There are two Bible words that are pivotal to the Calvinist view: "called" and "chosen".
Calvinism says that before time began, God looked forward in time, went through the people who would ever live on the earth, and picked out certain ones to be saved. These are the chosen ones. Everyone else is damned to hell. During each chosen person's life God sends a call to him to get saved. To a Calvinist a call is more like a command. When God calls, people must say yes because God is sovereign. No one can say no to God's call.
Many have argued for and against the Calvinist's definition of these words. I prefer to start with what Jesus said and go from there.
The Calvinist would say that few are called and everyone who is called is chosen.
But Jesus did not say that. Twice Jesus said that many are called but few are chosen. This statement alone shows that there are some serious problems with the Calvinist's thinking.
Yet that statement is not the only thing Jesus said on the topic. He actually spoke that statement after telling two parables. These two parables are stories that Jesus used to illustrate what called and chosen are.
The first parable is found in Matthew 20:1-16.
"For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, and said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen." (KJV)
The illustration in this parable is not as obvious as the next parable because this parable illustrates two concepts. The first concept is the idea that the first will be last and the last first. The second concept is the called/chosen concept. To see how this parable illustrates the called/chosen concept, ask yourself two questions: who in this parable is called and who is chosen?
Who are the called people in this parable? The called people are those in the marketplace whom the householder asked to work in his vineyard. Did everyone accept his invitation, his call? Verse 4 says that those whom he asked at the third hour (9:00AM) "went their way." In other words they did not go to work. They left. This term is also used in the next parable (Matthew 22:5). The next two times he went to the marketplace and called people in the sixth (noon) and ninth hours (3:00PM), he also did not get anyone to work. He asked a lot of people. All of the people he asked are the called people. In those three trips to the marketplace they all said no. He only got people to work at the beginning of the day and at the eleventh hour (5:00PM).
Who are the chosen people? The chosen ones are the people who said yes to the call and went and worked in the vineyard. The householder chose to ask many people in the marketplace, but only those who went to work were the chosen ones.
The second parable is in Matthew 22:1-14.
"And Jesus answered and spake unto them again by parables, and said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come. Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage. But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen." (KJV)
Who are the called people in this parable? This parable has many calls. First "them that were bidden" (bidden is the same as called) implies that an invitation had previously gone out to these people. The servants called those who were already called. The called people would not come. So the king sent other servants out to persuade them to come.
These called people are symbolic of the Jews who were chosen to be God's people. Calvinists fail to mention the Jews in their chosen scenarios. The Jews were the first chosen people of God (Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2). In this parable they ended up being so bad that the king destroyed them. Calvinists say that called and chosen people cannot say no to God because God is sovereign but the Jews did.
After this the king told his servants to go into the highways and call as many as they could find. The called people in this parable were first individuals that received an invitation and then it was whomever the servants could find.
Who are the chosen people in this parable? The chosen people are those who came to the marriage and came in the right way. The man who was not wearing a wedding garment when he came, came in the wrong way. The only way to God is through trusting His Son (trust is usually called believe and faith in most Bible versions). Some may say yes to the call but only those who say yes and trust Jesus are chosen.
The overall message of this parable is that the people the king chose rejected God and ended up not chosen, but the people the king did not initially choose accepted him and ended up chosen. This illustrates what happens with God (Jesus started the parable with the words, "The kingdom of heaven is likened to..."). This picture of God that Jesus gave is quite different than what Calvinism teaches.
I would like to make a side note on sovereignty here. The king in this parable was sovereign. God is also sovereign.
Calvinists have stolen the term sovereignty and redefined it. They say that sovereignty means that the sovereign controls every decision, every choice made in his kingdom, that if someone in the kingdom does not agree with or obey the sovereign, the sovereign is not sovereign. They say that if people have a free will, God is not sovereign. That is not true.
As you can see in this parable, people disagreed with the king and even rejected his invitations. The people in his kingdom had a free will. That did not disqualify the king from being sovereign. Sovereignty does allow the king to punish these people however he wishes. But it also allows him to decide not to punish them.
It is the same way with God. Because God is sovereign, He calls the shots. He decides what will be and what will not be.
The Calvinist with his new definition has declared that God cannot give people a free will. He has ordered God that He cannot allow people to say no to Him or they will strip Him of His sovereignty. The Calvinist is wrong. God is God, not the Calvinist.
The Calvinist needs to open his eyes. God has given man a free will and allowed man to be sovereign in his own life. God can do that because God is sovereign. This is seen throughout the Bible and around the world. This does not violate God's sovereignty.
So what did Jesus' parables show about a called person? A called person is someone who has been invited. The truth is that most people who receive a call do not accept it. They say no to it. I didn't come up with that observation. Jesus did.
A call or invitation can come from God but it can also come from people, from books and tracts, and from the Bible. The king himself did not call those who were invited. He sent his servants to do that. God does the same.
Both of these parables show the call going out to everyone who has access to it: everyone in the marketplace and everyone the servants could find. The goal is to reach everyone with the call: every creature in all of the world (Mark 16:15), all nations (Luke 24:47), Jerusalem, all Judaea, Samaria, and the uttermost part of the earth ( Acts 1:8 ).
Did you notice the change of chosenness in the Parable of the Marriage of the King's Son? First, only certain people were chosen (the Jews). When they didn't come, the king changed the scope of chosenness to everyone who would come. Anyone who would come and come in the right way was chosen. This is a selection (election) of generosity (grace) (Romans 11:5). Everyone who will, may come. "Whosoever believeth (trusts) in Him hath eternal life" (John 3:16 KJV).
Most of the people that the king and the householder chose to call did not become chosen people.
Consider what happens when you choose someone to do something for you. Even though you chose him, that does not mean that he will be the chosen one. The chosen person must say yes to the choosing and start doing what you chose him to do before he actually is a chosen one.
When I served on the board of a nonprofit organization, we were often looking for new board members. This involved us choosing people. The process went like this. First, a board member found someone. That person's name was brought up in a board meeting and the board decided whether or not to ask (call) that person to be on the board. If the board agreed, the person was asked (called) to serve on the board. Some people that we asked, said no. Some said yes but never came to a board meeting. These people never became chosen even though the board had chosen each one of them. Only those who accepted the board's invitation (call) and came to a board meeting ended up being chosen people.
I do not know who made up this event, where God before time began, sat down, looked forward at everyone that would live and everything that would happen on the about-to-be-created earth, and decided who will go to heaven and who will go to hell. I do not see such an event in the Bible. The Bible does describe a time when God chooses those who will go to heaven and those who will go to hell but it is not at the beginning of the earth. It is at the end (Matthew 13:24-30; 25:31-46).
When we consider the chosen idea, we must look at it from the viewpoint of the New Testament people. That is the world that the Bible term was first used in. In the Bible lands and times when the word, chosen, was mentioned, the Jews immediately came to mind. They were God's chosen people. Yet, their king (the Messiah) came and the Jewish leadership rejected Him. After His death and resurrection, God worked through Peter, Paul, and others to show that non-Jews could be children of God too if they trusted Jesus. All of a sudden God's people shifted from the Jews to those who trusted Jesus. It was obvious that the Jews could no longer be considered chosen, yet those who trusted Jesus could. With this in mind, Christians became known as chosen ones.
There are Bible verses which seem to fit the Calvinist's called/chosen definition. But they also fit Jesus' definition.
Mark 13:20 is an example of this. "And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved: but for the elect's (chosen's) sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days." (KJV) This seems to say that God chose certain people during the tribulation to be saved. But incorporate Jesus' definition into this passage. This verse is saying that because of those who trust Jesus during this time, God shortened those days. Why? Because God chose that those who trust Jesus would be chosen and because they are chosen He helps them.
Even though there are verses like this that seem to fit the Calvinist's view, the Bible never defines called and chosen the way Calvinists do. All of these verses make better sense using Jesus' definitions.
For those who will look, Jesus has set out the definitions of called and chosen in these two parables. Called people are those who are invited or asked to get saved. Chosen people are those who trust Jesus. When you run into these two words in other parts of the Bible insert these definitions to understand what the Bible means.