In the December issue of the Reformed Journal, Harry R. Boer writes about the importance of election in the preaching of the gospel on the mission field as well as in the church. He points out, and correctly so, that when Paul told the Ephesians that he had not shrunk from declaring to them “the whole counsel of God,” he meant all the essentials of the gospel, including the doctrine of election. He goes on to say that “Election, in Paul’s view is a part, and a very necessary part, of the gospel. When we limit the preaching of election to the established church and are silent about it in the missionary stage of the proclamation, we not only make an unrealistic distinction between the ‘mission subject’ (who is always a believer before he is baptized) and. the ‘church member,’ but we also cut out of the missionary proclamation an element that Paul clearly believed to be part and parcel of the preaching of the gospel.”
This bears repeating, because anyone of Reformed persuasion must agree heartily with it.
Later in the same article ‘Mr. Boer tells us that “the expression ‘the elect’ (or its equivalent, ‘chosen ones’ in the R.S.V.) means something quite different from the popular or even theological use of the term current among us.” He takes the position that “always the New Testament deals with the elect as known men, believers, here and now or then and there living in the exercise of their faith.” But to speak of a grand totality of elect determined by God’s predestinating action is a grand abstraction. With other words, Boer does not agree with the position of the Reformed churches that the word “elect” signifies the totality of those who according to the divine decree are to be saved.
Therefore Boer would never subscribe to the definition that speaks of election as the eternal and sovereign decree of God to lead the Church as the body of Christ, with all its individual members, each in his own position, to eternal salvation and glory. And it follows that he would also reject the definition that describes reprobation as the eternal and sovereign decree of God to determine some men to be vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction in the way of sin, as manifestations of His justice, and to serve the purpose of the realization of His elect church. (Dogmatics, Rev. H. Hoeksema, vol. 1, page 196)
This becomes especially evident from what Harry Boer writes in the January issue of the Reformed Journalunder the heading “Suggestions For A Theology Of Election.” There he complains that the Reformed theology has always suffered from a marked one-sidedness in its treatment of election. He writes, “It is not too much to say that Reformed theology in all its concern with this in many ways central doctrine, does not really have a theology of election. It has a theology of individual election. It does not have a theology of election which takes the whole of the scriptural teaching of election into its purview.” To which he adds a little later, “Currently the question whether God loves all men, whether Christ died for all men, whether one may say to any man with scriptural warrant, ‘Christ died for you,’ arises out of this fragmentary conception of election.”
This is an obvious attack on our Confessions. Boer brands the teaching of our Canons on the subject of election as a “grand abstraction.” For the fathers write under the First Head of Doctrine, article 6, “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree, ‘For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.’ Acts 15:18. ‘Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will.’ Eph. 1:11. According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which though men of perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable-consolation.”
You will notice that the fathers did not hesitate to say that God determines who shall receive the gift of faith and who shall not. Moreover, according to the divine decree God softens the hearts of the elect and inclines them to believe! Here the elect are not “known men, believers, here and now or then and there living in the exercise of their faith;” but those who are known of God from the beginning of the world and granted the gift of faith by Him who worketh all things according to the counsel of His will. To be an elect does not mean “to be known and recognized as a believer”; but to be distinguished from the “non-elect” whom God leaves “in his just judgment in their own wickedness and obduracy.”
Under the same First Head of Doctrine, the Canons declare in article 7, “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of Salvation.”
Also this reference to election in our Canons Boer would call an abstraction. He certainly would not agree that God has chosen a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ. Nor would he agree that Christ is from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect. It is exactly this, he objects, that makes it impossible to say to every individual “Christ died for you.”
That Harry Boer is in conflict with our Confessions is especially evident from his “Suggestions For A Theology Of Election” in the January issue of theReformed Journal, which I mentioned before. He speaks of four kinds of election: first, the election of Israel as a nation of the old dispensation; second, the election of Christ, in whom Israel in the fullness of time finds “their true being;” third, the elect church, which comes into being through the work of Christ; and finally, the individual believer, who knows his election by faith in Christ. Thus we read, “Central to all is the election of Christ, who gives meaning to the election of Israel and of the Church, and by faith in whom alone the believer can know himself to be an elect.”
We could agree with that last statement if only it were based on that ever magnificent passage of Col. 1:13-20, which speaks of Christ as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature (all creature, R.V.), the head of the body, the church, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence. Then Boer would not speak of Abraham as entering the land of Canaan to spread the gospel, but to be the father of believers and heir of the promise. Then he would not speak of Israel as a nation as the elect people of God, but he would speak of the spiritual seed of Abraham as the children of the promise, bearing in mind that Abraham is always the father of believers. Then indeed Christ is the head of the church of the old dispensation as well as of the church of the new dispensation, for the elect are all one glorious unity, one body in Christ. Then Boer would have no difficulty with the Reformed theology of election as limited only to individuals, for he would realize that election includes Christ and all who belong to Christ as one perfect organism, one body, one chosen generation. I Pet. 2:9. This is clearly taught in our Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21, Question 54, where the question is raised, “What believest thou concerning the holy, catholic church? of Christ?” To which the answer is given, “That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain, a living member thereof.” The observant reader will notice that our Catechism speaks of a church, which is both holy and universal, which is “chosen to everlasting life.” That expresses more than individual election, for in that statement the whole body of Christ is included. This is especially evident from the fact that this church is gathered from the beginning to the end of the world out of the whole human race. And by all means we should underscore the fact that “the Son of God” gathers, defends and preserves this elect church unto Himself!
But the author of the article also points to what he understands by election when he shows the purpose of election, as he sees it. He writes, “When all these several elections have attained their end, then the divine purpose of election will have been achieved. None stands by itself, all are one, and the election of Christ is central to all. What is the common bond that unites and integrates the election of Israel, of Christ, of the Church, and of the individual believer into one grand purpose? It is the bond of redemptive service. Election envisions the salvation of the world.”
Thus election, according to Boer, means that God privileges and obligates some to serve as a channel to transmit the grace of God to all men. The elect are those who know themselves called of God to spread the glad tidings for the salvation of all mankind, including every individual upon the earth.
Boer writes, “The universal redemptive service rendered by Israel in a preparatory way reaches its fullest and deepest expression in the elect Messiah . . . . Jesus is the Savior of the world, He gives His life for the world, He is the light of the world. God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.”
And he adds, “It is but natural that the same world embracing service envisioned for Israel and for the Messiah should be envisioned for the elect Church, which is the Body of Christ.” She is “the Spirit led means whereby His vicarious and mediatorial service is applied to the hearts of all men everywhere.” And what applies to the church applies therefore also to the individual. He also must know, since he is a believer, that he is ordained of God to spread the gospel for all men to be saved.”
The Canons say: “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby . . . he hath . . . chosen . . . a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ.” (First Head of Doctrine; article 7.) Boer says: “Election envisions the salvation of the world,” or, Election is the unchangeable purpose of God to use some to transmit the redemption of Christ to all men, to serve for a universal salvation.
Boer is therefore compelled to reach the conclusion that there cannot possibly be a decree of reprobation. How could there be if election serves for making salvation possible for all men? He writes, “The doctrine of reprobation has come to be attached to the doctrine of individual election without any such corresponding feature being associated with the election of Israel, of Christ, and of the Church. There do not stand alongside of elect Israel and the elect Church Old Testament and New Testament reprobate entities.” In a sense we can agree with that statement, since dead branches broken from the tree do not form an entity; the reprobate world is “no people”, no unity, no organism as is the elect church. But Boer, no doubt, intends to say that with his view of election there canbe no reprobation, not even of individuals. What else could he conclude? How can a “God-loves-you, Christ-died-for-you” gospel message intended for all men include a sovereign good pleasure, an eternal predestination, both as to election and reprobation, as taught in our Canons? But then why not be frank and say that he does not believe in election either?
The second conclusion he reaches is that the biblical doctrine of election as outlined above must necessarily be a cornerstone in any serious missionary theology. “Missions is no more and no less than the Church’s living by her election to redemptive service.” We could agree if he were simply to say: “The biblical doctrine of election must necessarily be a cornerstone in any serious missionary theology.” That is a fact. But Boer’s view of election can never be, because it is contrary to our Confessions, and therefore contrary to the Scriptures.
But that was not what he started out to show us. Maybe he is coming to that yet, but he started out to show us that “the full counsel of God” must be proclaimed on the mission field. And that full counsel of God includes the proclamation of the doctrine of election, not the application, as he shows here.
We do face the question yet, How can the doctrine of election be included in the preaching on the mission field?
But before we answer that question we must ask ourselves, “What is the true doctrine of election according to the Scriptures?” And then the other question: How does the biblical doctrine of election serve as basis for all mission endeavor?