Thanks for posting that link, Randy. That was a great thread, and lots of good discussion from everyone on the question of free will.
I’ll let you have a look at that thread Randy posted regarding free will. As he says, there are determinist (Calvinistic/Augustinian) Christian universalists (CUs) and there are non-determinist (Arminian) CUs. Most (but not all) of us here are primarily Arminian with a touch of Calv (I know, potentially schizophrenic, that.)
If you read Romans (the primary source if I’m not mistaken of determinism/predestination theology in the church), you’ll see that Paul’s primary audience is the church in Rome, which is composed of a “mixed multitude” of Jewish and Gentile Christians. There was a big “thing” going on with them as to whether or not the church ought to keep the law, and Paul goes back and forth about it. “If you feel you should keep the law, then keep it, but don’t expect everyone else to do that, nor should you think yourself better than the non-law-keeping Christians or better than ethnically Gentile Christians.” Then he turns around and says to the Gentiles (and non-law Jews), “Don’t go thinking you’re better because you’re spiritually strong enough to be okay with ignoring the law of Moses, and don’t put down your weaker brethren who have a need to keep that law. In fact, it would be better if you just honored them, at least when you’re together, and avoided practices you know they’ll find offensive.”
This is really the entire focus of the whole letter, though of course you can draw many themes out of it. In Romans, Paul is playing with the concept of election. The Jews considered themselves (not without cause) to be God’s chosen (elect) people. The thing is, though, that they were elected for a purpose, and that purpose was so that they might be a light to the nations (non-Jews). They were elected not INSTEAD of the world, but FOR the world. They were to be the kingdom of priests who brought the other nations to the Father. Among the Jews were the “super-elect” who consisted of the Tribe of Levi, and among the tribe of Levi were the super-duper elect, who were the sons of Aaron – the priestly class. Then of the common people there were the Pharisees. These men were “elect” because they separated themselves, so they were a sort of self-chosen elect. They were elect not because they were born to it, but because they chose to separate themselves to God and make Him their first priority. ALL of these elect people were elect for OTHERS. They were elect for the purpose of bringing others to relationship with God.
If you study the scriptures closely you’ll see that God does this kind of “nesting doll” thing a lot. “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Yet if you look carefully, you’ll see that Jacob was chosen for the purpose of blessing Esau. (And keep in mind that “Jacob” is here not an individual but a people, as is Esau. Esau was not chosen; he was not of the elect, even though he was a son of Abraham. Paul points this out to show that even among Abraham’s children, not all are elect. Of the elect of Abraham’s children, not even all of these are elect. The point, I think, in his immediate audience, was to show that it is the spiritual children who are elect and not the physical children of Abraham. Branches had been broken out (the Jews who rejected Jesus) so that “you” (the Gentile believers) might be grafted in. But don’t go exalting yourselves against the branches that were broken out, thinking you’re better than them, because if God didn’t spare the original natural branches, He won’t spare you either. If He was able to graft you in, He can break you out and graft the natural branches back in all that much easier, since they belonged to the olive tree from the start.
The whole letter is basically, “Play nice with the other children!” with a whole lot of great stuff thrown in to show why we ought to do that.
So the ekklesia (not the organization; rather, the family of believers) has become the new elect, since Israel never did her job and even rejected her Messiah. Therefore, all the followers of Jesus are elect, and no one is any more elect than anyone else. The Jews aren’t better; the Gentiles aren’t better. We are all one new man in Christ (the second/last Adam). And ultimately, ALL men are included in Christ since as in Adam all died, even so in Christ all are made alive. None of us ought to think more highly of ourselves than is warranted. If we are elect, that is because of God’s choosing of us to be a blessing to all those younger brothers and sisters who (equally beloved) have not yet been grafted into the olive tree.
I really believe this is what Paul was talking about in 1 Cor when he talked of running the race for the “high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” The high calling is the election – the election is an election to service and ministry to others. Maybe Paul’s “high calling” referred to more than ministry on this earth in this lifetime. (Since I’m not sure it’s reasonable to think Paul was dubious about his being elected for THAT honor.) Maybe it refers to being one who, in the life to come, is prepared and ready to go out and minister to those lost sheep and lost coins and prodigal sons who have yet to be brought to the Father’s arms. Now THAT is a very high calling, and surely worthy of our every effort to run the race, leaving behind all the things that would hinder us that we might obtain the prize. What a prize! I long to be counted worthy of such a reward, and I’m sure everyone else here does, too.