It is our purpose in this and in following articles to discuss the so-called “five points of Calvinism” in connection with the subject of missions.
We shall begin this discussion with an article or two on the truth of sovereign predestination and its place in the preaching of the gospel on the mission field.
There has always been considerable discussion about the place of predestination in the preaching of the gospel on the mission field. Usually the question has taken this form, “Is it the calling of the Church to preach the doctrine of election when the gospel is brought outside of the established Church and preached to the unconverted?’ As often as not the question has been answered in the negative; and the reason given for this negative answer has usually been that the doctrine of predestination is too complex, too difficult to understand, and lacks all appeal to those who have never heard the Scriptures or who are in kindergarten as far as their knowledge of the Scriptures is concerned. Especially in the mission field the doctrine of predestination was not only ignored, but denied. All emphasis was laid upon a general, well-meant offer of salvation and upon God’s desire to save all men, if they would but accept Him. Only later when the converts were brought into an established church were they probably taught the five points of Calvinism as a part of the Confession of the Church.
Surprisingly enough, in the December issue of The Reformed Journal, Rev. Boer, principal and teacher of the Theological College of Northern Nigeria, takes issue with the position of the past and insists that also the doctrine of election ought to be preached when the gospel is carried to the unchurched.
He writes, “St. Paul was a missionary. His letters, while addressed to churches, are really all missionary letters. They are full of instruction on doctrine, ethics, and church procedure by which the younger churches were to live. We can organizationally speak of a mission stage and a church stage, but anyone who has any acquaintance with the realities of the mission field knows that there can be no substantive difference between the preaching and instruction given before the organization of a congregation and that given after. Church organization does not automatically lift church members to a higher degree of knowledge and understanding than they had before organization of the congregation took place. When therefore Paul told the Ephesians in his moving farewell address that he had not shrunk from declaring to them the whole counsel of God, I cannot but as a missionary feel that this meant all the essentials of the gospel, including the doctrine of election.”
You will have noticed that Rev. Boer first points out that there can be no substantive difference between the preaching and instruction given before the organization of a congregation and that given after. And then he also adds that Paul did not shrink from declaring all the essentials of the gospel, including the doctrine of election. With that we heartily agree!
But upon examination, one discovers that the doctrine of election (Rev. Boer does not speak of reprobation at all, evidently because he is determined to avoid the very mention of the term) which Boer wants taught in the mission field is a doctrine that has no similarity with the truth of Scripture, even though he makes several weak appeals to the Word of God in support of his contentions.
First of all, he criticizes the view of election that is presently current in the churches. (I do not know whether he is referring in this article to the Christian Reformed Churches; it is possible that he is, and that the view which he describes is being taught in those churches. But Boer is adept at setting up straw men and then knocking them over with a great flourish, only to raise up in the place of these straw men other views of his own. The fact of the matter is that oftentimes he is not at all describing the historically Reformed and Calvinistic conceptions). He is of the opinion that the fundamental weakness of the present doctrine of election is that it is separated from faith and thus is made an abstraction. He writes, “The words ‘the elect’ usually signify for us the totality of those who according to the divine decree are to be saved. It often has no reference at all to faith. The elect in the general usage is a totality whose character is determined by God’s predestinating actions . . . . They are for us too often a grand totality that in the end is little more than a grand abstraction.”
In the place of this, Boer wants to put election and faith together in the closest possible relationship. He insists that Scripture never speaks of election without speaking of faith; that Scripture never refers to theelect except that they are also believers; that it is impossible to be an elect without having faith as yet—this is a grand abstraction; that election is never spoken of as an act of God simply, rather that God always presents election as an act that finds its response in faith. “The unbeliever who is elect but not yet a believer, or the elect who has not yet been born, is a familiar figure in our theology. The Bible does not know him. 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.”
This is all extremely vague language, and it is a matter of real doubt precisely what Rev. Boer wants. Especially the question of the relation between election and faith is a question which he insists on leaving hanging in the air.
It is possible, on the one hand, that Rev. Boer is interested in a view somewhat like the Liberated of the Netherlands, namely, that election as a decree of God is among the “hidden things” with which we have nothing to do. All that need concern us (according to this view) is faith and believing. One can hardly speak of being an elect unless he has persevered in the faith even unto the end. But should this be the view of Rev. Boer it is all rather silly, for election, he insists, must have a place in the preaching of the gospel to the heathen.
On the other hand, he seems to be teaching a view of election which makes election an intention of God, a purpose to bring salvation to all; election is then the possibility of salvation for all in God’s decree; it is a potential—a divine potential for universal salvation. If this is indeed what he intends to maintain, this would not be at all strange. Developing from the latter part of the First Point of Common Grace, that God offers sincerely salvation to all men, The Reformed Journalis quite intent in teaching also that God loves all men with a redemptive love; and that this universal love means that the cross is also universal as far as redemption is concerned. It is but natural then that election also becomes a universal possibility of salvation for all men.
But this is worse than the Arminians taught. Boer insists in his article that he does not want a conditional election, i.e., an election dependent upon foreseen faith. But he cannot escape the meshes of conditional election with a mere statement. He must adopt such an Arminian view, but he must also go even beyond it and teach a universal election,—something the Arminians never dared to do.
It is not our purpose to go into detail in criticizing this view. We only want to point out:
1) That Scripture surely does, contrary to Boer’s contention, discuss election as a decree of God in His eternal and unchangeable counsel.
We refer, first, to Ephesians 1:3-6. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ; according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him: In love having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”
Anyone can see at once that Paul is speaking about the church, even though he speaks in the first person plural. Moreover, Paul does not associate election and faith, but speaks of the fact that God hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world. What follows is the fruit of this eternal, sovereign election. The fact that we are “holy and without blame before him” is the fruit of our election.
Again, the fact that we are adopted to sons (which is appropriated to us by faith) is the fruit of this predestination. And finally Paul wants us to know that this is according to “the good pleasure of His (God’s) will,” even “to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Again, how can Rev. Boer escape the plain language of Romans 9, which speaks of election, but also of reprobation. We read: “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.”
No amount of exegetical maneuvering can escape the simple statement of sovereign love to Jacob and hatred to Esau. For in verses 15 and 16 we read: “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” See also verses 17, 20-26.
Or who would want to deny the stirring language ofRomans 8:29, 301 “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called (past tense); and whom he called, them he also justified (past tense); and whom he justified, them he also glorified (past tense.).” God’s people stand before God eternally as foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, even glorified. It is all an accomplished fact in God. Glory be His Name!
2) That when faith is discussed in connection with election, faith is always described as being the fruit of election. Just to mention one passage, Paul states inActs 13:48, “And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” This text especially is important, for Boer also quotes this text in support of his contention. But he grossly misinterprets the text to serve his purpose. Here is a glaring example of how a text is forced to express the very opposite of its obvious meaning to suit the fancy of the writer. Boer insists that this text must be interpreted to mean that “The knowledge of their election grew out of the reality of their faith.” We could paraphrase that statement as follows: “As many as believed realized that they were ordained to eternal life.” But this is a perversion of the text. Granted that the passage does not speak explicitly of election, it nevertheless implies it. The meaning is surely clear that the ones who believed were the ones whom God had appointed or ordained to eternal life. This is especially strong in the Greek. The Greek reads literally, “And they believed (aorist) whoever were appointed (perfect) to eternal life.” Not faith is first, but election; not they that believed knew that they were predestinated to salvation, but they that were predestinated believed!
This is also the teaching of the Canons. Until now Rev. Boer has not referred to the Canons. But these Canons teach very clearly in chapter 1, articles 6 to 10 that election is God’s eternal and unchangeable decree to choose a certain number of people to redemption in Christ. They also teach that election is the source and fountain of all the blessings of salvation including the gift of faith.
But we shall be compelled to say more about the relation of faith and election in the preaching of the gospel on the mission field. For the time being Rev. Boer owes it to his readers to define his terms. What is election? What is faith? What is the relation between election and faith? He intends to write more on this subject. I for one will be looking for an answer to these questions.