I found a coalition of house churches. They sounded pretty awesome, so I emailed the closest one, which is about an hour and a half away.
I like a lot of things they do, but honestly I cannot endure this part of the response I got:
I would like to let you know that we believe that Jesus Christ truly saved his people from their sins and that the gospel is indeed good news to those he has saved. … We believe in the absolute predestination of all things including the evil works of men. We do not believe God loves every human but his elect vessels are afore prepared for glory and the children of the devil are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction that no flesh will glory in His presence. (emphasis added)
He added, in an effort to be honest with me up front, which I commend …
I share this plainly because very few today in so called Christianity believe these precious truths anymore which were once believed and preached as you know in this very country.
Yes, I do know it was once believed and preached in this very country. It was invented in Germany and Switzerland and transported here. Yes, Augustine dreamed up the seminal form of it based on his own experience, but it was so against the preaching of the church that even the renowned bishop of Hippo could not get the church to hold on to it in his time. That doctrine would have to wait for an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther to revive it in the early 16th century.
As far “precious truth,” I want to state plainly and vehemently that it is not truth at all, much less precious truth. This sort of election disparages the Father of our Lord Jesus, the God of the apostles, and the God of our fathers in the faith.
The only way to come to a falsehood like double predestination (the idea that both the sheep and the goats are predestined to be so by the eternal will of God) is by a method of thinking that has plagued the church since the Reformation.
The Argument Against Double Predestination
A friend of mine recently wrote, “This is so clear only a theologian could get it wrong.”
We train our people in a bizarre method of Bible interpretation, that no sane person would ever embrace if it weren’t slipped in on them bit by bit by the traditions that are infused into our churches. It frustrates me because it is so dishonest, but it’s so widespread that it’s hard to imagine people are being that dishonest on purpose.
There are numerous verses directly contradicting the idea that God wants only some to be saved or that there is anyone that he has predestined for condemnation.
- 2 Pet. 3:9: “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise … but he is patient toward us, not wanting anyone to perish, but that everyone should come to repentance.”
- 1 Jn. 2:2: “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
- 1 Tim. 4:10: “We trust in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe. These things command and teach.”
- 1 Tim. 2:5-6: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus the Anointed, who gave himself as a ransom for all.”
- Rom. 5:18: “Just as through the offense of one, condemnation resulted to everyone, even so through the righteousness of one there resulted justification of life to everyone.”
- Jn. 1:29: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
- Jn. 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life.”
- Rom. 5:8: “But God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, the Anointed One died for us.”
It’s not only as bad as this. It is worse.
On every page of the Bible we find an attitude of “find everyone, reach everyone.”
Think of Jesus’ parables, especially of the marriage feast in Matthew 22:1-14. The king invited those who in his kingdom, but when they didn’t come, he wound up inviting every traveler he could find in his country. Yes, one of those travelers was rejected, but it was for not properly dressing for a wedding feast, not for being foreign to the kingdom.
You can be left out of the kingdom of God, but over and over Jesus and the apostles blame that choice upon us. A very similar verse to the parable of the wedding feast is Rev. 3:4, where most of the church in Sardis had defiled their garments. Only those “few” who had not were going to walk with Jesus in white.
Then there is the parable of the sower, the first and most famous of Jesus’ parables. Where was the Word sown? It was sown everywhere, including in the same places that the king wound up sending invitations in the parable of the wedding feast: the highways and byways. Yes, when the seed fell on bad ground, including the hard, indifferent, worn-down byways, it was rejected; however, that was not the result of being predestined not to believe. It is not God who stole away the seed, but the devil. It was not God who caused the shallow and the weedy to fall away, it was persecution and troubles.
The Reach of the Gospel
Who was the Gospel supposed to be preached to? According to Jesus it was to “every creature” in “all the world” (Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16).
Page by page by page throughout all the Scriptures, both the Hebrew Scriptures and the apostles’ writings, you will never find any sort of attitude that says, “There are some that excluded.” You will never find it being preached; you will never find anyone acting like some are hopelessly predestined for hell.
>Punishment for Those That Cannot Repent?
The God who is love predestined some of his creation to eternal torment for not believing a Gospel that it was impossible for them to believe?
If some have absolutely no hope, how can we possible call it love for Paul to say, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those that do not know God and that do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:7-8)? It is love to pour this kind of wrath upon those for whom it is absolutely impossible to obey?
The Argument for Double Predestination
With so much glaringly against the idea that anyone at all is predestined to be lost, condemned, and subject to the fiery vengeance of God, where did this idea even come from?
First and foremost, it is from taking the idea that we are too weak to enter the kingdom of God too far. We were too weak to enter the kingdom of God. We were to weak to overcome our flesh (Rom. 7). But that has changed (Rom. 8).
Indeed, God helps us to overcome, but that does not happen automatically. Perhaps the best “symbiotic” verse there is, showing that God works with us rather than overcoming our will, is Philippians 2:12-13:
Therefore, my beloved, as you have alway obeyed … work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.
But it is not the only one:
For this purpose I labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily. (Col. 1:29)
God enables us, but the choice to obey is left in our hands.
That’s why there are commandments. If God did everything for us, then to what purpose are commandments complete with promises of rewards and threats of punishment?
And if you haven’t noticed, every New Testament letter has lots of them.
The Theological Mind and Turning Exceptions into Rules
There are some exceptions. The Bible says that Pharaoh was predestined by God to be a vessel of wrath. There are arguments that can be made that Pharaoh hardened his own heart before God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but I think it’s very hard to deny that God intended for Pharaoh, before he was ever born, to be in his position solely for the purpose of being Israel’s enemy and being defeated.
God is the Potter; we’re the clay. He’s allowed to do that.
Another exception is Jacob and Esau, although that is not much of an exception. The Scriptures say that God hated Esau and loved Jacob before they were born, but we have to take the use of hated and loved the same way we do in Luke 14:26 (where we are told to hate our families). There are places in the prophets where Israel is told to treat Edom (the descendants of Esau) with mercy because they are Israel’s brother.
The passages about Jacob and Esau are unquestionable about God choosing Jacob as the father of his chosen people over Esau. He did that before they were born. This does not mean that Esau and all his descendants perish forever in hellfire. There are no Scriptures that indicate this, and there are lots of Scriptures that show us this is not God’s nature. For example, Ruth was from Moab, and the Law expels them from Israel for ten generations, yet Ruth, long before 10 generations since she was Rahab’s granddaughter-in-law, was admitted not only to the commonwealth of Israel, but to the lineage of the Messiah!
The Jews and Gentiles
Of course, the ultimate exception, the one that all Calvinists appeal to, is Romans 9-11. In Romans 9, Paul argues that God can make whatever choices he wants, and he appeals to the unusual situations of Pharaoh and Jacob and Esau.
But what is Paul defending? Is Paul arguing that God now chooses who is saved and who perishes randomly, by a roll of cosmic dice? Is Paul arguing that God, unlike his Son, is a respecter of persons, and that he is partial to some and against others for no reason at all?
Of course he is not. He spends three chapters explaining exactly what he means. God has rejected the Israelites—because they killed the prophets and God’s Son (Matt. 21:33-43), not because he predestined them to be rejected—and he has chosen the Gentiles … for a time. He did this specifically because he is not the God of Calvinism. He wants everyone, Gentiles and Jews, to be saved, so he has partially hardened the Jews for a time so that he can bring in the fullness of the Gentiles. This, says Paul, will provoke the Jews to jealousy, so that after the time of the Gentiles, they will be brought back to the one tree, to the Lord of All, to Jesus the Messiah.
As Paul puts it:
For as you in times past have not believed God, yet now you have obtained mercy through their unbelief, even so these also have now not believed so that through your mercy they may also obtain mercy. For God has included them all in unbelief so that he might have mercy upon them all. (Rom. 11:30-32)
How Does Anyone Miss This? Cherry-picking Verses
I mentioned a mindset that plagues Protestants. Let’s directly address it because it is not just the Calvinists who pick verses here and there.
The Calvinists do it. There are verses that mention predestination here and there, and they love to quote them.
However, without a Protestant, theological approach to the Scriptures, you are not going to get Calvinism out of those predestination verses. Someone who has not been theologically trained to pick isolated phrases from Scripture is going to wonder why the Gospel is always presented as though it is for everyone. They are going to wonder why the Scriptures say repeatedly that the will of God is to see everyone come to repentance. Then they are going to ask what those predestination verses mean.
They’re simple enough.
A couple talk about being predestined to other things than salvation. Those of us who are being saved are predestined to be conformed to the image of King Jesus (Rom. 8:29). God has a purpose, and it is not for us to be evangelists and nothing else. It is for us to become just like Jesus. That is the primary work that God has for us on this earth. As a result, that was the utter devotion and goal of the apostle Paul (Php. 3:8-10), and the goal he wanted all the rest of us to have (Php. 3:15). He even described the route to that goal (Eph. 4:11-16).
He puts this a little differently in Ephesians 1:9-12, where he tells us that we are predestinated according to a purpose. That purpose is to gather together everything in the Anointed One.
Predestination is not predestination to be saved. It is predestination of the elect of God to be conformed to the image of Jesus, the Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many siblings.
Paul tells us that the source of this predestination is foreknowledge (Rom. 8:29). It is those whom he foreknew that he predestines to be conformed to the image of Jesus. Peter repeats this, saying we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:2).
Foreknowledge is not so easy. I have my own opinions, but foreknowledge is not explained. The Scriptures simply tell us that we are predestined according to foreknowledge.
At the very least, this tells us that God knows something in advance. Some argue that he knows what will happen to those who believe and continue in belief. Therefore, if we continue to believe, we remain among the elect and predestined.
That’s a little mystical, so others simply say that God knows the end from the beginning. Isaiah says this is true of God, and it would mean that he knows the final decision all of us will make. Those whom he foreknows will continue to the end, those are the saved, and they are predestined to a certain end based on God’s foreknowledge.
Others, arguing from a Calvinistic viewpoint, say that foreknowledge is the same as predetermination. If God knows what is going to happen, then he made it happen.
The trickiest verse—in fact, the only tricky verse on this subject—is Acts 13:48. There Luke talks like a Calvinist. He tells us that “as many as were appointed/ordained/assigned to eternal life believed.”
The Greek word is tasso. There is no prefix to translate into the English prefix “pre-.” The word should not be translated “predetermination” like some translations do, but it should be “assigned” or “appointed.”
This is not much different than predetermination, and I don’t want to use it as an argument against the obvious meaning of Acts 13:48. I do want to point out that Luke avoided using any Greek word that directly means predestination or predetermination.
Why are only certain ones appointed to eternal life? Why do only those believe?
If this were the only verse we had in Scripture, then it would be possible to interpret this to mean that God is a respecter of persons, partial to some and against others. It would be possible to interpret this to mean that God randomly chose some to believe and some not to believe.
It is, however, the only verse in all of Scripture that even hints at such an idea, and there are other ways to interpret this verse that fit what the rest of Scripture says.
We have direct statements that those who are predestined to be like Jesus are called, justified, and glorified as well. Thus, the most obvious interpretation of Acts 13:48 is that it means the same thing that Romans 8:29-30 means. God foreknew some, and it is those who are called, who believe, and who are justified.
Luke is saying, “As many as are in the pattern Paul described in Romans 8, which begins with God’s foreknowledge, those are the ones who believe Paul’s message. God knows the ones who would not believe, and they are not appointed for eternal life. Only the ones who are foreknown are ordained to glorification.”
The Tenor of Scripture
I have spent perhaps too much time explaining the issue with Calvinism. I’m not trying to convince you that Calvinism is wrong. I’m trying to convince you that you already know Calvinism is wrong.
We think that the teachings of God are established by picking this verse and that verse, then combining them together into an argument. I want to free you from that thought.
There are things that are obvious in Scripture. We would all see it if we weren’t trained to miss it and hold to traditions backed up by cherry-picked verses instead.
Let me pick on the Roman Catholics as an example. They pull passages from almost early church fathers to justify their overboard veneration of Mary. The passages they pull are from much later church fathers than I would give any authority to, but the point goes deeper than that.
Read through the writings of the apostles. If no one said anything to you in advance, would you have any idea that Christians ought to make statues of Mary and bow down to them? Would you get the idea from any apostolic writing that anyone anywhere prayed to Mary after she died, or to any other dead saint for that matter?
You would find the same thing in the writings of the early church fathers, the ones that were within three centuries of Jesus. None of them give us a hint that anyone prayed to saints or had some particular devotion to Mary. In fact, you will find all sorts of warnings to beware of directing worship to statues and images, no matter who those statues and images represented.
It’s no different with Calvinism. If you read through the Gospels and the letters from the apostles, you’ll find nothing that would give you the idea that the Jesus didn’t die for everyone or that the Gospel is not for everyone or that God picks out certain people to be saved. Every page of Scripture would teach you something contrary to that. God longs to see everyone come to repentance, but they refuse.
Jesus even mourned over the Jews who are said to be hardened (partially) by God. After he was forced to reject them, Jesus looked upon Jerusalem and mourned out loud, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! You who kill the prophets and stone them who are sent to you! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her chickens underwing, but you would not!” (Matt. 23:37).
This was not the will of God. This was the will of man, foreknown by God, but mourned over nonetheless by Jesus.
Over and over you will find God and his Son Jesus pleading with men to repent and threatening eternal death to those who will not.
Do we really think it is sensible, much less wise, to cherry pick a couple verses and develop a doctrine that violates everything we read in Scripture?
I hope none of my readers do, but there are a lot of others who have no problem reading the Scriptures that way.
Ignoring the Utterly Blind
Some people are so in love with the traditions handed to them that they beg and plead with the rest of us to shut off our reason and accept their interpretation of Scripture. They pull out this verse and that verse, sure that we are going to see their reasoning. If you point out their error, they quickly switch to another verse, pulled out of context and disagreeing with the whole tenor of Scripture. If you keep replying, they accuse you of doing what they are doing.
Such people are not worth talking with. They will confuse you, make you wonder if they’re right, and continue poking you with Scripture until you think you are crazy and unable to reason for yourself.
Don’t let it happen. The Scriptures were written for simple folk who have the Spirit of God to rejoice in the love of God towards them. You can understand Scripture as it is written, at least the great themes of Scripture. And you can do so with just the smallest bit of training.