Although Southern Baptists cannot follow the full system of Arminian theology, perhaps the majority of Southern Baptists today understand biblical election as defined by James Arminius.
(Florida Baptist Editor’s note: This article is the second in a series of 12 columns that will be published in 2012 addressing the always controversial theological issues surrounding how Southern Baptists understand the doctrine of salvation. The Witness welcomes letters to the editor on this subject as the series is published throughout the year, keeping in mind the irenic spirit modeled by Mark Rathel, who teaches theology at The Baptist College of Florida.)
“I do not believe in election,” the man said with anger.
The doctrine of election is a dividing point in the sometimes-heated discussion between Calvinists and Arminians. Calvinists affirm that God chose to save some individuals based on unconditional election. Arminians affirm that God chose to save individuals based on His foreknowledge of a faith response to Christ’s redemptive action.
Since election is a biblical term and a biblical concept, Christians cannot claim, “I do not believe in election.” Legendary Southwestern Seminary professor W. T. Conner (d. 1952) wrote, “To deny election is to affirm that, when God saves a man, he does it without having planned to do so.” James Arminius, a strong opponent of the Calvinistic view of unconditional election, related the doctrine of election and the Gospel: “[Election] is the sum and the matter of the Gospel; nay, It is the gospel itself….”
The Greek New Testament sets forth the concept of election by means of the verb “eklegomai,” the noun “eklog,” and the adjective “eklektos.” A leading Greek dictionary defines the verb, “to make a special choice based upon significant preference, often implying a strongly favorable attitude toward what is chosen—‘to choose, choice’.” The New Testament affirms that God preferred some individuals and chose them to salvation, service, and sanctification. Calvinists and Arminians differ on the meaning of this biblical teaching.
One year after the death of James Arminius (d. 1609), the followers of Arminius published a protest document, called The Remonstrance, against some aspects of theology propagated by followers of John Calvin (d. 1564). The protestors summarized their understanding of the doctrine of salvation in five points.
The first point of Arminianism affirmed and defined election: “That God, by an eternal and unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son, before the foundations of the world were laid, determined to save, out of the human race which had fallen into sin, in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who through, the grace of the Holy Spirit, shall believe….”
Numerous Baptist confessions affirmed the same understanding; for example, a 1611 English Baptist confession stated, “That God before the foundation of the World hath predestined that all that believe in him shall be saved….”