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Elections and Our Election

 

This e-mail is going out on Election Day. Nationally, it's a consequential mid-term. Significant local races and issues are being decided as well. If you're reading this on Tuesday and haven't yet made it out to vote, I hope you do so before the polls close. Participating in civil elections is an opportunity for Christians to help shape the direction of our culture.

 

Of course, the concept of election isn't limited to civil governments. In fact, it's not even original with them. Election is a thoroughly biblical concept. And as in democratic societies, so in theological discourse, discussions on the topic have often been intense.

 

Obviously an e-mail can't even scratch the surface of the meaning and significance of the Christian doctrine of election. But coming as it does on a day when national, state, and local elections are taking place, it does offer an opportunity to suggest connections between Church and culture, which is part of our mission at Theology Matters.

 

To begin with our culture, Americans generally don't drive to polling places and stand in line because the outcome of an election has already been decided without our input. No, we make an effort to vote in elections because our vote makes a difference, because we are making a choice that is ours alone to make.

 

The same basic understanding of election is operative in Christian theology. Just as American voters choose mayors and senators, God chooses individuals and nations. We find this truth from the beginning of the Bible to the end.

 

Moses tells the Israelites "It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples (Deut. 7:7). Nehemiah 9:7 reads, "You are the Lord, the God who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and gave him the name Abraham."

 

In John 15:16 Jesus tells his disciples, "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide." And Paul tells the Ephesians that God "chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Eph. 1:4).

 

In the two New Testament passages, the Greek verb is exelexato, which means "to choose," and which is the root of the adjective eklektos, which comes into English as "elect." The main point of these and similar passages is not complex: God chooses. The elect are elect because they have been chosen by God, not because God foresaw they would choose him and then, on the basis of that knowledge, chose them first. 

 

In the passages cited above, the Israelites didn't come up with the idea of monotheism, look around for a deity who fit their philosophical ruminations, then invite Yahweh to be their one and only God. God chose them. Similarly, Jesus' disciples didn't formulate a socio-political agenda they thought would resonate with the people of Palestine then, after careful polling and focus group discussions, elect a local carpenter to enact their platform. Jesus chose them.

 

And yet, somehow, for at least some Christians, when the notion of election is considered in the context of salvation, when looking at passages from the Old and New Testaments where God chooses a people and individuals to be his own, the straightforward meanings of words and sentences seem to take a back seat to other considerations.

 

As I noted earlier, there isn't space in an e-mail even to begin to discuss all the arguments offered by sincere Christians who have disagreed deeply about this doctrine down through the centuries. What I can do here is share a single quote from John Calvin who, in his book Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, wrote with characteristic directness:

 

"If we are not ashamed of the gospel, we must confess what is there plainly declared. God by his eternal goodwill, which has no cause outside itself, destined those whom he pleased to salvation ... so that they receive the life offered in Christ, while others voluntarily disbelieve, so that they remain in darkness destitute of the light of faith."

 

Election Day gives Christians the opportunity to remember and give thanks for our own election.

 

May we, like Calvin and most (though sadly, not all) of his followers recognize the doctrine of election as a source of humility, comfort, and above all assurance. No matter how Senate races or ballot initiatives turn out, we can rejoice. We can rejoice that we belong eternally to God because, before the foundation of the world God chose us to be his own.

 

To God be the glory.

 

Bob Mills

Executive Director

Bob Mills
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