by Jay Atkinson

Arminianism is merely the teachings of one man, Jacob Arminius, to counter the errors of another, John Calvin. To base a theology on any one sided argument is to miss the point of unity and theology both. Arminius taught that God has given man the choice to accept Him or reject Him, most Christians now accept the view but many hard-core Calvinists still consider Arminianism heretical. For the most part Protestants and Pentecostals now accept the tenets and it conforms to the Catholic positions of the Council of Trent. Many legalistic fundamentalists still teach Calvinism.

I have not read all, but some of Arminius' "Works". It is just too much material for me to take the time as yet. What I have read, I find written in the spirit of love and humility and in stark contrast to Calvin. I have read the entire "Institutes" of Calvin and found my low estimation of him well founded. Through and through the Institutes is an embittered defense of Calvin's own beliefs, even though he denies doing that before he even starts. Calvin comes off always so much smarter than all the other churchmen combined. Because Arminius believed that the Bible taught both predestination and free-will, it is much more scholarly and balanced than the Institutes. The Works of Arminius is a hard read because he just goes on and on and on and on. Calvin is easier to read because so much of it is superfluous and can be skimmed. Arminius confirms the truths of the early church fathers while Calvin does not. Arminius' main themes are worship and love while Calvin's main theme is a defense of his own positions. Most people who deny predestination in favor of free-will are accused of being Arminians but actually are not.

It is enough for me that Arminian thought is merely a reaction to hyper-Calvinism rather than a codified theology. Over the years, I have had many discussions concerning predestination and free-will but made up my mind long ago before that, through the reading of scripture alone, without the benefit of theological study. It was only afterward that I discovered the dangers of studying too much. Since the Bible teaches both predestination and free-will, I reject either extreme notions that one is true while the other is false. To take a position accepting one or the other is to not understand either. Many Calvinists do not believe that an Arminian can be saved, so much for God making the choice. Arminius himself would write: "There does not appear any greater evil in the disputes concerning matters of religion, than the persuading ourselves that our salvation or God's glory are lost by every little difference. As for me, I exhort my scholars, not only to distinguish between the true and the false according to Scripture, but also between the essential articles of faith, and the less essential articles, by the same Scripture."

God is the Master and Commander of the Universe. We were created in His image and He has bestowed many of His attributes to us. For one to say that a belief in free-will somehow takes away from God's sovereignty or free grace, is an absolute absurdity, not fit for a mature, spiritual person in Christ. If God is truly all powerful yet unable to share that power with His children, it would be paradoxical, not to mention heretical to teach it. The Lord is an omnipotent God that loves us enough to give us gifts if we choose to ask. My advice to readers is not to accept paradoxical, unreasonable and unscriptural half-truths. Pitting one Bible truth against another has caused unnecessary division in the body of Christ.

As far as St. Augustine, he takes the same position. It was Calvin that started the first lie in this regard by being the first Calvinist to claim him. It was St. Augustine of Hippo who taught the freedom of the will against the Manicheans, but the necessity of grace against the Pelagians. We should love each other more and stop fighting over such silly arguments.

History of Jacobus Arminius

The term Arminianism comes from Jacobus Arminius who was a Divinity Professor at Leiden University in Holland early in the seventeenth century. Arminius was born in Oudewater, South Holland, Oct. 10, 1560 and died in 1609. His father died when he was an infant and he was adopted by Theodorus Aemilius, a former priest turned Protestant who sent the young Arminius to school at Utrecht. He was orphaned again at the age of 15. The prominent mathematician professor of Marburg, Rudolf Snellius, saw promise in the boy and undertook his maintenance and education. His whole family was later murdered by the Spaniards in the siege of Oudewater in the Netherlands' struggle for independence. Arminius then spent six years at the University of Leyden through the support of friends and studied theology.

The fire of liberal Christian humanistic traditions (not secular humanist) from the Renaissance was still wide-spread in Europe although the intolerant spirit of the Calvinists had threatened to put the fire out. There was little toleration for anything except Calvinist views to be taught in the churches and by this time, most Protestants in the Netherlands were Calvinist. There was a spiritual feeling however that wanted a greater emphasis on tolerance and the practical aspects of religion and less emphasis on legalistic doctrine and codified traditions. Many felt that it was necessary that the state should tolerate only one religion, but to others, like Arminius, that the state should tolerate all religions so that the true one would always be free. Arminius did not deny predestination completely, but he did deny that predestination was unconditional. Enlightened spiritual minds will accept predestination as a result of the foreknowledge of God and not exclusive unconditional election. Arminius taught predestination from the Bible in his writings but by doubting the Calvinistic doctrine of unconditional predestination, he felt that God had given man the freedom to choose or reject eternal life. This view had no place in pure Calvinism or Puritan exclusivism.

Arminius later studied theology in Geneva, under the successor of John Calvin, Theodore Beza. Beza had taken Calvin's mantle after the tyrant's death and took full leadership of the Academy at Geneva. Beza held to the Reformed version of predestination and one of its most ardent proponents. Taking the doctrine of predestination a step further, he developed a view known as supralapsarian which had to do with the order of divine decrees from the Latin supra lapsum, literally "before the fall." Did God first "decree" election and reprobation (salvation and damnation) and then permit the fall to which the decree could be carried out or did he first permit that man would fall and then decree election as the method of saving some, which would be infralapsarian from Latin infra lapsus, after the fall? The doctrine of a demon was getting stronger and the Calvinist errors were becoming more widespread. God sent Jacobus Arminius.

Jacobus Arminius entered a pastorate in Amsterdam in 1588 and was respected as a preacher. Eventually, Arminius succeeded Franz Junius as professor of theology in Leyden, and remained there until his death. A layman scholar, Dirk Koornhert, wrote against Beza and other predestinarians, rejecting predestination altogether and demanded a revision of the Netherlands' reformed confession, the Belgic Confession. Jacobus Arminius was by then a noted scholar and a strict Calvinist and taught Calvinism at the university. Arminius, was called to reply to Koornhert and to defend the supralapsarian position. With Arminius' preparation for the debate and through meditation and study, he saw through the Calvinist exclusivism, intolerance and the false doctrines of John Calvin and had come to doubt the whole idea of unconditional predestination and ultimately rejected it. He learned that high Calvinism made God "a tyrant and an executioner."

Arminius's theology from that time represented a retreat from Calvinism and got him in trouble with the intolerant position of the Reformed preachers. Being liberal enough to see the good as well as the evil in Catholicism made him suspect by the stern Dutch Calvinists as leaning toward the Roman church. By opposing Calvin's theology on predestination he became very controversial and hated among the Reformed churches.

A bitter controversy would spring up between Jacobus Arminius and Franz Gomarus, his supralapsarian colleague at the University of Leyden who later was the leading spokesman for the Calvinists at the Synod of Dort. This conflict between them provoked a schism affecting the whole church of Holland. The controversy rages to this day but the Calvinist doctrines are generally confined to those that also deny unity in the churches, the prophetic spirit, the ecumenical movements and the social gospel, so nothing is lost by their absence except that Jesus would rather use them for His glory. Many still come against Arminianism now as they did then calling it a damnable heresy, a plague and leprosy, exhorting others to help stop the spread of what they call a devilish delusion from the mouth of the serpent. C.H. Spurgeon points out, "I will go as far as Martin Luther, in that strong assertion of his, where he says, 'If any man doth ascribe of salvation, even the very least, to the free will of man, he knoweth nothing of grace, and he hath not learnt Jesus Christ aright.'"

Jacobus Arminius died almost ten years before the controversy over his teachings came to a head. Ultra-Calvinism was reaffirmed at The Synod of Dort (1618-19) to combat the ongoing influence of Arminius. A group of Arminius' followers, known as Remonstrants (reproof, to correct) issued a protest called the Five Articles to the Reformed Church of Holland. They were led by two men, Simon Episcopius, and Jan Uytenbogaert in 1610. Basically, the articles were as follows:

  1. God has decreed to save through Jesus Christ those of the fallen and sinful race who through the grace of the Holy Spirit believe in him, but leaves in sin the incorrigible and unbelieving.
  2. Christ died for all men (not just for the elect), but no one except the believer has remission of sin.
  3. Man can neither of himself nor of his free will do anything truly good until he is born again of God, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit.
  4. All good deeds or movements in the regenerate must be ascribed to the grace of God but his grace is not irresistible.
  5. Those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith have power given them through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit to persevere in the faith. But it is possible for a believer to fall from grace.

The Arminian Articles of Remonstrance were condemned by the Synod of Dordt in 1619 and the reply was popularly called "the five points of Calvinism," in response to the Arminian Articles. The Remonstrants were expelled from the Reformed Church, hundreds of Arminians were removed from their pulpits and Arminianism was dubbed as a deviant doctrine. The doctrine spread however as an underground movement until it was the majority view in the body of Christ.

The liberating view that Jesus has died for the whole world and not just for the elect is foreign to any Calvinist who already denies the Baptism with the Holy Ghost, spiritual gifts, free-will, resistable grace and salvation for all who are willing to accept it. When God sent John Wesley to preach in the eighteenth century, the free-will Arminian doctrine was refined with a strong evangelical emphasis on justification by faith.

Jacobus Arminius died at only 49 as a worn out man assailed by the controversy and ecclesiastical persecution of the Calvinists but Arminianism and his teaching remained in many forms. The Wesleyan, Nazarene, Pietists, Pentecostal groups, free-will Baptists, holiness churches, the Oxford movement and the social gospel have all been influenced by Arminianism.

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