Pastor Dave,
Do you believe God is sovereign*** in ones salvation (i.e., He chooses us, by changing our hearts to say yes to Jesus, Eph.2:1-10)? I have a home group, where some of the members were curious about your views. For the most part, we all believe that God is sovereign in salvation and life itself. Yet, we are a group who believe in home churches, and are weary of institutional church.
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ANSWER:


Thanks for asking. We can relate to weariness of institutional church. We in the Third Day family prefer the biblical metaphors , models and realities for church: church as people, networked in a living organism. John Wimber threw down the challenge to always let the organization be subservient to the living organism. This, as you know is difficult to navigate, and must be handed carefully and prayerfully, once you have any level of structure (that is, more than one person (: ...) At Third Day, we believe God has called us to model a basically house or cell-based congregation, with ties to a non-denominational , apostolic, relationship-based network of churches, home churches and ministries. God bless you on your similar route and journey.

House church is in fact my favorite context to work out and wrestle theological predicaments such as the one you raise. The Spirit gives great wisdom and liberty in the informal, organic and "Spiritaneous" gathered community. We have a weekly "Love Feast" , in which there is no assigned agenda, but we move into incredible times of prayer, ministry to each other, and fruitful discussion in a "round table", better yet "open house" (literally, we leave the door open! I don't know where you live, but if in a climate that is conducive to it, I recommend it!) type of atmosphere.

As to your question, I will say "yes," but I feel I must qualify or interpret the "yes." People can denote and connote varying and contradictory things by loaded terms like "sovereignty". My definition of the biblical words for "sovereign" (Hebrew "donay" and Greek "despotes" is simply, "in charge". Because one of the teaching emphases the Lord has given me is spiritual warfare, I have taught often on how God is so ultimately, incredibly , and "ridiculously" sovereign that He can and does use not only good things, but bad and evil people and things for the good of His glory and the good of His kids. Romans 8:28, of course, clinches this: if "all things" work together for the good of the chosen, then this includes absolutely ALL things, even the most vile evil. Martin Luther is quoted as quipping in this context,: "The devil is God's devil." This doesn't mean that God sends or likes the evil that happens, but that He ultimately and sovereignty uses it for good and Godly ends, turning it around in wonderful and sovereign ways we never fully grasp or appreciate.

I have teasingly accused myself of being a "Calviminian" (synthesis of "Calvinist" and "Arminian" {or Wesleyan}, two historic streams of theological systems usually pitted against each other as mutually exclusive. Yet I have literally marked up the works of Wesley and Calvin, and have found considerable sections where Wesley admits being "within a hairs breadth of Calvinism," and Calvin (though historically before Wesley, and thus obviously didn't know or know of Wesley) sure sounds like a Wesleyan-Arminian). In summary, what I mean by my "Calviminianism" is simply that God is sovereign; that He is totally in charge, and all good things are only a gift from His hand ("Every good and perfect gift, " asserts James in 5:17 of his biblical book, " comes down from the Father of lights"); as in we are born depraved (the nutshell message of Calvin) and humans have been given freedom to choose (though even Wesley, the Calvin-basher admitted, "Freedom of the will? Ha! We are free only to do evil."...see Wesley's "Works", Sermon, 9, Volume 5, p. 104)

When there are Scriptures on both sides of an issue (Jesus, who as Truth incarnate cannot contradict Himself says BOTH "You all did not choose me, but I chose you", AND "When anyone chooses to come to me, I will not cast them out." , we adopt an appropriate "Both/And" approach and paradigm. There is nothing wrong, wimpy or compromising about drawing truths from both "sides", and accepting that we often live in a "both/and" not an "either/or" type of world when we do theology. Truth is often found most articulately and accurately in paradox (not contradiction). Of course, an extreme Calvinist and an extreme Wesleyan/Arminian cannot fully agree. They are indeed in different camps (literally so, where I live! Isn't that sad?) . But who can deny that (BOTH) God is inherently good and in charge, AND that even though we are fallen and depraved, God gives each of us the ability to choose Jesus for salvation...or not.

I do not believe like an extreme Calvinist that before we were born, God "randomly" chose only certain individuals to be saved, and that these would be eventually saved whether or not they ever intentionally chose Christ or not. A self-professed Calvinistic (who you are about to find out is more a true Calviminian) evangelist once actually told me something like this: "I just choose to ask everyone to accept Christ, and if anyone chooses Christ who was not among the elect, I leave that for God to sort out." I was raised , discipled, and was seminary-trained in a far more Wesleyan-Arminian tradition (It must have been predestined!!(:.....), and thus might be a tad more true to turn my created phrase around, and coin and crown myself an "Arminist" instead of a "Calviminian". However, we more Wesleyan types, who like to invite everyone to accept Christ with the free will God gave them, need to remember from Brother Calvin how even our free will is a gift of God. (Robert Chiles, himself a Wesleyan, has penned the seminal and pivotal work on the inherent and inevitable dangers of a consistently Wesleyan "free will" theology: "Theological Transition in American Methodism"). And the Scripture you quoted is the most profound illustration of this incredible, paradoxical truth I know. When Paul proclaims "By grace you all have been saved, through faith, and THIS is not of yourselves; IT is the gift of God" , I believe that the "this" and the "it" (and here, Greek grammar, and the majority of sound commentators, see especially F. F. Bruce, back me up here) refers not just to the "grace" but also to the "faith." In other words, both (Uh oh, I sense another pesky "both/and" brewing) "grace" and "faith" are a gift of God. We know for sure we only receive grace as a gift. But technically, can't even drum up faith (the part we often consider "our part" of the equation) in and of ourselves. Yet, paradoxically and unapologetically, the Lord asks/commands us to "have faith." Our congregation's statement of faith (click the "Beliefs" page here: Beliefs ) phrases this truth this way: "We are called to take initiative by God's initiative."


I was fascinated some years ago to find, in a determined and detailed Scriptural study, (partly to defend myself against hyper Calvinists), to find that terms like "election" and "predestination, " when found in the Word, (contrary to we have been taught), never refer primarily to individuals, and the context is never primarily salvation. Again and again, we find that God has sovereignty predestined a body, a corporate entity (which at least potentially should include everybody) ,and the result of this group "accepting their acceptance" or "choosing their chosen ness" is holiness. Yes, Virginia, God predestines. but not random individuals unto salvation; rather a church unto corporate holiness.

The heart of the matter of "free" will and choice for me is the "loving parent "analogy. An earthly parent does not (as tempting as it is) force his kids to always do good and choose right; if he forced the choices of his kids, they could not be choices; how could the kids ever own them? And forcing would evidence that the parent didn't truly and completely love his children. Love must be freely chosen to be genuine; Loving parents can't violate or rape. C.S. Lewis is to the point; "God did not make us automatons or robots." God loves us so much, He had to create us with free will; and God the Lover-Gambler took a terrible risk, like Love must, that things would go terribly wrong, when people did not choose Christ or good. But just as excellent and God-inspired parents have to "let" children make choices, some inevitably wrong ones, because they love them fully and thus painfully; God, grieved as He gets when people make wrong, consequence-laden choices, and even take the ultimate wrong choice (or non-choice), to be fully Love, must allow this.


Interestingly and of course ( in God's good sovereignty) intentionally, this "God prefers free children to automatons. despite the risk" illustration works well in the area of theodicy (that is, the problem of evil and suffering), and also in the area of miraculous intervention as well. I quote p. 5 of his classic "The Problem of Pain":

   "We can perhaps conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of freewill by his creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound-waves that carry insults or lies. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were to be carried to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.... That God can and does, on occasions, modify the behavior of matter and produce what we call miracles, is part of the Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare."[5]

Your sentence, "He chose us, by changing our hearts to say yes to Jesus" , is excellently and intelligently phrased, and I think we agree. (Sometimes people think they are on the same page, but are actually using a different dictionary. Theology is particularly vulnerable, as we handle holy things). I might want to add,.."...yet He won't do this without our permission." He loves us so much that He will do anything short of violating our free will and "bending our will against our will" to put us in the place and context where we freely (yet by His sovereign grace), say a saving "yes" to His Saving Son. But as we all know and sense, even that desire and tug to say "yes" has to be a gift. A gift that must be opened and accepted and used to be legal.


All that- to say "yes" to your question. Sorry if I've said too much or too little; or not quite addressed it the way you intended. Please let me know. This is one of the central paradoxes and mysteries of our common great faith, and minds far wiser than mine have fallen far short in attempting to theologize here. I am lost in wild wonder, humbling awe and abandoned worship at such a Sovereign Lord. His ways, a wise Isaiah once noted, are far above ours. Yet this God is so in love with us, He wants nothing less than to love the hell (literally) out of us. And if we take one small step toward Him, He'll come running towards us, as the son in Luke 15 serendipitously discovered. God is so overwhelmingly holy, and thus can never be figured out completely, but He loves little me, a little monkey futilely yet prayerfully trying to speak for Him in a column like this and a church like Third Day. Ever notice the futility Ezekiel felt trying to theologize about God for others? "Ah, SOVEREIGN (note that word!)  LORD!, " he cried out, "They are saying of me, 'This man speaks in crazy parables!" (21:49).
That must be me. And I remain your crazy but Sovereign Lord-loving servant and His,
-Dave.

***Editor's note: The Word "Sovereign" means:

Main Entry: (1) sov·er·eign {noun}
Variant(s): also sov·ran /'sä-v(&-)r&n, -v&rn also 's&-/
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English soverain, from Old French, from soverain, adjective
Date: 13th century
1 a : one possessing or held to possess sovereignty b : one that exercises supreme authority within a limited sphere c : an acknowledged leader : ARBITER
2 : any of various gold coins of the United Kingdom

Main Entry: (2)sovereign{adj}
Variant(s): also sovran
Function: adjective
Etymology: Middle English soverain, from Middle French, from Old French, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin superanus, from Latin super over, above -- more at OVER
Date: 14th century
1 a : superlative in quality : EXCELLENT b : of the most exalted kind : SUPREME <sovereign virtue> c : having generalized curative powers <a sovereign remedy> d : of an unqualified nature : UNMITIGATED <sovereign contempt> e : having undisputed ascendancy : PARAMOUNT
2 a : possessed of supreme power <sovereign ruler> b : unlimited in extent : ABSOLUTE c : enjoying autonomy : INDEPENDENT <sovereign state>
3 : relating to, characteristic of, or befitting a sovereign
synonym see FREE
- sov·er·eign·ly adverb

Source: Merriam Webster on-line dictionary: Merriam-Webster OnLine

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