Friday, October 28, 2005

Did God predestine some people to go to heaven and others to go to hell?

Introduction
Through the annals of church history there has been much debate as to the meaning of predestination. The underlying question is whether or not those of us who are saved were predestined to be saved before we were even born. The gist of the argument surrounds the debate over whether or not the gift of salvation has already been promised to some even before a confession of their faith or whether or not salvation results from expressing one’s heart-filled faith in the Lordship and deity of Jesus Christ and is therefore available to everyone who believes. It is this writer’s contention that the latter train of thought, between the two, is more doctrinally reasonable. But both sides of the argument will be presented and then a conclusion will be drawn. In order to broach the subject systematically, certain terms must first be defined. Therefore, we will begin by clarifying the meaning of predestination, and then, by taking a look at the theologians who stirred the debate, and by examining the personality of the Holy Spirit, for it is through the unction of the Holy Spirit that we are saved.

Predestination
The doctrinal teaching of predestination stems from the following verses of scripture that are cited below:
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he called he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30 (NIV)

Then Ephesians 1:5-11 (NIV) reads, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

Because of the interpretation given to these scriptures, many theologians believe that God made certain people for salvation and certain people for damnation and that those who were made for damnation never had a chance for salvation because they were predestined to be damned the day they were born. They go on to say that there are those who, on the other hand, were predestined for salvation before they were even born again, before their faith in Jesus Christ became manifest. This is what is referred to as the Calvinist view of predestination.

Then there is the Arminian view of predestination. The Arminian view says that faith comes before regeneration and although God predestined those who were called, they were predestined because God is all knowing so he knew that they would confess a belief in Christ and therefore they were predestined to be saved.

Those who support the Arminian view use the following verses of scripture, among others, to support their arguments: “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, that is the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:8-13 NIV)) Then John 3:16 quotes Jesus as saying, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God id not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believes stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-18 NIV)

These verses of scriptures above give credence to the Arminian view of predestination since confessing and believing are actions and since Jesus died for the whole world, not just for some. But first we must look at some of the history as to how the two views of Calvinism and Arminianism came about and we therefore need to look at the men behind the two different trains of thought.

John Calvin
It appears that Calvinism developed first from the teachings of John Calvin who was born in Noyon Picardy France in 1509. “In 1523 he began studies at University of Paris; in 1528 went to the University of Orleans upon his father’s decision for him to study law. Later he attended University of Bourges. Came under spell of humanism in these universities. Upon fathers’ death (1531), Calvin decided to become a man of letters and went to Paris to study the humanities. Next year he published text of Seneca’s De Clementia with a commentary. Experienced ‘sudden conversion’ in 1533 and whole course of life was changed. Came to have a new conviction of reality of God’s sovereignty and of the importance of living according to His will.” 1

Eventually Calvin became part of a group of Protestants in the city of Paris, even though he did not publicly denounce the doctrines of Catholicism. Calvin had been a part of the Catholic church. However, once he became infiltrated with his Protestant associates in Paris he quickly began to emerge as their leader and began preaching to them as well.

Jacob Arminian
Jacob Arminian opposed the views of Calvinism at a time when it was not popular to do so. He was born in Oudewater Holland in 1560, four years before Calvin’s death. Calvin studied in Leyden for approximately half a decade and was ordained as a minister in the city of Amsterdam when he was twenty-eight years old.. He eventually obtained a doctorate in Theology from the University of Leyden and became a professor of theology there. “When the United Netherlands (Dutch Republic) was declared independent in 1609, Calvinism was declared the official state religion. But some of the ministers of Holland did not accept the full import of the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination and grace. Resulting discussion brought to the fore Jacob Arminius, young theologian of Leyden, who could not accept the ultrapredestination viewpoint. In attempt to modify Calvinism so that, as he thought God might not be construed to be the author of sin nor man an automation in the hands of God, he encountered strong opposition on the part of many ultra-predestinarians.” 2

The debate surrounding Calvinism and Arminianism is found in many theological texts, particularly those writings that focus upon Christian apologetics (studies that defend the faith). Apologists and authors Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli have this to say about the Calvinist views of predestination: “Perhaps the worse exaggeration of hell is the Calvinistic doctrine (not even held by all Calvinists) of a double predestination. According to this doctrine, God decrees and designs some souls for hell before they are born; God wills their damnation. This is contradicted both by Scripture (Mt 18:14) and by moral sanity...” 3

Further comparisons between the two views
The basic disagreement between the two trains of thought has to do with whether or not human beings have free will to express and confess a belief in Jesus or whether or not a confessed belief in Jesus is totally due to God’s will. In order to obtain even a clearer understanding of the two differing positions and also to introduce to the discussion how the function of the Holy Spirit is also at the forefront of both arguments, it is important to briefly present further comparisons.

There are five sub-components to the two views which teachings contradict one another. The first component has to do with free will. Calvinism teaches that there is nothing that human beings can do to save themselves. Human beings have no free will. If a human being has faith in God it is because God gave him or her that faith. Therefore, the faith did not derive from the believer’s heart but the faith derived from God and was placed in the believers heart. Arminianism teaches that everyone has free will to believe and confess the Lord Jesus as Savior; that everyone has the option to accept Christ or not to. The decision whether or not to accept the gift of salvation rests on the sinner. The sinner is faced with cooperating with the Holy Spirit (because as Paul has told us, one cannot be saved without having the Holy Spirit) and experience the regeneration of being born again or rejecting the unction of the Holy Spirit altogether and continue to live a sinful life without God.

The second component has to do with the argument of whether or not election is conditional or unconditional. Calvinism subscribes to the persuasion of what is referred to as unconditional election. Unconditional election supposes that a person’s receiving of the gift of salvation is an unconditional occurrence on the part of that person. In other words, that person did not have to do anything to receive salvation because God’s will was for that person to have the gift of salvation before he or she was even born. On the other hand, Arminianism says that salvation is conditional upon the confession and belief of the one who is seeking it. The gift of salvation is available for everyone. But having a gift available and receiving that gift and making use of it are two different things. Arminiansim says the gift must be received. Calvinism says the gift is hoisted upon the receiver without any reception from the receiver.

The third component focuses upon atonement. The arguments between the two are thus: Calvinism says that Christ only came to save those who were already elected to be saved. No one else has a chance, only those who were previously elected by God. Arminianism says that Christ died for the salvation of everyone. His atonement (his death provided the ultimate living sacrifice to redeem the world of sin) is available to all who will embrace him.

The fourth component has to do with the argument of whether or not the Holy Spirit can be rejected or resisted. Calvinism says that the Holy Spirit calls sinners to salvation, but only those sinners whom God has called to be saved. The call is irresistible and once the sinner is called, he or she cannot resist the call. Arminiansim says that because of the free will that God has given man, sinners have the choice whether or not to accept the Holy Spirit’s invitation to embrace the gift of salvation or reject it.

The fifth and final component has to do with the argument of whether or not salvation can be lost, once obtained. The Calvinist view says that once someone is saved, he or she is always saved, especially since they were predestined to be saved and really didn’t have anything to do with the gift of salvation that they have obtained. The Arminian view is split on this point. There are some who hold the Arminian view that support the belief that once a sinner is saved he is always saved and then there are others who believe that the saved can fall from grace and lose their salvation. This writer is of the former persuasion.

In his book, "The Mystery of the Holy Spirit," world renowned Christian apologist R.C. Sproul argues on behalf of the Calvinist viewpoint by stating the following: “A monergistic work is a work produced singly, by one person. The prefix mono—means one. The word erg refers to a unit of work. Words like energy are built upon this root. A synergistic work is one that involves cooperation between two or more persons or things. The prefix syn—means ‘together with.’ I labor this distinction for a reason. It is fair to say that the whole debate between Rome and Martin Luther hung on this single point. At issue was this: Is regeneration a monergistic work of God, or is it a synergistic work that requires cooperation between man and God? When my professor wrote ‘Regeneration precedes faith’ on the blackboard, he was clearly siding with the monergistic answer. To be sure, after a person is regenerated, that person cooperates by exercising faith and trust. But the first step, the step of regeneration by which a person is quickened to spiritual life, is the work of God and of God alone. The initiative is with God, not with us. The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we cannot. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him from the dead. It is probably true that the majority of professing Christians in the world today believe that the order of our salvation is this: Faith precedes regeneration. We are exhorted to choose to be born again. But telling a man to choose rebirth is like exhorting a corpse to choose resurrection. The exhortation falls upon deaf ears.” 4

Conclusion
In the preceding quote, Sproul concludes that the relationship between regeneration and faith can only be one of monergism (produced singularly by one person without the cooperation of another party). He concludes that regeneration is a monergistic occurrence, since in his view, being born again happens without human influence and only by the will of God. He rejects the possibility that regeneration is a synergistic occurrence, involving cooperation between man and God. He concludes that regeneration cannot be synergistic because, as he puts it, those who are spiritually dead cannot make themselves become spiritually alive. But Sproul, (along with other theologians) is either unaware of, or totally neglects a third possibility; and that is that regeneration and faith are simultaneous occurrences. When one confesses a belief in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, regeneration happens instantly, not afterwards…but during. The Holy Spirit is at work instantly, in the twinkling of an eye, and therefore regeneration can indeed be synergistic. When looing at it this way, we can counter Sproul's dead man argument by pointing out that man who is dead in the Spirit can indeed experience a rebirth as a result of his faith if we conclude that upon his confession and belief, rebirth takes place at the exact same moment that faith is made manifest. Therefore, faith doesn't have to occur before regeneration for regeneration to occur. This view upholds the monergistic view of regeneration while at the same time supporting the Arminian view of predestination. When taking into account the possibility of simultaneous occurrence between regeneration and faith, one does not cancel out the other.

Sproul says that we cannot cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us because before it acts upon us we are spiritually dead and can no more help the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him from the dead. But Sproul leaves out a very important part of the account of Jesus and Lazarus, and that is that Jesus raised Lazarus with a verbal command.[1] In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus didn’t just stand there and not say anything but instead he commanded Lazarus to “come forth” and upon the command to come forth, Lazarus began making his way out of the tomb.
We do not know the exact point at which Lazarus was made alive again but we can safely surmise that it took a conscious effort on Lazarus’ part to rise up and leave the tomb at the command of Jesus. There was cooperation between Lazarus and Jesus. Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth and he did so. In order to leave the tomb, Lazarus would have had to step away from it; just as he did. Lazarus heard the command, obeyed the command, and came forth. He had a choice. He could have ignored Jesus’ command and stayed in the tomb. Although Jesus compelled Lazarus to come out; there is no indication that Jesus forced him out. It was still Lazarus’ decision whether or not to walk out of the tomb. The opportunity was there but Lazarus had to take it. And so it is with us. God gives us the opportunity to be saved but we must take hold of the opportunity in order for the opportunity to take effect. We must hear the word of God (be open to it; listen) and be willing to step away from the tomb. Lazarus was regenerated immediately upon his acknowledgement of the words of the Lord and his decision to leave the tomb. Regeneration happened in an instant. Lazarus was made alive at the exact moment he began obeying the command,[2] just as we are made alive at the exact moment we confess Christ as Lord and Savior. Lazarus was dead then he heard the word of God and decided to act upon it. If he had not acted upon it; he would have remained in the tomb. God called him; but he had to adhere to the call in order to walk away from death. In the same sense, God calls us; but we must adhere to the call in order to walk away from spiritual death.

As an aside, it must be stated that  the analogy is an "apple and oranges" comparison and is really  not the best analogy because Lazarus was already saved when he died and consequently knew God's voice. Therefore the act of Jesus bringing Lazarus to life is analogous to a resurrection, not to a rebirth. However, since Sproul uses the analogy when speaking of rebirth and since the analogy has taken wings, so to speak, it must be addressed.

A particularly daunting question comes to mind when entertaining the doctrinal teachings of Calvinism, and that is this: If God made certain people specifically to be doomed to hell then wouldn’t we consider the conditions upon which every sin they committed as entrapment? Entrapment is when governing authorities purposely lure someone to do wrong. Then, once the person succumbs to the temptation, they are arrested and thrown in jail. Hell is for those who have unrepentantly practiced sin and have never accepted Jesus as Lord/God and Savior. But if a person is created to be damned then it would seem that God would not punish him or her for acting in ways that are familiar to the nature of one who is already condemned. However, hell is a punishment and punishments are made for those who are spiritually dead by their own choice, just as jail is a place for those who are criminals by their own choice and are dead to the mores of society. Immorality is a choice not a calling. And therefore to go to hell is not a calling, but a choice.

The debate regarding predestination will continue to persist until the Lord raptures the church. Only then will we all know for sure. But it is the estimation of this writer that there is a simultaneous cause and effect relationship between being reborn and faith. There is indeed something we must do in order to be saved. We must confess and believe that Jesus is Lord. The Calvinist view is a particularly daunting one for it can lead to complacency in witnessing as well as arrogance, racism, and feelings of superiority. In closing we must keep in mind the declaration Paul made in Romans 10:13 which reads, “For anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Anyone includes everyone. And everyone excludes nobody.

[1] John 11:19-45, see your Bible.
[2] An example of God displaying action at the exact moment of the action of a person is seen in Daniel 4:28-33 when looking at how God punished Nebuchadnezzar due to his pride, before Nebuchadnezzar completed making the prideful statement that he was making (while he was making it). The prideful statement and the initiation of the punishment happened concurrently; at the same time.

Bibliography
Barker, Kenneth, General Editor, NIV Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids Michigan,

Kreeft, Peter and Tacelli, Ronald K., Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois

Life Application Study Bible, New Living Translation, Tyndale House Publishers,Wheaton Illinois,1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1996

Moyer, Elgin S., Who was who in Church History, Keats Publishing, Inc., New Canaan Connecticut, 1974

Sproul, R.C., The Mystery of the Holy Spirit., Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton Illinois, 1990


END NOTES

1 Moyer, Elgin S., Who was who in Church History, Keats Publishing, Inc., New Canaan, Connecticut, 1974 p. 71
2 Moyer, Elgin S. Who was who in Church History, Keats Publishing, Inc., New Canaan, Connecticut, 1974 p. 18
3 Kreeft, Peter and Tacelli Ronald, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, 1994
4 Sproul, RC., The Mystery of the Holy Spirit, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc Wheaton Illinois, 1990, p. 103-104