Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Birthday blog - Election

'Put on therefore, as the elect of God, 
holy and beloved, 
bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: 
even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.'

Today, February 8th, I reach what some call 'a significant milestone'. 50 years ago at about 4am, after a cruelly hard labour I was born into the world, somewhat untimely ( I was two weeks late), but born I was whether I liked it or not.
The Gift of Life was thrust upon me and my will was (eventually), powerless to prevent it. 
I Had to Live.

This morning I was privileged, by virtue of my calling to Priestly ministry to Preside at the Eucharist as I am so privileged several times most weeks. On Wednesday mornings we use the old 1662 rite and the weekly readings supplied. This being the week of the fifth Sunday after Epiphany the epistle set is St Paul's letter to the Colossians, Chapter 3 and verses 12-17, which begins in the old translation with the verses above.

What hit me on this anniversary of my natural birth was the phrase 'the elect of God'. Chosen. 

This I know is a concept which many Christians, especially those who have grown up in a Calvinist tradition might find troubling. When folk have spoken to me of their troubles in this regard, their difficulties seem often to be along the lines of 'It doesn't seem right that God chooses some and not others'. This worry is rooted in one or two misconceptions. 

Firstly the perception of being Chosen as somehow being 'the blue eyed boy (or girl)'. One way or another folk are troubled by the perception of election that was rampant in some elements of Judaism under the Old Covenant that the Prophets railed against. That Israel was chosen because it was special, whereas in truth it was chosen precisely because in and of itself it was nothing . . . they were not chosen because they were special, they were special because they were chosen.

So firstly it is useful to meditate on this - if you are a Christian, you are so for no reason that has Anything to do with You.

But that is I think a fairly minor matter. The Scriptures are clear in this regard and most folk will hear a sermon which reminds them of this on a fairly regular basis, because we keep needing to be reminded of it.

The second misconception is what it means to be chosen. For many understand election in terms of chosen to go to heaven whilst others are chosen to . . . (the dark underside of most folks understanding of election, one which Calvin's theology forced him to and which he then had to hide from). In other words a misconception about the purpose of election . . . and here it is Vital that we come to grips with the proper meaning of election, which is its Goal. 

We are Chosen not for our Good, not for our 'eternal destiny, but for the Glory of God - 
that His Glory might be revealed in the world
We are chosen not to go to heaven, we are chosen to Go (walk/LIVE) in a heavenly way
and we have no choice in the matter.

Jesus is a unique rabbi - unlike others he is not chosen by his disciples, they are chosen by him  - the doctrine of election is crystallised in the words of Jesus - 'You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last,'

None of us children of faith Ever Choose to be Christian.
So much of our modern thought regarding becoming Christan, (i.e. over the last 200 yrs or so) - has focussed on Our Choice. 'We Decide for Christ'. 'We ask Jesus into our life'. 'I have decided to follow Jesus'. 'I decided to become a Christian'. We took Jesus words about New Birth and distort them into a handy formula We could put into action, we could make ourselves the centre of. This idea is as nonsensical as the idea that we choose to be born. The parallel is EXACT.

We are born into the world through the will of the flesh, through the will of man, not by ours - we are born into the Kingdom of God by His will, not by Any Choice on our part.

But here the distinction ends - for when we are born into the world, so we are told, we must make of it what we will, make a life for ourselves, make a name for ourselves. When we are born into God's Kingdom our Life is given to us. We need not seek for meaning, indeed it is now foolish to do so, our life has a meaning given to us - we are chosen, elect to reveal the Life of Heaven. We are chosen to adorn ourselves in the garments fitting the children of God we are, that their glory may direct the hearts and minds of those amongst whom we live to our heavenly father. Our purpose in Life is Given.

I wonder if actually our struggles with the idea of being the elect 
is in fact a faint apprehension of what it really means??
The Cost of Discipleship, of election is not something we choose, it is a given.

Not long after I came out into the air of Cumberland General Infirmary - barely conscious I was taken to the church of St Michael the Archangel in Stanwix, Carlisle. And there on April 1st 1962, I received the sacrament of baptism. I was marked and chosen. I had No say in the matter. Through many of the years of my youth and early realisation of faith I rebelled at the idea that I had had no say in the matter, that I had not chosen . . . Very Very Very slowly I am learning to be grateful for it. 

Firstly because I realise it puts real flesh on the doctrine of the absolute sovereignty of God in all and through all and thus of the unconquerable Love of God. 

But  I am learning to be grateful each morning, because 50 years later I realise that I am made of dust and that my election means that finally the responsibility for my life is in His hands and not mine. All I have to do is Live the Life that has been given . I do not need to wake up each morning and ponder the meaning of my existence, all I have to do is be obedient to the Life I have been given to me. As a dear friend wished me this morning, all I must do is to let go of the self consciousness of the last 50 years.

When we are born into the world 'we only have one life' but we believe we choose it on a moment by moment myriad of possibilities. When we are born from above, with no say in the matter , then truly 'we only have one life' - the life of Love, of long suffering, the life of mercy and forgiveness, the life of humility, and how humbling is it to say, "I have no say over my life I can only Live that which has been given me".

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; 
it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 
For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, 
which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. 


  1. Happy birthday, Eric
    Hope you had a wonderful celebration last night. Sorry could not attend as I am in Arthur's pass on way to west coast.

  2. Oh dear, I am not a calvinist at all, I'm afraid, a great believer in free will rather than predestination.

  3. HI Brian - thank you for your kind wishes - hope the West Coast weather is kinder than usual!

    HI Suem - no need to apologise for not being a Calvinist neither am I. Although he wrote some Excellent theology which is rarely read by his critics. Much of what we call Calvinism is the work of his followers rather than the man himself. He was a Wonderful Pastor and his teaching on the Sabbath would suprise most who thoought they knew what he was about. Eric Liddle (a Calvinist) is portrayed in Chariots of Fire as telling a young boy (gently) to desist form playing football on the Sabbath. This would Shock Calvin :)

    However on matters of Election I think he is Very much mistaken in some key regards and this post was written partly to respond to where I think he has it wrong. I also think that Election and Predestination are most Unhelpfully confused in most people's minds - this is a post about the former. Predestination is a Very Minor and Vague theme in Scripture. A moments reflection on The Election of Israel in this regard is instructive, Chosen yes, but impossible to say what this meant in terms of Predestination.

    As to Free Will . . . I am pretty much of the opinion that there is no such thing :) (never afraid to make sweeping ridiculous statements!!). Certainly I think in terms of the vast majority of humanity through the ages, lack of wealth or societal structure made such an idea but a pipe dream. It is a Late arriver philosophically.

    Even were we able to disconnect ourselves from every relationship and its obligations which rightly constrain our Will - we only end up in slavery to our own desires, we only do what 'we' want to do we are not free to do otherwise.

    However if we accept the idea for a moment, the only way in which Election Contravenes the idea of Free will is that we are chosen and called to follow in the Way of Christ that God's life might be revealed. This is no different than being born and then expected to fit in with the story the world tells about itself. So it no more constrains our free than being born does.

    In more stark terms - we are Chosen in Love, To Love. In so far as the concept of Free will is to be lauded, it is in our ability to say Yes to this Election.

    Should we ever meet I guess we may need a case of wine, rather than just a bottle - I don't think Calvin would have been too disapproving :)

    Thank you once more for your comments

  4. I think God wants all to be saved, and thus equipped all human beings with the capacity to know and love him and also to make moral choices. I can't see how having free will is about "disconnecting ourselves from every relationship/ obligation that constrains our will" - because it can equally be about freely submitting to certain relationship / obligations - and that is the beauty of it.

    The only way I would accept "election" is if I were to become a universalist. I am not quite a universalist yet, although I sometimes get a glimpse of God that allows me to imagine it is possible.
    I guess we will have to disagree on this one - but blessings to you:)

  5. "Much of what we call Calvinism is the work of his followers rather than the man himself." Bit like Christianity then?

    (The wobbly words for my post said "Himmel", how very apt:)