Christ salvation

The Dilemma of Personal Salvation in Collective Cultures, Evangelical Focus

A woman was convinced of the truth of the gospel but did not accept it for herself. The main obstacle to his adherence to the Christian faith was the fate of his late mother:

“If Jesus is the only way to eternal life in the presence of God, then I will have to live with the horrible thought that my mother, who died a Buddhist, is now lost forever and I will never be with her again if I become a Christian. This is too awful and painful a truth for me to accept.

It’s a story that sounds familiar to many East Asians.

For many East Asians, the dire fate of those who die without Christ means that they will be eternally separated from their unbelieving families and ancestors if they choose to follow Jesus.

Although this is true for all of us, this is especially important for East Asians because this belief involves choosing between personal salvation or the duty to love and respect parents and ancestors.

Many have chosen to reject Christ’s offer of personal salvation for the sake of their deceased loved ones, even when they can be convinced of its truth.

This reason for rejecting the gospel may seem baffling to some of us, but when we consider the cultural and religious values ​​that underlie this decision, we begin to appreciate the predicament.

Life and reality are approached in a collectivist way in the majority world. Often personal interests are subordinated to those of the group and decisions are made based on what is best for the community rather than the individual.

So a personal salvation decision that only affects the individual will be perceived not only as self-centered, but also against the norm to put the interest of the community before the individual.

Such a decision is perceived as even more shameful when the community in question is his family or relatives.

Seen through the prism of an East Asian culture, this decision violates the cardinal expectation of filial piety.. Although this moral imperative to respect and love our parents exists in all cultures, filial devotion is exceptionally central in East Asian cultures.

Confucianism, which strongly influenced Chinese, Japanese and Korean cultures, taught that filial piety is the greatest of virtues, and failure to do so is tantamount to denying one’s parents.

This duty and this allegiance to our parents and ancestors is an unconditional obligation to fulfill towards the living and the dead.[1] For our deceased elders, we are supposed to perform certain rituals to ensure their well-being in the afterlife.

Meanwhile, our duty to parents or elders who are still alive would be to prioritize their interests and desires over ours. Therefore, if our parents oppose our conversion, we must comply with their wishes. [2]

We must also always strive to be able to love and serve them. But if we became Christians when our parents died without having had the opportunity to hear the gospel, it would imply that we abandoned them in hell. This is where the dilemma lies: to become a Christian or not to be filial.

Many who desire to see more East Asians become disciples of Jesus yearn to find a way to resolve this dilemma. There is no simple or easy way to approach this missiological conundrum, but we might want to avoid the following two assertions.

1. Avoid insisting on the absolute certainty that those who die without hearing the gospel are in hellon the basis that Scripture is clear that judgment comes after death (Heb 9:27) and that those who are in Christ shall not be condemned (Rom 8:1-2).

God is the only one to have the prerogative to judge and to know our fate. It would be very presumptuous to declare with absolute authority that those who did not express their belief in Christ when they died are eternally lost, for we often do not know whether a person has persisted in rejecting Christ until his last breath. [3]

In fact, the awareness of impending death often causes one to remember the gospel previously shared with them and sincerely repent.

Therefore, in many cases, we have only probable but not absolute knowledge of the fate of deceased nonbelievers.

2. Avoid saying that those who have not had the chance to hear the gospel and/or believe in Jesus in this life will have a second chance after death. Nothing in Scripture supports this belief.

Instead, stories like the rich man and Lazarus assert that no one can pass from hell to heaven after death (Luke 16:24-26). Hebrews 9:27 is also clear that judgment comes after death.

Furthermore, Scripture says nothing about the final judgment as depending on anything that happens after we die, but only on what happened in this life (Matthew 25:31-46, Rom 2:5- 10).

The idea that there should be a second chance to accept Jesus after death assumes that everyone is entitled to a chance to accept Christ and that eternal punishment comes only for those who consciously decide to reject him.

However, no one deserves God’s acceptance, and it is only for God’s grace that it is offered to us in Christ. The belief in eternal punishment is certainly hard for us to accept, but the scriptures are clear on this. This should be an impetus for us to share the gospel urgently. [4]

Rather than maintaining either of these two views, we can navigate this missiological situation by holding firmly to what has been revealed to us about God: He is a good and merciful God who , out of love for sinners and his desire to see them return to him, sacrificed his Son to suffer the punishment of our sins.

In his grace he gives us the freedom and opportunity in our present life to choose life with him (2 Peter 3:9). As sovereign God, He is the only one who knows our heart and He is the only one who has the prerogative to judge who deserves eternal punishment.

As the late apologist Norman Geisler aptly put it, “For God, in his wisdom and goodness, would not allow anyone to go to hell if he knew he would go to heaven if he gave him more opportunity “.[5]

Therefore, we can be sure that even though we love our parents, God loves them even more. He, in his omniscience, would have extended his hand to them.

We must also point out that the scriptures have a very positive attitude towards the ancestors: they are remembered, honored and respected. The detailed genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew gives us insight into how his ancestors were not overlooked.

In fact, Ancient Near Eastern cultures share many similarities with East Asian cultures – having proper respect for our parents, elders, and ancestors is one of them. So, considering this, we are not supposed to abandon our elders once we become disciples of Jesus.

On the contrary, we are supposed to honor God by honoring our parents.

Even as we look for ways to address this concern of our East Asian friends, we must recognize that no two people are the same. We need to contextualize our presentation of the gospel. [6]

Conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit working with the unbeliever. Our calling is simply to be obedient and faithful in bearing witness to the good news of Jesus..

Whenever we have an interfaith conversation, it always occurs in contexts influenced by culture, religious beliefs, personal history and associations from the past, as well as present realities.

As such, we need to pay attention to these things and learn more about the cultural obstacles that stand in our way, so that our friends can embrace the Christian faith as their own. Then we must seek to articulate the gospel in terms that are existentially relevant and meaningful to them.

When we present the truth of the gospel to people from another culture, we are essentially declaring that everything they have believed and known about life and reality is not true.

We offer them life in Christ, but it forces them to give up some of their values ​​and beliefs. conform to this newly presented truth.

This is an important and complex decision to make, which not only concerns their ultimate fate, but which will have a considerable impact on their social and cultural identity and on their whole life, even long after they have said the sinner’s prayer. .

I’Ching Thomasco-regional director of Lausanne for South-East Asia. She directs the pole of theological and missiological reflection of OM International. She regularly speaks at universities, churches and conferences.

Jhis article first appeared in the March 2022 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysisis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication of the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at www.lausanne.org/analysis.

1. I’Ching Thomas, Jesus: The Path to Human Florishing (Singapore: Graceworks, 2018), 51.

2. Daniel J. McCoy, ed., The Popular Handbook of World Religions (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2021), 50.

3. Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 815.

4. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 822-823.

5. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1999), 313.

6. Editor’s note: See the article by DJ Oden, entitled ‘Keys to Contextualized Church Planting in Thailand‘ in the November 2020 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis