Calvinists Confused on Evangelism, Election

Calvinists do some interesting gyrations in defending their doctrine in the light of the Great Commission.  One argues,

“To be consistent with Reformed theology we must say that if a person is one of the elect, he will come to faith and repentance. It is divinely predestined that this will happen and it is impossible for it not to happen. But God has not shared with us two vital pieces of information. He has not told us just who the elect are and how they will be brought to repentance. He has decreed that we are to share the message with everyone, in every way possible (within the bounds He sets in His Word). Charles Spurgeon once said ‘if all the elect had a white stripe on their backs I would quit preaching and begin lifting shirt tails’ (or something to that effect). God has not put a visible mark on the elect, so we are to treat all men as if they are among the elect, and are to share the Gospel far and wide. We need to share it with a sense of urgency.”

Source:  http://www.challies.com/theology/calvinism-and-evangelism

His error, of course, is “being consistent” with Calvinist preconceptions but inconsistent with clear teaching of Scripture.

Another lists the arguments:

  1. “Because God has commanded it.”
  2. “Because we believe that God has ordained the means of bringing many sons to glory as well as the end.”
  3. “Evangelism gives Calvinists the glorious opportunity to praise the God whom they believe unconditionally elected them to salvation.”
  4. “Evangelism gives us the opportunity to unburden our souls for the lost.”
  5. “Evangelism gives us an opportunity to serve God.”
  6. “Evangelism gives us an opportunity to bear reproach for the name of Christ.”
  7. ” … we evangelize because it nails the lie often uttered against us that Calvinism kills evangelistic endeavor.”

Source:  http://www.oldtruth.com/calvinism/whyevangelise.html

–which are all, though part of the mix, rationalizations designed to defend Calvinistic doctrine while skirting inconsistencies with Scripture.

A third explains, “First, my Lord Jesus Christ commands me to do so (Mark 16:15).  Second, given that my chief duty (and delight) is to glorify God, I am moved by the fact that the Father is honored whenever the Son is honored.  The supreme means of honoring the Father is preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ (John 5:22-23)!  Third, I know that when the nonelect reject the gospel, as they are wont to do, preaching leaves them all the more without excuse when they receive the condemnation they justly deserve.  And last, I know that God brings his elect to himself through the preaching of the gospel.”

Source:  http://www.opc.org/new_horizons/NH01/07b.html

None of these excuses betray a compassion for the lost, rather a Pharisaical desire, in one instance, to “rub their noses” in their guilt and just punishment.  All appear to me to insist that God either “knows” who will be saved, or has arbitrarily chosen whom will be saved; and rationalize the act of evangelism as a sacrificial (on their part) or academic (“because God says so”) exercise. The fact that these defenses, resultant rationalizations, and circular reasonings are deemed necessary by Calvinists speaks to me that they see the weakness of their position, as well as a lack of impetus for evangelism (as I noted) among their numbers.

Calvinists confuse election to God’s purpose with election to salvation.  King Saul was elected to God’s purpose, and anointed with his Spirit for his task — but assuredly Saul was not saved.  Likewise, Nebuchadnezzar was called by God his servant (Jer. 25:9, 27:6, 43:10), and Cyrus the Great his anointed (Isa. 45:9).

In addition to those elected by God “as to purpose” (not unto salvation), one may add the Apostle Paul, who was declared to be Christ’s “chosen vessel” (skeuos eklogës, Acts 9:15), yet expressed willingness to be “cut off” from the Covenant for Israel’s sake (Rom. 9:3); and worried about himself, after having been used of God, being “cast away” by falling into sin and error (1 Cor. 9:27).

The bald statement, “Jacob have I loved but Esau have I hated” refers to election to God’s purpose, as well.  It was not love versus hate as we would conceive it, but an expression of favor versus disfavor, and of choice.  Jacob was not chosen for his attributes (one could say in spite of them).  Esau could just as readily be saved, as we see that God blessed him into nationhood in his own right.  But God chose to vest the fullness of his promise to Abraham in Jacob’s line.

Thus Jacob was used by God, though he, like many Jews since, have been used of God, but their souls could still be lost:  for it is “those who are of faith who are the true sons of Abraham.”

Election refers nationally to Israel, or individually as to God’s purpose, not usually to individual salvation.  This explains how God could choose Samson, Samuel, and John the Baptist from the womb, and anoint them to fulfill his purpose, though their souls could still be lost if they disobeyed.

Thus God dictates his purpose, in his sovereignty, yet does not dictate who will be saved, which is a matter of individual choice.

Someone related to me the passage, Ezekiel 36:25-27, in regard to Unconditional Election and Total Depravity of Man:

Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.  A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you:  and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.  And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

The Ezekiel passage speaks of, and predicts, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which accompanied the preaching of the Kingdom of God/Heaven by John the Baptist, Jesus, and then the Apostles and the Church, activated in the Apostles and the Church at Pentecost.  That kingdom and indwelling of the Spirit is the “foretaste” and “earnest” of the “fullness” of the Kingdom, which is yet to come.

In the meantime, the Kingdom is spiritual, constituted of believers who have received of his Spirit, and “walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”  It is not yet a physical kingdom, yet is a work in progress of fulfillment of God’s covenant to Abraham.  The Church, by being “grafted in” to Israel, has entered into God’s promise to Abraham, being “in Christ” (Christ being himself the ultimate fulfillment of the Covenant to Israel).

One can hardly speak of God’s election apart from the Covenant (though the general meaning, “choice,” is also used; as is, previously mentioned, God’s choice as to purpose).  Israel is elect because of Abraham, and the Church is elect because we are “in Christ,” due to God’s “foreknowledge” (prognosis).  The Dictionary of New Testament Theology (ed. Colin Brown) and other sources identify prognosis with God’s preexistent Plan to redeem the world by Christ, through the Covenant.

I do not perceive that election, in Biblical terms, extends to God choosing whom will be saved.  Those who by free will accept the Gospel enter into the Covenant of the Elect, becoming in a sense a “subset” of the Elect — the Elect being Israel/Christ.

See also Infectious Errors of Calvinism.

© 2011 Paul A. Hughes

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