This blog is sort of a part two to yesterdays blog regarding how God saves. In my previous blog, I wrote about two specific forms of theology that deal with the concept of salvation and more specifically, predestination. The word predestination alone has caused more controversy than another other doctrine in Christian history. Some pastors and evangelist choose to purposely avoid texts of scripture that mention the word. And if someone does mention predestination, many christians will look at them as if they have just said a terrible curse word. The doctrine of predestination is feared, hated, shunned, and ignored. But regardless of how one feels about this topic, it is scattered all throughout the Bible as God draws attention to the subject.
One of the biggest reasons I see that we tend to shy away from this topic is that we dont want to see God as how he really is. It sounds harsh, but its true. We want to cling to this picture of a God who is for us as his first priority. We love sermons that will promise us that God wants to give us health and wealth if we would only “claim it” in Jesus name. We want a God that looks and acts more like a genie in a bottle. So throughout history, humanity has given God an Extreme Makeover. We’ve ignored and glazed over the scriptures the speak of Gods divine will and sovereignty in exchange for a message that leads us to believe he exists to serve us. Where as prayer was originally viewed by the disciples as a way for them to draw closer to Gods will, we now view prayer, as John Piper once said, as an intercom system to order all the comforts and selfish desires of life.
One of the things that sends chills down my spine is to hear a fellow believer tell someone who is going through a hard time, “Just claim the promises of God and he will heal you!” And God does choose to heal sometimes. But what if he doesnt heal the cancer? What if he doesnt mend the marriage? And you’ve been told that if you claim Gods promises, he will give you what you want. So then what happens? You begin to doubt your faith. You believed. You claimed Gods promise to heal your situation. And the outcome still was devastating. I dont know where our culture ever God the idea that if we just pray hard enough or have enough faith that God will give us a life full of sunshine and roses. Maybe its because we have so many false teachers in the world preaching a false gospel like Creflo Dollar and Joel Osteen. They encourage people to have more faith because that, according to them, is the key to a blessed life.
If having more faith and praying more intimately is the universal key to God blessing us with a life of ease, then why didnt it work with John the Baptist? Jesus called him the greatest of all men past, present, and future. He was unbelievably faithful to God. Yet he lived his life in the wilderness, people thought he was a lunatic, and eventually got beheaded. So much for claiming the promises of God. Yet we have the audacity to think that we deserve better. We can take it a step farther. Our savior Jesus Christ. He is the king of the universe but came to earth and was outcast and lived in poverty. Every believer says that they just want to be like Jesus. But do they really?
A great misconception in the church today is the teaching that Jesus is about you and me. An even greater misconception is that Jesus ultimate goal on the cross was to die for our sins. Yes Jesus loves us. Yes, Jesus went to the cross to become the atoning sacrifice for our sins. But dying for you and I was not the ultimate goal of the cross. Ultimately, Jesus didnt die for you. Jesus died for God. Jesus died so that God’s wrath would be satisfied and in turn, God would be glorified. Yes Jesus died for us. But we are secondary. The cross, the death of Christ, the resurrection, and the proclamation of the gospel are all first and foremost about the glory of God. It has never been about us. Its always been about God.
As Christians, we must be willing to set aside our comfortable picture of American Christianity and really seek to know who God says he is. If I had a friend who lived in a third world country that wrote me a long letter telling me about himself, and I skimmed over the letter, skipping certain parts of it all together, then I would only know him in part. We do the same thing with Gods word. We gravitate towards the parts verses that make us feel warm and fuzzy, and ignore the harder portions of scripture.
Predestination is one such example of this. Again, know that I dont consider myself a Calvinist or an Arminianist. (Look at yesterdays blog for more on these doctrines). Both of these camps are centered around how to interpret how God saves. The Calvinist says God does the choosing and man is so spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-2), that he doesnt have the capacity to come to God unless God first draws him (John 6:44.). The Arminianist says that man does have the free will to either choose or deny God.
Naturally, our human nature tends to gravitate more towards wanting to believe that we have free will to choose or deny God. Thats how I grew up believing…that it was my choice. And when I first began to study the Calvinistic view point that God is sovereign over all things including salvation, and that it was God chose me, not I who chose him, I fought against it for about a year. It didnt sit well with me that I had nothing to do with saving myself. I wanted to just ignore predestination. I wished Id never seen or heard of it. But once my mind had been opened, I began to see that it was all over the Bible. I couldn’t escape it. And once I slowly began to understand it, I began to see a deeper level of Gods love through his sovereign choice.
To begin to grasp this concept, I think its important that we look back in church history to see where this doctrine actually got its roots. If you want to know about your earthly family, you trace your roots in a family tree. And if you want to know about your Heavenly family, you look first in scripture and then to the history of Godly men that have come before us. Kind of like a divine family tree.
John Calvin is given most of the credit for the Calvinistic view of predestination. But many dont know that John Calvin just put his name atop a doctrine that had been around for a very long time. The church itself began to seriously investigate the doctrine of predestination around the fourth century. It began to be explored by Saint Augustine of Hippo. He was a latin philosopher and theologian from the African province of the Roman empire and is considered to be one of the top Christian thinkers of all time. Augustine believed that Christ was supremely sovereign over all things including human salvation. St. Augustine recognized Gods sovereignty in scripture centuries before John Calvin.
Augustine was involved in a time of debate with a monk named Pelagius. Pelagius opposed the idea of predestination and asserted a strong version of the doctrine of free will. Pelagius was accused by Augustine and others of denying the human need for God and rather relying on themselves and their good works. According to Pelagius, man was not originally fallen from birth like and didnt inherit Adams sinful nature, and he claimed that although it was hard, a human could full fill the laws of God without aid from God. Pelagius was eventually declared a heretic by the Council of Carthage. His interpretation of free will in the doctrine of predestination became known as Pelagianism, and eventually morphed into Arminianism. This was the first big dispute the church had run into regarding the doctrine of fallen man. And ever since this incident, the battle over Gods sovereignty and mans free will has been a hot button in churches all throughout the ages. I do find it interesting that in many Christian circles today, Calvinism is considered heretical. Yet centuries ago, it was the reformed view of predestination that was considered right and the doctrine of free will was heresy.
Centuries later after the Augustine/Pelagius debates, a movement called semi-pelagianism arose in the 6th century. They did not deny original sin as Pelagius did, and recognized that we were all born into sin. But they still strongly believed in the fact that man could initiate and a choice in his salvation process. This belief was also condemned as a heresy in the year 529 at the Council of Orange, but it wasnt until the 17th century that this debate came to its greatest point yet.
In the late 1400’s, a German monk and theologian by the name of Martin Luther came onto the scene. Luther taught that salvation was not earned through works or human decision, but rather Gods grace was a gift (Ephesians 2:8) through faith in Jesus Christ. Luther split from the Roman Catholic church because he disagreed with the Pope arguing that the Bible was the only source of Divine knowledge. Similarly to the debate between Augustine and Pelagius, Luther stood opposed to a Dutch Renaissance, Catholic Priest, and religious scholar named Desiderius Erasmus, or more widely known as Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus, like Pelagius centuries earlier, believed in the freedom of mans will to choose God.
Luther wrote a letter to Erasmus stating, “The Freedom of the Will Does Not Exist.” Although Erasmus disagreed with Luther’s viewpoint regarding predestination, he had great respect for Martin Luther. Erasmus wrote of Luther, “He is a mighty Trumpet of Gospel truth.” Erasmus wrote a book called “The Freedom of The Will.” To which Martin Luther responded with his own book entitled, “The Bondage of The Will.” Their debate centered around justification by faith and imputed righteousness. The other points of disagreement included the sufficiency of scripture and salvation by faith alone. These five points of dispute between the Catholic church and the Reformers are expounded in “The Five Solas of The Reformation.
The teachings of John Calvin came onto the scene in the mid 1500’s. Calvin held a very high view of God and believed sternly in Gods sovereign choice and not mans free will. Years after Calvin had died in the mid to late 1500’s, a man named Jacob Arminius began teaching contrary to the Reformers and picked up where Erasmus had left off, preaching freedom of human will to choose. A year after Arminius died, his followers took his teachings and compiled them into the Remonstrance. These teachings became known as The Five Points of Arminianism.
John Calvin’s followers later retorted with their own five points, called The Five Points of Calvinism. The English Reformation birthed a group of Calvinist determined to have religious freedom. So they made the move to America and became known as The Puritans. They brought their reformed views on salvation to America and settled in New England (The Mayflower). The transplanting of their theological beliefs would have a major impact on the colonization of America.
The Puritans began to have disagreements on how the church should be run. They split into two camps, the Presbyterians and the Congregationalist (or Baptist). In the mid 18th Century, the first Great Awakening was spurred on by Calvinist. Reformers Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield were leaders in this movement. These men held the Augustinian or Calvinistic view of salvation. They were countered by John Wesley, who as Erasmas and Pelagias before him, believed in the free will of man. And it was at this point in time where John Wesley made popular the Arminian view of salvation that swept over our nation in the centuries that would come up into our current times.
But we are in a time where the Augustinian/Calvinistic doctrine is seeing a great revival as more and more Christians look to the history of reformed theology to gain an understanding to why they believe what they believe. Thats a huge problem today. We believe things about our faith because we are told. Seldom do we search out truth on our own to determine why we believe certain doctrines. Jesus never said to take things at face value.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”1 John 4:1.
Jesus said in the Psalms that we are to seek him with all of our hearts. To seek out his truth. I dont think his idea of seeking would be sitting in church for an hour a week. How sad is it that many Americans could tell you the history of their favorite baseball team tracing back all the way to the founding of the team, but can’t articulate why they believe what they believe regarding their own faith in Christ. We claim to love God, but often times our true heart is exposed by the knowledge we seek. Doctrines like predestination are an alarm in our culture today. But it wasnt always this way. The concept of mans free will was once skimmed over and fought against just as the concept of Gods sovereign will is challenged today. We cant know everything about God. But we can know some things very well through the Bible and a study of Christian history. Dont build a faith based on a weekly sermon. Test it for yourself. Seek God for yourself. And you will realize that Jesus Christ is an even bigger and more loving God than you ever thought possible. He’s more than just a Sunday school story God. Jesus is ultimate reality And he is greater than many Christians have taken the time to realize.