Most simply, corporate election refers to God’s choice of a group of people. Corporate election is contrasted with individual (or particular) election, in which God chooses individual persons. In corporate election, the members of a particular group are elect of God by virtue of their belonging to that group. Pertaining salvation, in both corporate and individual election, salvation comes through faith in Christ.
Corporate election is the idea that, when God elected or predestined people to be saved, He did not pick out individual people; rather, God chose Christ. Since Christ is the chosen one, all who come to Christ in faith are part of the chosen group. This view is sometimes called “class election” or expressed as God’s predestinating “the way of salvation.” In other words, “God chose the plan, not the man.” He chose the corporate entity in which salvation can take place (“in Christ”), but He did not choose the individuals who would be saved. A person only becomes part of the elect when he or she exercises faith in Christ. People are “chosen” when they choose to join the group that God had chosen.
The Bible has many references to God’s choice of a people for Himself (e.g., 1 Peter 2:9). But groups of people are comprised of individuals. The issue regarding corporate election in salvation is whether God elected specific individuals to be saved, or whether He chose to save all those “in Christ” without necessarily selecting each member of the body.
In corporate election, the ultimate choice of being saved is up the individual. If the individual chooses to join the Body of Christ (by faith in Him), then he will be saved. He chooses to become elect when he chooses Christ. In contrast, particular election teaches that the ultimate choice of being saved is up to God. If God chose an individual to be saved, then that person will join the Body of Christ (by faith in Him). God chooses the elect, and the elect respond to God’s call. Clearly, corporate election tends more toward an Arminian way of thinking, while particular election is more Calvinistic.
Corporate election is sometimes illustrated in this fashion: a university’s dean of students determines, prior to the start of the semester, that the Alpha Epsilon Mu sorority will be invited to a special dinner with the university president. All the co-eds in AEM can rightly say, “We were chosen to attend the dinner”—even those who only joined the sorority a week previous to the event. The dean did not choose the co-eds individually, but corporately; however, each of them can claim to have been chosen, by virtue of her membership in the sorority.
While it is true that God chooses people groups (such as the nation of Israel) for special purposes, He also chooses individuals. Jesus called His twelve disciples individually, selecting them by name out of a larger group of followers, to do a specific work. When it comes to the matter of personal salvation, God has chosen us as individuals: “We are always thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation” (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Here Paul says to the Thessalonian believers that God not only chose them for salvation, but He also chose them to be among the first to respond to the gospel. That statement cannot be generalized and depersonalized into a “corporate” election.