Arminianism is a branch of Protestantism based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609) and his historic supporters known as Remonstrants. His teachings held to the five solae of the Reformation, but they were distinct from particular teachings of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and other Protestant Reformers. Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Harmenszoon) was a student of Theodore Beza (Calvin's successor) at the Theological University of Geneva. Arminianism is known to some as a soteriological diversification of Calvinism; to others, Arminianism is a reclamation of early Church theological consensus.
Dutch Arminianism was originally articulated in the Remonstrance (1610), a theological statement signed by 45 ministers and submitted to the States General of the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort (1618-19) was called by the States General to consider the Five Articles of Remonstrance. These articles asserted that
"These points", note Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, "are consistent with the views of Arminius; indeed, some come verbatim from his Declaration of Sentiments. Those who signed this remonstrance and others who supported its theology have since been known as Remonstrants."
Many Christian denominations have been influenced by Arminian views on the will of man being freed by Grace prior to regeneration, notably the Baptists in the 16th century, the Methodists in the 18th century and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 19th century. Some falsely assert that Universalists and Unitarians in the 18th and 19th centuries were theologically linked with Arminianism. Denominations such as the Anabaptists (beginning in 1525), Waldensians (pre-Reformation), and other groups prior to the Reformation have also affirmed that each person may choose the contingent response of either resisting God's grace or yielding to it.
The original beliefs of Jacobus Arminius himself are commonly defined as Arminianism, but more broadly, the term may embrace the teachings of Hugo Grotius, John Wesley, and others as well. Classical Arminianism, to which Arminius is the main contributor, and Wesleyan Arminianism, to which John Wesley is the main contributor, are the two main schools of thought. Wesleyan Arminianism is often identical with Methodism. Some schools of thought, notably semi-Pelagianism--which teaches that the first step of Salvation is by human will--are confused as being Arminian in nature. But classical Arminianism holds that the first step of Salvation is solely the grace of God. Historically, the Council of Orange (529) condemned semi-Pelagian thought (as well as Supralapsarian Calvinism), and is accepted by some as a document which can be understood as teaching a doctrine between Augustinian thought and semi-Pelagian thought, relegating Arminianism to the orthodoxy of the early Church fathers.
The two systems of Calvinism and Arminianism share both history and many doctrines, and the history of Christian theology. Arminianism is related to Calvinism historically. However, because of their differences over the doctrines of divine predestination and election, many people view these schools of thought as opposed to each other. The distinction is whether God allows His desire to save all to be resisted by an individual's will (in the Arminian doctrine) or if God's grace is irresistible and limited to only some (in Calvinism). Put another way, is God's sovereignty shown, in part, through His allowance of free decisions? Some Calvinists assert that the Arminian perspective presents a synergistic system of Salvation and therefore is not only by Grace, while Arminians firmly reject this conclusion. Many consider the theological differences to be crucial differences in doctrine, while others find them to be relatively minor.
Jacobus Arminius was a Dutch pastor and theologian in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He was taught by Theodore Beza, Calvin's hand-picked successor, but after examination of the scriptures, he rejected his teacher's theology that it is God who unconditionally elects some for salvation. Instead Arminius proposed that the election of God was of believers, thereby making it conditional on faith. Arminius's views were challenged by the Dutch Calvinists, especially Franciscus Gomarus, but Arminius died before a national synod could occur.
Arminius's followers, not wanting to adopt their leader's name, called themselves the Remonstrants. When Arminius died before he could satisfy Holland's State General's request for a 14-page paper outlining his views, the Remonstrants replied in his stead crafting the Five articles of Remonstrance. After some political maneuvering, the Dutch Calvinists were able to convince Prince Maurice of Nassau to deal with the situation. Maurice systematically removed Arminian magistrates from office and called a national synod at Dordrecht. This Synod of Dort was open primarily to Dutch Calvinists (Arminians were excluded) with Calvinist representatives from other countries, and in 1618 published a condemnation of Arminius and his followers as heretics. Part of this publication was the famous Five points of Calvinism in response to the five articles of Remonstrance.
Arminians across Holland were removed from office, imprisoned, banished, and sworn to silence. Twelve years later Holland officially granted Arminianism protection as a religion, although animosity between Arminians and Calvinists continued.
The debate between Calvin's followers and Arminius's followers is characteristic of post-Reformation church history. The emerging Baptist movement in 17th-century England, for example, was a microcosm of the historic debate between Calvinists and Arminians. The first Baptists--called "General Baptists" because of their confession of a "general" or unlimited atonement--were Arminians. The Baptist movement originated with Thomas Helwys, who left his mentor John Smyth (who had moved into shared belief and other distinctives of the Dutch Waterlander Mennonites of Amsterdam) and returned to London to start the first English Baptist Church in 1611. Later General Baptists such as John Griffith, Samuel Loveday, and Thomas Grantham defended a Reformed Arminian theology that reflected more the Arminianism of Arminius than that of the later Remonstrants or the English Arminianism of Arminian Puritans like John Goodwin or Anglican Arminians such as Jeremy Taylor and Henry Hammond. The General Baptists encapsulated their Arminian views in numerous confessions, the most influential of which was the Standard Confession of 1660. In the 1640s the Particular Baptists were formed, diverging strongly from Arminian doctrine and embracing the strong Calvinism of the Presbyterians and Independents. Their robust Calvinism was publicized in such confessions as the London Baptist Confession of 1644 and the Second London Confession of 1689. The London Confession of 1689 was later used by Calvinistic Baptists in America (called the Philadelphia Baptist Confession), whereas the Standard Confession of 1660 was used by the American heirs of the English General Baptists, who soon came to be known as Free Will Baptists.
This same dynamic between Arminianism and Calvinism can be seen in the heated discussions between friends and fellow Anglican ministers John Wesley and George Whitefield. Wesley was a champion of Arminian teachings, defending his soteriology in a periodical titled The Arminian and writing articles such as Predestination Calmly Considered. He defended Arminianism against charges of semi-Pelagianism, holding strongly to beliefs in original sin and total depravity. At the same time, Wesley attacked the determinism that he claimed characterized unconditional election and maintained a belief in the ability to lose salvation. Wesley also clarified the doctrine of prevenient grace and preached the ability of Christians to attain to perfection (fully mature, not "sinlessness"). While Wesley freely made use of the term "Arminian," he did not self-consciously root his soteriology in the theology of Arminius but was highly influenced by 17th-century English Arminianism and thinkers such as John Goodwin, Jeremy Taylor and Henry Hammond of the Anglican "Holy Living" school, and the Remonstrant Hugo Grotius.
Advocates of both Arminianism and Calvinism find a home in many Protestant denominations, and sometimes both exist within the same denomination. Faiths leaning at least in part in the Arminian direction include Methodists, Free Will Baptists, Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, General Baptists, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Church of the Nazarene, The Wesleyan Church, The Salvation Army, Conservative Mennonites, Old Order Mennonites, Amish and Charismatics, including the Pentecostals. Denominations leaning in the Calvinist direction are grouped as the Reformed churches and include Particular Baptists, Reformed Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists. The majority of Southern Baptists, including Billy Graham, accept Arminianism with an exception allowing for a doctrine of perseverance of the saints ("eternal security"). Many see Calvinism as growing in acceptance, and some prominent Reformed Baptists, such as Albert Mohler and Mark Dever, have been pushing for the Southern Baptist Convention to adopt a more Calvinistic orientation (no Baptist church is bound by any resolution adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention). Lutherans espouse a view of salvation and election distinct from both the Calvinist and Arminian schools of soteriology.
The current scholarly support for Arminianism is wide and varied. One particular thrust is a return to the teachings of Arminius. Roger E. Olson, F. Leroy Forlines, Robert Picirilli, and J. Matthew Pinson are four of the supporters of this type of arminianism. Forlines and Olson have referred to it as "Classical Arminianism," while Picirilli, Pinson, have termed it "Reformation Arminianism" or "Reformed Arminianism." Through Methodism, Wesley's teachings also inspire a large scholarly following, with vocal proponents including J. Kenneth Grider, Stanley Hauerwas, Thomas Oden, Thomas Jay Oord, and William Willimon.
Recent influence of the New Perspective on Paul movement has also reached Arminianism--primarily through a view of corporate election. The New Perspective scholars propose that the 1st-century Second Temple Judaism understood election primarily as national (Israelites) and racial (Jews), not as individual. Their conclusion is thus that Paul's writings on election should be interpreted in a similar corporate light.
Arminian theology usually falls into one of two groups--Classical Arminianism, drawn from the teaching of Jacobus Arminius--and Wesleyan Arminian, drawing primarily from Wesley. Both groups overlap substantially.
Classical Arminianism is the theological system that was presented by Jacobus Arminius and maintained by some of the Remonstrants; its influence serves as the foundation for all Arminian systems. A list of beliefs is given below:
On whether a believer could commit apostasy (i.e., desert Christ by cleaving again to this evil world, losing a good conscience, or by failing to hold on to sound doctrine), Arminius declared that this matter required further study in the Scriptures. Nevertheless, Arminius believed the Scriptures taught that believers are graciously empowered by Christ and the Holy Spirit "to fight against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to gain the victory over these enemies." Furthermore, Christ and the Spirit are ever present to aid and assist believers through various temptations. But this security was not unconditional but conditional--"provided they [believers] stand prepared for the battle, implore his help, and be not wanting to themselves, Christ preserves them from falling." Arminius goes on to say, "I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding."
After the death of Arminius in 1609, the Remonstrants maintained their leader's view on conditional security and his uncertainty regarding the possibility of believers committing apostasy. This is evidenced in the fifth article drafted by its leaders in 1610. However, sometime between 1610, and the official proceeding of the Synod of Dort (1618), the Remonstrants became fully persuaded in their minds that the Scriptures taught that a true believer was capable of falling away from faith and perishing eternally as an unbeliever. They formalized their views in "The Opinion of the Remonstrants" (1618), and later in the The Arminian Confession (1621).
Picirilli remarks: "Ever since that early period, then, when the issue was being examined again, Arminians have taught that those who are truly saved need to be warned against apostasy as a real and possible danger."
The core beliefs of Jacobus Arminius and the Remonstrants are summarized as such by theologian Stephen Ashby:
John Wesley has historically been the most influential advocate for the teachings of Arminian soteriology. Wesley thoroughly agreed with the vast majority of what Arminius himself taught, maintaining strong doctrines of original sin, total depravity, conditional election, prevenient grace, unlimited atonement, and the possibility of apostasy.
Wesley departs from Classical Arminianism primarily on three issues:
Since the time of Arminius his name has come to represent a very large variety of beliefs. Some of these beliefs, such as Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism (see below) are not considered to be within Arminian orthodoxy and are dealt with elsewhere. Some doctrines, however, do adhere to the Arminian foundation and, while minority views, are highlighted below.
The doctrine of open theism states that God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient, but differs on the nature of the future. Open theists claim that the future is not completely determined (or "settled") because people have not made their free decisions yet. God therefore knows the future partially in possibilities (human free actions) rather than solely certainties (divinely determined events). As such, open theists resolve the issue of human free will and God's sovereignty by claiming that God is sovereign because he does not ordain each human choice, but rather works in cooperation with his creation to bring about his will. This notion of sovereignty and freedom is foundational to their understanding of love since open theists believe that love is not genuine unless it is freely chosen. The power of choice under this definition has the potential for as much harm as it does good, and open theists see free will as the best answer to the problem of evil. Well-known proponents of this theology are Greg Boyd, Clark Pinnock, Thomas Jay Oord, William Hasker, and John E. Sanders.
Some Arminians, such as professor and theologian Robert Picirilli, reject the doctrine of open theism as a "deformed Arminianism". Joseph Dongell stated that "open theism actually moves beyond classical Arminianism towards process theology." There are also some Arminians, like Roger Olson, who believe Open theism to be an alternative view that a Christian can have. The majority Arminian view accepts classical theism--the belief that God's power, knowledge, and presence have no external limitations, that is, outside of his divine nature. Most Arminians reconcile human free will with God's sovereignty and foreknowledge by holding three points:
The majority Arminian view is that election is individual and based on God's foreknowledge of faith, but a second perspective deserves mention. These Arminians reject the concept of individual election entirely, preferring to understand the doctrine in corporate terms. According to this corporate election, God never chose individuals to elect to salvation, but rather He chose to elect the believing church to salvation. Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Ridderbos says "[The certainty of salvation] does not rest on the fact that the church belongs to a certain "number", but that it belongs to Christ, from before the foundation of the world. Fixity does not lie in a hidden decree, therefore, but in corporate unity of the Church with Christ, whom it has come to know in the gospel and has learned to embrace in faith."
Corporate election draws support from a similar concept of corporate election found in the Old Testament and Jewish law. Indeed most biblical scholarship is in agreement that Judeo-Greco-Roman thought in the 1st century was opposite of the Western world's "individual first" mantra--it was very collectivist or communitarian in nature. Identity stemmed from membership in a group more than individuality. According to Romans 9-11, supporters claim, Jewish election as the chosen people ceased with their national rejection of Jesus as Messiah. As a result of the new covenant, God's chosen people are now the corporate body of Christ, the church (sometimes called spiritual Israel--see also Covenant theology). The pastor and theologian Brian Abasciano claims "What Paul says about Jews, Gentiles, and Christians, whether of their place in God's plan, or their election, or their salvation, or how they should think or behave, he says from a corporate perspective which views the group as primary and those he speaks about as embedded in the group. These individuals act as members of the group to which they belong, and what happens to them happens by virtue of their membership in the group."
These scholars also maintain that Jesus was the only human ever elected and that individuals must be "in Christ" (Eph 1:3-4) through faith to be part of the elect. This was, in fact, Swiss Reformed theologian, Karl Barth's, understanding of the doctrine of election. Joseph Dongell, professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, states "the most conspicuous feature of Ephesians 1:3-2:10 is the phrase 'in Christ', which occurs twelve times in Ephesians 1:3-14 alone...this means that Jesus Christ himself is the chosen one, the predestined one. Whenever one is incorporated into him by grace through faith, one comes to share in Jesus' special status as chosen of God." Markus Barth illustrates the inter-connectedness: "Election in Christ must be understood as the election of God's people. Only as members of that community do individuals share in the benefits of God's gracious choice."
Understanding Arminianism is aided by understanding the theological alternatives: Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, Lutheranism, and Calvinism. Arminianism, like any major belief system, is frequently misunderstood both by critics and would-be supporters.
The following are Arminian beliefs compared to other Protestants. (See also ordo salutis.)
|Protestant beliefs about salvation|
|This table summarizes the classical views of three Protestant beliefs about salvation.|
|Human will||Total depravity: Humanity possesses "free will", but it is in bondage to sin, until it is "transformed".||Original Sin: Humanity possesses free will in regard to "goods and possessions", but is sinful by nature and unable to contribute to its own salvation.||Humanity possesses freedom from necessity, but not "freedom from sin" unless enabled by "prevenient grace".|
|Election||Unconditional election.||Unconditional election.||Conditional election in view of foreseen faith or unbelief.|
|Justification and atonement||Justification by faith alone. Various views regarding the extent of the atonement.||Justification for all men, completed at Christ's death and effective through faith alone.||Justification made possible for all through Christ's death, but only completed upon choosing faith in Jesus.|
|Conversion||Monergistic, through the means of grace, irresistible.||Monergistic, through the means of grace, resistible.||Synergistic, resistible due to the common grace of free will.|
|Perseverance and apostasy||Perseverance of the saints: the eternally elect in Christ will certainly persevere in faith.||Falling away is possible, but God gives gospel assurance.||Preservation is conditional upon continued faith in Christ; with the possibility of a final apostasy.|
Ever since Arminius and his followers revolted against Calvinism in the early 17th century, Protestant soteriology has been largely divided between Calvinism and Arminianism. The extreme of Calvinism is hyper-Calvinism, which insists that signs of election must be sought before evangelization of the unregenerate takes place and that the eternally damned have no obligation to repent and believe, and on the extreme of Arminianism is Pelagianism, which rejects the doctrine of original sin on grounds of moral accountability; but the overwhelming majority of Protestant, evangelical pastors and theologians hold to one of these two systems or somewhere in between.
Both (Lutherans and Calvinists) agree on the devastating nature of the fall and that man by nature has no power to aid in his conversions...and that election to salvation is by grace. In Lutheranism the German term for election is Gnadenwahl, election by grace--there is no other kind.
Romans 3:23-24, 5:9, 18 are other passages that lead us to say that it is most appropriate and accurate to say that universal justification is a finished fact. God has forgiven the sins of the whole world whether people believe it or not. He has done more than "made forgiveness possible." All this is for the sake of the perfect substitutionary work of Jesus Christ.
We believe that God has justified all sinners, that is, he has declared them righteous for the sake of Christ. This is the central message of Scripture upon which the very existence of the church depends. It is a message relevant to people of all times and places, of all races and social levels, for "the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men" (Romans 5:18). All need forgiveness of sins before God, and Scripture proclaims that all have been justified, for "the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men" (Romans 5:18). We believe that individuals receive this free gift of forgiveness not on the basis of their own works, but only through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). ... On the other hand, although Jesus died for all, Scripture says that "whoever does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). Unbelievers forfeit the forgiveness won for them by Christ (John 8:24).
Christ paid for all our sins. God the Father has therefore forgiven them. But to benefit from this verdict we need to hear about it and trust in it. If I deposit money in the bank for you, to benefit from it you need to hear about it and use it. Christ has paid for your sins, but to benefit from it you need to hear about it and believe in it. We need to have faith but we should not think of faith as our contribution. It is a gift of God which the Holy Spirit works in us.
In full accord with Scripture the Lutheran Confessions teach monergism. "In this manner, too, the Holy Scriptures ascribe conversion, faith in Christ, regeneration, renewal and all the belongs to their efficacious beginning and completion, not to the human powers of the natural free will, neither entirely, nor half, nor in any, even the least or most inconsiderable part, but in solidum, that is, entirely, solely, to the divine working and the Holy Ghost" (Trigl. 891, F.C., Sol. Decl., II, 25).
People can fall from faith. The Bible warns, "If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Some among the Galatians had believed for a while, but had fallen into soul-destroying error. Paul warned them, "You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace" (Galatians 5:4). In his explanation of the parable of the sower, Jesus says, "Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in time of testing they fall away" (Luke 8:13). According to Jesus a person can believe for a while and then fall away. While they believed they possessed eternal salvation, but when they fell from faith they lost God's gracious gift.
We cannot contribute one speck to our salvation, but by our own arrogance or carelessness we can throw it away. Therefore, Scripture urges us repeatedly to fight the good fight of faith (Ephesians 6 and 2 Timothy 4 for example). My sins threaten and weaken my faith, but the Spirit through the gospel in word and sacraments strengthens and preserves my faith. That's why Lutherans typically speak of God's preservation of faith and not the perseverance of the saints. The key is not our perseverance but the Spirit's preservation.