We are definitely in to late summer and beginning to see signs of early fall. We are starting to see soybeans turning yellow. Wow! Has this summer gone by fast!
More often than any other, I have people point out that my writings are Calvinistic. Usually, it is when someone has an objection of sorts. I find this interesting in that I have read nothing of Calvin. I have, however, listened to lots and lots of sermons in which I often hear the term “reformed theology” used. From what I understand, “reformed” refers to the time and thinking of Luther and how he turned the world upside down. But his ideas weren’t his own new ideas; they were simply Luther opening up the bible and reading it for himself. He was reading the ideas of Paul, John, Peter, and all the writers of the bible, many whom wrote accounts of Jesus’ own words and others who wrote about what he said. This includes both the Old and New Testaments. After all, we have come to know that the bible is the inspired word of God. It is an autobiography.
When I started to really study the New Testament, I kept running into the term “elect”. In it there was a concept that stopped me every time I noticed it. What could that possibly mean? It seemed a contradiction to what I thought to be how I became saved – first from believing that I could be good enough to earn a spot in heaven to believing that I must “choose” Jesus for it. Then, I would read things like Jesus saying, “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” and all the talk of elect which was clear that God was choosing me. In fact, the idea of a chosen people is a central theme to the bible. We tend to think it applies specifically to the Hebrew nation, but it also includes the church of Jesus Christ.
None of this sits well with anyone. Why? For a couple reasons that I can think. First, we find great comfort in the idea that we have control of our destiny, even if it is something so simple as saying, “I believe.” Second, we are greatly troubled by the idea that some are not “elect.” From what I understand, some “elect” have abused that privilege by using this status to look down on the rest thereby creating a social class system out of the church. I have not personally seen this happen, but one hears about it enough to know that it is a real problem. I guess it is more prevalent is some areas of the country than others. This is typically in Calvinist churches; hence the reason people often refer to my writing as such. In any case, people just don’t like the term “elect” and are very closed-minded to even talking about it. This is a shame, because we have to skip over vast tracts of scripture in order to avoid it.
At its core, we all believe in the basis underlying the doctrine of election. How is that, you ask? We all believe that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal, and present everywhere. We believe that creation is His. We pray for his intervention in the world. In fact, it’s when we are the most desperate that we most earnestly turn to God. Even those who don’t believe will send out Facebook prayer requests when their mother or grandmother suddenly is gravely ill. We also pray that God will soften the hearts of non-believers so that they may accept the gospel. We instinctively know that God is able to do things that we are not able to do for ourselves. Furthermore, we instinctively know that God alone decides whether or not he will answer our prayers. Sure, we may curse him, but we all know it is his decision. Alone.
Then there is this troubling verse.
Romans 6:15-16 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
We take comfort in this at the funeral of the unbelieving relative, that God will hopefully look past all the stuff in the bible about needing to believe in order to be saved. We like to think our relative will indeed be waiting for us in heaven because God, indeed, is merciful. It HAS to be that way because we can’t bear the idea of the eternal damnation that the bible talks about over and over. But is that really what the bible means by this?
On the other hand, we find it very troubling to think that God might reject someone who DOES profess faith. How could a good person who goes to church all the time and does good things NOT make it to heaven? Is it possible for God to reject someone I think he should accept in to heaven? Indeed, there is reason to be troubled.
Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Huh? I could go on and on with verses that contradict our traditional understanding that one chooses God or that God somehow changes the rules for others at the moment of judgment. If you carefully read your bible, you know what I am talking about.
Where am I going with all this? It gets back to the mini-series that I think I will wrap up today. And what exactly was that? It has to do with how we present scripture. Let me repeat that original passage:
Galatians 1:6-10 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel in heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed. For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.
Do I have all the answers? Nope. All of us will err in our teaching. Even Peter did. However, we, especially teachers, had better be open to challenge and be willing to listen to sound argument that is based in scripture. If it is not grounded in the fullness of scripture, it is a teaching of man and not truth. Let’s take a look at Peter’s problem.
Galatians 2:11-14 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Peter stood corrected and apparently straightened out as evidenced from his canonized letters. Barnabas, on the other hand, disappears from scripture. I’m no expert, but Paul and Barnabas both went to Jerusalem (Acts 14:24-28, 15:1-41) where this bruhaha happened. Immediately after that, Paul separated permanently from Barnabas because Barnabas wanted to bring a man who had earlier deserted them. When we view both of these together, it makes one wonder if that was the last straw in Paul’s mind. It would seem that Paul could take no more from Barnabas.
What we teach and how we act are both very important.
Father, please show me what I am to share with others. Please, please correct me quickly if I fall into error. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Scott Powers