Union and Identification vs. Actual Sovereign Choice
Corporate Election (CE) is normally associated with Arminian theology. However, it can be argued that CE is fundamentally a Calvinist position on the doctrine of election — which I shall do in this study.
Central debate: Is election merely one of union and identification? Or is it an election to union and identification? This is the primary debate, and this is what needs to be settled.
I no longer like using the labels Calvinism and Arminianism in discussing theology, but for the sake of proper identification and clarity, I’ll make an exception in this series…..since CE is mostly associated with, and recognized in the context of Arminian theology.
Having once been an Arminian proponent of CE myself, and having studied it and taught it for several years, I have a good understanding of it. Thus I’m able to talk about it from an informed position. Some Calvinists who try to refute the Arminian concept of CE, don’t do a very good job, because they don’t have a proper understanding of it. I don’t have that liability. So hopefully I won’t be making the same types of mistakes. That doesn’t mean that someone can’t mount a rebuttal to this. I’ve learned that someone can always write a rebuttal to most any theological position. The question the reader must answer is which position makes the most biblical sense?
Arminian Concept of Corporate Election (CE)
The Arminian concept of CE is that election is the choosing of the corporate Body of Christ (group/Church), and that it is by way of, or in union and identification with Christ. Jesus is the Chosen One of God (Matt 12:18; Lu 9:35) as the principle Elect, and God has chosen a corporate people to be included in, or incorporated into Him. As sinners place their faith in Christ, they’re added to the corporate Body of Christ — of whom He is the corporate representative (Head). Jesus is essentially the “group” Himself — the group being the Church, the Body of Christ. He is the embodiment of the group. Thus we are the elect in our union and identification with Christ. Individuals become the elect as they’re added to the Church in Christ. We are not elect before we come to faith in Christ. This concept of CE is in the context of free will. Or more accurately, a will that has been freed by the Holy Spirit, where a sinner is free to receive Christ as Lord and Savior or free to reject Him (prevenient grace). We are, thus, the elect of God – both corporately and individually – by virtue of our union with Christ. Thus it’s not an election to be in Christ, but an election because of being in Christ. “The elect,” then, is a designation or status that identifies us with Christ as the people of God.
This form of CE also views Abraham and Israel as a type of Christ and the Church. Abraham, along with his sons Isaac and Jacob, together are the head of corporate Israel — more directly Jacob, from whom were born the twelve sons (tribes) that formed the nation of Israel, and who (Jacob) was named Israel himself by God. The choosing of Abraham and his two sons, provide the Old Testament (OT) pattern for election in the New Testament (NT). As head of Israel, they are essentially the group. Jews were the chosen of God in them. As Jews were born into their natural line of descent, they became part of elect Israel. Thus they were elect by virtue of their union and identification with Abraham and his sons.
Likewise, Jesus is Head of the Church — the corporate Body of Christ (Eph 5:23; Col 1:18). The choosing of Christ – as the “Chosen One” of God – forms the basis or the foundation of our own election. As Head of His Church, Jesus is essentially the group Himself, as true Israel. The redeemed are the chosen of God in Him (Eph 1:4). As sinners are born spiritually (new birth) upon faith in Christ, they become part of the elect Church (spiritual Israel). In other words, in our union and identification with the Elect Christ (the Chosen One), we have our own election. We are elect strictly on the basis of union with Him. Therefore, when the redeemed come into union with Christ, it’s an addition to the Church, the corporate Body of Christ. Individuals become the elect as they become united with the Elect Church. Their election is solely on the basis of union with the Church in Christ. The Church is elect in Christ corporately, and we are elect in the Church individually.
So to be clear, according to this view of CE, this is not an election to salvation for individuals. Election is the choosing of the corporate Body of Christ, who is Himself the true Elect. Election begins with Christ, and we become elect in our union and identification with Him. Thus in Christ, believers have an elect “status” rather than an election to believe. Those who believe are the elect, but not before they believe.
Corporate Election Based on Sovereign Choice
Calvinists believe that election is the unconditional sovereign choosing of specific individuals, who were foreknown and predestined by God (Ro 8:29-30; Eph 1:4-5,11), who come into the world as God’s elect. These elect are chosen for salvation, chosen to believe in Christ. Calvinists believe that the atonement is limited to His elect, which is known as “limited atonement” or “particular redemption.”
Likewise, as with individual election, Calvinists believe that the election of the corporate Body of Christ (the Church) is via sovereign choice, predestined by God. Therefore, to speak of the Body is to speak of each individual member of the Body. The two cannot be separated. The election of the Church is the election of each individual member of the Church. In other words, when God chose His corporate people, it was with every individual in view. It was the complete Church that He chose, with every member in mind — just as we see in Revelation 5:9; Rev 7:9; Rev 19:6-9. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, it was specifically for the sins of those people that He died for.
I believe this is the true nature of corporate election. This is the case I will make in this series.
Arminian and Calvinist CE looks the same on outside. If one were to look at the Arminian concept of CE and the Calvinist concept of CE, from the outside it looks basically the same: I agree that God chose a people (group/Church) unto Himself. I agree that God chose His Son to be the Savior and Head of His people. I agree that the Old Testament (OT) provides the pattern for New Testament (NT) CE. I agree that God chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (more directly Jacob) as the corporate head of Israel. I agree that the OT Jews who born into their lineage became part of the elect people of Israel. I agree that the covenant promises to Israel are fulfilled in Christ. I agree that Jesus is the “seed” (offspring) that is spoken of in Galatians 3:16. I agree that Jesus is true Israel, that Israel is fulfilled and continues in Christ and His Church as spiritual Israel. I agree that those who place their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior are in union with Him and His Church. However, how we arrive (arrived) at all this is a whole different matter. This difference between the two is what this series about corporate election is all about.
Note: Not all Calvinists agree that Israel has its fulfillment and continuation in Christ and His Church as spiritual Israel (New Israel), which is known as Fulfillment Theology. Many are dispensational (dispensationalism) in their theology, which separates Israel from the Church, believing that God still has a plan for the nation of Israel yet to be fulfilled. However, many – if not most – Calvinists are proponents of either Covenant Theology or New Covenant Theology, of which Fulfillment Theology is a central component. Therefore, they agree with this position. However, all Calvinists agree that election is according to God’s unconditional sovereign choice.
Four Major Flaws of Arminian CE
In the next four parts of this series, I’ll be discussing what I believe to be major flaws in the Arminian concept of corporate election. I won’t discuss any of the details here, but here are points:
1. Arminian CE fails to recognize the true relationship between the corporate Body of Christ and the individual members that comprise the Body.
2. Arminian CE fails to factor-in the two-fold election of Christ, which disallows the idea that we can share in His election.
3. Arminian CE has the erroneous idea that Christ Himself is the group.
4. Arminian CE falls short in its understanding of the connection between Old Testament Israel and New Testament Israel, which results in an erroneous position on CE.