By Patrick Hawthorne
As I wrote in Part 1 of “Maybe the Atheist Have a Point,” https://servinggrace.com/2016/09/20/maybe-the-atheists-do-have-a-point-part-1/, I have been reading more and more articles and hearing more and more teachings from professing Christians that are making my heart ache. These teachings, in my opinion, make our Heavenly Father out to be cold and calloused.
One such area is the extreme teaching of God’s sovereignty which puts the blame for all the suffering that a Christian experiences squarely on the shoulders of God so that He may be glorified through their suffering. That is another post for another day. Today’s post, however, is a continuation of my initial thought which is, “Does the atheist have a point? Does the teaching of Calvinism give credence to their question, “Why would a loving God send people to hell?”’
Before I begin, I know this post may bring some back lash from some, but this subject has been weighing heavy on my heart. It is the teaching of Effectual Calling (Election) and the Limited Atonement of the Calvinistic doctrine. My desire is not to offend but to point out some glaring issues that are not Biblically sound. The doctrine that I will be primarily using to support my claims is the Westminster Confession of Faith which is the model for modern day Calvinism.
First of all, it must be understood that Calvinism is not a denomination but is a doctrine, a set of beliefs that may be practiced within certain denominations. And, just for the record, I have no doubt that many who believe in Calvinistic teachings love Jesus with all of their heart. With that said, I personally believe that Calvinism is a dangerous doctrine that has the potential to drive people away from Jesus instead of bringing them to Jesus. It is a doctrinal belief that, in my opinion, fosters an attitude of elitism. More than once, I have been labeled a heretic, both directly and indirectly, for not subscribing to Calvinistic teachings.
Before progressing, it must be understood that there are varying degrees of Calvinism such as the Five Point Calvinist and the Four Point Calvinist. Also, it must be understood that I am writing against a belief system and NOT against my brothers and sisters in Christ.
To better understand the principle thoughts of Calvinism, it is of necessity to view the standards from which Calvinism takes root. This can be located in the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Westminster Confession of Faith
What is it?
The Westminster Confession of Faith, drawn up in the 1640s by an assembly of 151 theologians (mostly Presbyterians and Puritans) at Westminster Abbey, is the standard of doctrine for the Church of Scotland and many Presbyterian churches throughout the world. Several other denominations, including Baptists and Congregationalists, have used adaptations of the Westminster Confession of Faith as a basis for their own doctrinal statements. In each case, the Westminster Confession is considered subordinate to the Bible.
The Westminster Confession of Faith is a systematic exposition of Calvinism, written from a Puritan viewpoint. It was originally drafted to reform the Church of England and to unify the various Christian sects in England at that time. The document addresses doctrines such as the Trinity, the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, sola scriptura, and sola fide.
For those who might argue that this is an out dated document which is no longer adhered to, a modern – easier to read- version was adopted in 1993.
God’s Eternal Decree
Election, for those who might not understand, is a belief that God has chosen, from the foundation of the world, a select number of those who are redeemed, called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved through Christ Jesus. For the rest of mankind, they teach that God withholds His mercy and ordains them to dishonor and wrath for their sin according to His glorious judgment. Simply put, God picks and chooses whom He will save.
Please take note of the portions I have highlighted below of the Westminster Confession of Faith. (I have not doctored or altered it in any way. I have, however, highlighted some points I would like you to pay special attention to.)
Of God’s Eternal Decree.
I. 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.
II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions.
III. 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.
IV. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished.
V. Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
VI. 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 being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, 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.
VII. 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 dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.
VIII. The doctrine of this high mystery of predestination is to be handled with special prudence and care, that men attending to the will of God revealed in his Word, and yielding obedience thereunto, may, from the certainty of their effectual vocation, be assured of their eternal election. So shall this doctrine afford matter of praise, reverence, and admiration of God; and of humility, diligence, and abundant consolation to all that sincerely obey the gospel.
If I’m reading this correctly, it would appear that God picks and chooses those who will be saved (Election). Not to be quick to point the finger, let’s continue.
Election (Effectual Calling)
One of the most common arguments of the atheist is that God sends people to hell. I hope that as a professing child of God you know that such an assertion is a lie straight from the pits of hell. Denial of Jesus as Lord is what sends people to hell, not God picking and choosing who may or may not enter into the Kingdom of heaven according to His good pleasure. To this point, I have no doubt that many of those who study Calvinism will agree. The problem though is that this is not what “Election,” according to the Westminster Confession of Faith teaches.
Of Effectual Calling.
I. All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by his Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ: enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God, taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by his almighty power determining them to that which is good; and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by his grace.
II. This effectual call is of God’s free and special grace alone, not from anything at all foreseen in man, who is altogether passive therein, until, being quickened and renewed by the Holy Spirit, he is thereby enabled to answer this call, and to embrace the grace offered and conveyed in it.
III. Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated and saved by Christ through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth. So also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word.
IV. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess; and to assert and maintain that they may is without warrant of the Word of God.
According to what I’m reading, even infants who have NOT had the opportunity to accept or deny Jesus are doomed to hell if not of the Election.
To some who may disagree with my interpretation, it only stands to reason that if the Elect infants, according to the passages above, are first elected and then regenerated (born again) in infancy, so too are the Non-Elect and non-regenerated doomed to hell if they should die in infancy.
To this point, does the atheist have a point? Does God send people to hell? From what I’m reading I would have to say, “Yes… If you subscribe to this teaching you are in fact telling people that God picks and chooses who will go to heaven and who will go to hell.”
Born Again…or Hypocrite?
After reading the above, one question that weighed heavily on my mind was, “According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, am I saved…elected…of the effectual calling?” I say I love Jesus, but how do I know I’m of the Elected? I feel called to the ministry of the Word and have some common operations of the Spirit, but if I don’t believe in this particular confession of faith, am I deceiving myself? Am I a hypocrite, full of false hope, or simply of the non-elected?”
This too is answered through the Westminster Confession of Faith.
Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation.
I. Although hypocrites, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions: of being in the favor of God and estate of salvation; which hope of theirs shall perish: yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in a state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God: which hope shall never make them ashamed.
Remember, unregenerate means not born again or NOT ELECTED (doomed to hell) by God for eternal salvation. Let’s move on.
Sharing the Gospel
Many who practice some form of Calvinism rightly tell us that we need to share the Gospel with others. They also say that it is not our job to determine the Elected from the Non-Elected; that is up to God. My question is, “Why?” Why share the Gospel at all?
If some are elected, or for that matter not elected, what difference does ministering to them do? If they are not elected, are you giving them false hope that they can have eternal salvation? For that matter, how do YOU know that you are elected?
To answer this question, I went to the web page of modern day preacher of Calvinism, John Piper. I got this straight from his website, “Desiring God.” http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/pastoral-thoughts-on-the-doctrine-of-election\ . Other than highlighting some points, I have changed nothing.
I close with one last pastoral thought. Don’t think of election apart from Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 1:3 says, “[God] chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” In other words, when God planned in eternity to pluck us out of our bondage to sin, he had Christ in mind as the way he would do it. God planned before the foundation of the world to save us through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Therefore, what God has done to save us and call us to himself is not to tell us ahead of time if we are elect. God never reveals this except through a relationship with Jesus Christ, so that Christ is central to our election. Instead of telling us if we are elect, what God did was to send his Son and say, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself” (1 John 5:10). He knows that he is elect.
So in the name of Christ I call you: Come, take him as your Savior and your Lord and the Treasure of your life. He never casts out any who comes in faith. He forgives sin. He clothes with righteousness. He gives the Holy Spirit. He will keep you. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27). Hear the voice of the good Shepherd and come.
On the surface, what I just read sounds really nice, really Biblical. But, when I began thinking about it, it is frightening that some subscribe to such thought. Of course God knows who will accept Him and who will reject Him. He is all knowing, omniscient. He knows the beginning from the end. He IS the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. But look deeper at the intent.
“Therefore, what God has done to save us and call us to himself is not to tell us ahead of time if we are elect.”….
Instead of telling us if we are elect, what God did was to send his Son and say, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36).
…IF we are elect…IF we are elect…IF we are elect…
If I understand Mr. Piper correctly, he is saying what I have been sounding from the beginning. He is saying, God picks and chooses. He is validating the claims that GOD SENDS SOME TO HELL!
Is it any wonder that many atheist are so bold to spout off that God sends people to hell? In light of this type teaching, I would have to say they are correct. However, I believe this type teaching to be totally contrary to the Word of God.
What Does the Word Say?
Bible verses can be thrown back and forth till the cows come home from all sides either trying to prove or disprove Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement. I find only two verses necessary…
16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:9)