Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: predestination

Free will

We must believe in free will — we have no choice. Isaac Bashevis Singer.

Hmm. I wonder what he was getting at? Having nothing more to go on to discern a more complex meaning in Mr. Singer’s thought than this fragment, I will say that I agree.

When Moses told the people “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life;” and Joshua later said to the same people “ Choose you this day whom ye will serve,” we must assume that the people really were free to make the choices offered to them.

Yet many Christian denominations, probably most, teach that we do not have free will to choose our own destiny. They magnify the sovereignty of God to the point of saying that if humans can choose whether or not to answer God’s call then we are saying that God is less than almighty.

But if words mean anything, the Bible is offering us just such a choice, from Genesis to Revelation. Where then do people get the idea that the Bible doesn’t mean what it says?

Determinism, the belief that the gods, karma, fate, or whatever you want to call the ultimate power in the universe, have pre-determined every detail of one’s life, has always been part of Eastern religions. It entered Western thought through Zeno, founder of the Stoic school of philosophy.

It entered pseudo-Christian thought through Augustine, who laid the intellectual foundation for Roman Catholic policy. Augustine adapted Zeno’s thought, saying that God has predestined some people to be saved, and some to be damned. Since it is not given to mankind to know into which category they fall, the church has the right to compel all people within its territory to be members of the church and to turn the non-compliant over to the civil authorities. And since the church and the civil power were in complete unity, disobedience to the church was treason to the state and must be punished by death.

Since it could not be known who was predestined to salvation or damnation, then one could not discern that by the moral conduct of the person. In fact, those who led a pure and holy life were deemed to be deceived and the worst of heretics. This led to such aberrations in the Middle Ages as girls being led to the executioner because they refused the advances of the priests.

During the Protestant Reformation, John Calvin refined the doctrine of Augustine; the essence of Calvin’s doctrine is often described by the TULIP formula:
Total depravity – the depravity of mankind prevents them from choosing to answer God’s call.
Unconditional election – The conduct of the elect has no part in determining their salvation.
Limited atonement – Christ only died for the elect, those predestined to be saved.
Irresistible grace – the grace of God is imparted to the elect, who have no power to resist it.
Perseverance of the saints – The elect can never lose their salvation.

This is the explicit doctrine of the Presbyterian, Reformed and most Baptist churches. Other churches believe much of what Calvin taught, but may be a bit nebulous about the origin of their beliefs.

The problem with believing Calvin’s doctrine is that church pews are occupied by people who believe that they have been born again through the irresistible grace of the Holy Spirit, but show little evidence of leading a Christian life. The old Westminster Confession got around this by saying that a born again person may take many years to develop an assurance of salvation. The modern teaching is that the new birth and conversion are quite different things, the new birth being instantaneous and conversion being a slow, almost imperceptible process.

The Bible makes no such distinction, the words are used interchangeably. There was a transition period for the disciples who walked with Jesus but did not receive the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost. Jesus told Peter “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” It was only a few days later that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were baptized. After that, the Apostle Paul says “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”

Some may be confused by Paul’s thoughts on predestination. Read the passages as a whole. He is saying that God had predestined that there should be no more division between Jews and Gentiles, but that all could be saved in the same way. He is not speaking of individuals being predestined to salvation. At the end of one long passage on predestination, he writes: “What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.”

Eternal security or insecurity?

Evangelicals of the present day are being taught a doctrine of eternal security, but most are not aware of the dubious foundation and history of this doctrine. Here is how it all began.

In 312 AD Constantine was facing a battle with a rival whose army was twice the size of Constantine’s.  The story goes that the night before the battle Constantine had a dream or a vision of the cross and the words “In this sign conquer.”  The next day he went into battle with the sign of the cross on the shields and standards of his army, and routed his rival.  Thus began the transition of the early church from a body of born-again believers to a state religion.

In 313 Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, granting freedom of religion to Christians in his empire.  In 317 he mediated a dispute between the Donatist church and the Roman church and issued an edict confiscating all the religious property of the Donatists and deposing their religious leaders.  In 325 he summoned the leaders of the Roman church to the Council of Nicaea to establish doctrinal standards for the church.

Constantine favoured Christianity as a means of bringing stability to the Roman Empire, therefore he watched over the church to guide it in the direction he desired.  He died in 337 AD and the Roman Catholic church, the only permitted form of Christianity under Constantine, went on to establish its authority over the Empire, requiring all citizens to be baptized into the church in infancy.

This was contrary to the apostolic faith and required a man of genius to establish a doctrinal foundation to justify the establishment of a state religion form of Chrisitanity.  This man was Augustine of Hippo, Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 AD.  Augustine was the first to speak of an invisible church, that true Christians are an invisible body known only to God, and no one can know who among the members of the visible church are genuine Christians.

The doctrine of a just war originates with Augustine, also the doctrine that the church has a right to compel people within its territory to be baptized and to prevent them by force from leaving the church.

It was found necessary to develop a new doctrine of the means by which Jesus obtained forgiveness of sins for fallen man.  The Biblical doctrine that He was the second Adam, the Son of God from heaven and the spotless Lamb of God whose sacrifice atoned for our sins was replaced.  The new teaching was that Jesus was one part the son of Mary and one part the Son of God and that it was the son of Mary who died on the cross, then descended into hell and suffered unbelievable torments equivalent to the eternal punishment of all who would ever be saved.  It was at this time that the phrase “descended into hell” was added to the Apostles’ Creed.  The version of the Apostles’ Creed found in the Martyrs Mirror is the original version, lacking this phrase.  Thus the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is based on the belief that Christ has already borne the punishment due to the elect, so there is no way they can ever face damnation.

Augustine taught that God had predestined before the beginning of time those who should be saved and those who should be lost.  The elect were then called by Irresistible Grace, by which they could not refuse the call to salvation.  And to these God granted perseverance, the grace to remain saved throughout their life.  This doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, originating with Augustine, is the basis of the doctrine of eternal security, or once saved, always saved.

Augustine also taught the perpetual virginity of Mary.  This is why many commentators have a problem declaring that James, Jude and Joses were the natural sons of Joseph and Mary and try to develop alternate explanations of who they might be.

Augustine also taught that the sacraments are a means of grace and that they are a means of grace even if the priest administering them is a known sinner.

John Calvin was a follower of Augustine, he strove to reform the church by emphasizing the doctrines first taught by Augustine.  The followers of Calvin are not only found in the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, but also in the Southern Baptists, and other Baptist and evangelical denominations.  Churches vary in how strongly they teach Calvinism, but the most straightforward teaching is five point Calvinism, encapsulated in the TULIP formula:
T – Total depravity, man is so completely depraved that he has no ability to choose to be saved.
U – Unconditional election, salvation is not dependent on the conduct of the one who is saved.
L – Limited Atonement, Christ died only for those predestined to be saved.
I – Irresistible grace, man has no power to refuse the call to salvation.
P – Perseverance of the saints, those who are predestined to salvation can never be lost.

Many sincere Christians today believe that a person who has once given his heart to the Lord can never again be lost.  If one approaches the Bible with a predetermined belief that it teaches the unconditional eternal security of believers, it is possible to select verses to support this view, but such an interpretation is not apparent if one takes an unbiased approach to the Bible as a whole.

Proponents of this view are forced into a corner when trying to explain real life examples of those who have led overcoming Christian lives for years and then made choices that led them away from God.  Such people were never truly saved in the first place, they maintain.  If that would be the case, on what basis can anyone know that they are saved?  It appears to me that people who say such things have chosen a doctrine of eternal insecurity.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts

Among the gifts bestowed upon us by the ancient Greeks there are many that are without a doubt of priceless value, such as democracy.  But there are others that were better left outside the gates, as the Trojan horse should have been.

Astrology is one.  Yet the belief persists among many today that the sign of the zodiac under which we were born determines our personality and the course and outcome of our lives.

The second is the pseudo-science of the four temperaments, based on the idea that our moods, emotions and behaviours are caused by body fluids, or “humours”: blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm.  As expounded by its modern adherents, the theory seems to explain a lot about our behaviour.  The problem is that it explains too much: we analyse our friends and put them into the proper pigeon-holes and interpret everything they say and do by the label on the pigeon-hole.

Psychology is the third.  “Psyche” is the Greek word for soul.  Psychology is the attempt to intellectually understand the workings of the soul and to bring healing to the troubled soul by therapeutic means.

The fourth and last is predestination.  The belief that some cosmic force has predetermined the entire course of our life before we were born goes back as least as far as Zeno and Plato.

Do you see the common thread in all of this?  The Greeks are trying to tell us “It’s not your fault!”  You are not to blame for any of the things that have gone wrong in your life, it was all caused by the stars, the humours in your body, or some other cosmic force.

But if nothing is our fault, there is nothing we can ever do to make things different.  We can’t repent of being born under the wrong star, or having the wrong temperament.  But we can repent of making wrong choices and doing bad things.  That is what the Bible tells us to do.  Beware of Greeks bearing gifts that would lead us away from this truth.

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