A complex issue is whether people who have not heard the gospel will be saved. I wrote about this six years ago on Forthright. I began the first article:
The question is often asked, “will those who have never heard the gospel be saved?” We want this to be true because it seems so compassionate and loving. Yet as Christians we must look past our feelings and to the Bible for answers. What we find may not be pleasant, but Scripture is always our authority in religious matters (1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:16,17). Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (NKJV). Accordingly we ask, if someone has not heard the gospel or have a Bible then how can they be saved?
The argument I humbly made in the second article was that it seemed to me that the implications of this issue are the most crucial to consider. To say that people can be saved without hearing the gospel creates a second plan of salvation, that being ignorance.
Likewise, we should ensure that more people do not hear the gospel because if someone does not have access to the gospel, they cannot possibly be lost. Once people do have the gospel, then they can be saved or lost. Hence, the safest path would be ignorance. In other words, we would save more people by refusing to preach the gospel to the world, despite the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)!
I have no idea how that can possibly be justified Scripturally. I can’t see how those who have not heard can be saved by what I find in Scripture. To say this is not because I have a hard heart and I want people to be lost. I must go by what Scripture says (Colossians 3:17). Emotional arguments cannot supersede God’s Word.
Two further considerations:
First, Judges 2:10 says, “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.”
If people can be saved by ignorance, then this passage would be blessing rather than a sign of apostasy. In a spiritual sense, ignorance would truly be bliss.
Second, heaven is a place that is completely geared toward glorifying God (Revelation 4). Yet, if people who do not hear the gospel will be saved, then there will be countless numbers of intelligent adults entering heaven who’ve never heard of Jesus (cf. John 14:1-6; John 10:14).
I offer these as ideas toward an answer on this difficult subject. Above all, I am eager to learn. What do you have to offer?