Observations on the Arminian doctrine of Corporate or Class Election

Some Arminians argue for what is called corporate or class election. For example, Roger Forster and Paul Marston contend that “there is no such thing in the New Testament as personal (individual) election of believers. Christ is the chosen One, and believers are elect because they are in him” (God’s Strategy in Human History, 145). Here they explain their view in more detail:

“The prime point is that the election of the church is a corporate rather than an individual thing. It is not that individuals are in the church because they are elect, it is rather that they are elect because they are in the church, which is the body of the elect One [i.e., Jesus Christ]. . . . A Christian is not chosen to become part of Christ’s body, but in becoming part of that body [by free will, exercising faith] he partakes of Christ’s election. Although God, in his foreknowledge, doubtless knew which individuals would repent and so be joined by him to Christ’s body, this is not at all the same thing as picking them out to make them repent. God’s choice is not an individual one of who should repent; it is a corporate choice of the church in Christ” (136).

A more recent advocate of this view is William Klein who contends that “God has chosen the church as a body rather than the specific individuals who populate that body” (The New People of God, 259). The concern of the New Testament regarding predestination, says Klein, “is not how people become Christians nor who become Christians” but “what God has foreordained on behalf of those who are (or will be) Christians” (185).

While not denying corporate or class election, other Arminians affirm that God also chooses individuals to eternal life. According to corporate election the object or focus of God’s sovereign choice is the Church or Christ himself. Men and women, by an act of free will, become united to Christ, who is himself the elect one of God. According to individual election, the object of God’s action is the person.

Individual election, in the Arminian tradition, is “the idea that God predestines to salvation those individuals who meet the gracious conditions which he has set forth” (Jack Cottrell, “Conditional Election,” p. 57). When a person by free will meets these conditions (faith and repentance), we must not think of him as performing meritorious works of righteousness, because the conditions are sovereignly and graciously imposed by God.

Since man did not deserve to have these conditions made available to him whereby he might be saved, the election which results from his meeting those conditions, says the Arminian, remains wholly of grace. “Thus,” Cottrell concludes, “having set forth these conditions for being in Christ, God foreknows from the beginning who will and who will not meet them. Those whom he foresees as meeting them are predestined to salvation” (61).

The question, of course, is whether or not the biblical record actually teaches this view of election. As I have argued extensively in my book, Chosen For Life: The Case for Election (Crossway), I believe the answer is decidedly No! There I argue that although there is certainly a sense in which God has sovereignly chosen/elected both Christ and the Church, election unto salvation is individual. Although we undeniably deserve nothing but hell and eternal damnation, God graciously chooses some (but not all) to inherit eternal life, not based on his foreknowledge of anything in them, least of all their faith, but solely and unconditionally on the good pleasure of his merciful will.

 

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About Sam Storms

Sam Storms is the Lead Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Sam is on the Board of Directors of both Desiring God and Bethlehem College & Seminary, and also serves as a member of the Council of The Gospel Coalition. Sam is President of the Evangelical Theological Society. Visit http://www.samstorms.com