Calvinism (I): Predestination and Election

By Harry E. Ozment

Historical Background

One of the greatest periods of human history was the Protestant Reformation. Prior to this movement, the Roman Catholic Church held the world in a dark, corrupted, and stagnant mire. Out of this confusion arose great men of courage such as Martin Luther in Germany and John Knox of Scotland who were intent upon reforming the religious world. One of the greatest reformers and brilliant thinkers of his day was John Calvin. Although born in France, he had to flee for his life to Geneva, where he became a leader in the Swiss reform movement. At the age of 27, he wrote his famous Institutes, which set forth his particular theories of religion and introduced what we know today as “Calvinism.” Calvinism consists of five points of doctrine: (1) Predestination and Election; (2) Limited Atonement; (3) Total Hereditary Depravity; (4) Irresistible Grace; and (5) Impossibility of Apostasy. Although we may admire Calvin for his desire to reform the Roman Catholic Church, we cannot condone his “theorizing” in religious matters. Probably no set of doctrines could be found which is more destructive to faith in God’s word than the tenets of Calvinism. In spite of this fact, however, many churches teach Calvinism in their official creeds and many people hold to Calvinistic ideas.


The root of Calvinism is the doctrine of “Predestination and Election.” Before we can consider the doctrine at all, we must first have some idea of its nature and what it teaches. The word “predestinate” simply means to plan or determine beforehand. All will agree upon this. Therefore, the issue is not the meaning of “predestination” but rather the object of predestination.

It might be a surprise for some to know that the Bible does indeed speak of predestination and election. Paul states in Rom. 8:29-30: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Paul speaks of the same idea in Eph. 1:4-5, 11: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, . . . in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”

The Bible doctrine of predestination is a very simple one. In the beginning, God foresaw that man would sin. Man, of course, would not have the power to save himself from sinhe would need the grace of God. God realized this, and He formulated a scheme of redemption. In this scheme, God predetermined to save a collective group or body of people (otherwise known as the church). Any person can now become a part of this body by obedience to God’s scheme of redemption. That this is the Bible doctrine of predestination is proven by Paul in Eph. 3:9-10: “And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God (this is what is involved in predestination-HEO), who created all things by Jesus Christ: to the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church (the object or fulfillment of God’s predestination, HEO) the manifold wisdom of God.”

The Bible doctrine of predestination, however, is not the predestination of Calvinism. Whereas Bible predestination involves an elected body or group to be saved (which any person can be added to), Calvinism’s predestination involves the election of individuals to be saved (which is exclusively limited to those persons chosen by God Himself). We read in the Presbyterian Confession of Faith: “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of His glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished …. The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby he extendeth or witholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to obtain them to dishonor and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice.” (Chapter 3) The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, in commenting on Calvin’s theory, states: “Calvin’s mode of defining predestination was as the eternal decree of God, by which He has decided with Himself what is to become of each and every individual. For all, he maintains, are not created in like condition; but eternal life is foreordained for some, eternal condemnation for others.” (p. 2436)

Errors of the Doctrine

Such a doctrine, even on the surface, seems preposterous to any Bible believer. Indeed, this doctrine destroys the Bible picture of our all-perfect God. This Calvinistic theory:

1. Makes God a respecter of persons. In chapter 3 of the Presbyterian Confession of Faith, we read: “Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of His mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions or causes moving Him thereunto.” That, my dear friend, is respect of persons-pure and simple! A judge in our court system today would not be tolerated long at all employing these tactics. But the same denominational “scholars” who would condemn an earthly judge for showing respect of persons will, in their next breath, accuse God of the same thing and praise Him for it! Oh consistency, thou art a jewel!

The fact of the matter is that God’s infinite justice would not allow Him to act accordingly. This is emphasized again and again in holy writ. Peter said to Cornelius, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” (Acts 10:34) Peter was trying to show Cornelius that he, as a Gentile, had a perfect right to obey the gospel and be saved. If God did not elect a particular nation for eternal salvation, how could he have been so unfair as to elect a particular person for salvation? Paul emphasized the same point in Rom. 2:11-12, “For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” Now this is what we would expect from a fair and just God. It makes no difference if you are a Jew or Gentile (Acts 15:9; Rom. 10:12), bond or free (Eph. 6:8-9)-you will receive justice at the hand of God. Peter sums it up in I Pet. 1:17: “And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man’s work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear.”

2. Makes the invitation of God foolish. The invitation of God is found in Rev. 22:17, “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.” Jesus expressed it this way: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am ,meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30) Beautiful words, aren’t they? But absolutely senseless-if Calvinism is true. Why should God invite the lost to come to Him if they are to be lost anyway? Moreover, why should the lost accept God’s invitation if it would be of no benefit to them? My, what a doctrine-it robs God of His wisdom and robs Christianity of its beauty! Heaven forbid!

3. Makes the work of Satan unnecessary. The Bible reveals that there is a real person named Satan, and Peter explains his work in this way: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Pet. 5:8) But why is this “devouring” necessary if Calvinism is true? In the case of the lost and “unelected” person, Satan already has full possession of his soul. It matters not how morally good that person might be nor how much he might desire to obey God-God has already consigned this person to the clutches of Satan! Why should Satan do anything in this case? On the other hand, in the case of a saved and “elected” person, his glorious fate is sealed and cannot be altered. It matters not how sinful and ungodly Satan might tempt him to be, he is bound for heaven because he was “elected.” Question: Why should Satan seek to “devour” this man if such is impossible? If Calvinism is true, there is no need for Satan to stalk about as a roaring lion, seeking to lead all down the broad way to damnation-God has already done his work for him!

4. Makes accountability to God impossible. If the parable of the talents teaches anything, it teaches that man one day must give an account of what he has done in this fife. “After a long time the lord of these servants cometh, and reckoneth with them.” (Matt. 25:19) There will indeed be a day of reckoning. Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” (2 Cor. 5:10) Calvinism, however, denies this is going to happen, for man has no control over his own fate and therefore is not responsible. If a man is not responsible, he cannot be held accountable. According to these denominational theorists, the judgment took place before the beginning of time in the mind of God. If Calvinism is true, why should there be another judgment at the end of time in which man gives account of something he had no control over?

5. Makes love for God impossible. The Psalmist once wrote, “O love the Lord, all ye his saints.” (Ps. 31:23a) This was important under the Old Covenant. Jesus said, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” (Mk. 12:30) However, how can man love God if Calvinism’s concept of Him is true? In I Jn. 4:19 we read, “We love him, because he first loved us.” But how much love does God show to that person who is consigned to the depths of hell even before he has a chance to draw his first breath? Yes, who could love a God who arbitrarily, despotically, and tyranically chooses some to be saved and others to be damned?

Calvinism is so destructive to the Biblical picture of God that it needs to be opposed with all the strength of Godfearing men. Even the Calvinists themselves admit how terrible their theory really is. Theodore Parker said, “The God of Calvinism is an almighty he cat, playing with the mice until he is ready to destroy them.” (The Christian, May, 1879, p. 3) It i, reported of Calvin himself: “Calvin confesses that this is a ‘horrible decree.'” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, p. 2436) How could any Bible believer believe in Calvinism’s theory of predestination and election?

Truth Magazine, XVIII:27, p. 9-10
May 9,1974