I was talking with some church members over dinner about the doctrine of predestination. I represent the classical Calvinist view and a friend of mine, another minister, represents the Armenian view (most commonly associated with Methodism).
Jerry Andrews (First Presbyterian Church, San Diego) stated in a plenary session here at the Fellowship of Presbyterians conference that perhaps 10% of those in attendance (including himself) adhere to a classical Calvinistic understanding of Predestination. I was surprised and doubted that it was so few. I was silly.
As I explained that Presbyterians believe that God not only knows what will happen ahead of time (foreknowledge) he also deciders ahead of time (foreordination). In other words–God is sovereign.
Armenians believe that God knows what will happen (he foreknows) but that the decision to believe is the product of the free (the definition of free here being that the individual can say yes or no) will of the person. This is a largely modern understanding of “freedom.”
Calvinist also believe that God knows the future. We go beyond this to claim that the Scripture teaches that God decides what will come to pass, but that He does so without being the author of sin.
This deciding about the future includes whether or not individuals will be united with Christ in saving faith. Those who are chosen are elected to union with Christ. Those who are not chosen are therefore reprobated (passed over). This decision making is known only to God and is a mystery too profound for us to penetrate. In formulating this doctrine, the Reformed tradition is seeking to make sense of a lot of passages of Scripture that speaks of God’s choosing of those to become part of the community of faith even as he chose Jacob and rejected Esau (Romans 9:13).
As many evangelicals emerge (to varying degrees) from the PCUSA (where doctrinal fidelity is passé) there will need to emerge a new theological core, a consensus about how essential doctrines like that of predestination are. At present, I am happy to be in the company of affiliates of the Fellowship of Presbyterians who are evangelical and reformed without arguing at great length about doctrines such as predestination. However, I certainly hope that as we journey with our Confessional documents many of us will come to value more deeply the classical Calvinism expressed in the Westminster Standards, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Scots Confession, and the Belgic Confession…even if some of my friends at church think I’m crazy for being a Calvinist.
From the Westminster Confession of Faith:
- God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
- By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
- As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected . . . are effectually called unto faith in Christ by His Spirit working in due season, are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by His power. through faith, unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.
- The rest of mankind God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy, as He pleaseth, for the glory of His Sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by; and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice. (Chap. III — Articles I, III, VI and VII)