by Lauren Crane
David Platt said he is often asked the question, “What happens to the innocent man in Africa who has never heard the gospel?” The challenge, he said, is not to answer that question, but to alleviate the question altogether.
Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., spoke on April 13 to the full house at Southeastern’s opening chapel service of the annual Global Missions Week. The week, which featured time to meet with current and future international and domestic missionaries, also featured Great-Commission minded speakers such as Platt and others to speak during the chapel services. To kick off the week, Platt addressed members of Southeastern’s student body, faculty and staff, as well as gathered members of the Board of Visitors and Board of Trustees.
Platt shared that he once visited a church that thanked him for spreading the gospel to the nations “so we don’t have to.”
He said, “There was a range of emotions – sadness…anger. Then I thought, ‘Maybe that pastor said what most Christians in our context would say, but they lack the boldness. Have we created an entire system of checks so that we don’t ever have to go?” Platt said. Rather than boldly going and making disciples, as all are commanded to do, Platt said he fears the modern church has made it entirely possible for people to send money without ever really caring and ensuring that they are fulfilling the Great Commission.
Going through several chapters in the book of Romans, Platt challenged those in attendance to determine what it is they really believe about people who never hear the gospel – whether Christians think the Lord will “annihilate them and send them to hell,” as one man phrased it to Platt, or whether we believe they will go to heaven regardless of whether they hear the true gospel.
“If (we believe) they go to heaven, then it makes sense for us to spend all of our money and resources on ourselves,” Platt said. “If (we believe) they’re perishing and will go to an eternal hell without ever hearing the gospel, then we must send all our resources and expend ourselves to take the gospel to the nations.”
Making the argument that the Bible and the book of Romans specifically answer the oft-heard question, Platt said there were several points to see Scripturally to support the fact that Christians must go to the nations, or billions will die and spend eternity in hell.
First, Platt used Romans 1:20 to articulate that all people are created with a knowledge of the one, true God.
“All people know God the father and have knowledge of God the father,” he said. “Whether it is in an African village or an Eskimo on the frozen tundra, all people have knowledge.” Furthermore, Platt said all people reject that knowledge of God. “This is the human condition for all of us.”
In response to the question, “What happens to the innocent man in Africa?” Platt said there is no one who is innocent. “The reality is there is not one innocent person. If they were innocent, they would have no need for the gospel.” All people, then, have a need for the gospel, for all people are condemned for rejecting God.
“There’s this idea that if the people that have never heard the gospel, they’ll not be accountable and they’ll go to heaven,” Platt said. “We bias this question toward ourselves and away from the holiness of God, but the reality is we are all guilty.”
This guilt ensures condemnation for all, since all people, having heard of God and rejecting God, will be held responsible.
“In this letter, Paul, in speaking to the Roman church, is saying no one is righteous in God’s sight by observing the law. Our best efforts even condemn us more,” Platt said. However, God has made a way for the lost to be redeemed and not condemned, he said, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”Feel the weight and the wonder of the words of Romans 3:25: ‘Made a propitiation for our sins by his blood.’
“We’re not saved because he was falsely tried and beaten. Was he scared of what the Roman soldiers would do to him? Absolutely not,” Platt said. “He went there taking the full infinitely holy wrath of God. God turned away because he could not stand to see my sin and your sin on his son.”
However, no one has access to the sacrifice of the son except through faith in Christ, and God commands the church to preach this to all nations. Looking at Romans 10, Platt said believers can see the chain of events that leads to people hearing the gospel: Christ sending his people, his people preaching the gospel message and people believing the message of the gospel.
“Obviously, not everyone who hears believes. One day though, there will be people representing every tribe, nation and tongue.” As part of the chapel service, Platt commissioned the families and units who are deploying around the world as part of Southeastern’s International Church Planting program. “For those families going out, that’s confidence. Somebody will believe. Not everybody, but somebody will.”
Platt said, “This is the humble reality. In God’s infinite wisdom and grace, he has made you and I Plan A for getting the gospel to his people. There is no Plan B. He has chosen to use you and me to make his glory known to the ends of the earth.”
The mission of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ by equipping students to serve the church and fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Southeastern is an institution of higher learning and a Cooperate Program ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention.