Ephesians 1:5-6 (NASB)
5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Yeshua Messiah to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
The concept of unconditional election, or predestination, is the second of the Five Points of Calvinism.
It’s also likely to be the most controversial.
But the idea of predestination shouldn’t cause so much contention. The concept of a select chosen is plainly taught in Scripture and some congregations take a position on it.
I spent a few hours on the internet exploring the different denominations and how they approach this doctrine.
It’s pretty amazing that I kept coming across the phrase, “many denominations or churches teach this, but we don’t believe it.” That line came up so many times that I began wondering who actually did teach it. It was pretty hard to find anyone who did so despite everyone pointing their finger at the “many churches” that did.
The problem people have is not the idea that G-d elects those to be saved. No, the denial only comes when people realize there is a flip-side. If G-d chooses some, then He doesn’t choose others.
Many people view this teaching as hateful and unloving, They get very emotional about it. “Unjust,” “ungodly,” and even “hellish” were words used by those who disagree.
Some denominations try to accept the positive side but not the other. The Lutherans accept predestination, but not what they call the Calvinistic double-predestination. They believe some are chosen for eternal life but don’t address the other side: that those who aren’t chosen are then condemned. They don’t say what will happen to them, preferring not make that judgement call.
I also went to the Assembly of G-d, Church of G-d (Cleveland, Tenn.), and Foursquare Church websites. These Pentecostal religions all say that man has a free will to choose his own eternal destination.
Their take is that predestination is based on G-d knowing the choices that we will freely make throughout our life. This is known as conditional election. It depends on us making the choice to move toward G-d when He calls us into His elect.
They (and many others) also believe that we can freely remove ourselves from His calling. There are different views on this. Some believe it’s a process of hardening our heart against G-d until we no longer hear His call to repent. Others believe it’s instantaneous; that as soon as we sin we must repent or we are lost until we do so.
The Southern Baptists acknowledge an elect of the saints called by G-d but remain silent on predestination in their Statement of Basic Beliefs.
While there is no structured Messianic denomination, the popular belief seems to be the conditional election that the other churches stand for. Salvation is a work of both G-d and man coming into agreement to affect salvation. Man can backslide by sinning and refusing to repent.
The only mainstream denomination that fully accepts the Calvinistic interpretation of predestination is the Presbyterian Church. They are as close to “5-point Calvinism” as any congregation seems to get.
So for this being a teaching that “many other churches believe in,” it’s amazing that in the U.S., a denomination of less than 3 million members is it’s largest endorser.
Why is this so unpopular?
What seems to be an issue for most people is that unconditional election says that man has no free will in the matter. It is the Creator Who determines, plans and executes our redemption. He graciously offers us His faith at His appointed time of salvation.
The problem comes when it’s called unconditional. This implies to some people that G-d is just randomly picking and choosing some people to save and, even worse, some to send to hell. That goes against our sense of fair-play and a just G-d.
Predestination also counters the teaching that man has a free will. That we’re not in control of our own destiny. How can G-d send anyone to an eternal hell when it’s not even their fault?
So the idea of a pre-selected, chosen few, which has been taught for centuries, is now becoming ancient history. Instead, man is now free to call on G-d at a time and place of his own choosing. And G-d is not at liberty to deny him for any reason.
But is this what the Bible teaches?
Scripture tells us that Adonai lays out our path from the time we’re conceived. In the first chapter of Jeremiah, G-d calls Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations. He says that He knew him before He formed him in the womb. That He had already appointed him for this mission. So HaShem appointed Jeremiah to be a prophet from the beginning.
In Revelation 13:8 we’re told about the Lamb’s Book of Life. This lists the names of all the saints who have faith; those who persevere in their relationship with HaShem throughout their life. And Scripture states that the names have been there since the time of creation.
In Romans 8:28-30, Paul says that G-d foreknew those He called for His purpose. That He predestined them to a calling to conform to His Son. He works in their lives to bring about a justification and glorification.
So we know that G-d creates some humans destined for life.
In Malachi 1:2-3, we are told that Adonai loved Jacob but hated Esau. In Romans 9:11-13, Paul says that this took place before they were even born. Later in verse 22 he says there are, “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.”
Those who oppose Calvinism say this was an example used to illustrate G-d choosing Israel and setting them apart from the nations. That it doesn’t apply on an individual basis.
But we’re told in Romans 11:17-24 that we are grafted into the olive tree of Israel. Adonai is still expanding and growing the Chosen People by bringing in the Gentiles. If Israel was predestined from the beginning then wouldn’t those who join with them also be?
If that’s the case, then Paul is speaking about individuals who are not a part of Israel. Esau did form a nation that fought against Israel. But Esau was also an individual that rejected the birthright and promises of Adonai that were given to his father, Abraham. Esau, personally, was rejected by G-d.
And now we also know that the Father prepares some for destruction.
It goes against our sense of fair play to admit this. It violates our desire to give everyone an equal start in life.
It scares us that our loved ones may not be in the Book of Life.
But is having the freedom to make our own choice any better?
How do we know we would choose the Almighty if He hadn’t chosen us first?
Would my parents and siblings still believe if it was left strictly up to them?
Would my wife and son make the right decision (well, my wife would… she always chooses wisely)?
Where would I be without G-d forcefully bringing me under His care?
Mans’ condition at the time of Noah was that the earth was corrupt in the sight of God and filled with violence. Thousands of years after hitting the reset button the world is heading back to this evil. It is arrogant to think we could do any better if we were left in charge to decide our own salvation.
The salvation of G-d is full of grace. If He has predestined some to Him then it’s due to His grace and love for us. If He rejects others, we must also assume that this is due to His love, justice and mercy.
The promise to Abraham is that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. Clearly, G-d’s method of predestination and unconditional election provides for that to be fulfilled. We should not speculate that our way would be better, especially if it’s based on fear.
Another argument against predestination is that it stifles evangelism. That those who believe in it would have no motivation to disciple others into the Way of our Messiah. Since the chosen will be brought into the Kingdom by some means, then why bother with it?
But this goes against the facts. Some of the greatest missionaries have been Calvinists. John Calvin himself built a school for missionaries and sent them around the world. John Eliot was the first missionary to the American Indians. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield, William Tennent, William Carey, David Livingstone, Adoniram Judson and John Stott are all Calvinists who dedicated their lives to the mission field.
The Presbyterian Church has 3 times more missionaries per capita than the Southern Baptist Convention that has over 7 times their number of members.
Just as G-d called Jeremiah from the time of his conception, these individuals were given a mission to take the Scriptures to the world. They faithfully followed that calling by the grace of G-d and by their endeavors, millions were brought into the Kingdom.
Let us follow their example. Let us take the Gospel of our Messiah into the world wherever we can and present the Good News of repentance and reconciliation. G-d does love this world and sent His Son to redeem the chosen. Let us be the ones to carry this message.
Blessed are You, O L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, Who chose us from among the peoples and gave us Your salvation.