Election: The Testimony of Five Witnesses

When the Protestant Reformers began to challenge the teaching of Rome, Martin Luther declared that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is the single article on which the Church stands or falls. That is how important the doctrine was to Luther and the Reformers.  Concerning the doctrine of predestination, or election, Luther said it was the core ekklesia, meaning the heart of the Church.

Luther was right. The doctrine of predestination is not a peripheral doctrine to be dismissed with simplistic statements about people being mere puppets on a string if true. Even worse than a shallow dismissal of the doctrine of predestination is denying the Bible even teaches such an idea.

Some, who are honest enough to admit the Bible does teach the doctrine of predestination take comfort in the fact that in the modern Church, relatively few believe in the doctrine.

Rather than be comforted by such a belief, Christians should be alarmed, because it means a vital truth of divine revelation is held in disbelief by a large portion of the professing Church. God has spoken, but individuals in the Church do not believe what God has said in His Word, and taught the Church by His Spirit.

Even if it is true that few contemporary professing Christians believe in the doctrine of predestination, several important sources rise up to rebuke this sinful unbelief.

There is the Testimony of the Church of England: Anglican Articles: 17th article, upon Predestination and Election

Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) He had constantly decreed by His counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He had chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor.

Wherefore those which were endowed with so excellent a benefit of God would be called according to God’s purpose by His Spirit working in due season: they will through grace obey the calling: they will be justified freely: they will be made sons of God by adoption: they will be made like the image of His only begotten Son Jesus Christ: they will walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they will attain everlasting happiness.

There is the Testimony of the Waldensian Creed (1655)

The French reformer Guillaume Farel introduced Reformation theology to the Waldensian ministers (barbes) in 1526. The Waldenses raised questions concerning the number of sacraments, the relationship between free will and predestination, and the problem of reconciling justification by faith with the scriptural emphasis on the necessity of good works.

“God saves from corruption and damnation those whom He has chosen (from the foundations of the world, not for any attitude, faith, or holiness that He foresaw in them, but) of His mere mercy in Christ Jesus His Son, passing by all the rest, according to the blameless reason of His own free will and justice” (Waldensian Confession of 1655, Paragraph 11)

There is the Testimony of the Baptist Confession (1689 London)

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated, or foreordained to eternal life through Jesus Christ, to the praise of His glorious grace; others being left to act in their sins to their just condemnation, to the praise of His glorious justice.

These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased nor decreased.

Those of mankind that are predestinated to life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and unchangeable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, has chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any other thing in the creature as a condition or a cause moving Him to do so (Chapter 3, Of God’s Decree).

There is the Testimony of the Ancient Fathers

The Writing of the Early Church Fathers can be found in a 38-volume collection of writings from the first 800 years of the Church. This collection is divided into three series, Ante-Nicene, Nicene and Post-Nicene. These preserved writings of the early Church fathers extend from the beginning of Christianity to the time of the creation of the Nicene Creed, AD 325.

Concerning the Church Fathers, it is a consistent argument of Arminian that none of the Church Fathers or early Christian writers held to a view of predestination that was later articulated by St. Augustine. In fact, it is charged, only after St. Augustine’s encounters with Pelagianism did Augustine’s views became more clearly defined. So, in other words, the Augustinian (and Calvinistic) understanding of salvation is a novelty of the latter half of Augustine’s writings (b. 13 Nov. AD 354 – 28 August AD 430, age, 75).

A good response to this charge can be found on the Puritan Board web site by KeithW who writes, “Appeals to church fathers need to be understood in context. As far as I know they did not write systematic theologies. We cannot simply go to a chapter called “election” in any given early church father’s books. A lot of writings against errant doctrines came about when men wanted to preserve true Christian doctrine against false doctrine being taught and spread. A doctrine like the Trinity or election were understood by the early church as givens. It was only when men taught differently that systematic arguments were developed against false beliefs. So Augustine was simply writing down in a systematic form what the entire Christian church already believed on man’s total inability toward God, election, etc. And when the Council Of Carthage in 418AD met and condemned Pelagianism, the council represented all Christian churches of that day. They were not inventing something new which no one before them believed.

From a reformed perspective, if you look at any council which dealt with “free will” movements, Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism or Aminianism, the councils always re-established man’s total inability towards God first. Then the other associated doctrines like election are explained from that context.

A good book is “Augustine & The Pelagian Controversy” by B.B. Warfield. It is available as a free e-book at monergism.com

When preaching on 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14, and referencing the Church Fathers, C. H. Spurgeon declared the following in his sermon, Election, delivered on September 2, 1855.

“It is no wonder, then, that I am not preaching a new doctrine. I love to proclaim these strong old doctrines, that are called by nickname “Calvinism,” but which are surely the revealed truth of God as it is in Christ Jesus. By this truth I make a pilgrimage into the past, and as I go, I see Church Father after Church Father, confessor after confessor, martyr after martyr, standing up to shake hands with me. If I was a Pelagian, or a believer in the doctrine of man’s freewill, I would have to walk for centuries all alone. Here and there I would find a heretic, of rather dishonorable character who might rise up and call me brother. But taking these things to be the standard of my faith, I see the land of the ancients populated with my brethren. I see multitudes who confess the same as I do, and acknowledge that this is the religion of God’s own church” (New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. 1, No. 41, 42).

There is the Testimony of the Bible

“And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days” (Mark 13:20).

“For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect” (Mark 13:22).

“And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth to the uttermost part of heaven” (Mark 13:27).

“And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them?” (Luke 18:7).

These passages, along with many others which use the word “elect,” or, “chosen,” or, “foreordained,” or, “appointed,” testifies to the fact the Bible teaches that the people of Christ are distinguished from the rest of mankind.

“Throughout the epistles, the saints are constantly called ‘the elect’ or ‘the chosen.’ In the Book of Colossians, we find Paul saying, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion.” When he writes to Titus, he calls himself, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect.” Peter says, “To God’s elect, strangers in the world . . . who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.’

Then if you turn to John, you will find that he is very fond of the word. He says, ‘The elder, to the elect lady’, and he speaks of our ‘elect sister.’ And we know where it is written, ‘The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you’.

They were not ashamed of the word in those days; they were not afraid to talk about it. Nowadays the word has been dressed up with a variety of meanings, and persons have mutilated and marred the doctrine, so that they have made it a doctrine of devils. But, why should I be ashamed of it, even though men struggle with it. We love God’s truth even when it is challenged and twisted by doubters–we don’t call it false. We don’t love to see it perverted and twisted, but we never stop loving the truth that is being abused, because we can discern what the truth really says despite the twisting and perversions by the cruelty and inventions of men” (Spurgeon, ibid).

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