Interpretation of story of Cornelius

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by JohnB, Mar 7, 2006.

  1. JohnB

    JohnB
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    I posted this last year, but since we seem to have a new batch of regular posters, I wanted to re-post this and get a fresh take on it.

    Vis a vis the issue of Calvinism vs. non-Calvinism, how do you interpret the story of Cornelius the Centurion in Acts 10-11?

    As a non-Calvinist, here's my take.

    1. God takes the initiative in salvation through general revelation and through particular revelation (in this case, through His elect people, the Jews, and the OT.)

    2. Unregenerate Cornelius responds to God and expresses God-pleasing faith.

    3. God is pleased with Cornelius and sends an angel with instructions which Cornelius follows.

    4. Peter gives Cornelius the gospel.

    5. Cornelius is regenerated and saved.

    How can we square this story with Calvinism?
    Since, under Calvinism, unregenrate man is unable to respond to God in faith (total inability,) was Cornelius regenerated prior to prior to his expressions of faith and good works?

    If he was regenerate, why was his salvation referred to in the future tense (Acts 11:14?)
    Or, can one be regenerate for a period of days, weeks, months or even years prior to being saved?

    Last time I posted this, the Calvinists who responded could not agree as to whether Cornelius was regenerate in Acts 10:1 or not. I am hoping someone can give me a clearer understanding.
     
  2. exscentric

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    Since John The Baptist was regenerated in the womb, certainly there can be a long time period between regeneration and acceptance, or so I've been told by a number of people. :rolleyes:
     
  3. genesis12

    genesis12
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    It is faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ at the Cross that accounts for the remission of sins and seals the faithful for eternity. The ability to have that faith is available to everyone. There is no question that Cornelius and his family were devout. Devout what? To whom was he praying? What does that mean, that Cornelius (and the soldier he sent) was devout? When did the Holy Spirit fall upon Cornelius? When did Cornelius and his family members who were capable of believing, believe? See Acts 10:44-45; Acts 11:1. For me, no matter how many ways you wash it, it still doesn't come out "calvinistic."
     
  4. whatever

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    That's probably because the Bible doesn't say whether he was regenerate then. I personally think he was regenerated in 10:44 but I won't argue that point.

    I probably would argue two points:

    1. Cornelius is a special case, since God's intent was to demonstrate that "to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life". One should be careful deriving doctrine from special cases.

    2. You ask this question:
    Calvinism does not teach that the lost cannot pray to God or give alms or whatever. These are expressions of faith of some sort. What we believe is that the lost cannot respond to the gospel message in faith, and that those other expressions of faith are of no value apart from the gospel. In fact, apart from faith in the gospel they are but "filthy rags".

    Of course God is free to respond to these expressions in any way He chooses, including sending someone with the gospel message and pouring out His Holy Spirit on those who hear that message. But He is not bound to do so.
     
  5. JohnB

    JohnB
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    Whatever -
    Thanks for your feedback.

    If I understand your points, unregenerate Cornelius expressed "faith of some sort" and that his faith was "filthy rags" of "no value."

    In light of this, I find it odd that the angel would tell Cornelius that his deeds and prayers were a sacrifice before God and that they were "remembered" by God.

    In fact, it seems his "no value" faith resulted in God's greater revelation. Cornelius seems to be a perfect illustration of the non-Calvinist principle of "if you respond to the light God gives, He will give more light."

    Your other point, if I understand correctly, is that Cornelius is an exceptional case, not to be used as an illustration of the process of salvation, but only to tell us about the entry of Gentiles into the church.

    In regard to drawing doctrine from this story, it seems that some, more than others, need to be careful ;)
     
  6. whatever

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    Like I said, God is free to honor those things or not. A few things to consider - Was Cornelius the only Jew of his time doing these things? Why didn't God send Peter to any of the others? Had Cornelius done what he was doing his whole life, but had God not sent Peter (or someone else) with the gospel message, what would those things have profited him?

    Well, it's a lot like if a Calvinist pointed to Saul's conversion and said that all conversions are like that. Saul's conversion fits the Calvinistic model better - he wasn't left with much of a choice. But not all conversions are like Saul's, so we ought to be careful about drawing generalities from his conversion too. Hope that explains what I meant.
     
  7. JohnB

    JohnB
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    Whatever-
    Thanks for the followup clarification.

    I did not intend to imply that Cornelius' conversion was a model experience, any more than Paul's was. God works in many varied ways, through multitudes of circumstances, to draw men to Himself.

    But, at the same time, I think Cornelius' story cleary refutes the Calvinistic doctrine of "total inability," that regeneration must precede faith.
    Unregenerate men can respond to God's initiative and unregenerate men can express God-pleasing faith. That's not to say they are saved by that faith, but it is God-pleasing faith none the less.

    Cornelius was not the only one to respond to God's initiative. In fact, Roman centurions pop up elsewhere. Christ said of one that his faith was greater than all the Jews of Israel.

    And, of the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus actually said "your faith has made you well."
     
  8. whatever

    whatever
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    Well, I don't think it does. [​IMG]

    Again, what we teach is that regeneration precedes faith in the gospel. Lots of people do lots of things out of faith that those things will earn God's favor. Apart from the gospel those things won't work. But I've already said this, and you've already responded, so ...

    God bless.
     
  9. J.D.

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    Thank you excentric for saying in a few words that would have taken me a volume. That's why I was waiting to weigh in on this, because I was gonna need a lot of time. This teaching of pre-gospel regeneration is yet another proof of how merciful God is, contrary to what arminians claim, that God must be cruel if he is absolute sovereign. "God hath in every nation those that fear him". God's been saving, that is, regenerating, people of all nations all along, and we didn't know about them because he has "reserved to himself" a remnant in every age and land. Now bear in mind, even some of our fellow calvinists do not follow this teaching. Many, if not most, believe that while the Gospel does not cause regeneration, it does always accompany regeneration in an immediate sense. I believe in regeneration by the "direct operation" of the Spirit, totally without other means, and the Gospel brings to our knowledge and conscience the assurance that we have been born again, and thereby we can enjoy the spiritual blessings, both now and then, of the salvation which we have been predestined for.
     
  10. J.D.

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    BTW NO ONE'S salvation is exceptional, that is, different from anyone else's. Every person, without exception, from Adam to the Eschaton, that ever was saved, was saved the same way - by God's grace (God's choice). But people in different ages have come to the KNOWLEDGE of their salvation by different MEANS. Abraham believed God and it was counted (imputed) to him for righteousnes. Many others we're simply not told how they came to know that they were saved. But they were all saved by God's divine interposition into their fallen nature (grace).
     
  11. JohnB

    JohnB
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    Thanks for the feedback.
    If I understood the Calvinist responses correctly, here's the results:

    2- Cornelius regenerate in Acts 10:1 prior to hearing the gospel.
    1- Cornelius not regenerated in Acts 10:1, but regenerated when he responded to the presented gospel (Acts 10:44.)
     
  12. webdog

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    bump.
     

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