1/29/2008 02:46:00 pm

Wider Mercy

Posted by Unknown |

I've been reading a biography on Billy Graham at the moment. I'm enjoying it. I wanted to watch a video of Billy preaching, so I jumped on YouTube. YouTube was kind enough to give me a bunch of videos made by people declaiming that Billy Graham is going to hell because he believes in salvation apart for Jesus Christ (such as here and here).

They quote an interview Billy Graham gave to Robert Schuller where Graham was asked about the future of the Christian Church. Graham replied:

"Well, Christianity and being a true believer--you know, I think there's the Body of Christ. This comes from all the Christian groups around the world, outside the Christian groups. I think everybody that loves Christ, or knows Christ, whether they're conscious of it or not, they're members of the Body of Christ. And I don't think that we're going to see a great sweeping revival, that will turn the whole world to Christ at any time. I think James answered that, the Apostle James in the first council in Jerusalem, when he said that God's purpose for this age is to call out a people for His name. And that's what God is doing today, He's calling people out of the world for His name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world, or the Christian world or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they've been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don't have, and they turn to the only light that they have, and I think that they are saved, and that they're going to be with us in heaven."

When Schuller asks Graham to clarify he replies:

"I've met people in various parts of the world in tribal situations, that they have never seen a Bible or heard about a Bible, and never heard of Jesus, but they've believed in their hearts that there was a God, and they've tried to live a life that was quite apart from the surrounding community in which they lived."

(I got the quotes from here)

Now people get entirely upset that Graham is saying that people can be saved apart from Jesus. I think perhaps that's a rather far leap to make considering that Graham spent the entirety of his ministry calling people to faith in Jesus Christ. He didn't call people to morality, to belief in God, any God, but to Jesus and only Jesus.

What Graham seems to be saying to me, is that ignorance of Christ doesn't necessarily mean that a person cannot be saved by Christ. I think this is part of what Paul talks about in the early chapters of Romans. First he says that creation testifies to the existence and character of God so that humanity cannot deny God's existence (Romans 1:20). Later he talks about how it is that Gentiles will be judged even though they do not have the law. Saying that they will be judged by their conscience apart from the law, and so also will be found guilty by their own consciences (Romans 2:14-15).

The whole thrust of Romans 1-5 is that righteousness comes not through obedience but through faith. Faith in Jesus. No one can be good enough for God, but a righteousness comes apart from the law and that is in Jesus. In chapter 4 Paul uses the example of Abraham who was saved not by works, but by faith. "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness." (Romans 4:3). "It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith." (Romans 4:13)

Abraham did not know Jesus Christ. He did know the God of Jesus Christ, but he did not know of Jesus the Man/God, born thousands of years later. He did not know that Jesus would die on the cross for his sins, nor did he know that Jesus would rise again. In fact no-one before Jesus came knew exactly how God was going to save them. But Abraham, along with others, believed God and it was credited to them as righteousness. They knew that righteousness cannot come through good behaviour, because everyone is sinful. But righteous must come through some other form. And they believed God to supply this righteousness, which he did in Jesus.

So if a person believes that they cannot be saved apart from the mercy of God, the God of creation, yet they have not heard of Jesus, could they not too believe on the mercy of the God they do know, and be saved? Could they not have faith that is credited to them as righteousness?

If it was good enough for Abraham surely it's good enough for the lost tribes who have not had a chance to be presented with the person of Jesus.

And what about the person who comes from the Muslim background who knows only a distorted view of Jesus? If they reject the false-Jesus can you blame them? If they believe in the mercy of God, but have not heard of the true Jesus, one who is God, the one who died and rose again, cannot their faith be credited to them as righteousness?

So perhaps I am going out on a theological limb here. But I think that people who have not heard of Jesus can still be saved by Jesus. And I think Billy Graham believes that too.

On the other hand those who have not heard of Jesus can still be judged by Jesus, if they fail to have faith in the mercy of God.

And those who have heard of the true Jesus, but have rejected the true Jesus cannot be saved by Jesus.

That's what I think. Jesus is the only way to salvation but knowledge of Jesus is not necessarily a pre-requisite.