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Limited Atonement

By John S. Torell

 

“Limited atonement” is a term that is used in Calvinistic doctrine that has caused a lot of problems for the last 400 years. In this brief article, I am only pointing out the main teaching in this doctrine. Should the reader want to educate himself further, there is ample information from books and the internet.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

The Reformation against the Roman Catholic Church began in 1517 when Martin Luther, a German Roman Catholic priest posted his 95 theses on the door of his church building. John Calvin was an eight year old French boy in 1517, who would later develop the Protestant theology. He left the Roman Catholic Church as a young man, became born again and joined the Protestant movement. He moved from France to Geneva, Switzerland, due to persecution where he became a theologian and a minister. He became the founder of the French Protestant Church in France in 1550, which was called “The Reformed Church.”

French Protestants were called “Huguenots” and their persecution was so severe that the French Reformed Church was never able to get established due to hundreds of thousands of its members being murdered. Survivors were able to flee to the British colonies in America, South Africa and other nations. Due to persecution of born again Christians in England, many British Christians ended up in Geneva and were influenced by the theology that Calvin had developed. As a result, Calvinism was transplanted to Scotland by John Knox (Presbyterian Church) and by the Puritans to England who eventually ended up in the American colonies. Hyper-Calvinism was developed by “Particular Baptists” in England during the 1700s, which in time also spread to the United States.

THE DOCTRINE OF LIMITED ATONEMENT

The question was raised in the mind of John Calvin: Did Jesus die for the entire human race or only for those who would accept him as Lord and Saviour? I do not believe that it was the Holy Spirit that planted this question in his mind; rather, this was from the Devil, since it brought in confusion and threw many people into torment. As Calvin developed the doctrine of limited atonement, he believed that Jesus only died for the elect, those who were predestined to be born again. Was Calvin right or wrong? Let’s find out what the Bible says on this matter.

WHAT DID JESUS TEACH?

Jesus never brought up the subject of election concerning individual people. When Jesus sent out the apostles to preach and to heal (Luke 9:1-2), He never told them to check out if the people were chosen of God for salvation. It was a blanket order to go and preach to whosoever they would find along the way. The same was true for the 70 others, they were sent out on a similar mission. Jesus did not tell them to check and see if the people in question were elect or not and then minister to the ones who qualified. (Luke 10:1-3) In what is known as the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus told His disciples to teach all nations. There was no mention on His part concerning a selective salvation for certain individuals; rather, it was a general call to all humans.

In the Gospel of Mark chapter 16, a portion of scripture that both fundamental and liberal Christians claim is not part of the Bible, Jesus clearly tells His disciples to go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. (Mark 16:15-20) In those contested verses, Jesus makes the following statement: “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.” It is important to note that there is no discussion about being elect first. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells the crowd that “if any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink…” (John 7:37-39) Again we can see that Jesus did not tell the crowd that those who were the elect could come unto Him. We are told in chapter three of the Gospel of John that God so loved the world…that whosoever believes in Jesus will never perish. (John 3:16)

 Jesus never taught how a human being could know who is God’s elect and eligible for salvation. Preaching the Gospel is like fishing, you don’t know what is down in the water, you simply aim for any fish that is willing to bite your bait and be hooked. This is why Jesus told Peter and Andrew that He would make them “fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18-19)

SUMMARY

Jesus did not complicate the process of preaching the Gospel. He had one simple command: go out to the people and preach repentance. The Devil did not like that message so he made it more complicated to bring men into bondage. No man, regardless how Calvinistic he is, has the gift to tell if a person has been elected to be saved or not. To have a doctrinal debate on this subject is a waste of time and breath.

WHAT HAS GOD SAID ON THIS SUBJECT?

When God called Abraham, He told Abraham that he would be a blessing to all families on the earth. (Genesis 12:3)

Years later God confirmed to Abraham that he would be a blessing to all nations in the world. (Genesis 22:16-18)

The prophet Isaiah spoke on behalf of the Lord to all people in darkness, not just an elect group. (Isaiah 9:1-7)

God spoke through Isaiah to the people of Israel, that everyone who is thirsty may come. (Isaiah 55:1-9)

When God sent Jonah to the city of Nineveh, He didn’t tell Jonah to do an investigation first to see who was elected for salvation, and then only preach to these people; instead, he was told to go to the city and preach judgment if the people were not repentant. (Jonah 1:1-2; 3:1-10)

WHAT DID THE APOSTLES TEACH?

When Peter preached his first sermon after the day of Pentecost, he told the whole crowd to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus. (Acts 2:37-41) Peter did not tell them to fill out an application so that the apostles could get back to them after they had been checked out that they were worthy of being led in the sinner’s prayer. Instead, the apostle Peter brought out that God is not a respecter of persons. (Acts 10:34)

This is also later confirmed by the apostle Paul. (Romans 2:11) He makes it crystal clear that Jesus died for all men, not for just some elect. (Romans 5:17-19) In his letter to Timothy, Paul again confirms that it is the will of God that all men will be saved. (1 Timothy 2:1-4) It is in chapters nine and ten of Hebrews that Paul once and for all establishes what the atonement is, who it is for, and what it will do to cleanse a sinner from sins and bring them into the kingdom of God.

It was Jesus who finalized the truth of the Gospel when He told the apostle John that if any man heard His voice and opened the door, He would come in and sup with him. (Revelation 3:20-22)

THE DEVIL HATES EVANGELIZATION

The Devil does not want you to be saved; it is his will that you will perish and end up in the Lake of Fire. If you get saved despite his resistance, he will put doubt in your mind whether or not you are saved. After John Calvin developed his doctrine on limited atonement, it caused havoc in the Church for the last 400 years. There have been many debates by so-called “learned scholars” whether the church should evangelize and send out missionaries. Since Hyper Calvinists believe God has in advance selected who will be saved, it is futile for man to witness or establish missions. According to them, the church should concentrate on helping the saints to grow and leave the conversion outside to God.

You don’t need to be a Hebrew and Greek scholar to get an understanding on this subject; the Bible has clearly addressed this topic in a language you speak and read. Jesus made it simple by telling us to go out to every nation and preach the good news that Jesus saves!

Do not complicate the Bible. Just read it and simply do what God and Jesus has told us to do. Stop trying to split hairs. Do not try to discuss issues which we have no knowledge about and are unable as humans to understand.

If you want to analyze and debate the issue of limited atonement and be tormented whether or not you are one of God’s elect, go ahead, but I will not join you because I am going to rest secure in the bosom of Jesus and lead as many people to Christ as I can!

“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.

Behold, I have given him for a witness to the people, a leader and commander to the people. Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the LORD thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee. Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.

For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:1-13)


Volume 2, 2008