"The covenant of grace can throughout the centuries remain the same because it depends entirely upon God and because God is the Immutable One and the Faithful One. The covenant of works which was concluded with man before the fall was violable and it was violated, for it depended upon changeable man. But the covenant of grace is fixed and established solely in the compassion of God. People can become unfaithful, but God does not forget His promise. He cannot and may not break His covenant; He has committed Himself to maintaining it with a freely given and precious oath: His name, His honor, and His reputation depends on it. It is for His own sake that He obliterates the transgressions of His people and remembers their sins no more. Therefore the mountains may depart and the hills removed, but His kindness will not depart from us, nor shall the covenant of His peace be removed, says the Lord who has mercy on us (Isa. 54:10)." (Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith)
Over the past several months, I have been examining and praying through some of the distinctions between the various forms of thought in regards to the Dotrines of soteriology, or to put it more simply, in regards to the ideas surrounding salvation.
With the rise of Charles Finney and Arminianism in the Church, which are both forms of Pelagianism or Semi-Pelagianism, much of what is considered orthodox for Christianity has long gone out the window. Admittedly, there are variations even in these two "camps" of thought, some of which differ not hardly at all from a Reformed view of salvation and some of which should not even be regarded as Christian in any sense at all.
While I would disagree with the beliefs of John and Charles Wesley on certain topics regarding salvation in how a person is saved, some of what they did led the way for people to get away from the radical and destructive variations of Calvinism that had arisen in those years, which was a much needed relief from the extremes that were occurring at that time. In all honesty, many people said that the views of the Wesley's differed from a Reformed view of salvation by "only a hairs width", which in all truth, is mostly true.
Many people today regard the talk about being decidely Reformed or Arminian in regards to salvation as solely a secondary matter, one which is only divisive and is "unneccessary" for people to know and understand the Gospel and their relation to God and to Christ.
People often accuse Calvinist's or Reformed people as not believing in free will and are often called "hard determinist's" in what they believe. While neither of these things are true, it is often a characterization that follows when this matter is brought up. (Of course, the insensitive and overly assumming misunderstandings of "the other side" cuts both ways unfortunately.)
But getting to my point or question... Is the doctrine of Divine Election an important topic which there can be no differences on?
While there are many issues that Christian's can have differences on, the answer is NO.
(Side note: I do believe that people can be a Christian and not believe in unconditional Divine election, but being settled into leaving people into not agreeing with Scripture when Scripture is clear is not acceptable. While people who profess Christ may have differences on this issue, they can still be considered a Christian without agreement on this issue. However, to state that this doctrine is not essential as a whole is wrong.)
While Martin Luther is most well known for his promotion of Justification by Faith Alone, he is also one that said that divine election is "the hinge on which all turns" (Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1992: p.319).
The reason Luther stated this was that he believed that putting a man's faith before God's miraculous working of the new birth was putting the cart before the horse and was leading man back into having to fulfill a requirement, namely, to believe, in order to be saved.
The Dutch Professor Herman Bavinck has explained this exact same idea and puts is quite well.
"If this salvation is not the sheer gift of grace but in some way depends upon the conduct of men, then the covenant of grace is converted into a covenant of works. Man must then satisfy some condition in order to inherit eternal life. In this, grace and works stand at opposite poles from each other and are mutually exclusive. If salvation is by grace it is no longer by works, or otherwise grace is no longer grace. And if it is by works, it is not by grace, or otherwise works are not works (Rom. 11:6). ... But it can be recognized and maintained as such only if it is a free gift coming up out of the counsel of God alone." (Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith)
"When the covenant of grace is separated from election, it ceases to be a covenant of grace and becomes again a covenant of works. Election implies that God grants man freely and out of grace the salvation which man has forfeited and which he can never again achieve in his own strength ... So far from election and the covenant of grace forming a contrast of opposites, the election is the basis and guarantee, the heart and core, of the covenant of grace. And it is so indispensably important to cling to this close relationship because the least weakening of it not merely robs one of the true insight into the achieving and application of salvation, but also robs the believers of their only and sure comfort in the practice of their spiritual life." (Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, emphasis mine)
Without the doctrine of Divine Election, believer's misplace their hope in what only God could do, can do and give them with themselves and the faith that they have.
While there has been and still is an ungodly use of this doctrine by many people, it should not be neglected due to some people's misuse of it. The Word of God contains many things which believer's must learn how to let hang in the tension or balance and not try to explain or balance out according to their own standards.
If the Scriptures teach it and believe it, so must we, if we are to be faithful to God and to who He has shown Himself to be, regardless of what the teaching is. Man and his finite reasoning cannot be used to measure what reality is. Reality is what it is and Scripture teaches what it teaches, regardless of whether we like it or not.
And Scripture is given to us not to hinder us, but to help us and to change us. It is also given that we may have hope.
"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4, ESV)
We should always be reforming our thoughts and lives to come into agreement with God's Word more and more with each day that passes.
As Paul told Timothy: "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything" (2 Tim. 2:7, ESV), so the LORD will also give us understanding if we earnestly seek Him.
My prayer is that the Church will look beyond what they know and will ask the Lord to reveal Himself to us as He truly is and not how we want Him to be and that we will praise Him for who He is, regardless if it is what we want Him to be or not.
He alone is wise and can give us direction in how to know Him and who He is, if we will lean not on our own understanding but trust Him for it.
God is the Gospel and realizing this is crucial for the Church to have joy and peace in the world that we live in.
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:33-36, ESV)
Praying for the Church to embrace and not squander the doctrine of Divine Election for His glory and for our joy,