Perhaps the most confusing doctrine of theology in the minds of Christians today is the doctrine of Election. Although many fundamentalists would like to dismiss this doctrine, it is very plainly taught in the Word of God. Paul deals with this subject many times. One example of this can be found in Ephesians 1:4, where Paul writes, "according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him, in love." It is clearly seen here that Paul is dealing with the fact that God chose out some individuals (specifically those to whom he was writing) to be saved long before the world was ever created. The difficulty of understanding comes when this doctrine is placed along side the idea of the free will of all men to choose whether or not they will accept Christ as their personal Saviour. The doctrine of free will is also taught in Scripture. Romans 10:13 states, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." This verse would seem to teach that all men have a choice as to their eternal destination. Thus, the question of the mode and extent of election is a problem which perplexes many Christians today.
One theory of the doctrine of election is called Calvinism. Calvinism is an attempt to explain the doctrine of predestination as found in the Scriptures. Briefly stated, the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination could be put this way:
This doctrine of predestination represents the purpose of God as absolute and unconditional, independent of the whole finite creation, and as
originating solely in the eternal counsel of His will . . . His decree . . . extends not merely to the course of the physical world but to every event in human history from the creation to the Judgment, and includes all the activities of saints and angels in Heaven and of reprobates and demons in Hell.(1)
From this point, Calvinism determines its view of the election of the saints. This theory is known as TULIP, with each of the letters in the word standing for one of the five points in the theory. These points are: 1) The Total Depravity of Man, 2) Unconditional Election, 3) Limited Atonement, 4) Irresistable Grace, and 5) Perserverance of the Saints. It is these five points which will be discussed in the remainder of this paper.
The first point of Calvinism is the Total Depravity of Man. This point states that man is a totally sinful being and cannot save himself. It has often been stated as Total Inability, in that man is completely unable to do anything to merit his salvation. This point is clearly taught in the Word of God. Romans 3:10-11 states, "As it is written, there is none righteous, no not one, There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God." Romans 5:12 reads, "Therefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." John 6:44 sheds further light on this subject. In this passage, Jesus states, "No man can come to me except the Father who hath sent me draw him." Finally, Ephesians 2:8, 9 says, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast," These verses clearly teach that man is unable to save himself by his own merit. At this point, the Calvinistic idea of total depravity would be completely acceptable. However, the Calvinists take this view one step further and teach that man's condition is so depraved that he cannot even accept God's grace. At this point, total depravity can no longer be considered Scripturally accurate. The Bible clearly teaches that human volition is involved in accepting Christ. Romans 10:10 states, "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." This teaches that man is not so totally depraved that he cannot react to the light which God shines into his life, and the life of every individual who walks the earth (John 1:9). This shows that even though man is a depraved creature, he is depraved only in as much as he is a sinner (as a result of the fall of Adam ( I Corinthians 15:52 ) and that
he can not merit his own salvation through his own righteousness. Depravity does not extend to the extent that man is unable to willfully accept God's gift of salvation.
To get a firm grip on the idea of depravity, one must return to the Garden of Eden. There man was created in the image of God. This image was two fold. First, man had a natural likeness to God. This is evidenced by personality. Secondly, man had moral likeness to God. Strong states that this likeness is holiness,(2) but this is impossible because the fact of Adam's sin proves that he was not holy. However, God can communicate His holiness to man so that man can have a sense of morality in that he can differentiate between right and wrong. At the time of the fall, something happened to this image. Calvinists will say that the image of God was effaced or destroyed at that
time. From that point they can build their doctrine of total depravity. But the Bible teaches that the image of God was defaced and marred, not destroyed, at the time of the fall. Man still has his elements of personality; intellect, emotion and will. And he still has the conscience or moral nature inside him which enables him to distinguish right and wrong, even though he usually follows the path of sin. Thus, if the image of God was not effaced in man, then man still possesses the ability within his volition to accept the light which God has shined into every man. This then disproves the Calvinistic point of the total depravity of man.
Much time has been devoted to the first point because it is a foundation for the rest of the doctrine. When the idea of man's total inability to accept God's salvation has been destroyed, then the other points have a hard time finding groundwork to rest upon.
The second point in TULIP is Unconditional Election. Election here "designates a sovereign divine purpose so formulated as to be independent of human merit, descent, or cooperation."(3) This states that certain individuals will be saved regardless of what they do. In affect, God has chosen a specific number of individuals and has determined that they will be saved. The idea of election is plainly taught in the Scriptures. I Peter 1:2 speaks of those who are elect according to the foreknowledge of God. Acts 13:48 states, ". . . and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." These two verses, along with many others, definitely show that there is an electing process through which God operates. Thus, the Calvinist takes the view that God chooses out a certain group of people who are to be saved by the blood of
However, two basic problems arise from this doctrine. The first of these is that the idea of unconditional election logically assumes a doctrine of unconditional reprobation. The doctrine of reprobation is not found within the Scriptures. Although some Calvinists may try to build a doctrine which holds to election and denies reprobation, this is impossible.
is treated as an essential part of the doctrine of predestination."(4) Other Calvinists will attempt to prove their doctrine Scripturally. However, the verses which are given are verses which teach that at a certain point God can give an individual over to reprobation because of his sin. There is never any indication that God, before the foundation of the world, elected someone to Hell. This is one fault with unconditional election.
The second problem with this view is that the Bible teaches plainly that the offer of salvation is extended to everyone. Romans 10:13 says, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." There is no mention of the elect here. It is an open invitation. II Peter 3:9 reads, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise. . . but is long suffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." The Calvinists will take this verse and say that the "us" refers to the elect, not the entire world. However, this is not a logical conclusion. True, Peter is writing to his brothers in Christ. However, the context of the chapter is dealing with the fact that the unsaved doubt that the Lord will ever return. It seems that contextually Peter is saying that the return of the Lord will occur ("God is not slack concerning His promise"), but that He is holding back judgment because He wants the world to be saved. Finally, it is impossible in this verse to assume that "us" refers to the elect because then it would say that God is not willing for any of the elect to perish. This can not be, for if an individual is elect, it would be impossible for him to perish. This verse would then either be highly redundant, or would teach contrary to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints and eternal security.
Christ's own teaching showed that unconditional election cannot be true. In John 5, Christ is speaking to unbelieving Jews who wanted to kill Him. In verse 40 He states, "And ye will not come to me, that ye may have life." This verse indicates that the Jews were being given the opportunity to be saved, but were rejecting it. In Matthew 23:37, Jesus laments over the city of Jerusalem, weeping and saying that He wished to gather them to Him, and they refused. Again, it is clear that the city of Jerusalem was given a real opportunity to be saved. Calvinism at this point would have to say that since these people were not saved, then God had predestined them to Hell. But that logic certainly does not seem to fit with Christ's concern over those who were lost.
One final reason can be given as to why the doctrine of unconditional election is untrue. Election is contingent upon the theory of total depravity as defined by the Calvinists. If man is so black and so dead that he cannot even make a conscious decision for Christ, then a form of election must take place in order for any to be saved. But man has been shown to still possess the image of God. He has a volition which can make a choice whether to accept or reject Christ. Thus, in the light of total depravity, unconditional election is unnecessary.
The third point of Calvinism is Limited Atonement. Calvinism at this point teaches that "the sacrifice of Christ merely intended to render certain the salvation of those who had been given to Christ by the Father."(5) They use Scripture to teach this as well. Matthew 20:28 states, "Even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many." Ephesians 5:25 reads, "Husbands, love your wives even as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it." These two verses seem to teach that Christ died only for the elect. The blood of Christ was shed only for those who God foreordained before the foundation of the world to be elected unto salvation. At this point Calvinists can step onto a logical platform and claim that if Christ's blood provided an atonement for all, then all must be saved. This is indeed an interesting arguement, but is none the less invalid. The Bible also contains numerous passages which state that Christ died for the entire world, regardless of their eternal condition. John 1:29 is such a passage. It reads, " ...
Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world." There is no stipulation for the elect here. John's identification of Christ indicated that Christ's death would provide atonement for all. Hebrews 2:9 teaches that Christ, "by the grace of God, should taste death for every man." Again, the death of Christ is shown to apply to all humanity. Perhaps the text which most damages the cause of limited atonement is found in II Peter 2:1, where it states, ". . . there shall be false teachers among you who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them." This verse teaches that Christ bought even those who deny Him. This certainly destroys the idea that Christ's sacrifice was only for the elect.
How then can these two ideas be joined together? The answer is that Christ's blood was sufficient for the whole world, but efficient only for those who believe. This means that Christ's blood was sufficient for anyone in the world who was willing to come to Him. However, unless the individual did choose Christ, then the blood was not efficient. Christ died for all, yet all have the choice of accepting or rejecting the sacrifice. I Timothy 4:10 perhaps sums it up best when Paul writes that God is "the Savior of all men, especially those that believe." Again the concept of total depravity comes into play. If man has completely lost the image of God, then through election Christ died only for the elect. But upon the realization that man still possesses the ability of choice, Christ's death must be sufficient for all the world, lest some sinner accept Christ's blood only to find that it was not extended to him, nor sufficient for him.
The fourth point of Calvinism is Irresistible Grace. By this the Calvinist means that once the Spirit of God draws an individual and extends the grace of God to him, the sinner can not resist, and will accept God's gift of salvation. However, the Calvinists at this point run into a problem Scripturally. John 1:9 teaches that, "That was the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world." The lighting, or calling, from God appears to all men. In order to get around this problem, Calvinists have determined that there are two calls; a general call to the world, and a special
call to the elect. However, there is nothing in Scripture to support this claim. Rather, the Bible teaches that God's grace is indeed offered to all. Passages such as John 3:16 and 11:26 teach this.
In the light of these passages we dare not distinguish between a general call to all and a special call to the elect. Nor need we decide whether God's general call is sincere and His special call is irresistible. God does not mock men. If he offers salvation to all, then He desires to save all, and to extend the same help to all who choose Him. Man's will is the only obstacle to the salvation of anyone.(6)
Perhaps one final Scripture verse can dispel and dismiss the question of irresistible grace. In Acts 7, Stephen is addressing the Sanhedrin. In verse 51 he states, "Ye stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost, as your fathers did, so do ye." This clearly shows that the grace of God can be resisted by an individual.
The final point of TULIP is the Perseverance of the Saints. By this, Calvinists believe that once a sinner is saved, he can never lose his salvation. This is in opposition to the Arminian idea that an individual can lose his salvation. The Bible plainly teaches that a person is saved forever. John 10:28 reads, "
neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." Romans 11:29 states, "For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance." Hebrews chapter six is a chapter that the Arminians use, but in actuality it is an excellent proof text for the Calvinists. Here the author of Hebrews writes and tells his readers that if it were possible for them to lose their salvation, they could never be saved again. Arminians will jump on this passage and say that God is teaching that salvation can be lost. However, the passage would best be termed as a hypothetical one which could never occur. The author is simply showing the absurdity of such a view by showing that if it were true, salvation could never be regained. He then concludes chapter six with the knowledge that God, Who can not lie, has promised eternal life to believers, and this assurance is an "anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast." Thus, the idea of the perseverance of the saints is one point of TULIP which is Scripturally sound.
The first four points of TULIP are not supported by the Scriptures. Although there may be Scripture verses which would seem to support them, there are always many other verses which show that they cannot be valid. As previously stated, Calvinism rests largely on the idea of the total depravity of man. However, the realization that man still has a volition which can choose between good and evil and that can either accept or reject Christ's sacrifice destroys man's total inability. From that point alone, even neglecting the Scriptures, the next three points cannot stand. Man need not be unconditionally elected, he has his own choice. Consequently, if all have the opportunity to be saved, then Christ's atonement can not be limited. And again, if man has a will, then he is free to accept or reject Christ's offer of salvation. As for perseverance; that is not contingent upon the others and thus can stand both logically and Scripturally.
What then is election? It is the opinion of this author that election is based upon foreknowledge, in that God through His omniscience knew who would accept His grace and then "elected" them, This is much different than the election taught by the Covenant Theologians. Their teaching is that Christ arbitrarily chose some for Heaven and in doing so condemned the rest to Hell. When basing election on foreknowledge, however, God's election is based upon His eternal knowledge of an individuals free choice while on earth, not on his own arbitrary choice. This view is in line with the Scriptures. It admits to a divine election, but still places the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of each individual. This view is also in line with the concern which was shown by Christ and others for the lost. God is not limited by time and space. He is the eternal Being. Thus, He lives in an eternal present. Because of this, through the prayers of the saints, God can elect others to be saved. In other words, God, in His infinity, can hear the prayers of a dear saint today and elect the one for whom he is praying before the foundation of the world. This would also be in keeping with the idea that God's election is based upon His foreknowledge before the foundation of the world. The entire key is the fact that God exists in an eternal present. Understanding this concept of the Infinity of God destroys the need for the Unbiblical doctrine of Calvinism, and allows the principles of election and freewill to be knit together both Scripturally and logically.