Minutes With Messiah banner

What's the Point?

by Tim O'Hearn

Do you ever wonder, “What’s the point?” Not depression; just looking at what people do and asking why. Sometimes people surprise you, like when a friend with Down Syndrome got his degree in culinary science and opened his own restaurant. People asked, “Why go to college with your condition?” He would just hug them and prove that he could do it. Why publish a paper that only a couple of hundred people will read, or write songs that may only be sung a couple of times? (Because you do it for you, and if anyone else benefits, that is gravy.) Sometimes, though, it is a valid question. Given what you claim to believe, or your physical limitations, or whatever it may be, what is the point of trying to do something? It makes no sense. Given a certain theological stance, why do some people do something that seems contradictory to their beliefs?

First a brief history. Shortly after the beginning of Christ’s church, there arose various groups. One of those was Gnosticism. Among the beliefs of the Gnostics was that all flesh (or all matter) is evil, and cannot be good. Gnosticism was rejected as a heresy and died out as a distinct group. Many years later, when the Reformation caused many to question Roman Catholic (and to some extent Eastern Orthodox) doctrine, some ideas that people thought were dead revived. Among those was Gnosticism. John Calvin incorporated part of Gnostic doctrine in the first of his five tenets, the Total Depravity of man.

That part of Gnosticism has always led to one of two conclusions. If man’s flesh is totally sinful (but the soul is not), then one option is that the soul can be saved but the flesh keeps on sinning. (This contradicts Romans 6, which argues that we must not continue sinning if we have been saved from sin.) The other conclusion is that Jesus could not have been God and flesh, so therefore he only appeared to be in bodily form. (This ignores Hebrews 10:20, which says that we have access to God through his flesh.)

Calvinism, which is currently practiced by Presbyterians and Congregationalists (and to some extent Baptists) is based on the doctrine of predestination of individuals. Its extreme form, that God is in control of every detail of life, makes one ask, what’s the point? If God can make sick or heal, why does the Presbyterian Church put up so many hospitals? Going further, what is the point of living at all?

Some of Calvin’s other points related to that doctrine include Unconditional Election and Irresistible Grace. The former says that God has chosen (predestined) those who will be saved and those that will be lost. The latter says that if God has elected an individual, that person cannot help but be among the elect; the most extreme form of this is that the elect cannot choose to sin. Ignoring that these doctrines seem to contradict the first (if man is totally sinful, how can he receive the grace and no longer sin?), these doctrines raise an important question: What’s the point?

Given that I am totally sinful and cannot choose to be otherwise, that God has chosen me to be among the saved from that sinfulness, and that I cannot help but be saved, what is the point of preaching? If one is to be elect, and cannot resist it, then they will be elect whether or not the word is preached to them. If one is not among the elect and cannot choose election, then preaching to that person is nothing more than a waste of time.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Rom 10:14-15)

It appears that Paul had never heard the doctrine of individual predestination, or the doctrines that come from it. He says preaching is important, as is hearing, in bringing one into faith. Preaching has a point. If so, where does that leave the followers of John Calvin and his pupil John Knox?