Monday, April 4, 2016

24: Who’s in and Who’s out a discussion of predestination

Calvin in chapter 24 and 25 of Book 3 of his institutes turns to a quite thorny subject. How do we deal with election when it comes to salvation and what will this salvation and final resurrection look like? Who is part of this “elect?” In short who’s in and who’s out at the end of the final day?
For several previous chapters Calvin has been discussing predestination and the elect. The basic summary of this is a return to God’s will. Calvin reminds us that it is God’s will to predestine those to salvation those whom God wishes and it is God’s will to predestine those to destruction those whom God wills!

Calvin acknowledges that it is this assurance of our election which can cause problems indeed! He reminds us that there are two callings, a universal one and a “special” one. “Though the Lord, by electing his people, adopted them as his sons, we, however, see that they do not come into possession of this great good until they are called; but when called, the enjoyment of their election is in some measure communicated to them.” 24.1 We only see dimly what it means to be called to be part of God’s elect. Calvin acknowledges that the devil uses this doubt to cause us to question our assurance of our “elected status.”

Lane asks us to explore the relationship between election and assurance. He also asks us what hope exists for the Christian for the future. It is to these two questions that we now turn. When we begin that ever slippery slope of asking ourselves if we are among the “elect” Calvin helps us return to the correct path. “First, if we seek for the paternal mercy and favor of God, we must turn our eyes to Christ, in whom alone the Father is well pleased (Mt. 3:17). When we seek for salvation, life, and a blessed immortality, to him also must we retake ourselves, since he alone is the fountain of life and the anchor of salvation, and the heir of the kingdom of heaven.” (institutes 3.24.5) We are elected not in and of ourselves but in Christ Jesus!

The second assurance is found in 3.24.6 when Calvin states: “Another confirmation tending to establish our confidence is, that our election is connected with our calling. For those whom Christ enlightens with the knowledge of his name, and admits into the bosom of his Church, he is said to take under his guardianship and protection.” (institutes 3.24.6) Calvin reminds us in 3.24.7 that there are some who will look like they are called – in fact they are called but they will be proud and rely on themselves rather than Christ for security.

If we acknowledge that we must not stay in this mystery of assurance and that Christ is the compass by which we are pointed back to God, we must now turn our thoughts to Lane’s second question about Christian hope. What does this look like? Because our hope is in Christ, our assurance is in Christ, our present lives will be changed as Calvin reminds us: “Our present condition, therefore, requires us to “live soberly, righteously, and godly;” “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” Here there is need of no ordinary patience, lest, worn out with fatigue, we either turn backwards or abandon our post.” (institutes 3.25.1) We cannot rely on earthly concerns but must keep our eyes fixed on the heavenly prize.

Calvin reminds us that our faith is not like that of the philosophers which believe in the immortality of the soul, but rather we believe in the physical resurrection of our bodies along with our soul. In fact “Scripture furnishes two auxiliary proofs, the one the likeness of Christ’s resurrection, and the other the omnipotence of God. Therefore, whenever the subject of the resurrection is considered, let us think of the case of our Savior, who, having completed his mortal course in our nature which he had assumed, obtained immortality, and is now the pledge of our future resurrection.” (institutes 3.25.3) God did not use God’s power only to raise Christ but to give that same thing to those who are His body in the world.

Calvin reminds us that this very power of God was not shown to the religious authorities and the roman political powers but the manifestation of God’s glory, the resurrected appearances of Christ was given to women and the disciples. Those were “regular” people who had no reason to create a fictitious story. These things provide proof that Christ has risen! Calvin reminds us that not everyone supports this possibility of the resurrection of the body in 3.25.6 when he says: “Some, under the idea that the whole man perishes, have thought that the soul will rise again with the body; while others, admitting that spirits are immortal, hold that they will be clothed with new bodies, and thus deny the resurrection of the flesh.” As we think of this resurrection of both flesh and spirit, we will be raised to glory with Christ. We will have “improved” bodies as Christ has an improved body. We will not be able to now comprehend the full nature of this glory and manifestation of God’s glory. Calvin in 3.24.12 also reminds us that the reprobate and their eternal fate is described incompletely through the human language that we now possess.

As we read this magnificent description of what is in store for God’s elect and the reprobate, I am returned back to Calvin’s idea of two separate callings: My questions regard Calvin’s words as found in 3.24.8 when he speaks of the two calls: “There are two species of calling: for there is an universal call, by which God, through the external preaching of the word, invites all men alike, even those for whom he designs the call to be a savor of death, and the ground of a severer condemnation. Besides this there is a special call which, for the most part, God bestows on believers only, when by the internal illumination of the Spirit he causes the word preached to take deep root in their hearts.” I am reminded of Christ’s parable of the sower found in Matthew 13.

Assuming that we are in that “called and elected group” (this is not my position to decide that is for God) Does Calvin give us any words of wisdom on how we should witness and to which group, the “all” who are called or the “special” people? And secondly does our method of witnessing change the membership of the groups?

20 comments:

  1. Nice job explaining this section. From reading through this section, the implication to me is that when we preach to the chosen, we are "preaching to the choir" so to speak? And if we preach to the non-elect, our preaching is doomed to be ineffective. Of course, we cannot know who is whom, but still, I find the implications somewhat discouraging. Yet, personally, I think we preach to all as Jesus says at the end of Matthew, going to all nations. I think it is unwise to categorize people for the purpose of asking ourselves whether they should be witnessed to or not. Nevertheless, I think categorization is appropriate for the purpose of determining how it should be done. These categories would not be based on whether the people are elect or un... Rather would be based on their receptiveness to various methods of teaching. For example, we would teach children in a manner different from the way we might teach choir members:)

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  2. Hi Bill,
    As I consider this idea of teaching and to whom, I wonder if this not only applies to teaching in the strictest sense such as bible study but also to our "service" to the world. How much of what we do is accomplished through actions rather than words!

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  3. Thank you, Rick, for the great summary! I, too, looked for the effectiveness of our witness in all of the election/predestination talk. As I was reading Calvin, I kept coming back to the idea that we are to look for the assurance of our salvation/election in the Word. In 3.24.8, Calvin says, "while by the inward illumination of the Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in their hearts," regarding the 'special call.' There are so many parts to this assurance and one of them is the preached Word. I feel like that might be our part in watering, even though God gives the growth (1 Cor 3:7-8).

    More on watering - I liken it to watering the whole row of beans, not just where you suspect the seeds will germinate correctly. We have no way of knowing what seeds will sprout and what seeds will not, so we water in assurance of growth. I have always thought it was a short walk from realizing that some are not elected and seeking to find them. I have preferred to proceed until apprehended, assuming all are elect unless God decides otherwise.

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    1. I like watering the whole row of beans too! Thank you Sharon. As soon as I read that, my mind immediately went to the Parable of the Sower. I do not think that we change our message to different groups. I do think that we should know our audience (not to put them into a group, so that we can use language that they can understand). I think Calvin explains the well in 3.24.10, The elect are gathered into Christ’s flock by a call not immediately at birth, and not all at the same time, but according as it pleases God to dispense his grace to them. Since these decision are up to God, I think we do well to spread the Good News to who ever is placed before us.

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    2. Yes, Sharon. This is great! And Jerry, yes! Calvin is very concerned that we may use fear of election as a means to doubt ourselves. As pastors, our role is to offer that reassurance assuming, frankly, that everyone in the pews (and outside) is saved. This is not our place to judge.

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  4. Thank you for your post, this was a very difficult section for me to fully grasp and maybe more than grasp, accept.
    In my notes from the reading, I have a big star, ***with a question to myself regarding evangelism, "If Calvin is right, and God Almighty has established by an eternal and unchangeable plan all those to receive Salvation and further, all those to destruction… why are we called to share the Good News? What is evangelism for?" …That was my rant from the notes.
    To address your question, I did not see instructions for witnessing, the best antidote to my rant and your question is Calvin's 'Concession to Augustine (3.23.1 on page 949), where Calvin states, "I maintain the teachings of Augustine, where he states God makes sheep out of wolves, he reforms them by a more powerful grace". Which I am taking to mean that there is power to make adjustments to those we may see as not in the 'elect pool', who actually are (or will be). My opinion is to approach all people the same, who am I to know what is lingering within a person, no matter if Calvin is right or wrong

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  5. Hi Claire,
    As I am thinking about your post and about this idea of call, I am wondering if we are not called to the task and proclamation simplly because of the righteousness of Christ. Do you think that Calvin would agree that because of the spirit of God quickening us, we are called and in fact cannot help but share the message thus glorifying God?

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    1. Yes, I agree and think Calvin would as well.

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  6. Hi Sharon,
    Thank you for this analogy of watering! Calvin would probably say that our only assurance must be found in Christ alone. As I was reading I could not help but ask the question "Does this assurance come to us via the Word?" and I think the answer (at least for me) is yes. It also comes to me as the recognition of the working of God's spirit in people's lives.

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  8. In section of the institutes covering Predestination 3.21-3.25, I was surprised to learn that Calvin was not so much pontificating for it's own sake, but trying answer real questions and controversy in his own time. 'All are saved by God's Grace' is not a new teaching and Calvin affirms some of this thinking.

    "When we attribute foreknowledge to God, we mean that all things always were, and perpetually remain, under his eyes, so that this knowledge there is nothing future, or past, but all things present."(3.21.5)

    "We teach nothing not borne out by experience: that God has always been free to bestow his grace on whom he wills".(3.22.1)

    In other words,"The question is not why are some damned, but why are any saved?" and "God only knows."

    My answer to your question Rick, it that our whole lives must be a witness to our faith, hope and peace found in Jesus Christ. Don't tell me about Christ, show me.

    However all is promised to be revealed at the Resurrection of the dead, which in God's time has already been.



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  9. Hi Rich, their is no other doctrine that can lead to such comfort and assurance than this one. How the saying goes God doesn't sponsor any failures. It's all God's doing. Following his logic from the fall we can never seek God on our own. If your seeking God your in because all the other steps are God's. Once you feel this assurance I don't think you can ever stop preaching the message out of sure gratitude.

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  10. Hi Dan,
    I would agree. The one thing that Calvin calls to mind are those times when we begin to question the assurance factor and cautions us not to become obsessed with that issue.

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    1. I agree. I am reminded of the struggle of Luther in particular who was obsessed with the idea that he could never have assurance of salvation because he was never good enough, never without sin. In this mindset, he was crippled. Calvin is explaining that if we are responding as the faithful are compelled to respond and are called to do so by our faith then we do not need to worry. It is really supposed to be comforting. On the other hand, I think in simple terms it can explain why some people continue to act in abhorrent ways even if they hear the word of God. While horrible in the modern sense, I think it reminds us that we can't save everybody, we are not God, some won't listen. It reminds me of our wise church secretary who, when it comes to confirmation, reminds me that we do our best, share the word, provide opportunities but we can't make everyone buy in.

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  11. I think part of our calling is to be witnesses for Christ, whether that be by word or by deed. God calls us to witness. But that is where our responsibility ends. Whether or not a person comes to know Christ is not for us to say. That part is up to God.

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  12. I appreciate Rick's thorough post on this tricky topic. I agree with Pam how we are called to witness for Christ with word and action, regardless of the "group." To me, predestination requires a posture of total submission to God. God calls, God claims, God chooses, God knows! In response to his great love, we imperfectly pour out this love on others, chosen or not.

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  13. I’ve found it helpful – especially on topics where Calvin seems especially opaque, to compare his work to Shirley Guthrie’s comments in Christian Doctrine. Maybe it’s the modern language, maybe it’s the benefit of several hundred years of discussion and others' works, but I tend to find Guthrie not only more readable, but many times more sensible.

    On the topic of predestination, Guthrie seems to dismiss Calvin’s double predestination in favor of something just short of universal salvation. He references the Declaration of Faith, “We are sure that God’s future for every person will be both merciful and just”. Ultimately, Guthrie agrees with Calvin that God may elect whomsoever God chooses to elect. However, Guthrie certainly presents a more hopeful, less definitive picture of our possibility for salvation.

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  14. Rick - thank you for such a good summary of this section. As I read, I began thinking about what it means to be part of the reprobate, so I spent a little extra time with 3.25.12 in his section on hell. Lang claims that Calvin's statement on hell is "restrained" but I found it useful. It seems as though not being in God's presence is "hell" it is "wretched to be cut off from all fellowship with God." (3..25.12). So, while the images of burning, gnashing of teeth are certainly in my mind, Calvin's image is a little softer and remind of the torments in the book of Psalms when God appears to be not listening. "My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning." (Psalm 22: 1) Apart from God, we are in hell, but to someone who is of the "reprobate" and he/she may not be entirely aware of the torture. I am heading back to my concerns about atheism , but in worrying about folks who don't accept God, I wonder to what extent they are aware of hell. In other words, if their human reality is not based on God are they not entirely aware of being separated from God? I

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  15. Thank you Rick for the very insightful summary. It is a tough position to be because I see the need in this quote in your paragraph two: “Though the Lord, by electing his people, adopted them as his sons, we, however, see that they do not come into possession of this great good until they are called; but when called, the enjoyment of their election is in some measure communicated to them.” 24.1 We only see dimly what it means to be called to be part of God’s elect. The issue is also that the measure of communication is based on our faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and not in anything tangible that we can hold on to daily with the fullest assurance that we are in.
    Thank you again.

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