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Friday, October 29, 2010

The Savior of All Men ( Rethinking the Doctrine of Unconditional Election )

First of all; I want to make crystal clear that I am not denying the fact that God did choose a certain ( 'elect' ) people ( I Peter 2:9, Revelation 5:10 ( Deuteronomy 7:6, Genesis 1:26 ) to 'carry out' His purpose here on earth, in the physical realm, or that He chose us 'unconditionally', in other words, not based on any action of ours ( quite the opposite, really! ). I believe that Scripture teaches this, and I believe strongly that these things are so; however, I also believe that much 'doctrine', based not only on this, but other Scriptural truth, has, over the years, moved away from it's Scriptural base, however unwittingly or unintentionally.

For the most part ( put simply ); as I understand it, the doctrine of election, as most Calvinists would portray it today, is that God elected ( chose ) some ( people ) to go to heaven when they die, and others to go to hell when they die. This is probably a fairly simplistic portrayal of what Calvinists actually believe and teach concerning election.

'Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And if by grace, then [ it is ] no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace.[c] But if [ it is ] of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.' ( Romans 11:5 & 6 )

Paul, being probably the most prolific New Testament author on this subject, must be understood in both the historical and covenant contexts of what he wrote, concerning the doctrine of election. In the previous part of the passage that I just quoted from; Paul is addressing the concerns of his readers, assuring them, that, just as in the days of Elijah, when God assured the prophet that 'I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal' ( I Kings 19:18 ), there was still a 'remnant' according to God's 'election by grace'.

Can we apply this, and passages like it, to believers today, seeing as we are 'the Israel of God'? Certainly we can! It is still 'by grace, through faith' that we come to Christ, and we can still truthfully sing songs like 'Saved by Grace', but we might ask the question, 'what are we saved from?' Are we saved from 'the sin' ( of Adam-Genesis 3:12 ( 2:16 ( Romans 5:12-14 ( Matthew 1:21 ), and 'the death' ( of the Law-Romans 7:7-12 ( 6:23 )? Paul told the first-century believers ( in Christ ) that they were not 'under law but under grace' ( Romans 6:14 ). Although the Christ, as the embodiment of the promises of the New Covenant ( one could say that He WAS the New Covenant-Galatians 3:16 ( Isaiah 49:8 ) had brought the New Covenant to light with His advent, the earthly Temple was still standing, and Hebrews 9:8 made it clear 'that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest' while it still stood, and thus ( you could say ) the New Covenant did not come into full force, until Christ came out of the Holy Place ( Leviticus 16:17 ( Daniel 7:13 ), and came in 'the clouds of glory' ( Matthew 16:27 & 28, Acts 1:11 ( Matthew 24:30 ) and brought the Old Covenant economy to a final and decisive 'end'.

The point of what I have been saying, is that we, as they, are not 'under law but under grace', but there is a difference; we were never under law, we were born under the New Covenant ( not that everyone is automatically 'in' Christ ), so while it is very correct to say that we were 'saved', we're not 'saved' from the sin and the death ( Revelation 20:14 ), but rather saved from ourselves, from following our own selfish desires, serving ourselves, and 'saved to serve' God and His Kingdom.

Back now, to the subject of election. Once we begin to realize the implications of 'Fulfilled Eschatology', specifically concerning 'heaven & hell'; it should be easy to see that, as people are not 'saved' for 'heaven', or predestined for 'hell', and as the term 'elect' is utilized in Scripture, pertaining, in both the historical and the covenantal contexts, to the Jews, or Israel, and ultimately, really, to Jesus Himself ( Isaiah 42:1 ); I believe that it is more than correct to refer to Christians today as part of 'the elect of God' ( Isaiah 65:22 ( Isaiah 45:4, Matthew 24:22,24,31, Mark 13:20, 22, 27, Luke 18:7, Romans 8:33, 9:11 ( 11:5 ), 11:28, Colossians 3:12, I Thessalonians 1:4, I Timothy 5:21, II Timothy 2:10, Titus 1:1, I Peter 2:6, 5:13, II Peter 2:10, II John1:2 & 13 )

One of the reasons that I agreed and still agree, for the most part with the 'Unconditional Election' part of John Calvin's 'TULIP' doctrine, is that Scripture plainly shows that 'election' is 'unconditional', at least on our part. I've heard, and I've mentioned this previously ( you may have heard this before too ), that, because of His foreknowledge, God knew that we would choose Him, so He predestined us, based on this foreknowledge.The Scriptures are also clear that God did/does have foreknowledge, that He is omniscient ( all-knowing ). Peter wrote to the Jews of the Diaspora, that were scattered throughout Asia, Bithynia, etc, that they were 'elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father' ( I Peter 1:2 ), telling them previously, when they were gathered together in Jerusalem, that Jesus the Christ, their Messiah, had been delivered into their hands by 'the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God' ( Acts 2:22 & 23 ). Explaining God's foreknowledge, as He is the 'creator and sustainer of all ( things )' ( Revelation 4:11, Colossians 1:16, Isaiah 45:12-18 ( Ephesians 2:10 ), in the way that I outlined above, that God simply knew our choice beforehand, and making a 'preemptive strike', predestined those that He knew would choose Him, is very simplistic, to say the least! ( For one thing, that would be akin to saying that our salvation is, after all, based on our works. )

Having established that God has an 'elect' people ( this would be akin to the 'remnant' ( II Kings 19:30 ( Isaiah 37:31 ), Ezra 9:8, Isaiah 1:9, 28:5, Jeremiah 23:3, Ezekiel 6:8, 14:22, Joel 2:32, Amos 5:15, Micah 7:18, Zephaniah 3:12 & 13, Zechariah 8:12, etc. ) we will move on to a re-examination of the Calvinist view of election, mentioned above.

I Timothy 4:10 tells us that God is the 'Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.' I  think that many Calvinists have somehow figured out a way to 'wriggle' out of this seemingly plain statement, but I always have had a hard time ( honestly ) reading this passage, and like passages ( I John 2:2, II Peter 3:9 ), and seeing anything but what they plainly say. ( As a Calvinist; I strove to 'see' them as saying something else! ) In the covenantal and historical context of Paul's statement to Timothy, as we know that one of the main 'adversaries' that the early church faced was the Judaizers, who were trying to infiltrate the church with their 'different Gospel' ( II Corinthians 1:4, Galatians 1:6 & 7 ): Paul was 'simply' reminding Timothy's congregation, and even Timothy himself, maybe, that the Christ had died, not only for the salvation of the Jewish believers, those with whom God had originally covenanted, but also for those who had no claim ( as the Jews saw it-Romans 9:1-4 ) on the Christ, those Gentiles whom Peter was 'startled' ( Habakkuk 3:6 ) to encounter, as recorded in Acts 10.

Paul wrote, in II Corinthians 5:19, that 'God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself' ( see also Romans 11:5 ( Colossians 1:20 ) Within the covenant, and even historical somewhat, context, of many of the Scriptures that talk about the 'ministry of reconciliation' ( II Corinthians 5:18 ), the 'world' that Paul speaks of ( Daniel 9:24, etc. ) is that of the Old Covenant, the Jewish economy. 'Reconciliation' means simply 'to bring back': bringing back implies that what is to be brought back was in a certain place, or position, to begin with. As I wrote above, the Scriptures are a covenant book, and, as the covenant that God originally made ( Genesis 1:3 ) was with His people Israel ( Genesis 12:1-3 ( Galatians 3:16 ( Exodus 20 ), and no other nation; it is safe, I believe, to assume that Paul had in mind that same 'world' ( II Peter 3:6 ), as being reconciled, or brought back, to God. Covenantally, then; the same could be said today, since we are the true, spiritual 'Israel of God' ( Galatians 6:16 ( Romans 2:28 & 29, 9:6-8 ( Galatians 3:7 ). The question now is, ' is the 'New Covenant' inclusive of all men, as our Bibles might lead us to believe ( as believers in 'universal salvation' or 'universal reconciliation' teach ) or is it exclusive, as Old Covenant Israel ( after the flesh ) thought?' If it is inclusive of  all men ( without exclusion ) then we would have to explain it this way: all have been 'reconciled'  to God ( Romans 5:10 ), but all have not yet 'reconciled' themselves ( II Corinthians 5:20 ). At this point, some might argue, or speculate whether or not people like Hitler, Pol Pot, etc., were really reconciled to God; 'I mean, look at at all the evil things they did in their lifetime; 'they' obviously were not 'elect': Hitler reportedly committed suicide; that, if nothing else, should condemn him to 'Hell', right?.......................................

Many of those who claim 'universal salvation' or 'universal reconciliation', besides the 'plain' reading of Scriptures like those above, base much of their argument on the 'fact' that 'a loving God would not consign the ignorant to 'burn in hell' forever!' While you may agree or disagree with this statement; the fact is, as I've shown above, and in other articles, that 'hell' ( as traditionally viewed ) does not exist as a 'place' where those unfortunate enough to be sent, will 'burn forever', in eternal conscious torment!

As described, more or less, above then; 'universal salvation' is very arguable, at the least, especially in the sense that most Christians look at the word 'saved' today. Particularly in evangelical circles, getting 'saved', if not 'walking the aisle', involves a humble ( and hearty ) recognition, and admission of sin and guilt, repentance of that guilt, and a plea for ( and acceptance of ) the salvation that God in Christ provided. In that sense, every one is not 'saved', although I believe that most, if not all, 'Universalists' believe that they will be ( this would probably be known as 'Christian Universalism' ). Universal reconciliation, to my mind at least, while very close in nature, is somewhat distinct, purporting that God has reconciled all to Himself, but that it is left up to the individual, as I described in short above, whether or not to accept that 'reconciliation' or not, and to 'be reconciled' himself.

One might wonder, then, if 'universal reconciliation' is conciliatory with the doctrine of election. As described earlier in this article; 'election', while true enough today, as yesterday, should be related more to the 'remnant' that was brought back from the captivity of the Old Covenant, and 'saved' from the sin and the death of Adam. While I believe that we can truly say that the 'elect' are 'saved' today, as well as yesterday; neither 'election' nor salvation' have quite the same connotation as they did in the first century AD, and earlier, under the Old Covenant. As water baptism, for the transition period between Christ's advent, death, and resurrection, till the finality of the Old Covenant 'reign of terror', was anti-typical of the priestly baptism ( among various others ) under the Old Covenant, and the 'Lord's Supper', for the same period ( and arguably even today ), was the fulfillment of the Passover seder; one might consider the greater ( spiritual ) fulfillment of 'election', which you could say, seemed to be 'limited', more or less, to those within the 'bonds' of the Old Covenant, to have literally expanded to be inclusive of 'all men'.

May we all humbly ( and prayerfully ) consider these things, as we serve Him, knowing that we were 'elected' to this 'salvation'.

Charles Haddon Shank

2 comments:

bill said...

You're killing brother Charles you are killing me....

Charles Shank said...

Sorry, brother, I don't mean to do that!