The Five Points

Article by Stephen Rees (original source for example 1, 2, 3]. But the five points are not the starting point in understanding and worshipping God. Believers should be more interested in God himself than in what he does for us. God is worthy to be praised because of who he is: one God in three persons, ‘infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth’. If I were asked which is the most important doctrine for Christians to believe, I would say unhesitatingly, the doctrine of the Trinity: that doctrine underlies all other Christian doctrines, including the doctrines of salvation. I would prefer to hear believers praising God joyfully for the love that has existed eternally between the three persons, than for the mercy we have received from him. Isolating the five points from the whole biblical presentation of God’s being can be dangerous.

The 5 points: important and providential

And yet the five points are important. They do give us a clear and systematic overview of what the Bible says about God’s plan of salvation. And a number of you have said how helpful it’s been to hear the plan of salvation presented in this systematic way.

How did the five points come to be formulated in the first place? By a strange and wonderful providence of God. We only have that five-point outline because of the attempts of false teachers to undermine the teaching of God’s Word. By God’s overruling, their attacks on the truth led to this wonderfully clear summary of the Bible’s teaching on God’s plan of salvation.

Many people assume that it was Calvin who first listed out the five points (they’re often labelled ‘the five points of Calvinism’). But it was not Calvin who first drew up this 5-point presentation. I have mentioned several times over recent weeks that the five points were first drawn up at a great conference of preachers and theologians held in the Dutch city of Dort in 1618/19. That conference was called to answer a group of false teachers who were spreading their unbiblical ideas into the Reformed churches of the Netherlands. The false teachers drew up a list of five issues that they wanted discussed. The church leaders who had gathered took those issues one by one and answered them under five headings. And Bible-believing Christians have been using those headings ever since.

Arminius and his followers

We call the false teachers Arminians. They were followers of Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch minister who was appointed as professor of theology at Leiden University in 1603. As a minister in the Reformed church, Arminius had vowed to uphold the teaching of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism – these were the two documents that summarised the teaching of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. But Arminius had come to doubt what those documents teach about God’s plan of salvation. Those who listened to him preach began to suspect that secretly he had turned away from the teaching of the Bible and the churches. But he denied it. When he was invited to become professor at Leiden, again he vowed that he would be faithful to the Confession and the Catechism. He did not keep that vow. Rather he used his position to spread the false doctrines that he had come to believe. He did it in subtle ways, trying to hide just how far he had moved from the truths he had been appointed to teach. But through his influence, many of the students who listened to his lectures were persuaded to turn away from the teaching of the Bible, and of the reformed churches. Continue reading

Arminianisms (Plural)

JI-PackerARMINIANISMS by Dr. J. I. Packer:

Within the churches of the Reformation, the terms “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” are traditionally used as a pair, expressing an antithesis, like black and white, or Roman and Protestant. The words are defined in terms of the antithesis, and the point is pressed that no Christian can avoid being on one side or the other. Among evangelicals, this issue, though now 350 years old (if not, indeed 1900 years old), remains live and sometimes explosive. “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” are still spat out by some as anathematizing swear-words (like “fundamentalism” on the lips of a liberal), and there are still places where you forfeit both fellowship and respect by professing either. There remain Presbyterian churches which ordain only Calvinists, and Methodist and Nazarene bodies which ordain only Arminians, and the division between “general” or “free-will” (Arminian) and “particular” or “Reformed” (Calvinistic) still splits the Baptist community on both sides of the Atlantic.

In evangelism, cooperation between evangelicals is sometimes hindered by disagreement and mistrust over this matter, just as in the eighteenth century the Calvinistic evangelicals and John Wesley’s party found it hard on occasion to work together. Nor is it any wonder that tension should exist, when each position sees the other as misrepresenting the saving love of God. The wonder is, rather, that so many Christian who profess a serious concern of the theology should treat this debate as one in which they have no stakes, and need not get involved.

This article seeks to understand and evaluate the Calvinist-Arminian antithesis. To that end, we shall address ourselves to three questions. First, what is Arminianism? Second, how far-reaching is the cleavage between it and Calvinism? Third (assuming that by this state we shall have seen reason to regard Arminianism as a pathological growth), what causes Arminianism? and what is the cure for it?

Before we tackle these question., however, on caveat must be entered. Our concern is with things, not words. Our subject matter will oblige us to speak of Calvinism and Arminianism frequently, but it is not part of our aim to revive bad habits of slogan-shouting and name-calling. [1] What matters is that we should grasp truly what the Bible says about God and His grace, not that we should parade brand labels derived from historical theology. The present writer believes, and wishes other to believe, the doctrines commonly labelled Calvinistic, but he is not concerned to argue for the word. One who has received the biblical witness to God’s sovereignty in grace is blessed indeed, but he is no better off for labeling himself a Calvinist, and might indeed be that worse for it; for party passion and love of the truth are different things, and indulgence in the one tends to wither the other.

WHAT IS ARMINIANISM [2]

Historically, Arminianism has appeared as a reaction against the Calvinism of Beza and the Synod of Dort, affirming, in the words of W. R. Bagnall, “conditional in opposition to absolute predestination, and general in opposition to particular redemption.” [3] This verbal antithesis is not in fact as simple or clear as it looks, for changing the adjective involves redefining the noun. What Bagnall should have said is that Calvinism affirms a concept of predestination from which conditionality is excluded, and a concept of redemption to which particularity is essential; and Arminianism denies both. The difference is this. To Calvinism predestination is essentially God’s unconditional decision about the destiny of individuals; to Arminianism it is essentially God’s unconditional decision to provide means of grace, decisions about individuals’ destiny being secondary, conditional, and consequent upon foresight of how they will use those means of grace. To Calvinism, predestination of individuals means the foreordaining of both their doings (including their response to the gospel) and their consequent destinies; to Arminianism it means a foreordaining of destinies based on doings foreseen but not foreordained. Arminianism affirms that god predestined Christ to be man’s Savior, and repentance and faith to be the way of salvation, and the gift of universal sufficient inward grace to make saving response to God possible for all men everywhere, but it denies that nay individual is predestined to believe. On the Calvinist view, election, which is a predestinating act on God’s part, means the efficacious choice of particular sinners to be saved by Jesus Christ through faith, and redemption, the first step in working out God’s electing purpose, is an achievement which actually secures certain salvation – calling, pardon, adoption, preservation, final glory – for all the elect. On the Arminian view, however, what the death of Christ secured was a possibility of salvation for sinners generally, a possibility which, so far as God is concerned, might never have been actualized in any single case; and the electing of individuals to salvation is, as we said, simply God noting in advance who will believe and so qualify for glory, as a matter of contingent (not foreordained) fact. Whereas to Calvinism election is God’s resolve to save, and the cross Christ’s act of saving, for Arminianism salvation rests in the last analysis neither on God’s election nor on Christ’s cross, but on a man’s own cooperation with grace, which is something that God does not himself guarantee.

Biblically, the difference between these two conceptions of how God in love relates to fallen human beings may be pinpointed thus. Arminianism treats our Lord’s parable of the Supper to which further guests were invited in place of hose who never came (Luke 14:16-24; cf. Matt. 22:1-10) as picturing the whole truth about the love of God in the gospel. On this view, when you have compared God’s relation to fallen men with that of a dignitary who invites all needy folk around to come and enjoy his bounty, you have said it all. Calvinism, however, does not stop here, but links with the picture of the Supper that of the Shepherd (John 10:11-18, 24-29) who has his sheep given him to care for (vv. 14, 16, 27; cf. 6:37-40; 17:6, 11f), who lays down his life the them (10:15), who guarantees that all of them will in due course hear his voice (vv. 16, 27) and follow him (v. 27), and be kept from perishing forever (v. 28). In other words, Calvinism holds that divine love does not stop short at graciously inviting, but that the tri-une God takes gracious action to ensure that the elect respond, On this view, both the Christ who saves and the faith which receives him as Savior are God’s gifts, and the latter is as much a foreordained reality as is the former. Arminians praise God for providing a Savior to whom all may come for life; Calvinists do that too, and then go on to praise God for actually bringing them to the Savior’s feet.

So the basic difference between the two positions is not, as is sometimes thought, that Arminianism follows Scripture while Calvinism follows logic, nor that Arminianism knows the love of God while Calvinism knows only his power, nor that Arminianism affirms a connection between believing and obeying as a means and eternal life as an end which Calvinism denies, nor that Arminianism discerns a bona fide “free offer” of Christ in the Gospel which Calvinism does not discern, nor that Arminianism acknowledges human responsibility before God and requires holy endeavor in the Christian life while Calvinism does not. No; the difference is that Calvinism recognizes a dimension of the saving love of God which Arminianism misses, namely God’s sovereignty in bringing to faith and keeping in faith all who are actually saved. Arminianism gives Christians much to thank God for, and Calvinism gives them more. Continue reading

Arminianism, Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism – What’s the Difference?

questionmarkredstandingArticle: What’s the Difference Between Arminianism, Calvinism and Hyper-Calvinism? by Tom Ascol (original source the following summary reveals the basic differences between Arminianism, Calvinism, and hyper-Calvinism.

In one sense, hyper-Calvinism, like Arminianism, is a rationalistic perversion of true Calvinism. Whereas Arminianism undermines divine sovereignty, hyper-Calvinism undermines human responsibility. The irony is that both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism start from the same, erroneous rationalistic presupposition, namely that human ability and responsibility are coextensive. That is, they must match up exactly or else it is irrational. If a man is to be held responsible for something, then he must have the ability to do it. On the other hand, if a man does not have the ability to perform it, he cannot be obligated to do it.

The Arminian looks at this premise and says, “Agreed! We know that the Bible holds all people responsible to repent and believe [which is true]. Therefore we must conclude that all men have the ability in themselves to repent and believe [which is false, according to the Bible].” Thus, Arminians teach that unconverted people have within themselves the spiritual ability to repent and believe, albeit such ability must be aided by grace.

The hyper-Calvinist takes the same premise (that man’s ability and responsibility are coextensive) and says, “Agreed! We know that the Bible teaches that in and of themselves all men are without spiritual ability to repent and believe [which is true]. Therefore we must conclude that unconverted people are not under obligation to repent and believe the gospel [which is false, according to the Bible].”

In contrast to both of these, the Calvinist looks at the premise and says, “Wrong! While it looks reasonable, it is not biblical. The Bible teaches both that fallen man is without spiritual ability and that he is obligated to repent and believe. Only by the powerful, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is man given the ability to fulfill his duty to repent and believe.” And though this may seem unreasonable to rationalistic minds, there is no contradiction, and it is precisely the position the Bible teaches. The Calvinist view may appear irrational but in reality is supra-rational—it is revealed.

Justification – on what basis?

Mark Jones has posted a very interesting series of blog entries regarding justification, especially as it relates to the Arminian and Reformed views.

Justification by Precision Alone?

The Act & Habit of Faith in Relation to Union with Christ

Can we lose our justification?

Arminian vs Reformed on Justification

Election: Conditional or Unconditional?

In an article entitled pick me: Unconditional Election” Clint Archer writes:

Everyone who believes the Bible does believe in election. Ooh, them be fight’n words. Let me explain…

The Greek word for elect means chosen or called out from a group. Used eighteen times by six NT authors. Yes, even in the NIV. So it cannot be ignored or denied. The debate pivots only on the matter of election being conditional or unconditional.

Arminians say ‘I owe my election to my faith.’

Calvinists say ‘I owe my faith to my election.’

One says God elects those who will believe. The other says God elects, so they will believe.

I’m not putting words in their mouths. In the Articles of Faith of the National Association of Freewill Baptists, Article 9 states:

God determined from the beginning to save all who should comply with the conditions of salvation. Hence by faith in Christ men become his elect.”

i.e., your salvation is conditional on your faith.

So, does God elect you and therefore give you faith that saves, or does he recognize those who have faith, and therefore elects to save them? These questions must be answered by God’s word.

Is election conditional upon faith?

Let me ask you this: Did God, according to the Bible, chose you before or after you had faith?

Ephesians 1:4-5 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…

Pop quiz: Did God choose you at the time you believed in Jesus, or before? Let me make it easier: did he chose you before or after you were born? “…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world …”

God chose who he would save before they believed in Jesus, before they repented, before they prayed a prayer, before they were born, or before the world was created. (To be clear, I’m not saying he saved them before they had faith, only that he chose them to eventually be saved before they had faith.)

Election cannot be conditional on faith, because it happens before you believe and before you are born.

Romans 9: 11-13 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call- she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

Why do Arminians not tap out when they read Romans 9?

Let me start by asserting categorically that Arminians are believers. They believe in grace by faith alone, they trust in Jesus alone to save them. But the explanation of how that happens they base on their experience and emotional reactions, instead of on Scripture. They say, ‘I remember choosing God. I’m not just a robot!’ And they feel that the doctrine of election makes God out to be callous in that he doesn’t elect everybody, and they say that predestination makes us puppets with no free will. They fear that the doctrine will dampen evangelism and curtail missions.

But all of these are straw men arguments. No true Calvinist is fatalistic or indifferent to evangelism and missions. History proves otherwise. Think of Charles “the Soul-winner” Spurgeon, Jonathan “Spark of Revival” Edwards, George “the Evangelist” Whitefield, George “Orphan Savior” Mueller, and our contemporary champions of missions, John “Let the Nations Be Glad” Piper, John “Grace Advance” MacArthur. Time would fail to mention Westminster, every Puritan, and Sproul, Lloyd-Jones, Stott, Machen, Mohler, Dever, Mahaney, and pretty much everyone whose sermons inspire a love for deep doctrine and evangelism. Oh, and I forgot one…Paul.

Romans 8: 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,…

How do Arminians side-step foreknowledge and predestination?

The way Arminians get around it is to postulate that, ‘God looked down through the corridors of time and elected those whom he saw would believe in Jesus of their own free will; he then elected them based on the condition of their faith. That is predestination.’

I.e. God knew who would choose him, and the responded by choosing them first.

Two problematic speed bumps hinder that view: 1) what the word foreknew means. The Greek word progvwsis or foreknow used 5x in the NT, means ‘to intimately know beforehand.’

It is not used to speak of a prediction, but of a pre-ordination. What does that mean? Listen to one of the other clear uses of foreknowledge…

Acts 2:23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.

Jesus’ death was man’s doing, but it was the “definite plan of God.” Foreknowledge = plan. God didn’t predict that Jesus would be crucified; God ordained that Jesus would be crucified for our sins. It wasn’t a response to what he knew we would do to Jesus, it was the master plan all along. So was your salvation! So, that is the first problem with the “corridors of time” theory. It’s not what foreknow means. There is another problem…

2) The logical fallacy. Arminians say God knew who would choose him, so he chose them. But this mocks God’s use of language. It’s verbal gymnastics of RobBellian proportions to say that.

Charles Spurgeon explains:

God gives faith, therefore He could not have elected them on faith that he foresaw. There shall be twenty beggars in the street, and I determine to give one of them a shilling; but will anyone say I determined to give that one shilling, because I foresaw that he would have it? That would be talking nonsense.

When Arminians, say that “God foreknew who would elect him, so he elected them,” they reverse the meaning of election. That’s analogous to saying “Shakespeare knew MacBeth would kill king Duncan, so he wrote the play that way.” If he knows that is how it will turn out, and he writes the play, that is the same as saying he made it turn out that way.

Loraine Boettner agrees:

Foreknowledge implies certainty and certainty implies foreknowledge. If God knows the course of history, then history will follow that course as certainly as a locomotive on its tracks.

What about free will?

The Bible doesn’t say there is no free will. It says your will is only free to choose what it is able to choose. (What Luther called the Bondage of the Will; your will is bound to choose sin.) Like a leopard who has free choice to elect eating the vegan salad or the juicy tourist. Its free will is spring-loaded to choose according the nature of a carnivore.

Remember what we learned in Despicable Me: the Doctrine of Total Depravity? …

Jer 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.

I am can choose between Coke and Diet Coke. But I can’t choose to fly like a bird.

One of the grammar lessons my mom used to drill home to me was the difference between may and can.

‘Mom, can I have a cookie?’

‘I don’t know can you? Is it too big for your mouth? Oh, you mean “May I have a cookie?”’

I thought, why do I need to know that? Turns out it’s important in theology.

It’s not a matter of may a person choose Christ (everyone in the world may come to Christ at any moment to be saved); the question is can they choose Christ (are they able to without help)?

Here’s what the Bible says…

John 6:44 No one can [is able to] come to me unless the Father draws him. (see also 37 …all the Father gives me will come.)

Is 46:9-11 …I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass.

John 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father draws him. [Which comes first, coming or drawing?]

1 Cor 1:28-29 God chose what is low and despised in the world, … so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.

Election gives all credit to God.

Matt 13:10-11 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.

Apparently God decided who should respond and who not.

Acts 13:48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

A crowd heard Paul’s preaching and who believed? Those “appointed to eternal life.”

Clincher: John 15:16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.

Jesus elected his apostles, so apparently their free will was not consulted.

Your objection might be this: I don’t believe that God would chose some and not all. That’s fine, but don’t say “I don’t believe in election.” Say, “I don’t believe the Bible.”

Calvinism, Arminianism & Hyper-Calvinism

tom-ascolTom Ascol, at the Founders blog writes:

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones once observed that “the ignorant Arminian does not know the difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism.” The good news is that not all Arminians are ignorant. The bad news, however, is that such ignorance is not limited to Arminians.

Throughout evangelical history, where evangelical Calvinism as spread among Bible believing Christians, charges of hyper-Calvinism inevitably arise from those who do not know the difference. That pattern is being repeated today both within and beyond the borders of the Southern Baptist Convention. Examples of such careless accusations are not hard to find.

One of the most recent and most egregious came in the exhibit hall during the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, Texas. On Monday, June 10, 2013, the day before the convention actually began, Baptist21 interviewed the president of Louisiana College about the treatment of some Calvinistic professors whose contracts were not renewed by the administration. In the course of responding to questions that he had been sent in advance, Dr. Joe Aguillard (though he probably would not identify himself as an Arminian) proved Lloyd-Jones’ point.

That display of doctrinal misunderstanding reminded me of the present need to clarify repeatedly and rigorously difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism. Some writers and teachers seem to confuse them so often and so willingly that one must wonder if the practice is intentional. In one sense, hyper-Calvinism, like Arminianism, is a rationalistic perversion of true Calvinism. Whereas Arminianism destroys the sovereignty of God, hyper-Calvinism destroys the responsibility of man. The irony is that both Arminianism and hyper-Calvinism start from the same, erroneous rationalistic presupposition: Man’s ability and responsibility are coextensive. That is, they must match up exactly or else it is irrational. If a man is to be held responsible for something, then he must have the ability to do it. On the other hand, if a man does not have the ability to perform it, he cannot be obligated to do it.

The Arminian looks at this premise and says, “Agreed! We know that all men are held responsible to repent and believe the gospel [which is true, according to the Bible]; therefore we must conclude that all men have the ability in themselves to repent and believe [which is false, according to the Bible].” Thus, Arminians teach that unconverted people have within themselves the spiritual ability to repent and believe.

The hyper-Calvinist takes the same premise (that man’s ability and responsibility are coextensive) and says, “Agreed! We know that, in and of themselves, all men are without spiritual ability to repent and believe [which is true, according to the Bible]; therefore we must conclude that unconverted people are not under obligation to repent and believe the gospel [which is false, according to the Bible].”

In contrast to both of these, the Calvinist looks at the premise and says, “Wrong! While it looks reasonable, it is not biblical. The Bible teaches both that fallen man is without spiritual ability and that he is obligated to repent and believe. Only by the powerful, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit is man given the ability to fulfill his duty to repent and believe.” And though this may seem unreasonable to rationalistic minds, there is no contradiction, and it is precisely the position the Bible teaches.

Why are these things so important to our discussion? Baptists have been confronted with these theological issues throughout their history. The Arminianism–Calvinism–hyper-Calvinism debate has played a decisive role in shaping our identity as Baptists, and particularly our identity as Southern Baptists. The Southern Baptist Convention has never welcomed either Arminians or hyper-Calvinists within their ranks. It has, however, from its beginning been home to evangelical Calvinists. In fact, though we cannot say there were only Calvinists among the original generation of Southern Baptists, Calvinism was certainly the overwhelming doctrinal consensus among the delegates that met in 1845 to form the convention.

The Arminian Understanding of “Faith”

Sproul_blog2The following is an excerpt from R.C. Sproul’s book, Willing to Believe

The classic issue between Augustinian theology and all forms of semi-Pelagianism focuses on one aspect of the order of salvation (ordo salutis): What is the relationship between regeneration and faith? Is regeneration a monergistic or synergistic work? Must a person first exercise faith in order to be born again? Or must rebirth occur before a person is able to exercise faith? Another way to state the question is this: Is the grace of regeneration operative or cooperative?

Monergistic regeneration means that regeneration is accomplished by a single actor, God. It means literally a “one-working.” Synergism, on the other hand, refers to a work that involves the action of two or more parties. It is a co-working. All forms of semi-Pelagianism assert some sort of synergism in the work of regeneration. Usually God’s assisting grace is seen as a necessary ingredient, but it is dependent on human cooperation for its efficacy.

The Reformers taught not only that regeneration does precede faith but also that it must precede faith. Because of the moral bondage of the unregenerate sinner, he cannot have faith until he is changed internally by the operative, monergistic work of the Holy Spirit. Faith is regeneration’s fruit, not its cause.

According to semi-Pelagianism regeneration is wrought by God, but only in those who have first responded in faith to him. Faith is seen not as the fruit of regeneration, but as an act of the will cooperating with God’s offer of grace.

Evangelicals are so called because of their commitment to the biblical and historical doctrine of justification by faith alone. Because the Reformers saw sola fide as central and essential to the biblical gospel, the term evangelical was applied to them. Modern evangelicals in great numbers embrace the sola fide of the Reformation, but have jettisoned the sola gratia that undergirded it. Packer and Johnston assert:

“Justification by faith only” is a truth that needs interpretation. The principle of sola fide is not rightly understood till it is seen as anchored in the broader principle of sola gratia. What is the source and status of faith? Is it the God-given means whereby the God-given justification is received, or is it a condition of justification which is left to man to fulfill? Is it a part of God’s gift of salvation, or is it man’s own contribution to salvation? Is our salvation wholly of God, or does it ultimately depend on something that we do for ourselves? Those who say the latter (as the Arminians later did) thereby deny man’s utter helplessness in sin, and affirm that a form of semi-Pelagianism is true after all. It is no wonder, then, that later Reformed theology condemned Arminianism as being in principle a return to Rome (because in effect it turned faith into a meritorious work) and a betrayal of the Reformation (because it denied the sovereignty of God in saving sinners, which was the deepest religious and theological principle of the Reformers’ thought). Arminianism was, indeed, in Reformed eyes a renunciation of New Testament Christianity in favour of New Testament Judaism; for to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other. In the light of what Luther says to Erasmus, there is no doubt that he would have endorsed this judgment.”

I must confess that the first time I read this paragraph, I blinked. On the surface it seems to be a severe indictment of Arminianism. Indeed it could hardly be more severe than to speak of it as “un-Christian” or “anti-Christian.” Does this mean that Packer and Johnston believe Arminians are not Christians? Not necessarily. Every Christian has errors of some sort in his thinking. Our theological views are fallible. Any distortion in our thought, any deviation from pure, biblical categories may be loosely deemed “un-Christian” or “anti-Christian.” The fact that our thought contains un-Christian elements does not demand the inference that we are therefore not Christians at all.

I agree with Packer and Johnston that Arminianism contains un-Christian elements in it and that their view of the relationship between faith and regeneration is fundamentally un-Christian. Is this error so egregious that it is fatal to salvation? People often ask if I believe Arminians are Christians? I usually answer, “Yes, barely.” They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency.

What is this inconsistency? Arminians affirm the doctrine of justification by faith alone. They agree that we have no meritorious work that counts toward our justification, that our justification rests solely on the righteousness and merit of Christ, that sola fide means justification is by Christ alone, and that we must trust not in our own works, but in Christ’s work for our salvation. In all this they differ from Rome on crucial points. Continue reading

Historical Background to the Canons of Dort

Arminius moved to Amsterdam to pastor a prominent church there. As a pastor, he was called upon to defend Calvinistic teaching against Dirck zoon Koornheert. In preparing his defense of traditional Calvinist doctrine, Arminius became convinced of his opponent’s teaching.

In 1603, Arminius was appointed professor of theology at the University of Leiden, where he was strongly opposed by his colleague, Francis Gomarus. Both Arminius and Gomarus believed in predestination, but they differed over the meaning of the word. At the heart of the disagreement was whether predestination was based solely on the will of God (Calvinism) or based on foreseen knowledge of belief (what would later be called Arminianism). The two met for a public debate in 1608, but the issue was no closer to being settled. Both men thought of themselves as Reformed, as Calvinists, but they were not saying the same thing.

Following Arminius’ death in 1609, the movement continued under the leadership of Janus Uytenbogaert, a court preacher at the Hague. In 1610, the Arminian party issued a document called the Remonstrance, setting forth the “Five Articles of the Arminians.” Gomarus and others formed a Contra-Remonstrance party (Gomarists) to oppose the Arminians. Things continued to heat up when Arminius’ successor at the University of Leiden was named–a man by the name of Vorstius, who was practically a Socinian. When the Arminian Simon Episcopius was named Gomarus’ replacement at Leiden, it looked like the tide had turned in favor of the Remonstrants. The Remonstrance party was further supported by the statesman John van Oldenbarneveldt and the jurist/theologian Hugo Grotius.

Political Intrigue

The Netherlands had recently won its independence from Spain. Some were still leery of the Spanish, while others welcomed a closer relationship. In general, the merchant class, for economic and trading reasons, desired improved relations with Spain. The clergy, on the other hand, feared that more contact with Catholic Spain would taint the theology of their churches. The lower class sided with the clergy for theological reasons, for national reasons (anti-Spain), and for class reasons (anti-merchants). Thus, merchants saw Arminianism as favorable to their desire for improved relations with Spain, while the clergy and lower class sided with Gomarus.

The Remonstrance of 1610 was issued to Oldenbarneveldt, Advocate-General of Holland and Friesland. Oldenbarneveldt, who was working to secure a better relationship with Spain, wanted toleration for the Arminians. The Contra-Remonstrance from Gomarists was submitted to the States of Holland in 1611. Oldenbarneveldt and the States of Holland decided on toleration. But the Gomarists wanted an official theological pronouncement to settle the issue once and for all.

Prince Maurice, the son and heir of William of Orange, eventually took the side of the Gomarists (perhaps for theological reasons, but perhaps in an attempt to garner more control of the Netherlands for himself). After Maurice had Olderbarneveldt and others imprisoned, the Estates-General called for an assembly to end the conflict.

The Synod

An international synod convened in Dordrecht from 1618-19. Of the approximately 100 members present, 27 were from Britain, Switzerland, and Germany, while the rest were Dutch. The Dutch contingent was comprised of roughly an equal number of ministers, professors, laymen, and members of the Estates-General. The Remonstrants were soundly defeated at Dort, leading to one of the greatest theological formulations of the Reformation. Unfortunately, Maurice, a product of his times (and not a very nice man it seems), condemned Barneveldt to death and had some Arminian pastors imprisoned. When Maurice died in 1625, measures loosened considerably, and in 1631 Arminians were officially tolerated in the Netherlands.

The Canons of Dort, in rejecting the five points of Arminianism, outlined five points of their own. The first concerning divine election and reprobation, the second on Christ’s death and human redemption through it, the third and fourth points on human corruption and how we convert to God, and finally the perseverance of the saints. Centuries later these five heads of doctrine would become the five points of Calvinism known at TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints). The Canons do not pretend to explain everything about Reformed theology, or about the Bible for that matter. Dort simply sought to declare what was “in agreement with the Word of God and accepted till now in the Reformed churches” concerning “Divine Predestination.” With that goal in mind I think the Canons can be counted as a faithful witness and a God-glorifying success.

The Basics of Monergism and Synergism

At the aomin.org blog site, the following is a primer on the two perennial branches of theological systems in Christianity. Or to put it another way, there are two very different ways for believers to view how their salvation was brought about.

In general, the first type (the Arminian-Synergist) affirms what is called “synergism.” Synergists believe that two forces in the universe are necessary to bring about regeneration in the life of the sinner. In specifics, the two forces at work (cooperation) that are necessary to bring about regeneration, or spiritual life, is the will of man and the Holy Spirit (grace).

To put it another way, the work of the Holy Spirit is dependent on the creature’s will, hence, “synergism” (working together). Synergists will sincerely say, “I believe in grace alone.” But in reality, they believe that grace is not alone (sufficient), but that man’s will is necessary for regeneration to be effective.

It could be said that synergists are “functional” Arminians because even though some will deny the label, their theology functions synergistically (thus, how they identify themselves is inconsistent with what they teach and believe).

The second group of believers (the Calvinist-Monergist) affirm what is called “monergism.” Monergists believe that there is only one force in the universe (grace alone) that brings about regeneration in the life of the sinner. In specifics, because of the deadness of man’s spiritual state, his moral inability, the Holy Spirit performs the miracle of spiritual resurrection (regeneration) in that person, hence, “monergism” (one work). Grace is sufficient to be effective, and does not depend on some action of man.

In other words, the Holy Spirit does not merely whisper in the hardened sinner’s ear, hoping that the rebel sinner will “cooperate”; rather, while the sinner is in a state of hardness and rebellion, the Holy Spirit penetrates in the will of man and performs the miracle of spiritual life (regeneration). That is grace alone. Faith does not precede regeneration, regeneration precedes faith.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12-13

He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God. John 8:47

Arminians cannot affirm monergism (grace alone); they must always have the creature’s will as the final determiner of their destiny, not God. Inconsistently, Arminians pray (without knowingly) Calvinisticly, “God, change my unbelieving relative’s heart.” I have never heard them pray, “God, only whisper in my relative’s ear, but don’t change their heart unless you’ve been given permission.” In contrast, the Calvinist prays and affirms biblical truth consistently.