The Ephesians 4 Project: Article V
Election is the gracious purpose of God, according to which He regenerates, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies sinners. It is consistent with the free agency of man, and comprehends all the means in connection with the end. It is the glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, and is infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable. It excludes boasting and promotes humility.
All true believers endure to the end. Those whom God has accepted in Christ, and sanctified by His Spirit, will never fall away from the state of grace, but shall persevere to the end. Believers may fall into sin through neglect and temptation, whereby they grieve the Spirit, impair their graces and comforts, and bring reproach on the cause of Christ and temporal judgments on themselves; yet they shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.
Unifying Principles from Article V
The doctrine of election may be the most debated doctrine in the Baptist Faith & Message. The debate usually revolves around one’s precise understanding of the doctrine, specifically whether one should view election as unconditional or conditional. The purpose of The Ephesians 4 Project, however, is not to resolve this longstanding argument but to demonstrate that the Baptist Faith & Message’s statement on election is thorough enough for Southern Baptist’s holding to either unconditional or conditional election to agree to disagree, which in fact we have been doing for all of our existence as a denomination to one degree or another.
First, we need to define the terms unconditional and conditional election. While there may be some Baptists that have found their way to a seemingly tenable “middle of the road” view of election, these two terms represent where the majority of Baptists have landed. The following definitions themselves may not satisfy every sector of Southern Baptist life, but they are accurate enough for us to carry on an honest conversation in this article.
Unconditional election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but solely because of His sovereign good pleasure. Conditional election is an act of God before creation in which He chooses people whom He foresees responding positively to God’s offer of salvation. In a nutshell, proponents of conditional election assert that God’s election is conditioned by man’s faith, that is God makes His elective decision based on man’s decision. Proponents of unconditional election assert that God’s election is unconditioned, that is nothing outside of God affects His elective decision but is simply God’s sovereign choice.
We can see immediately why this can be such a controversial issue, but we must fight the temptation to be lured into a divisive debate. In order to avoid uncooperative attitudes among Southern Baptists, let’s focus on what unifies us from the BF & M’s wording:
- Election is based on God’s “gracious purpose.”
- Election produces regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification in believing sinners.
- Election in no way violates man’s free agency.
- Election in no way nullifies the means to the end of salvation such as evangelism, preaching, prayer.
- Election is all about “the glorious display of God’s sovereign goodness."
- Election is “infinitely wise, holy, and unchangeable,” and as such believers have no room for boasting.
- Election affirms the perseverance of the saints because God has accepted believers in Christ who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
As long as Southern Baptists agree that God is sovereign in salvation yet man has real opportunities to turn to God for salvation, let’s be unified and preach the gospel together. The fact remains that the doctrine of election should be a cause of rejoicing in God’s grace rather than in any effort put forth by man. Further, the fact remains that no matter one’s view of election, no one can or will be saved unless we proclaim the gospel to unbelievers (Rom. 10:14-17) and that anyone who genuinely wants to be saved can and will be saved by trusting Christ (Jn. 3: 14-16; Rom. 10:8-13). May God unify the SBC around Article V of the BF & M.
For His Glory,
As you well know, Jeremy, this topic is a hot-button issue in the SBC right now. One of the reasons is that many people confuse predestination and election by thinking that they are the same thing. They are not. "Predestination" is the effective carrying out of the choice spoken of in election. So predestination follows after election. Although it’s connected to election, all orthodox believers should affirm the same doctrine of predestination even though they disagree on the nature of election. What I mean is that while we might disagree about how a person becomes one of the elect, we should all agree that only the elect are predestined to salvation and that only and all the elect will be saved.
Do you agree with what I've just said?
It's important for both sides of the debate to realize what they actually agree on. Both conditionalists and unconditionalists agree that hearing and believing the gospel is absolutely necessary for salvation. That means that nobody is saved apart from explicit faith in Jesus Christ and that evangelism is a necessity if anyone is to be saved, such that no evangelism = no salvation. You get at this point when you say, "no one can or will be saved unless we proclaim the gospel to unbelievers."
A second point that both sides agree on is all who want to be saved will be saved. There will be nobody on the day of judgment who will truthfully say to God, "God, I wanted to be saved, but you wouldn't let me." Neither will there be anybody who will truthfully say to God, "God, I didn't want to be saved, but You saved me anyway." Neither of those are possibilities. Only those and all of those who want to be saved will be saved. You mention this when you say, "anyone who genuinely wants to be saved can and will be saved by trusting Christ."
A third point that both sides agree on is that faith in Christ is the assurance that you are elect. In other words, the answer to the question "How do I know if I'm elect?" is this: you know you are elect if and only if you repent and believe, placing your faith in Jesus Christ. Only believers are elect, and only the elect believe. Therefore, by placing your faith in Christ, you know you are part of the elect.
Now, as I try to boil down the conditional and unconditional positions, the two major differences, as I see them, are as follows. One difference is the source of faith. The other difference is the causal relationship between election and faith.
As to the source of faith, unconditionalists see God as the source of faith in that He gives faith as a gift to those whom He chooses. Conditionalists see man as the source of faith in that God gives the ability of faith to everybody, and man must exercise his faith.
As for the causal relationship between election and faith, unconditionalists see the Bible to teach that the elect believe in Christ because they are elect. So, from this viewpoint, election leads to belief. However, conditionalists see the Bible to teach that the elect are elect because they believe. God in His prescience saw their faith and elected them. So, from this viewpoint, belief leads to election.
In all, I believe that both conditionalists and unconditionalists have much more in common than they realize and should be able to happily coexist, agreeing to disagree, in the same church. Do you agree?
Thanks for your post Jeremy.
Ben, I do agree with your differentiation of election and predestination, and I do agree that many people confuse predestination and election. I would add that some of the confusion comes in when some wrongly assert that predestination is equivalent with double-predestination. But I do agree with your assessment that “we should all agree that only the elect are predestined to salvation” regardless of our understanding of the doctrine of election.
Regarding your comments on conditional versus unconditional election, I agree completely. I have no doubt that both unconditionalists and conditionalists can coexist, agreeing to disagree, even in the same church. I say this so long as the unconditionalist doesn’t fall into fatalism and the conditionalist doesn’t fall into Pelagianism. Pending this disclaimer, I see no reason why we cannot coexist because both believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.