Tom with kids in Kuwait

Tom with kids in Kuwait
Tom with kids in Kuwait

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How many first century Christians are in hell?

How many first century Christians are in hell?
Modern day Christians most often look to John for the plan of salvation.  What about those first century believers that that heard the good news from those who repeated what we now have in Matthew, Mark, or Luke?
What about those who attended the church in Jerusalem?  With James as the head of this church, how much did he preach about Jesus?  James speaks to those who are servants and believers in Jesus Christ in his letter to the Diaspora.   Surely John didn’t get to all of those places first?
None of the synoptic gospels have the equivalent of what we find in John 3:16  or Romans 10:9-10.  We just don’t see the command to confess Jesus as Lord before a person can receive salvation.  What happened to those people who heard the good news as it was captured in Matthew, Mark, and Luke?  Were they condemned because they only had part of the story?
Did Matthew shortchange those who heard him speak because he spent too much time on beatitudes and teachings and not enough on being born again?
Mark is probably the recording of Peter’s gospel.  Peter—the rock—Dude, how could you miss this?
How could Luke repeat stories about Jesus that said a man could have eternal life if he loved the Lord with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind and love his neighbor as himself?  It’s right there at the beginning of the parable  of the Good Samaritan. 
Luke was likely a very educated man who ministered with Peter and with Paul.  How could he not have included such life saving language?
Some might say that when Jesus said love the Lord he meant love Jesus and that’s close enough to professing Jesus is Lord.  Was Jesus then master of the parable but inept and finding the right word for himself?  Surely not!  He used the Son of Man, Son of God, and the One sent by God very fluidly in the context of his teaching and discussions.
Were only those who heard the good news from John or Paul truly saved?
Or have we taken the good news of Jesus Christ and doctrinalized it to the point where only one formula works?
Have we become modern day Pharisees?
Will one who truly loves God not come to know Christ?  Would God invalidate the relationship on a technicality?  Would God call us to recannonize the Bible today and discard all but John’s gospel?
Were all of the disciples not commissioned to take the good news to the world?
We are blessed to have 66 books of the Holy Bible.  God set these apart for us as scripture.  He used a bunch of flawed men to canonize them, but he has a habit of doing that.  Abram was something of a liar, Moses a murderer, David an adulterer, and the list goes on.
Today we are blessed to have the Bible that we have, but it has not always been so ubiquitous.  Did God not find a way for flawed people to spread good news before we published all 66 in a collection?
Do we discount John’s gospel as too restrictive?
By no means!  It is the shortest distance between two points.  It is the most direct route to salvation.  It is the first book I tell new believers to read.  But I do tell them to read the rest of the gospels later on.  These other gospels cannot be relegated to just books on how to live or an account of the life of Jesus.  These words brought good news and salvation to many as well.
Is the question academic to the current generation as we have been privileged to easy access to the complete Bible all of our lives?
But to give John’s gospel such preeminence is to discount the search for salvation and good news in the other gospels.
Does this in any way lessen the passion and urgency with which we take messages that we have learned from John’s gospel and Paul’s letters to the world in which we live?
Not at all!
But it does open our eyes to the truth.  Sometimes we have excluded much of God’s word from the truth because we as modern day Pharisees must fit all of God’s word into our comfort zone.
I remember a Marine Corps fashion statement from over 30 years ago when I was a second lieutenant at the Basic School in Quantico, Virginia.  Marines teach fashion?  Absolutely!  Nobody does camouflage like we do.
The advice I received from one of the captains assigned to teach us was to dress comfortably cool.  You always needed a reason to generate a little body heat.  Some comfort was good.  Too much put you to sleep.  You needed to be able to get up and move out without getting overheated.
We too should have comfort and assurance in our salvation.  God really does love us.  He really has preserved us.  He is surely not finished with that for which we have been predestined.
But we should not shrink back into our comfort zone.  God has much to teach us about his Love.
Paul had great anguish that Israel appeared to be lost.  They had rejected Christ.  But they had surely not been hung out to dry.
Let us read every gospel with the expectation of finding the good news that Jesus commissioned those first disciples to proclaim.
I don’t think that anyone who heard the good news from any of the commissioned was deprived of life saving information. 
OK, so how many first century Christians are in hell?
What an absurd provocation.  Why would anyone even ask this?
Because today we are quick to assign God’s judgment and threaten a person with hell when we are commission to spread good news.  We are commissioned to tell of life in Christ and salvation through faith in him.  We are commission to make disciples, baptize, and teach.
Somewhere along the way we decided that no one would respond to the grace of God unless we scared the hell out of them.
Is love not stronger than fear?
Can you really confess Jesus is Lord out of fear?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge, but does the fear of hell make for a true confession?
Read the gospel that John wrote.  Preach salvation through Christ alone.  Then read the rest of the Bible not trying to make it fit into your comfort zone.
It will be a challenge.
More than that, it will be a blessing.

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