I recently read an interesting report about predestination, â€œPresident Wayland, in ‘Notes on the Principles and Practices of the Baptists,’ says that in the early part of his ministry he was settled in an intelligent community in the goodly commonwealth of Massachusetts. In his church was a gentleman reputed to be intelligent in the doctrines of the denomination, the son of a Baptist minister, who had an interesting family, but devoted to worldliness. Dr. Wayland expressed to the father a desire to speak to the young people on the subject of personal religion. To this the father objected! He assured the pastor that he wished no one to speak to his sons and daughters on the subject of personal piety; if they were of the elect, God would convert them in his own good time; and if they were of the non-elect, such conversation as Dr. Wayland suggested would probably make them hypocrites.â€i This record dates a couple centuries ago, but it speaks to the dilemma of those that believe in predestination: What point is there in witnessing and discipling if God has already preordained who would believe and what they would choose?
The Scriptures say that we are the elect of God.ii This election refers to God’s choice on whom to redeem. There are basically two positions on this. The first is that God chose you because he knew you would believe. This view is one of free will. The second is that God in his sovereignty chose some and not others. This view is one of predestination.
“Election is a sovereign act of God; he is under no obligation to elect anyone, since all have lost their standing before God…
But the Christian church is divided on the understanding of this doctrine especially as it relates to divine sovereignty and human responsibility coupled with the righteousness and holiness of God and the sinfulness of man. Scripture indicates that election is based on foreknowledge (1 Pet:1:1f; cf. Rom 8:29), but the actual meaning of foreknowledge is debated is it merely prescience or foresight, or does it relate more closely to actual choice? Does God, in his foreknowledge perceive what each man will do in his response to his call and then elect him to salvation in harmony with this knowledge? Or does foreknowledge mean that God, from eternity past, looked with favor upon some and then elected them to salvation? Both of these positions must be set forth with arguments for and against.”iii
Other terms that are used in this debate are Calvinism and Arminianism. Quite simply John Calvin said that God â€œgives to some what he refuses to others.â€iv Jacobus Arminius, following John Wesley, stood in opposition to Calvinist doctrines and taught that men have free will, that Christâ€™s dearth was for all men, but God only chooses those who believe in Christ.
This doctrine divides groups of churches from each other. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists and others follow the Calvinist doctrine. Methodists, related denominations and many independent churches follow Arminianism.
Biblical Basis of Predestination
There are numerous verses that say that it is God that gives, calls, appoints, and draws people to him. This next verse says that God chose us in him before the foundation of the world. This certainly sounds like predestination:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ:
even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blemish before him in love:Eph 1:3-4
All that which the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.John 6:37
John 6:37 appears to say that God has already given certain people to Christ. The phraseology makes God the chooser of who gets saved. Likewise the next verses:
even as thou gavest him authority over all flesh, that to all whom thou hast given him, he should give eternal life.John 17:2
And as the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of God: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.Act 13:48
“As many as were ordained (chosen) believed” appears to clearly say that believers are predestined to believe. Only those chosen beforehand by God will believe! Other verses reinforce this idea that God does the choosing:
No man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him: and I will raise him up in the last day.John 6:44
Considering “no man can come to me, except the Father that sent me draw him”, how can anyone say that someone has the power to go to Christ on his own? This certainly looks like predestination. (Of course, even if a man is drawn to God, that doesn’t mean that the man doesn’t have a choice.)
Other events appear in the text to be preordained. In the following it appears to say that God chose Isaac to usurp his older brother before they were born:
And not only so; but Rebecca also having conceived by one, even by our father Isaac –
for the children being not yet born, neither having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.Rom 9:10-12
But when it was the good pleasure of God, who separated me, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through his grace,Gal 1:15
This last verse appears to say that God chose Paul before he was born. The next verse talks about Jeremiah:
Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee, and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations.Jer 1:5
The following verse talks about all believers being elected:
who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal,2Tim 1:9
Thus there are a substantial amount of verses that attribute to God the choosing of events before we were born. The net result is that God really does the choosing instead of us.
Opposing Viewpoint (Arminianism)
The opposing viewpoint emphasizes that God calls all, but only chooses them that respond to his call. Because God is all knowing, he can choose those who will respond to him even before they are born because he knows beforehand what they will choose.
There are numerous verses that say all are called and Christ died for all:
For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all; the testimony to be borne in its own times;1Ti 2:5-6
This next verse doesn’t say that Jesus is just the payment for the sins of the believers. It says that Jesus is the payment for the sins of the whole world. This verse certainly makes it look like all are called.
and he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.1John 2:2
Again, in this next verse it certainly looks like it is the Lord’s will that all, not just the “elect”, should be saved:
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.2Pe 3:9
This next verse says salvation is brought to all.
For the grace of God hath appeared, bringing salvation to all men,Tit 2:11
These verses are representative of those that say that everyone is offered salvation. The next verses show that it is each personâ€™s choice to believe:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but have eternal life.John 3:16
Jesus answered and said unto her, Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again:
but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.John 4:13
This last example illustrates the choice aspect of salvation. Jesus says that if we drink his living water we will have eternal life. If means we have a choice, we can choose to drink or not drink. It is our choice. The previous verse uses the word â€œwhosoeverâ€. Whosoever means anybody. Anybody and everybody has the choice to follow Christ.
Next we will look at a verse where it appears that many arenâ€™t chosen:
For many are called, but few chosen.â€Mat 22:14
As we have seen above, God has called all, but because they did not choose to follow the savior he has sent, they are not chosen for eternal life. But it was the individualâ€™s choice, not Godâ€™s that made this happen.
Summary and Conclusion
When you look at how powerful the arguments are both for and against in this debate it is no wonder that this topic is so divisive. But the end result is that predestination is just another point where Christians divide doctrinally. We see in history that this doctrine completely divided the Calvinists from the Arminians. So again it is not a question of whether Christians should divide over this or any other issue, it is the sad reality that people have.
The opening paragraph is a sad testimony to the fact that those who profess predestination reduce the urgency to evangelize. This is contradictory to our charge to preach the word, and make disciples.
For further study:
i. How to Promote Christian Union: An Historical and Practical Handbook, Frederick Doyle Kershner, The Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, 1916, p83
ii. See Matt 24:22-2, Col 3:12, 1Pet 1:1
iii. Lectures in Systematic Theology, Henry C Thiessen, Eerdmans, 1979, p. 258
iv. Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, III, 21, 1
(c) 2009 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.