Ignorance is NOT the basis of eternal salvation. "In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). That certainly sounds to me like ignorance is no excuse! Men are called to respond to God's revelation, and to turn their lives away from selfish, worldly pursuits to lives of service to their Creator. Thus, I don't see ignorance as a "free pass" to eternal life. If it was, then any missionary effort on our part, whether local or foreign, would be counterproductive. They would indeed be better off left alone. I simply do not believe such a view is biblical.
They Are All Lost
The opposite extreme, and this is found far more frequently among disciples of Christ, is that these unenlightened ones are all, without a single exception, lost. God will cast them all into hell for failing to be immersed into Christ ... even though they had never heard of Christ, nor of the need to be immersed. "Ignorance is no excuse!" "It's sad, but too bad!" The fact that untold millions lived and died without ever having the opportunity to hear this good news, through absolutely no fault of their own, is "irrelevant." They didn't "obey the gospel," so they are doomed to hell. Period. And, furthermore, it is OUR fault. Why? Because we didn't take the gospel to them like we were supposed to! Thus, their blood will be on our heads.
This is an extreme, harsh, and very legalistic theological stance .... and it is, unfortunately, held by many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I was brought up believing this way, but always felt very uncomfortable with it. If this was true, then it seemed to suggest to me something about God's character that was less than just, loving, merciful, and compassionate. It simply didn't depict the God I was coming to know through my growing faith and increasing study of His revelation of Himself in the inspired Scriptures. Yet, I kept silent during those early years; after all, to question the traditional understandings of one's forefathers in the faith was frowned upon. Those few who dared were quickly "marked." Too many, unwilling to be "marked and maligned," simply mindlessly parroted the party line. I soon chose an alternate route, much to the discomfort of many of my brethren in my faith-heritage. I chose to ask those difficult questions; to challenge my traditions; to confront each of my beliefs .... all in light of the Scriptures, and only for the purpose of confirming ultimate Truth. It has been a fascinating spiritual journey, one fraught with danger as well as discovery!
But, I digress. The view that all such persons who have not been blessed with knowledge of Jesus will be eternally lost, no exceptions, led naturally to the view that the blame for such rests with each of us. Had we done our duty -- preached the gospel to the whole world -- they would not be in that unenlightened state. Thus, their eternal destruction is not really their fault, or God's, the blame rests upon you and me! This argument is often used to promote Mission-Mindedness within the church. Guilt, after all, can be a powerful motivating force, and, if we can't go ourselves, we feel "absolved" by writing a fat check to those who do.
A minister in Nashville, TN wrote that the responsibility for these countless souls "rests on the shoulders of the church. It is our lack of interest in lost souls, our lack of love that will condemn them, not God's. He has prescribed a way to reach them; we are the cruel ones for not sharing!" This, of course, is a natural defense mechanism allowing us to continue our elevated esteem of the Father. Since we can't quite "swallow" the view that a loving, merciful Father would eternally punish a child for a failure to respond to an instruction they had never received, through no fault of their own, we must of necessity, to continue our elevated esteem of God, assign the fault elsewhere. Thus, the blame falls on US. It is our fault ... not His, not theirs. This soothes our minds, and helps us "explain" the eternal destruction of countless millions who had the misfortune of living their lives unaware of this greater light with which/whom we are blessed.
The aforementioned missions major at ACU wrote, "Another extremist (modern) view is -- Those who haven't heard the gospel cannot be saved. They will be damned. And we may be damned too, if we don't do our best to take the gospel to every one of them (this is largely used as a message to encourage missions)." A dear brother in Texas phrased the concern this way -- "Christians should be bound to let there be no stone unturned when delivering the good news. The guilt for those who never hear 'through no fault of their own' becomes the ultimate responsibility of those of us who have the treasure and lock it up in our buildings. There are going to be some church leaders that have some hard questions to answer as to why there were so many who never heard the good news of Jesus."
There are many disciples, who hold to this position that these unenlightened ones will be lost, who nevertheless believe this is God's doing. Thus, they seek to find some way to justify His action, or even to soften it, so as to make it more personally palatable. One such attempt is to suggest that God will indeed punish these people, but it will be with a lesser punishment. This is the doctrine of Degrees of Punishment. They appeal to Luke 12:47-48 --- "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows." There is much uncertainly, speculation and debate as to exactly how this might practically and literally apply on the day of judgment, but it does seem to suggest our Master will be fair in dispensing punishment. We would certainly expect no less from our Maker. A reader in Alabama wrote, "It appears that, while those who have never heard the gospel message of Christ will apparently be found guilty of sin, they may be 'beaten with fewer stripes' because of their lack of knowledge."
We are further "soothed" by the thought that God knows those who are searching for Him, and thus will providentially preserve such persons until such time as a preacher of the gospel can get to them ... much like the account of Philip being sent to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8) or Peter being sent to Cornelius (Acts 10-11). Thus, those who are ultimately lost will only be those God foreknew would never receive the gospel if presented with the opportunity; all those who would have received it, will have the chance. This presents a God more in keeping with our view of His nature and character, declare those who adhere to this position. A reader in Tennessee, for example, wrote, "An all powerful God has the ability to prolong the life of both the preacher and the one in need of teaching. God can grant safety to them both, and time and opportunity, for the gospel to be preached. This is my reflection on the subject of those cavemen." There is no question but what this is an emotionally appealing theory, and we would all love for it to be true, but it is unrealistic. The harsh reality is: many who are genuinely seeking to know their Creator, to the best of their ability and opportunity, do die never having heard the good news of Jesus Christ. That is simply a fact.
All Are Amenable To Available Light
Thus: Some Are Lost, Some Are Saved
The two views given above represent the far left and right extremes of the theological spectrum on this issue of the eternal destiny of the unenlightened. I do not believe either of them truly represents the biblical perspective, although they each contain elements of truth. It is my studied conviction, after a good number of years of prayerful reflection and research into God's revelation of Himself, that there is a far more rational, not to mention more biblical, position. Simply stated, this view holds that all men, who ever have lived or ever will live, are amenable to whatever available light God has given unto them. Those who genuinely respond to that light with fullness of faith will be judged fairly and benevolently by our Father; those who willfully reject that light will be rejected by God. I believe this not only to be consistent with the nature and character of our God, but consistent with the teaching of Scripture. I was also pleased to discover that the vast majority of readers who emailed me embrace this same conviction.
The foundational principle of this teaching is that our God has revealed Himself to all men, although the methodology may vary dramatically. There were times, for example, when God revealed His will to certain men via dreams and visions. These persons then became responsible for complying with the truths and tenets contained therein. God also spoke through prophets. God also speaks through nature (Acts 14:17). He speaks through the Scriptures. And He speaks most perfectly through the "word become flesh" -- Jesus Christ. In each case, God has dispensed light, although some lights shine more brightly than others and are thus more easily discerned. The KJV has poetically phrased this truth as follows: "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son" (Heb. 1:1-2). Some have regarded this as the doctrine of progressive light (or evolution of enlightenment). With each successive revelation of Himself, the Truth became more evident, with the most perfect revelation of that eternal light being Jesus (John 1:1-18).
Those of us blessed with the knowledge of this Greater Light should daily seek occasion and opportunity to share it with those about us still seeking to serve their Maker under the guidance of lesser light. After all, if we in America enjoy the blessings of electricity and running water, should we not seek to share these blessings with those peoples who live under lesser conditions? We do not share these blessings because we fear these peoples will perish without these blessings, but we share them because we believe they will prosper with them. It is an effort to ennoble their lives; to bring greater happiness and productivity. It is not so much that we save their lives, as we enrich them.
There are people in this world -- indeed, there always have been -- who have lesser light than that with which we have been blessed by God. The "caveman," for example, knows nothing of Jesus Christ, the Light of the world. He has never held a Bible; never heard a preacher of the gospel; has no clue what "baptism" is. However, he is NOT without revelation. God has revealed Himself to all men. The light available to this caveman, or some primitive living beyond the parameters of civilization, may well only be that of Nature. That then becomes his available light "coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17). This man is therefore responsible for seeking to understand that revelation to the best of his ability, and also for ordering his life according to the truths perceived therein. Those who perceive GOD in this revelation, and who seek to live as He would have them to live, have responded to that revelation of the Creator, and God will judge their hearts and actions accordingly. Those who REJECT this light from above, and choose to continue living for self, will be rejected by the One who provided them that guidance in that revelation. Thus, regardless of the brightness or dimness of the light made available, all men have a choice; they will either seek and accept, or ignore and reject .... and God will judge accordingly, dispensing either life or death based on their choice.
The apostle Paul wrote: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within (among) them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks" (Romans 1:18-21). This passage clearly declares that God CAN be known in His creation, and that men have a choice based on this lesser light of revelation. Those who choose unwisely are "without excuse." The implication of the passage is clear -- some will choose wisely to follow what light has been made available and to honor God in their lives. It is my conviction that such persons shall be saved. After all, as David beautifully notes, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge" (Psalm 19:1-2) .... and these seekers have responded to that knowledge.
Indeed, He does ... and He is always close at hand; visible to all His creation. In a unique way, nature is His voice. Through the magnificent work of His hands, the Creator proclaims His presence and personality to His creation. "From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us" (Acts 17:26-28). Paul spoke these words to the "heathen" of Athens. They apply no less to the "heathen" today. God is as near as His creation; nature proclaims its Creator, and if men choose to listen, they will discover God ... even in this lesser light. "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion" (Rom. 9:15). The legalists and patternists almost seem "put out" with God over this, but the reality is that our God is a merciful, loving, compassionate God ... and fair ... far more so than many of His disciples seem willing to acknowledge.
Dr. Leroy Garrett, in his recent essay The Principle of Available Light, has provided some much needed, and excellent, insight into this matter. I would encourage all to read that article and evaluate it carefully. He points out that in the world today "every person, by virtue of God's abundant grace, receives some measure of light (revelation)." This may be either through nature, or by means of "the law written in their hearts" (Rom. 2:15), or via the inspired Scriptures. There are no exceptions .... all men have some light available to them, and "every person is responsible for the light (knowledge) that he/she has, but only for the light that he/she has. God is not demonic. He does not condemn one for not knowing or not doing what he/she had no way of knowing or doing" (Garrett).
Does this mean everyone is automatically saved? Of course not! It simply means that one finds favor with God, or disfavor, by their response to, or rejection of, that level of light available to them. As brother Garrett clearly points out in his essay, "God may well condemn one for not making a faithful response" to that form of light "in which He discloses Himself." Man is responsible for seeking God, and he is then responsible for responding to that revelation God provides to the best of his ability and understanding. Those who willfully REJECT this revelation, however, will be rejected by God.
A reader in Texas wrote, "I agree with the 'available light' position referred to in a recent essay by Leroy Garrett (and also by Edward Fudge). As Sovereign, God can and has saved any whom He chooses to save in whatever manner He so chooses. Who are we to judge?! God is just and loving, searching all men's hearts." Speaking of Edward Fudge, he wrote in his GracEmail, "God's judgment will be completely righteous, for He will judge all people by the light they actually possessed, rather than by some standard of which they had no knowledge." Brother Fudge further observes, "The heart which knows only God's revelation in creation, but rejects that, would also reject greater light if it were available. There is no difference in principle between the hearts of those who reject God -- only a difference in the quantity and brightness of the light they reject. Similarly, there is no difference between the hearts of those who seek God's fellowship and who embrace His light -- regardless of the measure of the light they possess (John 3:21)."
An elder in Missouri wrote, "I think, based on Romans 2 and other similar passages, that there may be room for God to exercise His mercy toward these persons, and to judge them based on the level or measure of law they have (i.e., how effective they were in living up to their own understanding)." God has placed an awareness of the eternal within each of us (Eccl. 3:11), and thus it is within human nature to seek God. He would not place within us this desire without also providing available light for us to fulfill that desire. Some are blessed with greater light than others, but all have some light, and all are amenable to that light of revelation which they have. A noted author and speaker in the Restoration Movement, and a dear brother, wrote, "I believe we do have some ground of hope in God's mercy. We do know that God notices when someone lives up to what light they do have (Rom. 2:14-16). The tenets of the Gospel will be the measuring stick, but it appears that God is aware when those tenets are practiced simply out of a good conscience, and His judgment will take that into account." A reader in Texas put it this way: "To paraphrase Rom. 2:13, it is not those who hear Christ's law who will be saved, but those who do Christ's law. If they do so by nature, then by nature they will be judged."
A professor at a major Texas university stated, "Al, I have thought a great deal about this issue and have for some time concluded that God will judge every person according to his response to the light he has." Dr. A.H. Strong, in the year 1909, wrote, "We have the hope that even among the heathen there may be some ... who under the guidance of the Holy Spirit working through the truth of nature and conscience, have found the way to life and salvation" (Systematic Theology, p. 843). Josh McDowell, in his book Answers to Tough Questions, which he co-authored with Don Stewart, wrote, "We do believe that every person will have an opportunity to repent, and that God will not exclude anyone because he happened to be born at the wrong place and at the wrong time" (p. 137). Even the great Restoration leader Moses E. Lard acknowledges this principle of accountability to available light in his commentary on Romans 1:20 --- "Paul here assumes the great and constantly recurring fact in the divine government, that knowledge of duty is the measure of responsibility. Had the Gentiles not known, they would have been free, but having light, they were without excuse" (p. 53). "This knowledge would constitute the ground of their responsibility" (ibid, p. 49).
"If God expects men to know Him, we may be sure that He has given them the means of knowing Him. God will judge every man according to the opportunities he has had" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 18). In commenting upon Romans 1:18ff, the above source states, "These words describe the condition of those who reject light from the standpoint of Him who is the great Searcher of hearts. He makes no mistakes. He makes no uncharitable judgments. In His sight those to whom He has given light, and who have chosen to reject it, are 'without excuse.' They have no valid reason for their ignorance about the way of salvation and the path of duty if God has given them light about both" (ibid). "These words describe the condition of those who have willfully rejected light" (ibid). "If light has been granted to beings of intelligence and reason and conscience, and they have deliberately chosen to reject it, is it not fair and just that they should take the consequences?" (ibid). Notice also that "it is characteristic of man in his sinful state that he knows much more truth than he translates into fitting response" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 10, p. 23).
Why Take The Gospel To Them?
A question that will need to be examined, for it is a valid one, is: If the unenlightened may be saved by their response to available light from God, then what purpose is served by taking the gospel of Jesus Christ to them? As some have suggested, as noted above, wouldn't they be better off if simply left alone? The answer is a resounding NO. I like the way brother Leroy Garrett phrased it in his essay -- "No one is ever worse off by hearing the gospel." He correctly observes that if a person is genuinely seeking to know the Creator, "accepting such light as is available, they will accept more light as it becomes available." However, if these persons have no interest in seeking to know the Creator or His will, or, if having perceived it they then reject it, "they will reject further light (the gospel)" as well.
When someone only sees "through a glass darkly," what a joy it is, both for proclaimer and hearer, to be able to bring to their view that greater light. We do not do the genuine seeker of ultimate Truth a disservice by sharing with them the way of the Lord more completely, as is clearly seen in the account of Aquila and Priscilla sharing greater light with Apollos (Acts 18:26). Was Apollos "lost" before they took him aside? No, merely unenlightened. From what was Cornelius, a devout, God-fearing man, "saved" (Acts 11:14)? He was "saved" from having to continue his journey through life in a dimmer, lesser light. His prayers to God for greater enlightenment were heard and answered, and Peter came and shared Jesus with Him, thus allowing him to perceive more perfectly than ever before the Greater Light of God's matchless grace!!
A reader in California wrote, "I think the idea that a loving God would arbitrarily punish individuals who, through no fault of their own, never heard the gospel is totally absurd. I have an unshakable conviction that He will be fair to everyone involved." I have sought to demonstrate, and, admittedly this treatment has been brief and skeletal, that the Scriptures seem to reflect a Creator unwilling to leave any of His creation without some revelation of Himself, however dim that revelatory light might be in comparison to other, greater revelations of His nature and will. A God of justice and fairness will, therefore, hold all men amenable only to that available light to which He has exposed them. Those who respond to that light, to the best of their understanding, ability and opportunity, will be accepted by God. Those who willfully reject that available light, will in turn be rejected by God.
As with the light of the gospel, most men will choose to reject it and live for SELF. Thus, broad is the way that leads to destruction. I believe this is no less true with the lesser lights given by God. Most men also reject the divine precepts written on their hearts, and thus their conscience will accuse them on the day of judgment; most men will reject the voice of nature as it pours forth speech and knowledge, and thus they are without excuse! In all of these revelations of God, many are called, but only a remnant choose to respond. We have a gracious Father, however, and He does not demand more of us than we are able to give. God has shed His light upon all men, and all men must respond to whatever light they have if they hope to be saved.
Let me issue a final challenge to the redeemed of the Lord -- "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so" (Psalm 107:2). We, who have been blessed with the Greater Light, have an obligation ... indeed, a privilege ... to share this blessing with others less fortunate; men and women who are living by lesser light. Let us therefore seek daily to be "the light of the world" (Matt. 5:14) by taking the Greater Light, who is Christ Jesus our Lord, to all corners of this world where it/He may "enlighten every man" (John 1:9).
From a Reader in West Virginia:
Al, I look forward to more conversation with you. I have a few folks in my life with whom I can "think out loud," and we can discuss things without thinking less of each other. I know you are that kind of a person, which is why I have previously taken opportunities to share my perspectives with you. I truly wish this same opportunity would have existed with Carl Ketcherside. After reading several of his works, I feel a kinship with him, which I am guessing you feel as well. Just to have a few hours to discuss things with him ... wouldn't that be a treat?! Keep writing, brother! Keep serving our Father!
From a New Reader in Texas:
I attend the ------ Church of Christ and have been in the Lord's family for eleven years. Before that I was a Catholic (in name only) for forty-four years. Our men's Bible study group had been discussing the passage dealing with prayer and oil in the book of James, and one of the men in our class brought with him your Reflections article on this same subject --- Elders, Prayer and Oil. That is how I came to know of you and your work. If you would, please add me to your mailing list. Thank you, and may God bless your ministry.
From a Reader in North Carolina:
"Obedience of Faith" was a fantastic article, brother! It is amazing how many church folks get hung up on working their way to heaven! No one is going to deny that we are commanded to do good works -- our faith itself pleads with us to serve the kingdom by our personal ministries. However, when we fall into the trap of "making a list and checking it twice," all in a futile attempt to justify our faith, Satan chuckles and moves on to the next person, convinced he has sown his doctrine successfully.
From a Minister/Elder in New Jersey:
I wonder how those who feel salvation is by "obedience" relate grace (love) to their marriages? Do they serve and obey a spouse in order to receive grace? If so, they may be disappointed in how little they receive. How much happier, fulfilled, satisfied, stable, rewarded and secure are those spouses that serve and obey each other because of the grace they receive! Maybe that is why there is such a problem with marriages in our culture. We don't understand grace!
From a Minister in North Carolina:
Al, I am agreeing more and more with you lately ... is it you or me?!!
From a Reader in (Unknown):
I thought Issue #73 -- "The Nicolaitans: A Case Study in Compromise" -- was impressive. Your discussion of trade guilds being the equivalent of corporate bodies was right on. In what was my former line of work, I saw a corporate mindset that encouraged fraud and falsifying of documents. This spanned numerous companies. I believe we are living in an age where most companies have taken an antinomian posture.
From an Elder in Missouri:
Brother, "Obedience of Faith" was another job well done. I could not have said it better, and have nothing to add, except I wish I had written it myself. Very good treatment of the subject. Once again, works are essential, but are not sufficient to procure salvation. We can not buy it, bargain for it, nor earn it. As I often say in classes and sermons: There is nothing we can do that will ever make it so that God owes us salvation. He gives that as a gift. Keep up the good work, and may the Lord continue to bless your efforts.
From a Minister in Washington:
It's been a while since I have emailed you. I am enjoying the Reflections articles. The latest one on obedience is a really great testimony to those who think the Church of Christ is works-based ... especially with regard to baptism. I think we do need to have some kind of response to God. Those of us who receive the gift of God's wonderful grace will give back in return. We give in response to what we have been given.
From a Reader in California:
Brother Al, I have noted that without exception those who teach salvation by faith only always exhort people to pray -- asking Jesus to come into their hearts. They never explain how passively allowing oneself to be baptized is a "work," but actively praying is not a work. Such glaring inconsistency!
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