“…and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
–Paul the Apostle
“Repent and turn away from all your transgressions… Cast away from you all your transgressions…and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! …For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone…therefore, repent and live.”
–the Lord GOD
“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
–Jesus of Nazareth
The church my wife and I had been attending last year and in which we had been considering placing our membership began a struggle all too common in Baptist churches. The senior pastor of the past two decades announced his retirement, and the formation of a search committee for a new pastor revealed that many in the church’s leadership are strict Calvinists, while many others are strict non-Calvinists (even anti-Calvinists). As a result of this discovery, animosity between the two sides built up to the point that the church split in two over this issue, or more specifically, over a single point in Calvinist doctrine: predestination.
On the one hand, those adhering to the Calvinist interpretation of scripture latch onto the multitude of verses which use the word προορίζω, meaning “foreordain” or “mark out beforehand” or “predestine”, and take them to their extreme conclusion that God did not endow man with any free will at all—that whoever is saved is saved solely because God decided before they were born that they would be saved, and whoever is not saved is not saved solely because God decided before they were born that they would be condemned to Hell. This is not a very rosy picture of God at all, and Calvinists often seem hesitant to discuss it in such terms (understandably so), but that really is what their conception of predestination necessary implies.
On the other hand, those opposing the Calvinist interpretation latch onto the multitude of verses containing the word μετανοέω, meaning “repent” or “change my mind”, in which sinners are invited to choose God. This side often has to squirm through twisty interpretations of the “predestination” verses, often landing at the conclusion that “God knew beforehand which way we would choose, because he knows everything, but it was still our choice.” This side also contends that a strict adherence to Calvinism undermines ministry—one of the primary rallying points for Baptist churches—because there seems little point in trying to reach the lost when God has already decided that the predestined will be saved one way or another, regardless of our help.
My problem with all of this is the level of importance placed on secondary doctrine. What makes us all Christians is not whether or not we believe in predestination or any of a number of other finer points of theology; what makes us all Christians is our saving faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. God will not deny salvation to someone who believes that Christ died so that their sins could be forgiven simply because that person also believes (or doesn’t also believe) that they had any say in the matter—God grants salvation through the faith alone. There is no laundry list of beliefs one must have or works one must perform in order to be saved, but a single turning of the mind towards a repentant attitude through faith that God has it all taken care of through the sacrifice of His Son. It doesn’t matter whether that faith or turning of the mind was caused by God alone or by the person’s free will. This should provide such unity! Sadly, we are often too busy trying to be right about the mysteries of the spiritual universe to remember that we are all one in Christ.
Is it possible that the Calvinists are right? Certainly. Is it possible that they’re wrong? Certainly. Is it possible that both sides are right, that God predestined us before we were born to freely make the choice to repent? That’s a bit of a paradox and difficult to comprehend, but all things are possible with God. It’s no more difficult to accept, however, than the physics of light (the first thing God created), which is a wave yet somehow at the same time also a particle—two completely disparate and seemingly mutually exclusive physical constructs. God is infinite and perfectly capable of also designing the spiritual universe in such a seemingly paradoxical way as to allow us free will even though he predestined us to salvation or condemnation beforehand.
I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure which one it is, but I also don’t think it matters. By grace we are saved through faith, and that should be enough to unite us. If this church can’t make up its mind whether or not it wants to be Calvinist, that’s fine. Teach both sides and let each member of the congregation choose (see what I did there?) for themselves, but don’t forget to continue preaching what truly saves us—faith in Christ—and don’t forget that, predestined or not, Jesus commanded us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”