Some people in remote parts of the world are yet not reached be modern evangelism.
Some, like infants or those with crippling mental disabilities who die young, may never hear of Christ.
What is their fate?
"Can someone be saved who never had a chance to hear about Christ?"
At issue, seemingly, is the fairness of God. Let's say I'm the classic 'ignorant savage' born on a deserted island, I live, I die, and then stand before God and have no knowledge of Jesus Christ. Unfair for me to go to hell, right? Well, there are several facets to this issue so be sure to read through all my following points:
ONE, no one is born alone. You came from someone else, who came from someone else, etc., etc., all the way back to Adam and Eve. And Adam and Ever were warned, weren't they (Genesis 2:17-3:24)? This first point I'm making is that God deals with humanity collectively as well as individually; perhaps an idea more foreign to those of us in the modern Western world than elsewhere or in other times.
Over and over in Scripture, God exhorts mankind that his teachings are to be written down, passed on to their children, talked about day and night, and so forth (Deut. 6:4-9). Not just because the teachings are important and beneficial, but because we're all in this together. Somewhere along the line, the 'ignorant savage' had one or more ancestors who were warned by the word of God not to disobey or abandon him. Somewhere along the line someone did, and now the result is descendants separated from the knowledge of God.
The consequences of one generation adversely affecting latter generations is what Scripture refers to when it talks about the sins of the fathers being "visited upon" their children (Exodus 20:5). Note that while this is slightly different from God specifically cursing people for the sins of their predecessors, which he doesn't do, it still leaves descendants in a bad spot; exactly how bad we'll discuss next.
TWO, God is fair in that each of us is judged by the amount of knowledge that was manifest to us. In other words, by one token the ignorant savage does not share the guilt of the informed ancestor that disobeyed or abandoned what he or she knew to be God's word (Ezekiel 18:20). But by another token, even the heavens and all creation declare the glory of God (Romans 1:18-20) so no one who has ever lived is completely without excuse. Thus the best clue I believe we have to such a person's fate is probably most clearly spelled out in Luke 12:47-48a:
That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.
In response to what I anticipate is a feeling that this still seems unfair, let's rush onto the next point that ameliorates what would otherwise seem to be hopeless damnation for the helpless:
THREE, God rewards all those who diligently seek him ("…for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you..." - 1 Chronicles 28:9).
Time and again are there missionary tales of some remote people group who knew there was a great power behind creation, and they prayed something along the lines that they might come to know him. Along comes a Christian missionary and, behold, even the ignorant savage who responds properly to the little light he or she has is saved.
Perhaps the chief point to take away here is that God is sovereign. He is as capable of enforcing the consequences of ancestors on their descendants as he is capable of rescueing all who have it in their heart to see him in their life and circumstances.
FOUR, beyond the ignorant adult savage, a far more common situation to wonder about is "What about infant children or mentally retarded people that are incapable of understanding the gospel? What happens when they die?"
To my knowledge such cases are not addressed explicitly in the Bible, but I believe a fair case is to be made for their salvation. First, we know all are judged by the light of knowledge they have of creation and of the gospel; little to none in the case of infants and the retarded. And second, and most importantly, Jesus used children multiple times as an example of how we must come into the kingdom:
Matthew 11:25 -- At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
Matthew 18:3 -- And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 19:14 -- Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."
Reportedly the Jews had a custom that the age of twelve began the age of accountability, at which point you were supposedly accountable to have an adult understanding of God. But I don't know of anything in the Bible to codify that so concretely.
Additionally, I've heard John MacArthur preach on the fate of infants that die, and I remember him having more arguments from Scripture for their acceptance into heaven. I'll append this page when I recall or research what those are.
What is the Gospel?
The nature of God's word