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March 2008 • Volume XI, Issue 23


Election, the Source of the Church (1)

Election is a rich, comforting word to the child of God. Those who read, understand and love the Bible appreciate the frequency and significance of such words as election, elected, elect; choose, chosen; predestinate, predestination; foreknow, foreknowledge; and beloved. The truth and consolation of election is especially known and embraced in Reformed churches for it was rediscovered and preached powerfully at the sixteenth-century Reformation and set forth clearly in the Reformed creeds, notably the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619) and in particular its first head of doctrine ("Of Divine Predestination").

Usually we think of the election of individuals: God’s choice of particular sinners to eternal life in Jesus Christ. This is true and vitally important, but it is not the whole of election, for election is also corporate. The Bible teaches both the election of individual persons and the election of the church, the body of Christ: God "hath chosen us [i.e., the church] in him [i.e., Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love" (Eph. 1:4).

So how do we relate God’s election of individuals and His election of the church? First, elect individuals alone are the members of the elect church. Second, the election of particular persons serves the elect church; the individual serves the communal. As the election of individuals serves the elect church, so the election of the church serves the elect Christ (for in all things He has the pre-eminence; Col. 1:18) and the election of Christ serves the glory of the electing God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes people wonder why there is a world at all. Why is there something rather than nothing? The answer is creation: God freely willed to make the universe.

Here is a similar question: Why is there a church at all? Given the fall, why are not all men, head for head, unbelievers? Why are there some regenerate persons who worship the true God? Moreover, why is there a church in all ages? Why is there a true church in various places and not others? Why is the church the size it is and not bigger or smaller? Why does it consist of certain people and not others? The answer to all these questions is election! Election determines the existence of the church, its continuance, its location, its size and its membership. From top to bottom, the church is controlled and shaped by God’s gracious, unconditional election in Christ. Thus the Reformed churches have spoken of election as the cor ecclesiae, which is Latin for the heart (cor) of the church (ecclesiae). Heart is here used as the source or origin. (Think of Proverbs 4:23: "out of [the heart] are the issues of life.") Election is the heart or source of the church, including its existence and continuance, and its location, size and membership.

Thus from election we even gain a definition of the church: the company of the predestinate (or the elect). Wycliffe and Hus (building on Augustine) used this truth in their battles with the Roman Church. This view of the church was picked up and developed by the Reformers and their successors to this day. Is not this a glorious name for Christ’s church? The company of the predestinate! This is the church of which all true believers are members. Rejoice, beloved members of the church, for "your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20)!

Let us now demonstrate that election is the cor ecclesiae from the opening verses of Ephesians 1. In verse 1, the Ephesian church is addressed as "the saints which are at Ephesus … the faithful in Christ Jesus." This church is "blessed … according as [God] hath chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world" (3-4). Verse 5 also states that it has been "predestinated." So why was there a church in Ephesus? Why was it the size it was and with the membership it had? It was all according to God’s eternal election. Election was the source and heart of that church, as it is of every true church in whatever age or country.

We ought not let the canonical significance of Ephesians escape us. The theme of this epistle is the church as the body of Christ. This glorious subject is developed throughout the six chapters of Ephesians. So how does this great letter on the church as the body of Christ begin, after its salutation (1:1-2)? It blesses God who has blessed His church according to eternal election, for we have been "chosen in [Christ] before the foundation of the world" (4) and "predestinated" (5). In other words, the epistle starts with the truth of election as the heart of the church (cor ecclesiae). This is the first thing that the Ephesian church (and the NT church, in general) needs to know about itself, that it is elect in Christ. Everything in Ephesians about Christ’s church flows from, and must be understood in the light of, its eternal election. Indeed, in all our reading of the Bible and in all our thinking about the church, its election in Christ is fundamental, for it is its source and heart! Rev. Stewart

Who Are Saved? (1)

A reader asks a couple of related questions: "(1) Could the Roman Catholic Church ever be headed by a saved pope? If not, then how is it that a very small number of Roman Catholics are believers?" "(2) Do all people who haven’t heard the gospel message go to hell? What about Africa a millennium before David Livingstone was there?" Here he refers to Romans 10:14, which asserts that hearing the preaching is essential to salvation.

(1) While I am not much interested in the matter of judging those who will or will not go to heaven, these questions do bring up some interesting points that are worth considering in the News. Rome claims that all who stand in the line of Peter, including Peter himself, are popes. However, between Peter and Gregory I (590-604) there were godly men occupying the see of Rome, especially in the earlier days. They were not popes, as Rome claims, nor did they claim to be "the vicars of Christ on earth" and the infallible heads of the whole church. Gregory I even declared that anyone who called himself "universal priest" or wished to be so termed was a forerunner of Antichrist!

A saved pope of Rome, now or in the future, is an impossibility. Whereas God’s Word curses those who preach a false gospel (Gal. 1:8-9), the Council of Trent (1545-1563)—which is official Roman dogma—curses the gospel of Christ and those who believe it. Repeatedly it declares that if anyone teaches that we are righteous by faith alone in Christ alone or denies that the wafer in the mass is to be worshipped, etc., "let him be anathema." Since Trent, Romanism has degenerated further, adding additional heresies, e.g., the immaculate conception (1854) and the assumption (1950) of Mary, the infallibility of the pope (1870), etc. Rome is even becoming increasingly syncretistic, fraternising with pagan religions. II Timothy 3:13 states, "evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived." False teachers, their followers and, therefore, their churches do not improve or stay the same; they depart further and further from the truth. No one could be the head of such a vast antichristian organization and follow Jesus Christ, for the papal office, government, doctrine, sacraments, discipline and worship are idolatrous.

Moreover, Romanism not only denies in principle the blood of atonement by teaching that salvation hangs on the (non-existent) free will of the sinner (as does Arminianism), but it also denies the sufficiency of Christ’s cross and mediation by its doctrine of purgatory, its meritorious works of the saints, its Mariolatry and its non-bloody sacrifice of the mass which it claims is a repetition of Calvary.

Thankfully, we must also remember that throughout the ages true people of God have come out of Rome and become a part of the church of Christ. Through the witness of true churches and individual Christians, some brought up in the darkness of Romanism have come to believe the biblical gospel and so have forsaken the Roman harlot for the bride of Christ. Thus the Word of God calls those in Rome and in other false churches, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues" (Rev. 18:4; cf. Belgic Confession 28-29).

(2) The second question involves a couple of other truths of Scripture. The simple answer to the question is: Yes, all those who have not heard the gospel go to hell. The Scriptures are clear on this: "Neither is there salvation in any other [than Jesus Christ]: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).

The question, which I presume is assumed by the questioner, is: How can God justly send men to hell who have never heard the gospel? Two reasons must be given. First, all men are responsible and punishable for the sin of Adam in Paradise. This is the doctrine of original sin, taught by Paul in Romans 5:12-14. The guilt of Adam’s sin alone is sufficient to send the whole human race to hell.

Second, all men are justly punished for their sin because they know the one, true God and they know that they are required to worship Him and Him alone. This is Paul’s teaching in Romans 1:18ff. God’s wrath is upon those who hold the truth down in unrighteousness, i.e., suppress it (18). His wrath is justly on them, "because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (19-20).

What did they do with their knowledge of God? "They glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things" (21-23). Hence, they sin knowingly and are without excuse.

One could argue, I suppose, that, because they are totally depraved, they are unable to worship and confess God. But, while that in itself is true, whose fault is it that they are unable to serve the Almighty? Is it God’s fault? A thousand times No! God made man good and upright, capable of serving Him in all respects, but man lost this ability through his own foolishness and rebellion against God, when he determined to follow the lies of Satan (Ecc. 7:29).

Do you object that Adam’s sin was not yours? Scripture says it is and that you are punished for Adam’s sin because you were guilty of it. This is original sin.

Only faith in Christ will save us. We have the gospel. What a privilege! If we will not believe, it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah than for you and me (Matt. 10:15). But by faith in Christ we have full and free salvation. Thank God!  Prof. Hanko

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