Why does the issue matter? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I tend to write about what is talked about in Sunday School at my church and last Sunday in going through Romans we got to chapter 9. Obviously, with a chapter that really introduces the doctrine of election, well that wasn’t controversial at all. The teacher in class is much more Calvinistic than I am. (Well, considering I’m more of a zero-pointer that’s not saying a lot.) I think my pastor considers himself lightly on that way, but the church doesn’t take a hard stance on it.
My view is that the text is not talking about individuals for personal salvation, but about service in the pathway to bring about the Messiah. It’s too easy to read Romans 1-8 and think this is a part on its own and then get to Romans 9-16 and read that separately. Instead, I remember noticing once that the first time Israel is really mentioned in the book is in the ninth chapter. I have a theory that the first eight chapters are really answering a question of “Who is Israel?”
What this means is that Paul in the first half establishes who the people of God are and that includes how one belongs to the people of God, being justified by faith. From there, he moves on to how God will work in this people in comparison to the nation of Israel. This is not a hill I am going to die on, but it is something I ponder.
However, when it comes to these debates, I generally stay out of it and this is something I brought up in the class while saying I do not hold to Calvinist doctrines. For myself, these are matters of just things to think about, but too often, the way we live is quite really the same. Let’s consider two issues. Security in salvation and evangelism will be our focus.
In the first case, Calvinists hold to eternal security. Others hold that salvation can be lost. Arminians could hypothetically say that you need to live a holy life in order to insure that you have salvation. In reality, I don’t know many who hold such a stance. Most seem to think, like myself, that you can only lose salvation by outright apostasy or by living in severe unconfessed sin for life, such as an adulterous lifestyle.
So the Arminian could want us to live a holy life for the necessity of making sure we are Christians, but I don’t know of any Calvinist who says “Go out and live in sin because you are eternally secured so do not worry about it!” No. Both sides encourage you to live a holy and godly life.
So what about evangelism? Arminians will say we have to go out there with the gospel to reach as many people as possible. A Calvinist can say “If they are to be saved, they will get the message somehow.” The point for them is that that very way could be the preaching of the gospel in evangelism. Both of them view the idea differently in some way, but at the same time, both of them encourage missionary work and evangelism.
In the end, I often say that this is my summation of the questions. God is sovereign and man has free-will. How do those two work together? I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out this side of eternity. That’s also fine with me. How I live is really exactly the same way.
Also, if doctrines like this become a point of where you cease to fellowship with a fellow Christian. I have friends who are very much Calvinist. I have friends who are very much Arminian. I get along with both and tend to just not debate the issue.
If you want to debate it, that’s fine, but let’s always remember that this is a secondary issue. There is no wrong in investigating the question of how God and time work together. If we engage in this debate, while we may come from opposite positions at times, instead of seeing each other as opponents, may we seek each other as allies in reaching for the truth.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)