Question: Has the Church of the Nazarene taken a position on the destiny or fate of the unevangelized? If not, is there any agreement on this issue among our theology scholars?
We don't have an official answer to that exact question. We've been a bit like Abraham in approaching this issue by responding with a question: "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25)
The closest we come to a direct answer can be found in one of the Nazarene Articles of Faith (those doctrinal statements hammered out in global General Assemblies of the denomination): "We believe that glorious and everlasting life is assured to all who savingly believe in, and obediently follow, Jesus Christ our Lord; and that the finally impenitent shall suffer eternally in hell."
Most Nazarene leaders that I know would refrain from using that statement to promote a narrow restrictivism or particularism. Most would hold some version of the "wider hope" that at least leaves the door cracked open for someone to follow the grace of God which, scripture says, has reached out in some way to all people (this view is not in any way saying that being a faithful follower of another religious system is enough to save a person).
H. Orton Wiley, the co-author of an introduction to theology that was for years a standard work in every Nazarene pastor's library, wrote:"The heathen will be judged by the law of nature, or the law originally given to man as the rule of his conduct. Some portion of this law has been preserved among them, partly by tradition and partly by reason; and though the traces of it are in some instances obliterated, and in others greatly obscured, yet enough remains to render them accountable beings, and to be the foundation of a judicial trial."1
That statement is within the "wider hope" tradition. [ more on wider hope]
1Wiley, H. Orton. Introduction to Christian Theology, Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press, 1959 edition, p. 433.
John Wesley spoke to the issue in his "Sermon 106: On Faith." In the first section of that sermon he lists about a dozen different kinds of faith. The third and fourth kinds are:"3. The next sort of faith is the faith of Heathens, with which I join that of Mahometans. I cannot but prefer this before the faith of the Deists; because, though it embraces nearly the same objects, yet they are rather to be pitied than blamed for the narrowness of their faith. And their not believing the whole truth, is not owing to want of sincerity, but merely to want of light. When one asked Chicali, an old Indian Chief, Why do not you red men know as much as us white men?' he readily answered, Because you have the great Word, and we have not.'
"4. It cannot be doubted, but this plea will avail for millions of modern Heathens. Inasmuch as to them little is given, of them little will be required. As to the ancient Heathens, millions of them, likewise were savages. No more therefore will be expected of them, than the living up to the light they had. But many of them, especially in the civilized nations, we have great reason to hope, although they lived among Heathens, yet were quite of another spirit; being taught of God, by His inward voice, all the essentials of true religion. Yea, and so was that Mahometan, an Arabian who, a century or two ago, wrote the Life of Hai Ebn Yokdan. The story seems to be feigned; but it contains all the principles of pure religion and undefiled."
I would like to find quotes from the writings of other Nazarene theologians for this page. Please let me know if you find material in books by authors like Dunning, Lodahl, Purkiser, and Taylor.
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