Reforming Slowly

Since I discovered the Ministry of Mark Driscoll some time ago I have found an entire new world opened to me, the world of the reformed church. I have found myself listening to Spurgeon, Piper, Chandler, The White Horse Inn and a few others. They have shown me a new side of Christianity, actually more accurately an older side since the reformation took place hundreds of years ago.

These men hold to a view I formally opposed, of course in actuality I opposed a caricature of it. That view is Calvinism which I defined as simply the belief that once a person is saved they can not loose that salvation, as opposed to Arminianism which I defined as the belief that one could loose their salvation although unlike some I was never as extreme to believe that any sin for which one did not repent could be cause for eternal damnation.

Recently I have learned more about the history and details about these two systems of belief within Christianity, but I am still caught between both seeing the Bible making points for both sides.

I have spent some time reviewing different tenants of each in an attempt to resolve my internal conflict and of course discover the truth. I have decided to share those in my blog. Now that I am through my introduction I will get started.

Doctrine of Election

This doctrine disturbs many evangelical Christians today if they are even aware of its existence. The major text for this doctrine comes from Ephesians 1:

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will– 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. 9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (Emphasis mine)

If he chose us before the creation of the world, then he chose us not based on anything we are, or have done but simply in accordance with his pleasure and will. The explanation I have heard for this is that God looked down through the ages and saw who would respond to his grace and then elected those people, but this, to me, becomes a gospel of works, as one is saved based on their proper response. Additionally it is slightly out of order; you must respond before God will choose you to be one who responds?

Romans chapter 9 has a great deal to say along these lines as well:

10Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad–in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls–she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,

and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Is Paul preaching against those who would preach salvation by works and not faith? I would say it is possible if not for the reference to Pharaoh in verse 17. It looks more like God has a chosen people from the beginning; He has had a plan for the salvation of man since before the creation of the world and because he is perfect we believe is plan is perfect.

One major problem I have with this doctrine are that if God elects certain people to grant his mercy then by default he is condemning the remainder of the world to eternal hell and this doesn’t seem just. Eternal punishment for finite sins seems to be an unjust punishment. But Paul answers this very question as

Romans chapter 9 continues:

19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath–prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

If this is true it doesn’t mean I like it but I know that God’s ways are higher than mine and I trust that he is good. When I truly began to understand, and I say began because I do not pretend to have a solid grip on this doctrine, it was a humbling experience. I have always believed, as a majority of Christians do, that Jesus death granted us the opportunity for salvation if only we would respond so I was still able to maintain a little of my pride by taking that last step on my own, however if Jesus death didn’t merely buy us the opportunity for salvation but completed the work upon the cross, additionally granted me the grace and the faith to believe. Then it is a truly humbling experience because I wasn’t even saved through my decision that I may boast.

Maybe I will come back and address the other side of the coin in the future.

One response to “Reforming Slowly”

  1. The issue of Election. Yes, very involved. Check out a good book, possibly even C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, about the issues of “time” and “eternity”. His book has some good valid points that you should consider–if you haven’t done so already.
    For example, because God exists in both time and eternity He does and does not choose us. In reference to mankind and our perspective He has chosen, but to Him He is choosing. To have “previously chosen” someone, as it is to say some point of reference in time, exists only in time itself. Eternity has only a constant “choosing”– not a have chosen or will choose. This is also expressed in the Tetragrammaton. Sounds axiomatic, but it is very involved when you get beyond the outer surface and dissect for a while. Anywho. Keep spreading the Gospel!

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