Arminianism

Kurt Dahlin August 8, 2005

Arminius’s views stirred up considerable controversy in Holland, even among his colleagues. Therefore, Arminius appealed to the government to convene a synod to deal with the issue. Arminius died in 1609, nine years before the synod met. The Synod of Dort convened by the States-General on November 13, 1618, until May 9, 1619. Eighty-four members attended, fifty-eight being Dutch. With the president and first secretary being strict Calvinists, and the entire Dutch delegation orthodox in view, the fate of the Remonstrants was sealed. Simon Episcopius, the Arminian leader and Arminius’s successor as professor at Leiden, and twelve other Arminians were summoned as defendants before the Synod. The five articles of the Remonstrants were rejected and five canons of Calvinism adopted, along with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism.
Persecution followed the Synod’s decision. Two hundred Arminian pastors lost their posts; the statesman John van Olden Barneveldt was beheaded; Hugo Grotius was condemned and imprisoned for life, but he escaped after two years. Many Arminians fled the country.

DUTCH LEADERS
After 1625 persecution waned, and the Remonstrants returned to Holland, establishing churches and schools permitted by a decree in 1630. A prominent theological school was established in Amsterdam with Simon Episcopius as professor of theology. Episcopius wrote a statement of faith in 1621, which was to have considerable influence in attracting Lutherans and other groups to Arminian views. (Some less orthodox were disappointed at this creedal statement because it was orthodox concerning the Trinity; Arminianism had been accused of Socinian views regarding the Trinity.)

CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM CONTRASTED

Depravity
 
 Arminianism: As a result of the Fall, man has inherited a corrupted nature. Prevenient grace has removed the guilt and condemnation of Adam’s sin.

Calvinism: As a result of the Fall, man is totally depraved and dead in sin; he is unable to save himself. Because he is dead in sin, God must initiate salvation.
 
Imputation of Sin

Arminianism: God did not impute to the entire human race through Adam’s sin, but all people inherit a corrupt nature as a result of Adam’s fall.
 
Calvinism: Through Adam’s transgression, sin was imputed—passed to the entire race so that all people are born in sin.
 
Election
 
Arminianism: God elected those whom He knew would believe of their own free will. Election is conditional, based on man’s response in faith.
 
Calvinism: God unconditionally, from eternity past, elected some to be saved. Election is not based on man’s future response.
 
Atonement of Christ

Arminianism: Christ died for the entire human race, making all mankind saveable. His death is effective only in those who believe.
 
Calvinism: God determined that Christ would die for all those whom God elected. Since Christ did not die for everyone but only for those who were elected to be saved, His death is completely successful.
 
Grace

Arminianism: Through prevenient or preparatory grace, which is given to all people, man is able to cooperate with God and respond to Him in salvation. Prevenient grace reverses the effects of Adam’s sin.
 
Calvinism: Common grace is extended to all mankind but is insufficient to save anyone. Through irresistible grace God drew to Himself those whom He had elected, making them willing to respond.
 
Will of Man

Arminianism: Prevenient grace is given to all people and is exercised on the entire person, giving man a free will.

Calvinism: Depravity extends to all of man, including his will. Without irresistible grace man’s will remains bound, unable to respond to God on its own ability.
 
Perseverance

Arminianism: Believers may turn from grace and lose their salvation.
 
Calvinism: Believers will persevere in the faith. Believers are secure in their salvation; none will be lost.

Sovereignty of God
 
Arminianism: God limits His control in accordance with man’s freedom and response. His decrees are related to His foreknowledge of what man’s response will be.

Calvinism: God’s sovereignty is absolute and unconditional. He has determined all things according to the good pleasure of His will. His foreknowledge originates in advanced planning, not in advanced information.
 
After the persecuted Arminians returned to Holland, their principles of toleration had an effect on the land, which thereafter became a land of much more religious toleration. Arminianism, however, gradually diminished so that its influence waned in Holland. Its effect, however, went beyond religious and geographic boundaries, preparing “the way for Rationalism, which prevailed to a great extent in the Established Churches of Holland, Geneva, and Germany.”
 
ENGLAND AND JOHN WESLEY
Arminian doctrine had been held in England before Arminius. The Articles of Religion, for example, were sufficiently ambiguous that they could be interpreted as either Arminian or Calvinistic. Thomas Cranmer (148 91556) published a work in 1543 entitled A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man, which was Arminian in substance. Cambridge University, although Calvinistic in doctrine, felt the effects of Arminianism. Baro, a French refugee who was appointed professor of divinity at Cambridge in 1574, taught “God predestined all men to eternal life, but on condition of their faith and perseverance.” Arminian publications followed: John Playfere, professor at Cambridge, wrote An Appeal to the Gospel for the True Doctrine of Predestination (1608), and Samuel Hoard published God’s Love to Mankind Manifested by Disproving His Absolute Decree for Their Damnation in 1633.
Following the civil war Charles II, who despised the Presbyterians, reinstituted Arminian doctrine in the Church of England. It was dominant there for some fifty years. It should be noted, however, that the Arminianism in England differed from the Arminianism in Holland. English Arminianism neglected the doctrine of grace and emphasized the example theory concerning Christ’s atonement. Arminianism in England moved toward Pelagianism, and it remained for John Wesley to revive the true teachings of Arminius.
 
John Wesley (1703–1791), one of nineteen children, was tutored early in life by a devout mother, Susanna. Trained at Oxford, Wesley had a “religious conversion” in 1725, whereupon he initiated a methodical study of the Bible called “The Holy Club.” This was later termed Methodist because of its strict method in studying the Bible. Wesley ultimately became the founder of the Methodist denomination. Having been impressed by the faith of the Moravians in his journey to America, Wesley, upon returning to England, met another Moravian, Peter Bohler, who led Wesley to faith in Christ alone for his salvation. This marked the true conversion of John Wesley, and he preached a new message: salvation by faith alone. This was an unusual message in the Church of England with its emphasis on the sacraments. Together with another former member of the Holy Club, George Whitefield, Wesley began an extensive evangelistic preaching ministry, traveling more than 250,000 miles and preaching 40,000 sermons. The Wesleyan revival brought back the doctrines of Arminianism to England.
 
DOCTRINAL AFFIRMATIONS OF ARMINIAN THEOLOGY
Arminian doctrine is found in widely diversified groups today: Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Pentecostalists, Free Will Baptists, and most charismatic and holiness believers. The doctrinal views that will be presented here are generally representative of Arminianism (especially as held by Wesleyans), but because of the diversity of the denominations and groups holding to the general tenets of Arminianism, what is true in particular of one will not necessarily be true of all.Not all the doctrines that are fundamental to the Christian faith will be discussed, but only those which particularly set Arminianism apart as distinctive.
 
THE REMONSTRANCE
In 1610 a group of Jacobus Arminius’s followers outlined their opposition to Calvinism in five doctrinal articles collectively called the “Remonstrance.” The five points of the Remonstrance emphasized: (1) conditional predestination based on the foreknowledge of God; (2) Christ’s death was universal; He died for everyone, but His death was effective only for believers; (3) saving faith is impossible apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit; (4) God’s grace can be resisted; and (5) although God supplies grace so that believers may persevere, the Scriptures are not clear that a believer could never be lost. The five articles of the 1610 Remonstance are reprinted in the following paragraphs.
 
Article One: Election based on foreknowledge.
 
That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinfurace of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the gospel in John iii. 36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” and according to other passages of Scripture also.
 
Article Two: Unlimited atonement.
 
That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John iii. 16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John ii. 2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
 
Article Three: Natural inability.
 
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John xv. 5: “Without me ye can do nothing.”
 
Article Four: Prevenient grace.
 
That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and co-operative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts vii., and elsewhere in many places.
 
Article Five: Conditional perseverance.
 
That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have there by become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the Word of Christ, John x. 28: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.
 
ORIGINAL SIN
Arminians teach the doctrine of original sin; it affects the entire being of man; man is destitute of all positive good, and apart from God’s grace,
 
ARMINIAN  DOCTRINE  (THE  REMONSTRANCE)
Doctrine
Explanation
Election based on knowledge
God elected those whom He knew would of their own free will believe in Christ and persevere in the faith.
Unlimited
Atonement
In His atonement, Christ provided redemption for all mankind, making all mankind savable. Christ’s atonement becomes effective only in those who believe.
Natural inability
Man cannot save himself; the Holy Spirit must effect the new birth.
Prevenient grace
Preparatory work of the Holy Spirit enables the believer to respond to the gospel and cooperate with God in salvation.
Conditional
Perseverance
Believers have been empowered to live a victorious life, but they are capable of turning from grace and losing their salvation.
 
Man commits evil continually. Through Adam’s sin, sin and death entered the world. The penalty of death came upon all mankind because of a state of the human heart (not imputation). In addition, all people inherited a corrupted human nature as offsprings of Adam. This is not to suggest a legal imputation of sin, however. The Apology of the Remonstrants declares, “There is no ground for the assertion that the sin of Adam was imputed to his posterity in the sense that God actually judged the posterity of Adam to be guilty of and chargeable with the same sin and crime that Adam had committed.”
 
There was a distinction between Arminius’s position and that of John Wesley. “Arminius regarded the ability bestowed upon our depraved nature which enabled it to co-operate with God, as flowing from the justice of God, without which man could not be held accountable for his sins.” Wesley, however, taught that the ability to cooperate with God is through the “free gift of prevenient grace, given to all men as a first benefit of the universal atonement made by Christ for all men.” Arminians thus teach, according to Romans 5:16, that the free gift of the grace of Christ removed the condemnation and guilt from mankind so that no one is condemned eternally because of original sin or its consequences. “Man is not now condemned for the depravity of his own nature, although that depravity is of the essence of sin; its culpability we maintain, was removed by the free gift in Christ. Man is condemned solely for his own transgressions.”
 
Thus while Arminianism recognizes original sin and depravity, it also teaches that the effects of original sin are erased and reversed in everyone through the grace of God, enabling the sinner to respond actively to God, or cooperate with God in salvation. No one is condemned because of imputed sin from Adam or because of a depraved nature, but only because of individual sins.
 
ELECTION AND PREDESTINATION
Arminius related the doctrine of predestination (God appointing certain people to salvation) to the foreknowledge of God. God knew who would choose Him and those are the ones God predestined. He also related his doctrine of predestination to those whom God knew would not only believe but also persevere. Concerning the election of individuals Arminius states, “(the) decree rests upon the foreknowledge of God, by which he has known from eternity which persons should believe according to such an administration of the means serving to repentance and faith through his preceding grace and which should persevere through subsequent grace, and also who should not believe and persevere.”
 
Arminianism includes all mankind in its definition of predestination, which may be defined as “the gracious purpose of God to save mankind from utter ruin. It is not an arbitrary, indiscriminate act of God intended to secure the salvation of so many and no more. It includes provisionally, all men in its scope, and is conditioned solely on faith in Jesus Christ.”
 
Arminians have always regarded election to eternal life as conditional upon faith in Christ. It is not an arbitrary choice of God; instead it is based on man’s faith response to the gospel.
 
PREVENIENT GRACE
Prevenient grace is the “preparing” grace of God that is dispensed to all, enabling a person to respond to the invitation of the gospel. Prevenient grace may be defined as “that grace which ‘goes before’ or prepares the soul for entrance into the initial state of salvation. It is the preparatory grace of the Holy Spirit exercised toward man helpless in sin. As it respects the guilty, it may be considered mercy; as it respects the impotent, it is enabling power. It may be defined, therefore, as that manifestation of the divine influence which precedes the full regenerate life.”
 
This leads to a belief in synergism, “working together” or a “cooperative action” between man and God with regard to salvation. Because God dispenses prevenient grace, the effects of Adam’s sin are reversed, enabling the person to respond in faith to the gospel. Man may accept or reject the gospel and the grace of God of his own free will. “Through this awakening from original sin, one becomes open to the grace freely offered in Jesus Christ. Restoration to close and uncorrupted relationship with God is there by made possible.”
 
The Arminian system of grace may be summarized as follows: “(1) the inability of man as totally depraved; (2) the state of nature as in some sense a state of grace through the unconditional benefit of the atonement; (3) the continuity of grace as excluding the Calvinistic distinction between common and efficacious grace; (4) synergism, or the co-operation of grace and free will; and (5) the power of man to finally resist the grace of God freely bestowed upon him.”
 
FREE WILL
It becomes apparent that there is a relationship between prevenient grace and free will. Wiley cites four propositions in relating prevenient grace to freedom of the will.
 
(1) Prevenient grace is exercised upon the natural man, or man in his condition subsequent to the fall. This grace is exercised upon his entire being, and not upon any particular element or power of his being…(2) Prevenient grace has to do with man as a free and responsible agent. The fall did not efface the natural image of God in man, nor destroy any of the powers of his being. It did not destroy the power of thought that belongs to the intellect, nor the power of affection that pertains to the feelings. So, also, it did not destroy the power of volition that belongs to the will. (3) Prevenient grace has to do further, with the person as enslaved by sin…This slavery is not absolute, for the soul is conscious of its bondage and rebels against it…Thus grace is needed...to awaken the soul to the truth...and to move upon the affections by enlisting the heart upon the side of truth. (4) The continuous co-operation of the human will with the originating grace of the Spirit, merges prevenient grace directly into saving grace...Arminianism maintains that through the prevenient grace of the Spirit, unconditionally bestowed upon all men, the power and responsibility of free agency exist from the first dawn of the moral life.
 
In summation, Arminianism teaches that the fall of man did not destroy the power of the choice. Prevenient grace thus moves the person to see his spiritual need, enabling him to choose salvation. But grace, Wiley emphasizes, is prominent in the transaction.
 
TERMS OF SALVATION
Saving faith involves four things: “(1) an awareness of sin; (2) a turning toward God through the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit, who convicts and woos; (3) repentance and confession that sin has separated from the grace of God and kept the new covenant from being joined; and (4) personal appropriation of the new birth in Jesus Christ.”
 
Human responsibility in salvation involves knowledge of sin, turning from sin, turning toward God, and faith in Christ. John Wesley emphasized repentance and belief as constituting “saving faith.” When Wesley preached, his message was “repent and believe.” Repentance has the idea of change. Wesley called it a “change of heart from all sin to all holiness.” To repent means that sin must be forsaken; change has taken place. Repentance, therefore, involves action; moreover, repentance, according to Wesley, comes before faith. Wesley says, “We must repent before we can believe the gospel. We must be cut off from dependency upon ourselves before we can truly depend on Christ. We must cast away all confidence in our own righteousness, or we cannot have a true confidence in his. Till we are delivered from trusting in anything that we do, we cannot thoroughly trust in what he has done and suffered.”
 
Wesley defined saving faith in three terms: (1) to put one’s trust in the mercy and forgiveness of God; (2) to receive assurance in the believer’s life, for instance, that Jesus is the Son of God; (3) to express reliance upon Christ, turning one’s life over to Christ as Lord. For Wesley, belief is ultimately expressed in obedience. This is in agreement with Arminians today who also emphasize the importance of works as a condition of salvation. 
MEANING OF THE ATONEMENT
Arminians generally hold to the governmental view of the death of Christ, which, as taught by Grotius, teaches that Christ did not die a substitutionary death for sinners. Christ suffered to satisfy the justice or government of God. Instead of dying for mankind, Christ made a “token payment” that satisfied the government of God. God therefore sets aside the requirement of the law and forgives sinners on the basis that His government has been upheld and honored. (See further discussion in chap. 24, “Soteriology: Doctrine of Salvation,” and also in H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, 3 vols. [Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1952], 2:270–300.)
 
EXTENT OF THE ATONEMENT
Arminians teach that the atonement of Christ was universal. “This does not mean that all mankind will be unconditionally saved, but that the sacrificial offering of Christ so far satisfied the claims of the divine law as to make salvation a possibility for all.” The provision of Christ in His atonement is for everyone; it is sufficient for everyone to be saved (although not all are). The Scriptures emphasize universal provision (John 3:16–17; Rom. 5:8, 18; 2 Cor. 5:14–15; 1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; Heb. 2:9; 10:29; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:2; 4:14). Since Christ made provision for all, the proclamation of the gospel is to all (Matt. 28:19; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47).
 
Arminians also teach that the benefit of the atonement includes the following. (1) The continued existence of the race. It is hardly conceivable that the race would have been allowed to multiply in its sin and depravity, had no provision been made for its salvation…(2) The restoration of all men to a state of salvability.
 
The atonement provided for all men unconditionally, the free gift of grace. This included the restoration of the Holy Spirit to the race as the Spirit of enlightenment, striving and conviction. Thus man is not only given the capacity for a proper probation, but is granted the gracious aid of the Holy Spirit…(3) The salvation of those who die in infancy. We must regard the atonement as accomplishing the actual salvation of those who die in infancy.
 
SALVATION MAY BE LOST
Arminians have adhered to the doctrine that believers can lose their salvation. Although Arminius himself did not clearly state that believers could be lost, his conclusions pointed in that direction. Arminius taught that man is saved by grace but not apart from his free will. The will remains free. Arminius emphasized that the free will had to concur in perseverance; otherwise the believer could be lost. “It is unavoidable that the free will should concur in preserving the grace bestowed, assisted, however, by subsequent grace, and it always remains within the power of the free will to reject the grace bestowed and to refuse subsequent grace, because grace is not an omnipotent action of God which cannot be resisted by man’s free will.”John Wesley also taught that the believer may “make shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, that he may fall, not only foully, but finally, so as to perish forever.” The basis for losing one’s salvation is found in passages like Luke 13:14; Colossians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 6:4–6; and 1 Peter 1:10. Summary Evaluation of Arminian TheologyArminianism stresses a number of important features. The emphasis on man’s responsibility is surely a biblical factor: man must believe to be saved (John 3:16; Acts 16:31, etc.). If man refuses to believe, he is lost (John 5:40; 7:17). Arminianism’s emphasis on the universality of the atonement is also biblical (1 Tim. 4:10; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:2).
 
Several features within Arminianism should be evaluated.
 
(1) Arminianism denies the imputation of sin; no one is condemned eternally because of original sin. Man is condemned because of his own sins. This appears at variance with Romans 5:12–21.
 
(2) Though variously interpreted, Arminians generally teach that the effects of the Fall were erased through prevenient grace bestowed on all men, enabling individuals to cooperate with God in salvation. There is, however, no clear indication of this kind of prevenient grace in Scripture.
 
(3) Arminians teach that the Fall did not destroy man’s free will; furthermore, they teach that prevenient grace moves upon the heart of the unbeliever, enabling him to cooperate with God in salvation by an act of the will. While it is true that man must bear responsibility in responding to the gospel (John 5:40), man’s will has been affected because of the Fall (Rom. 3:11–12; Eph. 2:1); man needs God’s grace in order to be saved (Eph. 2:8; Acts 13:48; 16:14).
 
(4) Arminians relate predestination to God’s foreknowledge of man’s actions. They stress that God knew beforehand who would believe, and He elected those. In Arminianism, election and predestination are conditioned by faith. The word foreknowledge (Gk. ), however, is basically equivalent to election (cf. Rom. 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:20). The data of God’s foreknowledge originates in advanced planning, not in advanced information.
 
(5) Arminianism stresses human participation and responsibility in salvation: recognition of sin, turning from sin, repentance, confession, and faith. For Arminianism, repentance involves change of actions, forsaking sins, whereas the biblical word repentance (Gk. ) means “change of mind.” Although the stress on human responsibilities is significant, if it involves multiple conditions for salvation, this stress becomes a serious matter because the purity of salvation-by-grace-alone is then at stake. The sole condition of salvation stressed in scores of Scriptures is faith in Christ (John 3:16, 36; Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9, etc.).
 
(6) Arminianism teaches that believers may lose their salvation because the human will remains free and so may rescind its earlier faith in Christ by choosing sin. Frequently this view is based on controversial passages like Hebrews 6:4–6 and 2 Peter 2:20–22. The clear emphasis of Scripture, however, is that the believer has eternal life as a present possession (John 3:16; 1 John 5:11–13) and is kept secure by Christ (John 10:28) because of what He has done (Rom. 5:1; 8:1).
 
 
 
For Further Study On Arminian Theology
 
** Carl Bangs. Arminius. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971.
** Robert W. Burtner and Robert E. Chiles, eds. John Wesley’s Theology . Nashville: Abingdon, 1982.
** Charles W. Carter, ed. A Contemporary Wesleyan Theology. Grand Rapids: Asbury, 1983.
* J. K. Grider, “Arminianism.” In Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984. pp. 79–81.
* Steve Harper. John Wesley’s Message for Today. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983.
** A. W. Harrison. Arminianism. London: Duckworth, 1937.
** Thomas A. Langford. Practical Divinity: Theology in the Wesleyan Tradition. Nashville: Abingdon, 1983.
* Paul A. Mickey. Essentials of Wesleyan Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980. United Methodist.
** H. Orton Wiley. Christian Theology, 3 vols. Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1952. One of the most complete and important works spelling out the distinctives of Arminian theology and written from a Nazarene viewpoint.
* Mildred Bangs Wynkoop. Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology. Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill, 1967.