Gary Ray Branscome
For over four hundred years a controversy has raged between the
followers of John Calvin and the followers of Jacob Arminius. This
controversy centers around the doctrine of election, and it continues
to exist because both parties explain away any Bible passages that
contradict their own viewpoint. However, the subject is not an easy one
to deal with because election is something that took place in the mind
of God, and no man knows the mind of God. Therefore, while I intend to
show why Calvinism and Arminianism are both wrong, and to present a
Biblical alternative, I want to make it clear that I am not attempting
to recreate God’s point of view. Instead, I wish to show how a change
in our understanding of the order in which certain decisions were made
can determine whether our conclusions contradict Scripture or not.
Calvin’s theology rests heavily upon certain conclusions deduced from the words, “God has chosen us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:4). The problem with that theology stems from the fact that some of those conclusions contradict the Bible. Furthermore, instead of rejecting those conclusions because they contradict God's Word, Calvinists reject God's Word by explaining it away whenever it does not agree with those conclusions (Isaiah 8:20).
1- Calvinists hold that if God had chosen some to be saved, then He must not want to save those who were not chosen. That conclusion is wrong because the Bible plainly tells us that God wants all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, Ezekiel 33:11).
2- Calvinists also hold that if God had predetermined who should be saved, then Christ's death was only intended to atone for the sins of those whom God wanted to save. That conclusion is wrong because the Bible plainly tells us that Christ atoned for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2, John 1:29, 2Corinthians 5:19).
Jacob Arminius tried to correct certain problems inherent in Calvinist theology without really understanding what the root of those problems was. As a result he simply replaced one set of errors with another.
His theology tries to get around the words, “God has chosen us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world” by conditioning those words with certain assumptions as to why God chose some but not others (Ephesians 1:4). The problem with his theology stems from the fact that his assumptions (regarding free will) are not taught in Scripture, and lead to conclusions that contradict Scripture. Furthermore, instead of rejecting those conclusions because they contradict God's Word, he rejected God's Word by explaining it away whenever it did not agree with his own reasoning (Isaiah 8:20).
1- Arminius assumed that God's choice of certain individuals unto salvation (before the foundation of the world) was based upon His foreseeing that they would respond to his call. Then, on the basis of that assumption, he decided that God selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. However, we know that that is wrong, because the Bible plainly tells us that faith is a gift of God and that without God's help no one could or would believe (1Corinthians 12:3, Ephesians 2:8, John 6:44).
2- Arminius also decided that if God chose to save those whom He knew would believe, it follows that every sinful, lost human being has within himself the ability to choose to believe or reject the gospel. However, that conclusion is also wrong because the Bible tells us that, “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Ghost.” (1Corinthians 12:3)
Because the view of Arminius makes salvation dependent upon a choice made by man, it shifts salvation from what Christ did to what we do. As a result, Christ is not seen as saving us, but instead as making it possible for us to save ourselves by freely choosing to believe. For that reason, every Christian should condemn it (Galatians 1:6-9).
Calvin's basic premise (the belief that God has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world), is stated in Scripture (Ephesians 1:4). However, the fact that some of the conclusions drawn from that premise contradict God's Word, indicates that those conclusions are rooted in a false understanding of that premise (a false understanding of what the Bible says about election). Therefore, in order to have the correct doctrine, we must start with a correct understanding of what the Bible says about election. We can determine if our understanding is correct, by taking a view that does not lead to conclusions that contradict the Bible.
For example: If we assume that God first decided to save certain people and afterward decided to send Christ to die for the sins of those He wanted to save, we would draw the same unbiblical conclusions that Calvin did. However, if we hold that God first decided to send Christ to die for the sins of all men, and then, because no human could or would believe without His help, chose to bring us to faith through the preaching of the gospel, we will not draw those unbiblical conclusions.
Therefore, a Biblical view of election starts with the fact that God did not want man to sin in the first place. However, because God knew that man would sin, He decided from eternity to send Christ to die for the sins of all mankind. Furthermore, since no one would ever know that Christ had died for their sins without divine revelation, He also decided to cause the Bible to be written and the gospel to be preached. And finally, knowing that no man left to himself could or would believe, He determined to bring untold millions of people to faith (in spite of their resistance) through the preaching of the Word. This view of election does not lead to false conclusions, but instead agrees with everything that the Bible says.
1- It agrees with those passages of Scripture which tell us that Christ died for the sins of all men. (1 John 2:2, 2 Corinthians 5:19, John 1:29)
2- It agrees with the passages of Scripture that tell us that God wants all men to be saved. (1 Timothy 2:4, Ezekiel 18:23,32, Ezekiel 33:11)
3- It agrees with the passages of Scripture that tell us that faith is a gift of God and no one would or could believe without God's help. (Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 Corinthians 12:3)
4- It agrees with the passages of Scripture that tell us that no man is saved unless God chooses to save him. (John 6:44, John 6:65, Romans 8:28-30, Romans 11:7)
5- It agrees with all of those passages that tell us that the lost are lost because of their own fault, not because God wanted them to be lost. (Matthew 23:37, Romans 10:21, 1 Timothy 2:4)
6- And, it even agrees with the passages of Scripture that indicate that we have a free will or must make a choice, because from our point of view it does look like we are making a choice. However, we know from Scripture that without God's help no man would ever make the right choice. (Revelation 3:20, Joshua 24:15, Hebrews 3:7-8, 2 Corinthians 3:5)
7- Finally, it agrees with what the Bible says about time and chance playing a role in salvation. For if you think about it, a man born in seventeenth century England would have a far better chance of being saved than a man born in seventeenth century Algeria, or first century England. (Ecclesiastes 9:11)
Calvinists err because they put God's choice of who should be saved (election) prior to His decision to provide atonement for the sins of mankind. Arminians err because they place God's choice of who should be saved (election) after faith (that is after He knew that a person would believe). The Biblical doctrine that I have presented avoids those errors by placing God's election between God's decision to provide atonement, and His bestowal of the gift of faith.