Dr. Arnold Cook

Guest Contributions



Human Lostness: Remembering Those For Whom No Table Has Yet Been Set

Dr. Arnold L. Cook

This message has been transcribed and edited from a recorded sermon.

Copyright © 1994 by Christian Publications
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
ISBN: 0-87509-563-1

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America.

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Camp Hill, Pennsylvania 17011

Whenever the late Einar Mickelson, veteran Alliance missionary to Indonesia, presided at a Communion service, he prayed an unvarying prayer: "Lord, today we remember those for whom no table has yet been set."

Einar Mickelson had a great heart for the lost.

The Communion service should be a time for remembering not only Jesus' atoning crucifixion but those who are yet unreached. When we look at the Lord's table through Matthew's eyes, we read:

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" - note those words "for many" - "for the forgiveness of sins" (26:27-28).

Or read in John 17 Jesus' high-priestly prayer following the Last Supper. First He prayed for His disciples (17:1-19). Then abruptly He refocused His praying: "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message" (17:20). Jesus had in mind the yet unreached.

I'll never forget Marilyn Laslow, a Wycliffe translator working in Papua New Guinea. Speaking at an Urbana missionary conference, she told about a group of men coming from a distant village upriver from where she worked. They urged her to send some workers to their village because they wanted to know about this Jesus.

"We really can't do it," Marilyn explained. "There's no one to send."

But the men insisted, and finally, after some months, a group of workers did visit them. As they walked through the village with the people, they were surprised to see a church.

"What is this church building all about?" the workers inquired. "We didn't think you knew anything about the gospel or Jesus."

"We don't," the villagers answered. "But we have seen that you have these buildings in your villages, and so we built one while we were waiting."

No Macedonian Call

Those upriver villagers in Papua New Guinea were some of the ones Jesus had in mind when He spoke of His "blood. . . poured out for many." When He prayed for those who would believe in Him through the message of His disciples, He was thinking of the yet unreached, including us. We in the West can thank God that Paul responded willingly to the Macedonian call that redirected him from Asia to Europe (Acts 16).

Thomas Wang, a key leader of the Chinese churches around the world, has commented on this passage: "It was in God's providence that He led Paul at that point into Europe and not Asia." He said, "We Asians have not always been entrepreneurs. The Europeans were. We would have kept the gospel to ourselves."

An Italian adventurer, Cristopher Columbus, embarked in a small wooden boat in search of an alternate passage to India and discovered the new world. Entrepreneurs took the gospel to Europe - and the Americas - first, not to Asia. Then God used part of the Western world to take the gospel to the Eastern world. As Jesus prayed for us, so He is praying for those today who are yet waiting for a table to be set.

Those of us who are involved in the church's worldwide mission through our prayers, personnel and money need to be aware of new issues confronting us.

These are issues related to missions that, if not addressed, will mean the loss of some basic truths at the very core of missions and evangelism.

Theological Drift

I refer to a theological drift taking place in evangelical circles that has the potential of taking the very heart out of Christology and, consequently, destroying the heart-beat of evangelism and missions.

Take as a prime example the lostness of humankind, a terrible truth. You can't get to it through logic, through deduction; you can't get to it through academics. Louis L. King expressed it well, "The lostness of mankind is a revelation of God, and it is an article of faith. We accept it. We can't understand it, but we accept it as one of those terrible truths that God has revealed to us."

Let me pose two questions to you. Answer them in your own heart and mind. These address the two critical issues on this subject:

Question #1: Are all people who die without knowing Christ lost?

Question #2: If they are lost, are they lost forever in a literal place called hell?

What is your response? For centuries the traditional evangelical response to those two questions has been an unqualified yes, even though it hurt us to say so. But today in evangelical circles, it is a yes which is more and more qualified to the point of becoming a maybe.

And how do we respond to this issue?

Implicit Christians?

Take the first question: "Are all people who die without knowing Christ lost?" Some rather high-profile theologians are saying, and certain books are being published suggesting, "Yes, but there is a good chance there will be 'implicit Christians' in heaven."

By that they mean there will be some God-fearing, sincere people who have never heard the good news concerning Christ Jesus, but somehow God will accept them and they'll be in heaven. For more on that hypothesis, read Clark Pinnock's recent book, A Wideness in God's Mercy. Pinnock, who has been a well-known Canadian evangelical theologian, champions this possibility.

The second question: "If these are lost, are they lost forever in a literal place called hell?" A new response is being heard: "Yes, but maybe hell is not eternal, not everlasting," John Stott has gone into print suggesting that. He no longer is able to accept the idea that a God of love would send people who have never heard the gospel to an eternal hell.

But there is more to this question. "Is hell as described by Jesus a literal place?" Certainly.

"Do such terms as 'fire' and 'darkness' reflect reality?"

I say they do.

A Disturbing Poll

An Alliance missionary home on furlough polled some pastors, elders and rank-and-file people in several churches about the lostness of mankind.

Some of the findings were most disturbing. In one case, half the elders did not believe that people without Christ were lost. An occasional pastor and some lay people held the same view.

What is the condition of those who are outside of Christ based on the clear teaching of Scripture? Here is a list of but a few of their characteristics.

Not Lost Like Homing Pigeons

First, they are lost. That's the point Jesus made in the parables of Luke 15 - the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son.

Lost like sheep. Not lost like homing pigeons who eventually find their way home, but lost like sheep who are easily disoriented. Unless helped, they'll never make it back.

Second, they are separated from God ---alienated. The alienation begins in Genesis 3 and continues down through the centuries. Paul graphically describes that alienation in Romans 1.

Third, they are wicked. They are wicked by nature and by practice. Before the flood God pronounced His evaluation of mankind. Every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5b).

Fourth, they are depraved, totally fallen. Paul, quoting from the Psalms, says, "There is no one who does good, not even one" (Romans 3:12).

Fifth, they are controlled by their sinful nature. "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, 'beyond cure' " Jeremiah 17:9).

Unredeemed humankind is declared to be the object of God's wrath. Paul tells the Ephesians that when they "followed the ways of this world" before God redeemed them, they were, "by nature objects of wrath" (2:1-3). They were controlled by Satan himself, the god of this world.

These are just a few of the clear statements of Scripture concerning the condition of lost people.

What about their destiny? I recall as a student at Bible College going to the room of my friend Jim for a time of prayer. He was a man of great compassion and was studying the Jehovah's Witnesses in a course on false cults. Jim was agitated. He said to us - and I'll never forget it - "Fellows, how I wish it were true, what the JWs teach about the annihilation of those who are lost, but it's not! These people will be lost - forever." Jim was grappling with this terrible truth - the lostness of humankind.

Conscious Torment

The Scriptures clearly teach that the lost will be in conscious torment. There is no mention or evidence of a second chance. Rather, they will be facing judgment. "Man is destined to die once, and after that, judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus said of those whom He will separate from Himself at the judgment: "They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life" (Matthew 25:31-46).

These words of Jesus have been reexegeted by a leading theologian who concludes that eternal punishment in this passage does not mean eternal. That word eternal, related to heaven, appears 64 times in the New Testament. It appears 7 times in relation to hell. If heaven is eternal 64 times, is not hell also eternal 7 times?

What is our response to these terrible truths about the lost, their condition and their eternal destiny? How do we respond to these neoevangelicals? To these who are beginning to fudge on these terrible truths at the very heart of our Christology?

If we lose this battle, the larger issue of the uniqueness of Christianity will quickly follow. In an attempt to be politically correct in multicultural North America, we are being subtly nudged into "religious pluralism."

Tampering Hermeneutics

On this slippery slope, these theologians are tampering with the clear teaching of the Scriptures. They are trying to prop up God's justice while yielding to the subjectivity of their feelings.

If I interpreted based on my feelings I'd go for no hell, a softened or a limited hell. These proponents, well-intentioned though they may be, are unknowingly embracing a low view of Scripture. They are moving the church backwards into the pre-Vatican II days of 1962-1965, and perhaps even back to pre-Reformation days. I refer to those times when ordinary Christians supposedly could not understand, with the Holy Spirit's help, the plain truth of Scripture. These "theologians" are allowing scholarship to obscure the clear views of Scripture on these subjects. Ordinary believers are intimidated and question, "Can we no longer understand the Bible by just reading it with the Spirit's help, comparing Scripture with Scripture?"

If we cannot, we are back into the dark ages when only priests and official leaders understood the Scriptures.

J.I. Packer

One theologian, J.l. Packer, observes that if these scholars think that they are discovering truth hidden from the church for 20 centuries, and therefore no longer can ordinary people understand the Scriptures for themselves, then we are not making progress; this is a major step backwards.

He's dead on.

We are standing, precariously, on a slippery slope.

What is our response to all this? For my personal admonition, I just reread the first two chapters of Romans. What a dismal, terrible description of humanity! These people know there is a God, but they have given themselves over to corruption.

Beyond Orthodoxy

It's easy to respond by affirming our orthodoxy. But the answer must be more than reaffirming these theological truths in a cold, calloused, calculating way.

In so doing we are sealing the eternal doom of those for whom no table has yet been set. We must move beyond the mere endorsement of orthodoxy to being moved by Christ's compassion.

Jesus Himself gives us the clearest statement as to why He came to earth when He declared, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke. 19:10). "As the Father has sent me,"Jesus said in another place, "I am sending you" (John 20:21).

What will The Christian and Missionary Alliance do in the 1990s about these people for whom no table has yet been set?

Will we refocus on people who are more lost than others? Let that sink in for a few seconds. More lost than others. Do you have your theological cap on? Is that a sound statement? "Cook," you say, " that's heresy! You're either lost or you're not lost!"

Right! But I am trying to make a point. There are people in this world - in almost half this world - who are much more lost than the other half. Why? They're more lost in terms of opportunity to hear.

I came back from South America, having worked with students in Popayan, Colombia - a city with one little church of 12 people. God gave us several converts among the university students. They were the first, in generations of their families, to know Christ in a personal way.

Looking for Pure Pagans

Then I moved to Regina, Saskatchewan. As I worked with my neighbors, trying to reach out to them, in every case I found they had Christian contacts. They had a Christian uncle or aunt. Some had received Bibles from relatives or knew Christians in their workplaces. Yes, they were lost, but the opportunity to hear existed all around them.

On airplanes, I share my faith with people. I keep thinking I'll bump into a real pagan one of these days. I was seated beside a big fellow who was coming back from Oklahoma after visiting his girlfriend. He was heading back to New York state. I thought, "Here, finally, I've got a genuine pagan to work on."

As I was checking him out I discovered he was a trucker. I asked, "Have you ever heard of those uh, those uh, . . ." I couldn't remember the name I was searching for.

He said, "Oh, you mean those 'truckers' chapels'?"


"Oh," he said, "I've been to those. Yeah, they're good."

You cannot have this many evangelicals in North America and not have a lot of gospel around. Television, radio, books, magazines. They are all out there.

I am more than a little unhappy with the myth that the mission field has come to us. This has an element of truth only if you're speaking of French Quebec in Canada.

Turkey is twice the population of Canada, but there are only about 400 known Christians among 60 million people in that former Bible land. In the fields where our missionaries work, there are over 150 unreached people groups.

Ten Thousand Villages

C.E. Studd, pioneer missionary to Africa, said, "I see the smoke of 10,000 villages where there is no church." Thank God many missionaries have gone to the south, the west and the east of Africa where God has moved mightily. But what about the north which is solidly Muslim? What about people who are lost now and lost forever, for whom no table has been set? What do we do? How do we respond?

I remind you that these lost people, know certain things, according to the Scriptures. They are without excuse

since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)

They Know

That is a terrible declaration of God concerning the lost.

They know there is a God. They also know that they have sinned and have come up short of satisfying that God.

In verse 25 of the same chapter, referring to these same people, Paul states,

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things [idols] rather than the Creator.

Why did they have idols? Why did they have sacrifices? Because they knew they had missed the mark.

As Don Richardson says, "God has placed eternity in the heart of every man and woman and they know they have a need."

And they also know there is a life to come. In Egypt, visiting the pyramids, I saw the large pyramid of King Cheops. Along side of it, in recent years, they have excavated his boat that was buried with him. Why the boat? To help him get across the great Nile of the world to come.

The museums of Cairo bear witness to the Egyptians' preparation for the next world - eternity is in the heart of every man and woman. They knew.

What if They Knew This?

But someone has asked, "What if they knew some other things?" What if they knew we here in Canada have a gospel of hope and salvation? What if they knew we have a gospel of power that delivers from the fear of gods and spirits? What if they knew we have a God of compassion?

What if they knew we have a Savior who has commanded us to go and tell them? What if they knew that many Christian young people are more interested in their careers than in obeying their Lord?

What if they knew that many Christians seek wealth and luxury more than the salvation of lost people? What if they knew that many evangelical churches have very little concern or program for proclaiming the gospel?

What if they knew that we were spending large amounts of money on beautiful buildings and yet there has been no table set for them? What if they knew that there is a missionary denomination called The Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada that doesn't seem to be able to spend more than 15 cents of each church dollar for the reaching of lost people and the setting of a table for them? What if they knew these kinds of things?

101 Reasons

This brings us back to the whole matter of motivation. Leighton Ford has said, "The belief that mankind is lost is far from the only motive for evangelism and mission. There are 101 positive reasons for winning people to Christ, yet there is only one great negative - that man should not perish. Take away that great negative and you will cut the nerve cord of concern."

It was W.P. Nicholson who prayed, "O God, may we never get used to hearing the thud of Christless feet on the road to hell."

And it was Australian Bishop Jack Dane who made the statement at the end of the 1974 Lauzanne Congress: "When I realized that men without God were lost now and would be lost forever - even nice folks, even my family and my friends - I vowed that I would bum out one life in telling others the fabulous good news Jesus has brought to our world."

There are multitudes for whom no table has yet been set. Will you keep them on your mind and in your heart?

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