IS THERE AN ELECTION WITHIN AN ELECTION?
ARE ALL BELIEVERS IN THE DISPENSATION OF THE MYSTERY MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH WHICH IS HIS BODY?
There are many that hold to the Acts 28 position, i.e. that the Church began after Acts 28, that believe that only those believers who understand the mystery revealed to Paul are members of the church, which is His body. They believe that other believers are saved but, because they do not understand the mystery, are not members of the church which is the body of Christ and will, therefore, not reign with Christ in the heavenlies. Another way to put this is that there is an election within an election.
In his book Dispensational Truth, Charles Welch has a chapter that explains this position. Mr. Welch was and is, of course, a highly respected exponent of the Acts 28 position, and for that reason I am extremely reluctant to disagree with his position on an election within an election. On the one hand I ask myself, who am I that I should question Charles Welch, on the other hand I’m sure he would want, above all else, for the student of God’s Word to search the scriptures for the truth. Therefore, I offer my thoughts on this important question with the prayer that the reader, with the help of the Holy Spirit, will decide for himself what the Word says about an election within an election.
I have never found any scripture to support the view of an election within an election, so I decided that the best way to study the topic was to read what Mr. Welch has written and go from there. This paper is a result of that study and in no way means to diminish the profound respect I have for Mr. Welch’s tremendous contribution to those who study the Word rightly divided.
Chapter 15 of the book Dispensational Truth is titled “An election within an election. Is membership of the one body coextensive with salvation?” In paragraph one Mr. Welch writes, “We believe that our enquiry will lead us to see that membership of the one body itself is the object of this elective purpose“. Later in the chapter he asks, “Is membership of the one body coextensive with salvation?” Mr. Welch is suggesting in this chapter that God has elected some out of the great body of believers to receive an understanding of the mystery revealed to Paul, and those who have received this understanding are the members of the “one body”. He is saying that believers of today who have not been elected to receive and understand, are not members of the church, which is His body. Furthermore, on page 236 he writes, “Some will have by grace received a knowledge of the truth while others, though saved, never get beyond the faith of God’s elect. All such will ‘live’ but all will not ‘reign’; some will be ‘denied’ this honor.”
One of the main reasons Mr. Welch gives for his view on an election within an election is that Paul, in II Timothy 2:19-20 quotes Numbers chapter 16. Mr. Welch believes that Numbers 16 has to do with an election within an election, therefore, because Numbers is quoted in II Timothy, II Timothy also has to do with an election within an election. Let us examine these two passages.
On page 235 Mr. Welch writes, “The foundation of God has connected with it (like a seal) the words, ‘’The Lord knoweth them that are His, and let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’'”. These words are found in a most significant passage in the Old Testament, and supply the key to unlock the whole of the context (i.e. the context of II Timothy 2:19-20) The moment we turn to Numbers 16, we shall see that it is directly connected with the ‘election within an election’, and will throw light upon the much discussed ‘vessels unto honor and unto dishonor’.” He later goes on, “Just before the terrible judgment fell upon Korah and his company, Moses uttered the words which form the second portion of the seal of II Timothy 2:19, ‘Depart I pray you from the tents of the wicked men’. Surely we can see that the Lord intends us to use this passage in interpreting II Timothy 2 . The very ones who resented the special choice of Moses and Aaron were themselves chosen out of the congregation of Israel, They rebelled against ‘an election within an election’.”
Let us compare Numbers 16 with II Timothy. Numbers 16:3 tells of the envy some of the Israelites felt towards the fact that Moses and Aaron were chosen to lead them. “They (250 Israelites) came as a group to Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” And in verse 5 we read, “Then he (Moses) said to Korah and all his followers: ‘In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to Him and who is holy…”. In verses 20-21, “The Lord says to Moses and Aaron, ‘Separate yourselves from this assembly, so that I can put an end to them at once.”
It certainly is true that Israel, was God’s “elect” and that Moses and Aaron were God’s elect within the elect. But is that really what this chapter is about? In my opinion, this chapter is about God’s elect, Israel, rebelling against those that God had elected to lead them. Yes, there is an election within an election in this chapter, but that is not what the main issue of this chapter is. The main issue is rebellion. Let us now examine II Timothy 2 and see why Numbers 16 would have been quoted there.
We read in verses 17-19 that Hymenaeus and Philetus have “wandered from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are His’ and, Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness”. Is there a parallel between Numbers 16 and II Timothy 2? I believe there is. Both passages deal with the fact that God knows and saves His own, this is clearly stated in the context of each passage. In Numbers His own were saved from the destruction suffered by Korah and his followers, and in II Timothy God’s own will be resurrected, despite what the false teaching may be about it having already passed. Both passages involve false teachers who lead others astray, this is clearly stated in the context of each. Both passages have a warning to God’s own to turn away from wickedness, this also is clearly seen in the context of each. While an “election within an election” is implied in Numbers, it is, in my opinion, not clearly stated in II Timothy.
May I say again, that while it is true that Numbers deals with an election within an election, that is not the central issue of that chapter. The central issue is Israel’s rebellion. Mr. Welch suggests that because Numbers is quoted in II Timothy, it too deals with an election within an election. But II Timothy has a much more obvious connection to Numbers 16 than election. Its more obvious connection is one of rebellion. In Numbers it is rebellion against their leaders, in II Timothy it is rebellion against the truth about the resurrection. This similarity of subject (rebellion) is much more likely to be the reason that Paul quotes Numbers 16 than a notion of an election within an election, which is certainly not implied in II Timothy. That being the case, II Timothy says nothing about an election within an election
On page 236 Mr. Welch discusses two classes of believers. He writes, “some will have, by grace received a knowledge of the truth, while others, though saved, never get beyond the faith of God’s elect. All such will ‘live’ but all will not ‘reign’: some will be ‘denied’ this ‘honor’.” He goes on to discuss this topic of reigning with Christ on page 239 where he writes, “Believers will either receive the truth and look forward to reigning, or will reject the truth and be denied this honor. ‘If we deny Him (if we are ashamed of the testimony of our Lord and of Paul His prisoner), He also will deny us’.” This last quote is from II Timothy 2:12 which reads, “if we endure, we will also reign with Him, if we disown him, He will also disown us”. Let us look more closely at this verse.
To begin with, we should note that there is nothing about denying “the testimony of Paul” in this verse. Secondly, we are told that if we “endure, we will also reign with Him”. If we back up a bit to verse 10 we read, “Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect….” Are the elect spoken of in verse 10 those who are saved unto eternal life through faith in Christ, or are they those who have received an understanding of the secret revealed to Paul. Verse 10 goes on, “that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory”. Obviously the elect in this passage are those who have obtained the salvation unto eternal life. The elect who will reign with Him are those who remain faithful, (note that verse 13 contrasts with those who are faithless). Those who endure are the faithful, they will reign. Those who do not endure are the faithless; they will live with Him because He can not deny Himself, but they will not reign with Him. This passage is about faithfulness to Christ, there is nothing about being faithful to the message revealed to Paul.
On page 237 in connection with II Timothy 2:20-21 Mr. Welch writes, “The vessel unto ‘no honor’ are those who have never received the ‘knowledge of the truth’ and who are not among those who, like Paul, look forward to the ‘honor’ of reigning.” As discussed above, reigning with Christ has nothing to do with receiving knowledge, but with enduring in faithfulness to Christ. But let us look at II Timothy 2:20-21. “In a large house there are articles (vessels in the King James) not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy……”.
Mr. Welch writes, “The figure of a vessel suggests the theme of our article – election.” I do not agree that election is implied by the figure of a vessel. Verse 21 reads, “If a man cleanses himself from the latter (ignoble purposes) he will be an instrument for noble purposes”. If “vessels” suggests election, then one can not “cleanse himself” in order to effect that for which God had elected him. That is to say, if God had not elected a man to understand the mystery, then that man can not change that by cleansing himself. To put it another way, if one is elected to be of the class that understands the mystery, then his cleansing himself would have no bearing on his election, and Paul’s exhortation to cleanse himself would have no meaning. Consequently, we must conclude that neither does this passage say anything about an election within an election.
Another passage in which Mr. Welch sees an election within an election is II Timothy 2:25-26 which reads, ” Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth., and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.” Mr. Welch writes, “..but the lesson of lessons for us is that “the knowledge of the truth’ which delivers from the snare of the devil, and marks one out as ‘vessel unto honor’ is the rightly dividing of the word of truth“. While one may agree that the knowledge of the truth delivers from the snare of the devil, that does not, in and of itself imply that only those whom God has elected can understand the Word rightly divided. Again, if understanding the Word rightly divided was a matter of election, then there is no question that “God would grant them repentance”, and that they would “come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil”. I must conclude once again that this passage says nothing about an election within an election.
In conclusion, I find nothing in Mr. Welch’s writing in this book which leads me to believe that there is an election within an election. If there is no special election, then all believers, whether they understand the mystery or not, are members of the church which is the body of Christ .
The reader is invited to read another paper on this question titled, Are There Two Callings In The Dispensation Of The Mystery?
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to respond please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org