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Predestination concept leads to Protestant 'lawfulness' muddle
By Alan Knight

The writer is a 62-year-old computer programmer and former newspaper reporter with a degree in anthropology and archaeology. He and his wife, Rosita, are members of the Church of God (Seventh Day) who live in California with their daughter, Jessica, 11. The Knights also have two grown sons, Jason, 29, and Jeffrey, 24. This essay is the third installment of a condensed excerpt from the new version of Mr. Knight's book Primitive Christianity in Crisis. For the first and second installments see the Feb. 29 and April 30 issues of The Journal.

ANTIOCH, Calif.--As we saw in last month's essay, the Protestant solution to the legalism of the medieval Roman church was simplicity itself. If all the work of salvation is done solely by God, and man plays no role, then salvation by human works is impossible. Problem solved!

This radical solution was borrowed from an ancient Roman theologian who lived more than 1,000 years before the Reformation. As explained in our newly released second edition of Primitive Christianity in Crisis, he in turn developed his theology from the many gnostic teachings prevalent in his time.

Though this did in one sense solve the problem of legalism as taught by the Roman church, it led to other serious theological complications. In the end it led the Reformation to many of the same errors first taught by gnostic Christianity, including eternal security and predestination.

Our focus this month

This month we focus on the doctrine of predestination, which says that God arbitrarily chooses who is saved and who is not. If man has free will and we choose for ourselves whether to accept Jesus or not, then, according to Reformation theologians, that means man plays a role in salvation, however small it might be. Therefore salvation would depend on the human works involved in choosing to accept Jesus' offer of salvation.

Many are surprised to learn this radical theology was taught by Martin Luther as well as John Calvin. Luther wrote a treatise on predestination that he later claimed to be his most important work.

Arbitrary selection

To avoid mixing human works with salvation, early Reformation theologians insisted that God's selection of who will be saved is arbitrary. God knows everything that will happen, they reasoned, but, if He chooses people He knows will be good, then their selection depends on their future good works. Therefore, to avoid any hint of legalism, salvation must be arbitrary.

Before the world began, therefore, God selected by name every person who will be saved, and he will be saved, like it or not.

Likewise, those not selected have no hope. Regardless of how good they might become, they will be born, live their allotted time, die, go to hell and be tormented for eternity. God will not lift a finger to help them.

The saved heathen

As we have seen with apostate Christianity so many times, plugging one theological hole leads only to more problems. In this case Reformation theology backed itself into a corner where it was forced to deny that God loves all mankind.

But God's love for all mankind is one of the great themes of the New Testament; for example, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son . . ." Predestination theology, however, denies this.

The problem: If God does not choose to save you, He can't love you. Why? Because to love someone God has to want to save him. Further, if He wants to save you then He must save you. If God does the whole thing, then there is nothing to stop Him. Theoretically, He has to save you.

God loves whom?

So now they are stuck with the idea that God loves only those He has predestined to be saved. But somehow they must invent a way to harmonize that with the many New Testament passages that say God loves the "world," that He loves "all men," etc.

Part of the solution was to argue that the phrase "all men" does not really mean everyone. Instead, they reasoned, it means only all nations and tribes of mankind.

In other words, God loves only certain select individuals from all nations and tribes, and these are the people He predestines to be saved.

Layers of discrepancies

Unfortunately, once again, that leads only to additional layers of contradiction. The problem is that even today there are areas of the world in which live hardly any Christians.

The only solution some could find was to argue that being saved has nothing to do with accepting Jesus! (I am not making this up!)

After all, if you don't have to do even one good deed your entire life, as eternal security claims, why should you even have to accept Christ to be saved? The only thing that really matters, after all, is being chosen and predestined.

Thereby some conservative Protestant theologians, primarily in certain Baptist denominations, argue that Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and even primitive aborigines practicing witchcraft in the jungle, who have been chosen, predestined, by God, will be saved.

Though they never hear the name of Jesus, they supposedly have been given a good heart, and at least they experience a longing for the Savior of whom they have never heard.

Famous Baptist evangelist Billy Graham, late in his career, has embraced a form of this doctrine.

The new lawfulness

Believe it or not, predestination theology has a substantial following inside Sabbatarian Christianity. Indeed, the infiltration of predestination theology is one of the most dangerous developments within the world of Sabbath-keeping Christians.

How can that be since precious few Sabbatarian Christians actually believe individual people are predestined to be saved or lost before they are born?

Predestination theology is a package of many doctrines, and Sabbatarian churches, especially those that openly embrace evangelical Protestantism, have adopted a large part of that package.

Predestination is based on the original Reformation idea that God does everything involved in salvation. Man has no free will, contributes nothing to the process. That is why God must choose who is to be saved.

But the basic idea that it is God who does everything applies to much more than just choosing who is to be saved.

Ought to do some good

What makes predestination theology so attractive to Sabbatarians is that, unlike eternal security, it claims man must demonstrate some good works to be saved.

In the classic Protestant theology of predestination, God causes you, at least initially, to experience a change of heart and perform at least some good works. But, since God makes this happen solely on His own, you get no credit for it, so salvation is not compromised by human works.

This has an attractive side to it. Reformation theology is abhorrent in its antinomian, licentious nature. Promising salvation to anyone who professes Christ, without repentance and regardless of any evil, is truly a gross error.

Classic predestination theology softens this by arguing that repentance and good works do play a role, though the role is controlled solely by God.

In the past several decades this positive view of predestination theology has made a substantial comeback under the name of "lordship salvation."

Lordship salvation's attraction

Lordship salvation says that, to be saved, you must accept Jesus not only as your Savior but as your Master (Lord). In other words, you must obey Him as well as believe in Him.

The basic concept is biblically sound, and this is what makes it attractive to Sabbatarians. Yet serious problems with the concept lurk under the surface. In fact, it is a clever trap.

First, many claim that lordship salvation is not based on predestination. But this is categorically untrue.

As we demonstrate in the second edition of Primitive Christianity in Crisis, John MacArthur, the man who began the lordship-salvation movement 20 years ago, is a dyed-in-the-wool predestination theologian. He embraces and preaches the doctrine of the completely arbitrary predestination of a person before he is born.

Because predestination is so abhorrent to a modern society that enshrines freedom of choice, predestination theologians have learned to disguise and soften their preachments to make them more attractive.

The idea that God arbitrarily picks people and forces them to become Christians is smoothed over with soft terminology. "Irresistible" and "forcible" grace are replaced with "efficacious" or "effectual" grace.

Attractive about this to many Sabbatarians is that it appears to support lawfulness and good conduct. But does it? Some of the basic ideas, such as God enabling and aiding us by the power of the Spirit, are biblical and true, but when taken to extremes the concept of predestination is evil.

One of the most serious problems is that it separates the development of godliness from belief and biblical revelation.

Remember, in predestination theology it is solely God who does the work. It is a secret process operating from within. Whatever God wants He will make happen within you.

Therefore whatever naturally happens must be what God wants! There is nothing you can do to increase or decrease what God is doing, since you play no role in the process.

Therefore, if you naturally think your good works should have you volunteering at the local homeless shelter, and you also feel it is appropriate to divorce your cranky spouse whom you never could stand anyway, who is to say your actions are not from God? All that happens is imposed forcibly and solely by God.

This promotes the idea that any form of goodness is sufficient to be a Christian, and it opens the door to gradually sliding away from the definition of God's will in Scripture.

Indeed, this is what is happening in some Sabbatarian groups that embrace evangelical Protestantism.

Different folks

A leading minister of one such church preaches that the Holy Spirit tells different things to different Christians. By this he justifies why some Christians adhere to the Bible Sabbath while others observe Sunday.

The idea is that the rule of the Spirit in our lives may lead us into practices that differ from the Bible. But that is all right as long as some goodness is to be found in it and as long as it is done in the name of Jesus.

How can you argue with that? If God imposes goodness on man without reference to His Word and without even the slightest participation on his part, what does it matter whether he reads or understands the Bible?

New from Vol. 2

Here is a peek into more of the latest research from Vol. 2, The Spirit of Antichrist, which is currently under development.

Last month we saw how the beginning of pagan religion in ancient Babylonia was based on the same stories that appear in Genesis, except the roles are reversed.

The pagan stories portray Yahweh as the villain, accusing the supreme God of wanting to block man's greatness by limiting the growth of civilization.

Likewise they recast the figure of Satan as the champion and savior of man. He liberates man from the authoritarian rule of the supreme God, promising spiritual and material greatness and immunity from punishment.

We also raised the question of what this means in light of biblical statements about the role of Satan in apostate religion, including apostate Christianity today. Does the "world" today actually worship Satan, and if so do the worshipers include even apostate Christianity?

Is there a historical as well as doctrinal connection between modern-day apostate religion and the ancient Near East, where pagan religion clearly did worship a savior based on the biblical character known as Satan?

If there is a connection, then modern apostate Christianity indeed may fall under the biblical description of religion that honors or worships Satan. Rather than being merely judgmental, the issue now becomes a factual, historical question.

The short answer is, yes, we find clear evidence of a historical connection from that ancient time until now.

Crossing the line

The first link in the historical connection is the spread of this theology westward from Babylonia to ancient Greece. We find substantial evidence that the hero and savior cults of ancient Greece were patterned on Babylonian religion.

In the Greek cults the hero-savior suffered and sometimes died to bring salvation to mankind.

Many Greek heroes are described as humans who became involved with a goddess. Because their relationship with the goddess violates the boundary between man and the divine, they experienced some great loss.

In Greece the hero sometimes was depicted as being driven insane. The goddess has pity because of her lover's suffering and rewards him with immortality. In that process the hero becomes a savior.

As the first saved from mankind, in turn he offers the same salvation to all the rest of mankind, if only we will worship him and the goddess who originally saved him.

In Babylonia we find the original forms from which these Greek myths sprang. Here the first king of mankind was Dumuzi (Tammuz). He was human and became the father of the ruling class in Babylonian by committing fornication with the great queen of heaven, Inanna (Ishtar).

Thus Dumuzi became a redeemer, albeit not willingly. Through his involvement with the goddess he was tricked into redeeming her by taking her place in the underworld, where she had become trapped.

In exchange for this great sacrifice and suffering, he received immortality in the afterlife, a privilege enjoyed by the ruling class that supposedly descended from his sexual relations with the goddess.

Sprang from Babylon

That salvation savior cults in Greek religion came from ancient Babylonia is important.

As readers of Primitive Christianity in Crisis will remember, a great reformation of pagan religion in Greece occurred seven centuries before Christ, producing a new, more spiritual tradition in Greek religion that ultimately led to gnostic Christianity and the Christian apostasy we see today that came out of that.

Orphism was the first religious movement produced by that ancient pagan reformation. Orphic worshipers believed their salvation was based on this same Greek-Babylonian tradition of hero saviors who received immortality by their suffering, which they in turn offered to share with all mankind.

But is this tradition really "satanic," as it clearly was in ancient Babylonia? Certainly the traits are the same. The same themes of a suffering hero and liberation from an abusive supreme God are present.

We can trace these traits all the way from Greece through gnostic Christianity to the present, when people still believe they have been liberated by their savior from the harsh God of the Old Testament and given freedom from punishment, regardless of how evil their conduct.

The chicken or the egg?

Evidence abounds that the pagan savior tradition was patterned on the figure of Satan from the Genesis stories. But how does God view it? Does Jesus explicitly view this pagan savior tradition as satanic?

As indicated in a previous installment of this series, the Babylonian hero tradition and its promise of immortality spread to ancient Canaan and Israel, where early versions of the heresies of eternal security and predestination were produced. Because this production directly impacted ancient Israel, it is mentioned in the Bible.

In Canaan the pagan savior was Baal, a familiar figure in the Old Testament, a typical pagan savior. In ancient Canaanite myth the supreme God, El, is described as a confused old man who has no regard for mankind and his needs. Baal confronts him and slaps him till his face is bloodied.

It is important to note that in this and most of the earliest legends the supreme God is not thrown out, just put in his place.

Baal is also the son of this same supreme God. Does that sound suspiciously like several familiar themes in modern Christianity: the divine son of God liberating man from the harsh rule of his father?

The name Baal appears frequently in the Old Testament in connection with religious apostasy among the ancient Israelites.

Lord of the earth

But Baal also appears in the New Testament. We find him in Mark (3:22-26) Matthew (12:24-27) and Luke (11:15-19). This is the Gospel story about Jewish leaders who accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan.

In these passages Jews use the term Beelzebul when referring to Satan as leader of the demonic forces. The name Beelzebul comes from one of Baal's titles, found in ancient Canaanite texts. It means "Prince Baal, Lord of the Earth." But when it appears in the New Testament it is used to refer to Satan as lord of the demons.

A logical rationale lies behind this. Canaanites believed that Baal ruled over a vast kingdom of spirits drawn from all the members of the ruling class who had died.

Remember from the first article in this series that it was members of the ruling class in the ancient Near East who were believed to possess an immortal soul and at death go to the kingdom of Baal.

Part of the duties of Baal and his kingdom of spirits was to rule the earth, protecting and prospering mankind, which they had liberated from the oppressive supreme God.

In the opinion of Jewish religion at the time of Christ, Baal and the spirits of the dead who populated his kingdom were satanic, an expression of the devil and his demons. Worshiping Baal was viewed as worshiping Satan.

Jesus did not correct his Jewish accusers for identifying Baal with Satan. Rather, when responding to them He substituted the name Satan for Beelzebul.

Many scholars believe the reference to Baal as Satan in the New Testament to be merely judgmental.

In other words, anything pagan automatically and arbitrarily would be labeled as satanic.

However, the evidence of history factually confirms the identification of Baal and Satan. Again the Bible is dramatically shown to be historically correct, not just flimsy religious opinion.

Masquerading Christians

If the Bible says the Canaanite pagan savior is Satan, does that hold true for all other pagan saviors in this same tradition, under dozens of other names, extending all the way down to the present, some of them masquerading as Christian?

We read that the message of Elijah will repeat in the end time (Malachi 4:5). Just as Elijah preached against Baal, a pagan savior based on the biblical figure of Satan, likewise in the latter days, in our time, the world is dominated by the same pagan savior tradition, preaching the same satanic themes of liberation from the authority of the supreme God.

Just as in the Garden of Eden, the same character based on Satan tells people in our era they have nothing to fear from God. No one can actually fail because of his conduct. Rather, they say, we should look to the promise of an even greater, antinomian spirituality ("You shall be as gods, knowing [deciding for yourself] both good and evil").

Just as in ancient Babylonia, the world today worships that same figure as its savior.

Truly, is anything new under the sun?

Second edition available

The second edition of Primitive Christianity in Crisis can be purchased at a special discount for readers of The Journal, for $17 plus $2 shipping and handling, from the author, Alan Knight, 1917 Mt. Hamilton Dr., Antioch, Calif. 94531, U.S.A., E-mail (The edition is 421 pages and retails for $23.45.)

Those who own the first edition may upgrade to the second for $8 plus $2 shipping and handling by clipping the bar code from the back cover of the first edition and including it with their order.

All Journal readers requesting a book will receive an additional seven-page special report titled "Conservative (Evangelical) Protestantism and the Spirit of Antichrist."

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