Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Difficulty of Evangelism for Calvinists

For Reformed Calvinists their doctrine of election is a thing of objective beauty derived by logical deduction from the principle of God's sovereignty over all creation. But for non-Calvinists it is more like a dark, labyrinthine maze which leads to a God who, despite sending His Son to ostensibly save the world (John 3:16), actually intends only to save some, having already decided before the Fall into sin to condemn a goodly portion of humankind to eternal damnation for the sake of His own glory. Technically, this view is called Supralapsarianism, and a presentation of it can be found in John Calvin:
"For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestined either to life or to death"
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, III 21:5.
Some Reformed theologians softened the starkness of Calvin's doctrine by positing that God's elective decree to save some and pass by others logically took place after the Fall, a view known as Infralapsarianism. This was regarded as more adequately preserving the goodness and justice of God, since he was only passing by guilty sinners who deserved eternal death anyway. But the distinction is academic, since both schools of Reformed thought deny the Biblical doctrine of universal grace, that is, that God loves all people and desires their salvation (Ezek 18:23; 1 Tim 2:3-4; note that universal grace does not equate to universal salvation). Thus the Lutheran Francis Pieper could write:    
"The Calvinistic Reformed bodies not only deny, but, in part, bitterly attack the gratia universalis (universal grace - Acro.) and teach the particularism of saving grace in its strictest form: God does not love all men, Christ did not redeem all men, the Holy Ghost does not desire to convert all men. The division into supralapsarians and infralapsarians does not touch the question of universal grace. Both groups deny it. The supralapsarians teach that God has decreed to create a part of mankind unto damnation. The infralapsarians teach that God has decreed to leave a part of mankind in the damnation incurred by all men through the Fall, or to pass them by with His grace."
Francis Pieper, in Christian Dogmatics (Eng. trans. St Louis, 1951) volume II, 'The Saving Grace of God', pp. 24-25.
Lutherans have, more or less since the definitive divergence of views on the sacramental union in the Lord's supper at the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, regarded Reformed theology as harbouring a strong element of rationalism which seeks to fill, through human reason, what they perceive as lacunae in Holy Scripture, a tendency which actually leads to the denial of clear teaching passages (sedes doctrinae) of Holy Writ. Lutherans point to several misconceived Reformed doctrines as a result of this tendency, classic cases being the already mentioned doctrine of the sacramental union in the Lord's supper and the question "cur alii praes aliis?", why are some saved but not others? With an eye on the development of the Reformed doctrine of election and in order to stave off any controversy within German Lutheranism, the Lutheran doctrine of election was set forth definitively in the Formula of Concord (1579):
 "The eternal election or ordination of God to eternal life Is not to be considered in God's secret, inscrutable counsel in such a bare manner as though it comprised nothing further, or as though nothing more belonged to it, and nothing more were to be considered in it, than that God foresaw who and how many were to be saved, who and how many were to be damned, or that He only held a [sort of military] muster, thus: "This one shall be saved, that one shall be damned; this one shall remain steadfast [in faith to the end], that one shall not remain steadfast."
For from this notion many derive and conceive strange, dangerous, and pernicious thoughts, which occasion and strengthen either security and impenitence or despondency and despair, so that they fall into troublesome thoughts and [for thus some think, with peril to themselves, nay, even sometimes] say: Since, before the foundation of the world was laid, Eph. 1:4, God has foreknown [predestinated] His elect to salvation, and God's foreknowledge [election] cannot fail nor be hindered or changed by any one, Is. 14:27; Rom. 9:19, therefore, if I am foreknown [elected] to salvation, nothing can injure me with respect to it, even though I practise all sorts of sin and shame without repentance, have no regard for the Word and Sacraments, concern myself neither with repentance, faith, prayer, nor godliness; but I shall and must be saved nevertheless, because God's foreknowledge [election] must come to pass. If, however, I am not foreknown [predestinated], it helps me nothing anyway, even though I would occupy myself with the Word, repent, believe, etc.; for I cannot hinder or change God's foreknowledge [predestination].
And indeed also to godly hearts, even when, by God's grace they have repentance, faith, and a good purpose [of living in a godly manner], such thoughts occur as these: If you are not foreknown [predestinated or elected] from eternity to salvation, everything [your every effort and entire labor] is of no avail. This occurs especially when they view their weakness and the examples of those who have not persevered [in faith to the end], but have fallen away again [from true godliness to ungodliness, and have become apostates].
To this false delusion and [dangerous] thought we should oppose the following clear argument, which is sure and cannot fail, namely: Since all Scripture, given by inspiration of God, is to serve, not for [cherishing] security and impenitence, but for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 2 Tim. 3:16; also, since everything in God's Word has been prescribed to us, not that we should thereby be driven to despair, but that we, through patience and comfort of the Scriptures, might have hope, Rom. 15:4, therefore it is without any doubt in no way the sound sense or right use of the doctrine concerning the eternal foreknowledge of God that either impenitence or despair should be occasioned or strengthened thereby. Accordingly, the Scriptures teach this doctrine in no other way than to direct us thereby to the [revealed] Word, Eph. 1:13; 1 Cor. 1:7; exhort to repentance, 2 Tim. 3:16; urge to godliness, Eph. 1:14; John 15:3; strengthen faith and assure us of our salvation, Eph. 1:13; John 10:27f ; 2 Thess. 2:13f.
Therefore, if we wish to think or speak correctly and profitably concerning eternal election, or the predestination and ordination of the children of God to eternal life, we should accustom ourselves not to speculate concerning the bare, secret, concealed, inscrutable foreknowledge of God, but how the counsel, purpose, and ordination of God in Christ Jesus, who is the true Book of Life, is revealed to us through the Word, 14] namely, that the entire doctrine concerning the purpose, counsel, will, and ordination of God pertaining to our redemption, call, justification, and salvation should be taken together; as Paul treats and has explained this article Rom. 8:29f ; Eph. 1:4f , as also Christ in the parable, Matt. 22:1ff , namely, that God in His purpose and counsel ordained [decreed]:
1. That the human race is truly redeemed and reconciled with God through Christ, who, by His faultless [innocency] obedience, suffering, and death, has merited for us the righteousness which avails before God, and eternal life.
2. That such merit and benefits of Christ shall be presented, offered, and distributed to us through His Word and Sacraments.
3. That by His Holy Ghost, through the Word, when it is preached, heard, and pondered, He will be efficacious and active in us, convert hearts to true repentance, and preserve them in the true faith.
4. That He will justify all those who in true repentance receive Christ by a true faith, and will receive them into grace, the adoption of sons, and the inheritance of eternal life.
5. That He will also sanctify in love those who are thus justified, as St. Paul says, Eph. 1:4.
6. That He also will protect them in their great weakness against the devil, the world, and the flesh, and rule and lead them in His ways, raise them again [place His hand beneath them], when they stumble, comfort them under the cross and in temptation, and preserve them [for life eternal].
7. That He will also strengthen, increase, and support to the end the good work which He has begun in them, if they adhere to God's Word, pray diligently, abide in God's goodness [grace], and faithfully use the gifts received.
8. That finally He will eternally save and glorify in life eternal those whom He has elected, called, and justified."
The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord, Art. XI Election, paras 9-22. Available in full here
 Now that's good news!


Anonymous said...

I enjoy reading your blog. Just a note on your parenthetical note: "[U]niversal grace does not equate to universal salvation." There seems to be much confusion on this, or maybe I am just especially sensitive to it because it comes up from time to time in my own church circles (I am a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod). We very clearly teach universal, or objective, justification (which is really no different from universal salvation), and we have had some clergy leave our circles, or get stuck on this point in the process of joining said circles, because they don't understand what we, or the Bible, means by that. 2 Corinthians 5:19: "God was reconciling THE WORLD to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them." Paul defines "reconciliation" here as "the non-imputation of one's sins" - which is the same way he defines justification in Romans 4:5-8. John 3:17: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to SAVE THE WORLD through him." Jesus is explicitly teaching universal salvation here. If I understood your point correctly, your remark was ultimately talking about what the theologians might call "final salvation," and if that's what you meant, I 100% agree with the substance of what you wrote. The fact that Jesus paid for the sins of all and that God consequently declared all to be innocent of sin does not mean that all will be in heaven. (Indeed, according to Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14, the majority of people will not be.) But that is not because their sins were not atoned for or because they were not justified or because they were not saved; it is because, as Jonah says, "they forfeit the grace that is theirs" (2:8; cf. the Hebrew, not the NIV) - that is, they persist in unbelief. So we CAN, and probably even SHOULD (since the Bible does), speak of universal salvation, but we must be careful to explain what we mean. There is a reality that is in Christ (redeemed, justified, saved) and a reality that is apart from Christ (unforgiven, condemned). God given, Spirit-worked repentance and faith in Jesus are the difference between those realities. From Walther's "Law and Gospel": "Luther occasionally uses this expression that-objectively-every person is already righteous in the sight of God because of the living and dying of Christ in their place. But when God justifies an individual by offering him the Gospel and he refuses to accept it, he is, indeed, not justified, but is and remains a condemned sinner. To such a person the chief torment of hell will be the fact that he knows: 'I WAS redeemed; I WAS reconciled to God; I WAS righteous. But because I would not believe it, I am now in this place of torment.' The joyful message that you are to bring to your people is this: 'You are redeemed. You are reconciled to God. You have been made righteous. You are blessed people. Salvation has been acquired for you too. Do but believe it!" (27th Evening Lecture; p. 291 in Dau ed., p. 322 in Schaum/Tiews ed.).

Anonymous said...

You're probably already familiar with the oft-used illustration of someone depositing a billion dollars in your bank account. Then he goes and tells you about it. If you don't believe him, and never write checks in large amounts because you don't believe him, then the benefits and blessings of that amount of money will never be yours. Is it still objectively true that the money is there? Yes. But you have spurned and rejected that man's gift. Where the analogy limps is that ultimately, if that were really to happen, the person with the billion dollars in his bank account would still have that in his bank account when he died. But when the Bible talks about unbelievers rejecting God's grace, it describes that rejection as something that actually separates them from that grace and forgiveness so that they no longer have it, yet also as something that does not negate the fact that God has declared them innocent in Christ. We have to let both stand. Only God knows when that rejection is done to their ultimate damnation (the sin against the Holy Spirit).

Acroamaticus said...

Greetings "Red Brick" Parson!
I appreciate the work you publish on your website. Objective justification is not a matter of controversy here "down under". In some ways I wish it was - it would be nice to be discussing the Gospel for a change!
You write, "If I understood your point correctly, your remark was ultimately talking about what the theologians might call "final salvation," and if that's what you meant, I 100% agree with the substance of what you wrote." Yes, I was speaking of final salvation, but also in my mind is the necessity of the application and subjective reception of justification through preaching and baptism and the daily use thereof.