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Friday, February 25, 2005

election and covenant

While John Calvin is often considered a catalyst for western individualism, his theology of predestination allows a Christian to move beyond individual salvific concerns and focus on communal concern for the other (i.e. the oppressed). I am not arguing for the view that evangelism is unnecessary due to predestination, in fact, I argue that evangelism is absolutely necessary so that it may proclaim God’s gracious love and his preferential option for the poor, which was and is revealed in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the elect should be more concerned about their covenantal obligations rather than the doctrine of election. Calvin acknowledges the ineffectiveness of a discussion about election which seeks to explain it’s “fairness,” because “fairness” establishes a righteousness above God, which is nonexistent if God is being-itself: “When therefore, one asks why God has so done, we must reply: because he has willed it. But if you proceed further to ask why he so willed, you are seeking something greater and higher than God’s will, which cannot be found.” Similarly, Gutiérrez argues that God’s preferential option for the poor is not exclusive, but inclusive simply because God has willed it.
If God has chosen an elect group for salvation, that group’s justification is revealed through the concern for others. Gutiérrez argues that God has a preferential option for the poor which is inclusive; if the poor, who have nothing to offer to God, are given preferential option then the entire world is open to reunion with God, because the last are becoming first and the First has become the last [Lk 13:30]. Election is not a zero-sum game, rather through the Father’s mercy he has placed our damnation upon the crucified Jesus--the First who became last. Therefore, since God has a preferential option for the poor, the elect--who have been united with the Godhead--reveal their justification through the same preferential option for the poor. In fact, Jesus Christ, who is the final revelation of God’s concern for the oppressed, not only came to minister to the poor [Luke 4:18-19], but also was resurrected so that the preferential option would become eternal and manifested in his followers [Lk 18:18ff]. The socio-political reversal he espoused was not an arcane, contextual agenda, but is a resurrected, living event with kingdom implications for the present and eschatological future. Cone writes, “we must regard his [Jesus Christ’s] past activity as a pointer to what he is doing now.” As the elect, one is covenantally obligated to do God’s present action.
The elect must identify themselves as the oppressor, the oppressed or both, though this final option is often used by oppressors to placate their desire to be “sinful, but not that sinful.” The danger of election is that it can be manipulated by the oppressors so that the elect appear to be the privileged. Therefore, it is crucial that any understanding of election seriously acknowledge God’s preference for the oppressed, otherwise it becomes another oppressive tool. If the doctrine of predestination does not prefer the poor then it is unbiblical, reinforces oppression and is inconsistent with the ministry of Jesus [e.g. Lk 8:40-49]. Calvin, even with his culture’s limited understanding of socio-political concerns, acknowledges this danger when he writes that riches are not signs of election.
Since numerous individuals have acknowledged the oppression by the institutional church, perhaps Reuther’s desire to remove the institution from the community is not unwarranted. If the institutional church has failed to give preferential option to the oppressed (African-Americans, females, the poor, etc.), it is necessary for the elect to form “base communities,” which abide by their, the elect’s, covenantal obligations. While Gutiérrez says that “Only a church in solidarity with the actual poor, a church that denounces poverty as an evil, is in any position to proclaim God’s freely bestowed love,” I would argue that the church must go beyond a mere denouncing of poverty. Instead the church must be actively ministering against poverty and oppression since that is what the elect have been chosen for: Not to bask in their election, but to “carry out the purposes of God in the world.”

Intentionally provocative statements restated:
? If predestination is true, then the elect should be more concerned with the church’s covenantal response/obligation than our individual salvation.
? Since we worship a Risen Lord, his preferential option for the oppressed must be central to our understanding of the Gospel (and our election into its covenant), otherwise we dismiss his socio-political ministry as a mere historical event.
? If the doctrine of predestination/election does not prefer the poor, then the doctrine further divides the privileged and the oppressed suggesting that God has favored the oppressor over the oppressed.
? If the church is an oppressive, sexist, racist institution, the preferential option for the poor is no longer found inside the institution and must be relocated to “base communities.”

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