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Arminianism and Free Will

Arminius is often said to be the theologian of freedom.  One Calvinist theologian said that Arminius was “anthropocentric” in that he placed humanity at the center of his theology and not God.  To this day, Calvinist theologians continue to assert that Arminius and Arminianism is all about human freedom.  Libertarian free will is said a chief focus of Arminian theology.

And yet is this fair?  Is Arminianism focused on free will and humans as its center?

The fact is that those who say that Arminius was first and foremost about human freedom must prove this from his writings.  This cannot be done.  Arminius does not elevate human freedom above God’s sovereignty nor does he ascribe to salvation the basis being free will.  Arminius is clear in his writings that the will of man is free indeed but bound by sin (Romans 8:6-7).  The will of mankind is darkened by our sinfulness.  The will of man, like Jonathan Edwards later, was free but free to sin.  Man could do nothing with their free will to earn salvation.

Arminius was clear that we should uphold free will for three main reasons.  First, sin must be ascribed to free will.  While God can certainly use man’s free will sinful acts for His glory (Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23-24), the act of sin must be free and not from God lest God be made the author of sin itself which Scripture deplores (James 1:13-15). God is simply too holy to sin (Exodus 15:11; Habakkuk 1:13).  If mankind does not have free will, sin must come from outside of them and that would be from the Creator Himself and Arminius simply would not affirm this.

Secondly, Arminius defended free will in regard to grace.  It was here that Calvinists often attacked Arminius as being Pelagian.  For salvation to be truly gracious and a gift from God (Romans 6:23) then it must be maintained that mankind receives this grace by their own free will albeit by the ministry of the Spirit.  To deny freedom in the work of grace is to make grace not truly grace.  How can one ascribe salvation as a work of grace if in fact man has no choice but to succumb to the irresistible drawing power of God?  Calvinists will insist that this is truly grace when dead sinners are regenerated to believe the gospel but salvation as a gift from God (John 3:16) is not a gift if the person offered the gift has nothing to say about receiving the gift.  Salvation as gracious is gracious in Arminianism since the will of man is freed by the Spirit to believe and receive the gift (John 1:12-13; Romans 11:5-6).

Finally, Arminius affirmed human freedom because it upholds the relationship between God and man as a true relationship.  God is not forcing His will upon people as a Master and they as robotic slaves.  Instead, God is loving, gracious, and reaching out to lost humanity through His Son and through His Word to bring them into a free and loving relationship with Himself.  The consistent theme of the Old Testament is God having relationships with people (and later the nation of Israel) through human freedom.  God allows the free will decisions of Abraham, David, and others to build His relationship with them.  No doubt God is sovereign in His choosing but He continues to allow a man like Abraham or Moses to even sin against Him in the process but nonetheless uses the men and their free will for His glory.  This does not end in the New Testament.  The coming of the Messiah is God still reaching out to humanity.  Yes our will is bent and wicked.  Yes we are sinners but God is consistently holy and pure yet He reaches out to the lost though His Son (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15).  God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The facts are that Arminius is not putting man at the center of his theology nor even free will.  Instead, Arminius affirmed the grace of God as central to his theology.  We are saved by grace and kept by grace.  Pelagianism places the beginning of faith in man but Arminius places salvation as an act of God’s first grace.  It is God who initiates salvation first in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:15) and ultimately in His Son (John 1:17-18).  The beginning of salvation is not in man.  The beginning of salvation, according to Arminius, is God and His grace.

For more on this I highly recommend the book, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace by Keith Stanglin and Thomas McCall.

Did Augustine Corrupt the Church With Gnostic Doctrine?

The following is a video done by Jesse Morrell.  Brother Morrell holds to moral government theology but his video is interesting.  I cannot say whether I agree or disagree.  I know so little of Augustine and his theology.  I am aware of some of his teachings but have not read his works nor any books on him.  I am aware that Calvin gleamed much from Augustine and I know that many Calvinists today hold that Augustine was a champion of orthodoxy in his battles with Pelagius.

Morrell argues that Augustine was wrong in his views on mankind. He argues that the early Church held to free will and that man was not born with a sinful nature.

Watch the video and judge all things by the Word of God.  The Word of God alone is the inerrant and infallible truth of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/25/2013 at 9:09 PM

Arminianism is not Pelagianism

I was listening to a Calvinist teacher lecture on heresies today and he was teaching on Pelagianism.  I knew from my past hearings of this man that he would seek to show his hearers that Arminianism is nothing more than Pelagianism or at least semi-Pelagian.  He did.  Not five minutes into his lecture he stated that the errors of Pelagius are still with is in the Arminians.  How so?  He said that Arminians are Pelagians for the following reasons:

1.  They teach that mankind has complete free will.

2.  They teach that man helps God with their salvation.

3.  They teach that after salvation one must do something to remain saved such as good works, obedience to the Law, etc.

4.  They teach that Jesus didn’t really save anyone when He died on the cross.  Man has to help God save us.  We work together to be saved.

This attack is not new to Arminians.  I have been told numerous times through e-mails or on Twitter or even in person that I am a heretic, that I teach works-salvation, and that I know nothing of the grace of God.  One “former” Arminian told me that he abandoned Arminianism after he really begin to read the Bible (to imply that I don’t).  Charles Spurgeon said about Arminians:

Arminianism, which is only Pelagianism under another name, had, to a large extent, eaten out the life of the Church of England.

While some Calvinists do realize that Arminians are not Pelagian or even semi-Pelagian, they still insist that Arminians believe that we help God to earn our salvation.  Calvinists like to pride themselves that their salvation is all of God and nothing of them and that even their belief is from God whereas poor Arminians believe that when they stand before God on the day of judgement they will be able to tell God that they saved themselves through their own free will.  Is this really the case?

First of all, I have been an Arminian disciple of Jesus for over 20 years.  I have met thousands of Arminians and have never once heard a testimony of someone claiming that they saved themselves or even that they helped God by believing.  I don’t deny that Arminianism holds to synergism, the idea that we submit to Christ for salvation through faith.  What I do deny is that that is works-righteousness.  Not one Arminian theologian nor one Arminian disciple would ever claim such a thing.  Clearly the New Testament teaches that we are saved by God’s grace through faith (Romans 3:22-27; 4:5; 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  Jesus’ blood alone cleanses a sinner from sin (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14, 22, 27-28; 1 John 1:7).  Arminianism rejects any notion of earning our salvation through any good works or even the act of believing.  Jesus saves (Romans 6:23).

Secondly, Arminius, in his Works, made sure to let people know that he was not close to being a Pelagian.  How so?  Arminius embraced total depravity.  Pelagius did not.  Arminius embraced that the will of mankind is bound by sin and apart from the grace of God, none could be saved.  Pelagius did not.  Arminius taught that salvation is through Christ and Christ alone and not by any works of mankind.  Pelagius did not.  Arminius taught that the only way to overcome sin is through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Pelagius taught that mankind could overcome sin through the freedom of the will.  Arminius taught that salvation was all of grace.  Pelagius, while giving some acknowledgement to grace, denied that salvation was completely all of grace.

Lastly, the problem is that the Reformed view of irresistible grace has become, for the Calvinist, the only liable means to salvation.  While the vast majority of Christians and theologians throughout Church history have denied this, the “young, restless, and reformed” crowd is championing John Piper and R.C. Sproul’s view that teaches irresistible grace.  There is an alternative but anyone who mentions this is viewed as a Pelagian from the outset.

The fact is that the writings of Arminius are full of examples to show that he was not a Pelagian in his beliefs about salvation.  I don’t deny that certain people from Church history such as Charles Finney (who was not an Arminian) was in fact semi-Pelagian.  I know of some in the Restoration movement who gladly take the title “semi-Pelagian” though they prefer to be called “pre-Augustinian” in their views.  For Arminianism, if we are to adhere to Arminius, we must reject Pelagianism in all its forms.  Arminius accepted many of the Calvinist teachings regarding the fall, the utter depravity of humanity, and the necessity of grace for salvation while at the same time denying unconditional election and irresistible grace.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/25/2012 at 2:48 PM

Man’s Enslavement to Sin

I was browsing through an article written by a Calvinist about evangelism and in particular on the issue that many in the visible Church do not know the gospel.  He was angry that the gospel sometimes is reduced to methods instead of seeing the truth of the gospel as in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  In many ways, I agreed with him.  He is absolutely correct that the gospel is not A then B then C.  It is much more than that.  At the same time, I don’t doubt that the gospel is simply enough for us to preach to children or to the uneducated the gospel and they can be saved through Jesus Christ.  His article was good but I do take exception with one major point he makes in the follow ups in the comments.  He notes that Arminians must struggle in preaching the gospel since we believe that man is not a slave to sin and that apart from the work of the Spirit, mankind cannot be saved.  He quotes Romans 8:9 (as does Calvinist apologist James White often times in attacking Arminians).

I find this laughable for several reasons.  First, the author makes a common mistake about Arminianism and assumes that Arminianism equals Pelagianism.  Even Calvinist theologians such as R.C. Sproul believes that most Arminians border on semi-Pelagianism.  I know some Arminians don’t mind this.  One Arminian theologian wrote, “I don’t care what you label me so long as I am biblical.”  Perhaps but the orthodox Church has historically condemned Pelagianism including Arminius.  Arminius wrote that he condemned Pelagianism and did not agree with the Pelagians.  Are we to think then that Arminius really did embrace Pelagianism even if he wrote against it?

Secondly, Arminius believed that mankind was indeed a slave to sin.  Jesus said that whoever sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34).  Arminius never doubted that man was a slave to sin.  Arminius wrote that sin comes from two main sources, our own flesh and Satan:

(1.) The former is Man himself, who, of his own free will and without any necessity either internal or external, (Gen. iii, 6,) transgressed the law which had been proposed to him, (Rom. v, 19,) which had been sanctioned by a threatening and a promise, (Gen. ii, 16, 17,) and which it was possible for him to have observed (ii, 9; iii, 23, 24.)

(2.) The remote and mediate efficient cause is the Devil, who, envying the Divine glory and the salvation of mankind, solicited man to a transgression of that law. (John viii, 44.) The instrumental cause is the Serpent, whose tongue Satan abused, for proposing to man these arguments which he considered suitable to persuade him. (Gen. iii, 1; 2 Cor. xi, 3.) It is not improbable, that the grand deceiver made a conjecture from his own case; as he might himself have been enticed to the commission of sin by the same arguments. (Gen. iii, 4, 5.)

Some Arminians don’t agree with Arminius over this next point but Arminius agreed with the Calvinist of his day over the doctrine of original sin and wrote this:

The whole of this sin, however, is not peculiar to our first parents, but is common to the entire race and to all their posterity, who, at the time when this sin was committed, were in their loins, and who have since descended from them by the natural mode of propagation, according to the primitive benediction. For in Adam “all have sinned.” (Rom. v, 12.) Wherefore, whatever punishment was brought down upon our first parents, has likewise pervaded and yet pursues all their posterity. So that all men “are by nature the children of wrath,” (Ephes. ii, 3,) obnoxious to condemnation, and to temporal as well as to eternal death; they are also devoid of that original righteousness and holiness. (Rom. v, 12, 18, 19.) With these evils they would remain oppressed forever, unless they were liberated by Christ Jesus; to whom be glory forever.

Arminius believed that all of mankind was sinful.

Thirdly, Arminius taught that the work of regeneration was a work of the Spirit.  None can be saved apart from His working and His grace.  Ephesians 2:1-9 is a powerful chapter that shows that in our flesh, we are dead in our sins without the life of God. The only hope we have is the gracious work of God in saving us in His Son.  This salvation is by grace through faith and apart from works (vv. 8-9).  Arminius never doubted this doctrine.

So why accuse Arminians of holding to a doctrine that we don’t hold to?  I know of no Arminian theologians who deny that salvation is a work of God and not by works.  I know of no Arminians who hold that we “will” ourselves to salvation (John 1:12-13).  I know of no Arminians who hold that we are not enslaved to sin.  I know some Moral Government theologians and evangelists who deny much of what I have written here but no Arminians that I know would.  We would embrace the reality that salvation is a supernatural work of God (2 Corinthians 5:17).  We embrace that the whole of salvation is a work of God from beginning to end.  We embrace that mankind, apart from the prevenient grace of God, cannot be saved.  We embrace the fact that our salvation is rested and grounded only in the work of Jesus Christ and not our flesh.

Canons Against Pelagianism

Can. 1 “If any man says that Adam, the first man, was created mortal, so that whether he sinned or not he would have died, not as the wages of sin, but through the necessity of nature, let him be anathema.”

Can. 2 “If any man says that new-born children need not be baptized, or that they should indeed be baptized for the remission of sins, but that they have in them no original sin inherited from Adam which must be washed away in the bath of regeneration, so that in their ease the formula of baptism ‘for the remission of sins’ must not be taken literally, but figuratively, let him be anathema; because, according to Romans 5:12, the sin of Adam (in quo omnes peccaverunt) has passed upon all.”

Can. 3.1 “If any man says that in the kingdom of heaven or elsewhere there is a certain middle place, where children who die unbaptized live in bliss (beate vivant), whereas without baptism they cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven, that is, into eternal life, let him be anathema.” [The authenticity of this canon has been brought into question, though there is some reason to believe that it was part of the original canon listing. In some manuscripts Canon 3.2, listed below, is listed here.]

Can. 3.2 “If any man says that the grace of God, by which man is justified through Jesus Christ, is only effectual for the forgiveness of sins already committed, but is of no avail for avoiding sin in the future, let him be anathema.”

Can. 4 “If any man says that this grace only helps not to sin, in so far that by it we obtain a better insight into the Divine commands, and learn what we should desire and avoid, but does not also give the power gladly to do and to fulfill what we have seen to be good, let him be anathema.”

Can. 5 “If any man says that the grace of justification was given us in order that we might the more easily fulfill that which we are bound to do by the power of free will, so that we could, even without grace, only not so easily, fulfill the Divine commands, let him be anathema.”

Can. 6 “If any man understands the words of the Apostle: ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us,’ to mean that we must acknowledge ourselves to be sinners only out of humility, not because we are really such, let him be anathema.”

Can. 7 “If any man says that the saints pronounce the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘forgive us our trespasses,’ not for themselves, because for them this petition is unnecessary, but for others, and that therefore it is, ‘forgive us,’ not ‘me,’ let him be anathema.”

Can. 8 “If any man says that the saints only pronounce these words, ‘forgive us our trespasses,’ out of humility, not in their literal meaning, let him be anathema.”

Can. 9 “It has already been ordered by a former plenary Council, that those communities which became Catholic before the Imperial laws against the Donatists were issued by Honorius, are to remain in the dioceses of those bishops through whom they became Catholic; but that if they entered into communion with the Church after the publication of those laws, they shall be made over to that diocese to which they, while they were still Donatists, belonged (de jure). But as many disputes have arisen and do arise among the bishops from this cause, it is now decided that if in any place a Donatist and a Catholic community have existed side by side, and belonged to different dioceses, both shall be made over to the diocese to which the Catholic section belonged, whether the conversion of the Donatists took place before or after the publication of those Imperial decrees.”

Can. 10 “If the Donatist bishop has himself become Catholic, the two bishops (he and the Catholic one) shall divide equally between them the two communities now united, so that one portion of the towns shall belong to one, and the other to the other bishop. The bishop who has been longest in office shall make the division, but the other shall have the choice. If there is only one township of this description, then it shall belong to whichever See is nearest to it; but if there are two equally near, the people shall decide it by the majority of votes. If the votes are equal, the elder bishop has the preference. If, however,
the towns to which both parties belonged are of unequal number, so that they cannot be equally divided, the remaining one shall be dealt with as was prescribed above, in the preceding canon, with regard to a single town.”

Can. 11 “If, after the publication of this edict, a bishop has brought back a place to Catholic unity, and has held undisputed jurisdiction over it for three years, it may not be taken away from him. But if a Donatist bishop is converted, no disadvantage shall accrue to him from this arrangement, but for three years after his conversion he has the right of demanding back those places which belonged to his See.”

Can. 12 “If a bishop seeks to get into his power a diocese to which he thinks he has a claim, not through an episcopal decision, but by other means, and is opposed by another, he thereby forfeits his claim.”

Can. 13 “If a bishop takes no pains to win over to Catholic unity those places which belong to his jurisdiction, he shall be exhorted to do so by the neighboring bishops. If he does not do so within six months from this warning, they shall belong to the bishop who wins them to the Church…In disputed cases, arbiters shall be chosen by the primate or by the parties themselves.”

Can. 14 “There can be no further appeal from judges who have been unanimously elected.”

Can. 15 “If the bishop of a mother-diocese shows no zeal against the heretics, he shall be warned by the neighboring bishops; and if in six months from that time he does not bring back the heretics, although those deputed to carry out the Imperial decree of union have been in his province, he shall be deprived of communion until he does so.”

Can. 16 “If, however, he falsely asserts that he has brought back the heretics into communion, when this is not true, he forfeits his See.”

Can. 17 “If priests, deacons, and inferior clerics complain of a sentence of their own bishop, they shall, with the consent of their bishop, have recourse to the neighboring bishops, who shall settle the dispute. If they desire to make a further appeal, it must only be to their primates or to African Councils. But whoever appeals to a court on the other side of the sea (Rome), may not again be received into communion by any one in Africa.”

Can. 18 “If a virgin is in danger of losing her virginity, because a great man demands her in marriage, or some one desires to violate her, or because she fears to die before receiving the veil, and the bishop, at the desire of her parents, gives her the veil before she has reached the age of twenty-five, the synodal decision with regard to this age shall not hinder him.”

Can. 19 “In order that all the bishops present at the Council should not be detained too long, it was decided that the General Council should make choice of three persons invested with full powers from each province. From the province of Carthage were chosen Vincent, Fortunatian, and Clarus; from Numidia, Alypius, Augustine, and Restitutus; from the Byzacene province, besides the saintly old man, the Primate Donatian, the Bishops Cresconius, Jocundus, and Aemilianus; from Mauretania Sitifensis, Severian, Asiaticus, and Donatus; from the province of Tripoli, as usual only one, Plautius. These, with the senex, namely, the Primate Aurelius, shall decide everything. The Synod also prayed that Aurelius would sign all the documents to be published.”

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/22/2011 at 11:43 PM

Posted in Pelagianism

Tagged with , ,

That Wasn’t Arminianism Brother

I had a brother e-mail me the other day and he made the following comments:

“I use to be an Arminian.  Was raised in an Arminian church (Nazarene).  I grew up in an Arminian home, attended Arminian camps as a child and then as a teenager, and was even saved in an Arminian church.  Yet the reason that I am not an Arminian today is that they put too much emphasis on works for salvation (or keeping yourself saved through works) and I must have got saved a thousand times as I was always at the altar asking God to save me from my sins it seems each week.  If I so much as thought a sinful thought, I thought I was going to hell.  I lived in constant fear that I was going to lose my salvation.  This is why I am not an Arminian.”

Let me first state to this brother, “That wasn’t Arminianism brother that you witnessed.  That was semi-Pelagianism if not outright Pelagianism.”  Arminius never taught what you say you heard as a child and then as a teenager in this so called Arminian church.  Arminius did emphasize holiness but so did John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards.  Holiness is neither Arminian or Calvinist but is biblical (1 Peter 1:15-16).

Secondly, Arminius never teaches that we are saved by God’s grace but kept by works.  Works are vital to the Christian life but they flow from being born again (John 3:3-7; 2 Corinthians 5:17) and not from our flesh (Isaiah 64:6).  James 2:14-26 does emphasize works but James is not teaching us that works save us but they prove our salvation in Jesus (Romans 4:4-5).  Ephesians 2:8-9 shows us that works do not save us but Ephesians 2:10 does teach us that God has prepared works for the believer.

Third, we remain in Jesus by faith (1 Peter 1:5 with emphasis on God’s power to guard us by faith).  We are justified by faith (Romans 5:1) and we stand secure by faith (1 Corinthians 15:1-2; Colossians 1:21-23).  Certainly we should fear God (Proverbs 1:7) and Paul tells us in Romans 11:20-22 that we should fear God lest we turn away from Him.  There is a healthy balance between loving God and fearing God.  We need both.  Sadly, the fear of the Lord is largely lost in the popular church today.  Our prayer meetings no longer stand in awe of God, His presence or His power.  Instead, we sing “happy clappy” songs about God and no longer fear Him.  But there is a balance to fearing God and perhaps some Arminians and Calvinists would do well to learn both.

Lastly, much of what passes as Arminianism is not biblical, reformed Arminianism.  Moral Government Theology (MGT) and semi-Pelagianism often pass for Arminianism though they are not Arminian.  Open theism often tries to say they belong to Arminianism but again, I would reject them as in the line of Arminius.  Sadly, even some Wesleyans (such as the Nazarenes that you my friend were around) often don’t hold to the Arminianism of John Wesley but instead have embraced popular cultural Christianity with its semi-Pelagian view of mankind.

I would urge you to read the works of Arminius and you’ll see that what you called Arminianism is not biblical, historical, reformed Arminianism.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

07/21/2011 at 4:33 PM

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