--And a matter of Semantics--
This subject will consist of two re-printed letters. One, by a very good and godly Fundamentalist today who stays in the thick of the battle for Godís Truth, but denies the Biblical doctrine of Limited Atonement. The other, an answer to his letter by the current editor of this paper.
The danger of preaching that
Christ died only for the elect
The teaching that Christ died only for the elect is commonly known as a belief in "limited atonement" (some reformed men like to refer to it as "definite atonement"). It is the teaching that
Christ died on the cross and paid the penalty only for the sins of the elect. He did not die for the ones who eventually will be in the lake of fire. Often it is worded as follows: "Christ died for all men without distinction but He did not die for all men without exception." This is a subtle game of semantics which makes it possible for them to say that He died for all without really meaning that he died for all. What they really mean is that Christ died for all kinds of people and all classes of people, but He did not die for every single person. That is, He died for Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, slave and free, male and female, etc., but it is understood that He died for only elect Jews and Gentiles, only elect rich and poor, etc.
Dr. Paul Reiter has clearly and simply summarized the Scriptural teaching on this issue, For whom did Christ die? He died... 1. For all (I Timothy 2:6; Isaiah 53:6). 2. For every man (Heb. 2:9). 3. For the world (John 3:16). 4. For the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2). 5. For the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). 6. For false teachers (II Peter 2:1). 7. For many (Matthew 20:28). 8. For Israel (John 11:50-51). 9. For the Church (Eph. 5:25). 10. For "me" (Gal. 2:20).
One believer who was not committed to the belief that Christ died for all men made this remarkable concession: "If Christ really did die for all men then I donít know how the Bible could say it any clearer than it does." How true!
It is evident that the extreme Calvinist must ignore the clear language and obvious sense of many passages, and he must force the Scriptures and make them fit into his own theological mold. Limited atonement may seem logical and reasonable, but the real test is this: Is it Biblical? "What saith the Scriptures?" (Romans 4:3). In child-like faith we must simply allow the Bible to say what it says.
Those who promote the erroneous doctrine try to tell us that "world" does not mean "world" and "all" does not really mean "all" and "every man" does not really mean "every man" and "the whole world" does not really mean the whole world." We are told that simple verses such as John 3:16 and Isaiah 53:6 must be understood not as a child would understand them but as a theologian would understand them. That is, we must re-interpret such verses in light of our system of theology.
The true doctrine of the atonement could be stated as follows:
The Scriptures teach that the sacrifice of the Lamb of God involved the sin of the world (John 1:29) and that the Saviourís work of redemption (I Timothy 2:6; II Peter 2:1), reconciliation (II Cor. 5:19) and propitiation (I John 2:2) was for all men (I Timothy 4:10), but the cross-work of Christ is efficient, effectual and applicable only for those who believe (I Timothy 4:10; John 3:16). We could even say it in a simpler way: "Christís death was sufficient for all but efficient only for those who believe." The cross-work of Christ is not limited, but the application of the cross-work through the work of the Holy Spirit is limited to believers only.
The extreme Calvinist would say that the cross was designed only for the elect and had no purpose for the "non-elect" (persistent unbelievers). But, the death of Godís Son had divine purpose and design for both groups, for the elect. Godís design was salvation according to His purpose and grace in Christ Jesus before the world began (II Tim. 1:9; II Thes. 2:13). For unbelievers, Godís purpose and design is to render the unbeliever without excuse. Men are condemned because they have rejected the person and work of Jesus Christ and refused Godís only remedy for sin (John 3:18; 5:40). Unbelievers can never say that a provision for their salvation was not made and not offered. They can never stand before God and say, "The reason I am not saved is because Christ did not die for me" No, the reason they are not saved is because they rejected the One who died for them and who is the Saviour of all men (I Tim. 4:10). They are without excuse.
This issue is not merely academic. It is extremely practical. It affects the very heart of the gospel and its presentation. The gospel which Paul preached to the unsaved people of Corinth was this: "Christ died for our sins" (I Cor. 15:3). Do we really have a gospel of good news for all men (compare Luke 2:10-11)? In preaching the gospel, what can we say to an unsaved person? Can we say, "My friend, the Lord Jesus died for you He paid the penalty for your sins. He died as your Substitute"?
One Reformed writer said this: "But counselors, as Christians, are obligated to present the claims of Christ. They must present the good news that Christ died on the cross in the place of His own, that He bore the guilt and suffered the penalty for their sins. He died that all whom the Father had given to Him might come unto Him and have life everlasting. As a reformed Christian, the writer believes that counselors must not tell any unsaved counselee that Christ died for him, for they cannot say that. No man knows except Christ Himself who are His elect for whom He died" [emphasis mine] (Jay Adams, Competent to Counsel, p. 70)
As C. H Mackintosh has said, "A disciple of the high school of doctrine [extreme calvinism]: will not hear of a world-wide gospel -- of Godís love to the world -- of glad tidings to every creature under heaven. "He has only gotten a gospel for the elect."
If the reformed preacher were really honest about it, he would need to preach his doctrine along these lines: "Christ may have died for your sins. If you are one of Godís elect, then He died for you, but if not, then you have no Saviour. I cannot tell you that Christ died on the cross for you because I donít know this for sure. If you believe, the gospel then this proves that you are one of Godís elect, and then it is proper to speak of Christ dying for you."
What an insult to the God "who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth" (I Timothy 2:4). The Apostle Paul was not so handicapped when he preached the gospel to the unsaved Corinthians. He clearly proclaimed that "Christ died for our sins [yours and mine!]." If Paul could preach that message, so should we and so must we!
------This study is excerpted from "The Dangers of Reformed Theology," George Zeller, Middletown Bible Church, 349 East St., Middletown. CT 06457. This study and a companion one entitled "For Whom Did Christ Die?" are available from Pastor Zeller for $2.75 each postpaid. --- David Cloud. Way of Life Literature, 1701 Harns Rd., Oak Harbor, WA 98277
Timothy Fellows, Jr.
It was directly after I wrote to you, thanking you for your ministry and proposing that you were a "Calvinist at heart" that you responded the next day with an article against Limited Atonement or "extreme Calvinism."
I do not take back anything that I said. I still believe the blessing of the Lord is upon your ministry; I am thankful for and pray for your ministry. And I still believe you are a Calvinist at heart.
Your very next article that followed "The Dangers of preaching that Christ died only for the elect" was "A little help from you Preachers." Towards the close of that article, you mentioned to a critic the following:
"I was minding my own foolish-business, and the Lord-reached down and saved me by his marvelous grace, and He called me to preach and put a mighty burning in my heart about the defense of the faith. He could not have called a weaker man, but call me he did. By Godís grace, I am going to fulfill His calling."
That sir, is one of the most beautiful pictures of a Calvinistic salvation that I have ever seen or heard. One can even see T-U-L-I-P from the beginning to the end, where you of your own desire will persevere unto the end. You gave all the glory of your salvation to God -- even when he interrupted your life with his grace.
I would like to give a Scriptural answer to your re-published article against Calvinism. Since I am much younger than you are, I hope to be respectful, meek and charitable, because I hope to win you over. Yes sir, I am a soul-winning, zealous, evangelistic, five-point Calvinist -- by the grace of God.
(Even though Mr. George Zeller wrote the article, I will make reference as if you wrote it to avoid bringing in a third person, also, because you endorsed its contents by publishing it.)
The Atonement: A Definition of Semantics
Your article dated September 23, 1997, begins with a definition of what "limited atonement" means. You state, "Often it is worded as follows: ĎChrist died for all men without distinction but He did not die for all men without exception.í This is a subtle game of semantics which makes it possible for them to say that He died for all without really meaning that he died for all." However, a little while later, you define "the true doctrine of atonement" as follows: "We could even say it in a simpler way: ĎChristís death was sufficient for all but efficient only for those who believe.í The cross-work of Christ is not limited but the application of that cross-work through the work of the Holy Spirit is limited to believers only." Brother Cloud, are you not doing exactly the same thing that you accuse us of doing -- "a subtle game of semantics"? You acknowledge limiting the atonement of Christ; do you not?
For Whom Did Christ Die?
You say, "Those who promote this erroneous doctrine [limited atonement] try to tell us that Ďworldí does not really mean Ďworldí and Ďallí does not really mean Ďallí and Ďevery maní does not really mean Ďevery maní and Ďthe whole worldí does not really mean the whole world.í" Brother Cloud, I am surprised to hear you say this. Do you really believe the preceding statement? If you do, then you believe the following:
Luke 2:1-3 "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed...And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city." To be consistent, you must believe that the American Indians, the Aborigines, the inhabitants of the whole world were included in this statement of Holy Writ. I donít believe you do.
Romans 1:8 "First I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world." Do you really believe that Paul was thinking of places like the Hawaiian Islands, Antarctica and Cuba? I donít believe you do.
I John 5:19 "And we know we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness." You must believe that John and those included in "we" could be of God and lie in wickedness at the same time. I donít believe you do.
Revelation 12:9 "And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world..." You must believe that Satan deceived Abraham, David, Paul, Jesus (being a man), and yourself. I donít believe yon do.
Brother Cloud, is it not dishonest to accuse us, while you do the same thing? Certainly the words, all, every, world, etc. must be taken in their context. I know you believe this, because I have read many great articles you have written based on the true context of Scripture.
I would like to comment on a few of the points by Dr. Reiter that were not covered above.
#6 "For false teachers (II Peter 2:1)" This is also dishonest, because you apply it to Christ when the Greek word is never used for Christ or his atonement in the New Testament. The word for "Lord" in Greek Ė "Despothz" always refers to the Father. The buying back refers to the blessings they received in this life being called (though falsely) by His name. Do you not believe that people can be blessed from Godís Word and His people even though being unconverted? Consider Godís blessing on the house of Laban simply because Jacob was there. Consider the blessing on every town in Israel where the Ark abode. Do you not believe that Demas was blessed during the time he worked with Paul, though being unconverted? I think you believe this.
#7 "For Ďmeí (Gal. 2:20)" Brother Cloud, If Galatians is written to unconverted people, then they must be included; however, if Galatians, along with every other epistle in the New Testament is written to "the churches," " The Saints," "the faithful in Christ Jesus," then it is dishonest to apply the promises and blessings of God to those not addressed.
Certainly, you would not base your understanding of Scripture according to the understanding of a child. The Scriptures constantly refer to growing up, having our senses exercised to discern between good and evil, growing in grace, putting away childish things, not being as children tossed to and fro... Of course a person must be humbled with child-like faith, and even a child can have understanding to be converted, but no novice understands all the meat of Scripture. Would you not agree? Is that not a major problem in our churches today Ė that people are spoon-fed?
Christís Successful Atonement
Matthew 1:21 "And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for He shall save His people from their sins.í" Notice that it is Christ who does the saving; He saves His people -- distinct from others; From their sins -- not In their sins. Can Christ not do what He wills with His own? Are our eyes evil because His eye is good? Was it not grace and mercy that God saved any of us? Must He save all?
John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep." Not the goats.
John 10:26-28 "But ye believed not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all..." Did the Father give all to the Son?
Brother Cloud, if Christ was made a wrath appeasement for anyone in hell, why will Godís wrath be directed at them throughout eternity? If Christ was made a curse for anyone in hell, why will God one day say, "Depart from me ye cursed..."?
If Christís work had yet to be completed by man, how could he say, "It is finished"? Who limits the Atonement of Christ? If a manís decision completes the work of Christ and is a part of his salvation, can he not walk up to the Lord Jesus any time in eternity and say the truth to Christ -- "I know you made it possible for me to be here, but I am where I am because of the decision that I made"? I know you donít believe this.
(Continued next issue)