Election Is for Everyone
Election Is for Everyone
When I was a kid my brother and I would sometimes spend part of Saturday handing out gospel tracts in our neighborhood. We were pastor's sons and probably felt some obligation to do it (as it was something promoted in Sunday school and youth group), but I can honestly say we also felt it was our contribution to the kingdom of God.
One of our favorite tracts pictured a voting ballot. The great preacher Herschel Hobbs, known among Southern Baptists as "Mr. Baptist," preached a famous sermon based on that tract on The Baptist Hour in October 1967. His sermon was "God's Election Day," and its main point was: "The devil and God held an election to determine whether or not you would be saved or lost. The devil voted against you and God voted for you. So the vote was a tie. It is up to you to cast the deciding vote."
Without doubt that concept of the doctrine of election has become popular among Christians. After all, we Americans prize our right and freedom to vote. But is that what Scripture means by election? Is the gospel that God votes for our salvation, Satan votes against it, and we—individually, freely—cast the vote that decides our eternal destiny?
Probably not. Some biblical scholars and theologians would say, "Definitely not!" It does seem to trivialize the concept of election and especially God's sovereignty in our salvation. On the other hand, there may be some truth in this way of conceiving the issue, even if it does not do justice to the profundity of the biblical doctrine of election.
Unfortunately, the "doctrine of election" has come to be associated especially, even uniquely, with one particular branch of Christian theology—the one people know as "Reformed." It descends from the Swiss Reformation of the 16th century and most notably from the French reformer John Calvin, who lived in and spiritually led the Swiss city Geneva. Too often, "election" is identified as the distinctive doctrine of Calvinism—as if no other branch of Christianity believes in it.
In fact, it would be impossible to be a Bible-believing Christian without affirming God's electing grace and having a doctrine of election. The same could be said about predestination, often thought of as a synonym for election. The Bible is filled with references to God's choice of people, both individuals and groups. Abraham was not just "called" by God but also "chosen" or "elected" to be the father of God's "chosen people," God's elect nation of Israel (Gen. 12:1-3; Isa. 45:4). The church is the elect of God, chosen for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:5). Paul was clearly chosen by God for apostleship (Acts 9).
It would be no stretch of truth to say that God's election of people is central to the biblical message, to the gospel. And it can safely be said that people's election is God's grace, not human achievement. Nowhere does the Bible even hint that people elect themselves.
'Touched by an Angel' Theology
That brings us back to the gospel tract and Hobbs's sermon. All Christians, not only Calvinists, ought to reject the underlying message that election is a human act or achievement. Theologians have a term for that belief: semi-Pelagianism. It is arguably the default view of both salvation and service among American Christians, especially younger Christians. But all branches of Christianity have condemned it as heresy, because it completely contradicts Scripture.