Arminian Today

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Posts Tagged ‘Jacob Arminius

I’m Reformed

What does Reformed mean?  According to dictionary.reference.com it means:

amended by removal of faults, abuses, etc.

Calvinists often use the term for their branch of theology.  Reformed theology.  The idea is to focus the person back to the Reformation.  In this way, Calvinists often perceive themselves as not just children of the Protestant Reformation but in fact they see themselves as the protectors of the Reformation.  Of course, Lutherans would disagree as would many other Protestants including Arminians.

Arminius was a Reformer.  His theology was clearly Protestant.  Arminius had no love for the Roman Catholic Church despite some who want to believe that Arminius was a secret Catholic or at least he shared sympathy for their theology.  This is clearly not the case.  Arminius differed with Catholicism in many ways especially in the area of justification.  Here Arminius aligned himself clearly with the Protestants as he wrote:

From the premises thus laid down according to the Scriptures, we conclude, that justification, when used for the act of a Judge, is either purely the imputation of righteousness through mercy from the throne of grace in Christ the propitiation made to a sinner, but who is a believer; (Rom. i, 16, 17; Gal. iii, 6, 7;) or that man is justified before God, of debt, according to the rigor of justice without any forgiveness. (Rom. 3, 4.) Because the Papists deny the latter, they ought to concede the former. And this is such a truth, that, how high soever may be the endowments of any one of the Saints in faith, hope and charity, and however numerous and excellent the works of faith, hope and charity may be which he has performed, he will receive no sentence of justification from God the Judge, unless He quit the tribunal of his severe justice and ascend the throne of grace, and from it pronounce a sentence of absolution in his favour, and unless the Lord of his mercy and pity graciously account for righteousness the whole of that good with which the saint appears before Him. For, woe to a life of the utmost innocency, if it be judged without mercy. (Psalm xxxii, 1, 2, 5, 6; cxliii, 2; 1 John i, 7-10; 1 Cor. iv, 4.) This is a confession which even the Papists seem to make when they assert, that the works of the Saints cannot stand before the judgment of God unless they be sprinkled with the blood of Christ.

Arminius loved the catholic church but by this he meant the universal church.  He writes again:

The catholic church is the company of all believers, called out from every language, tribe, people, nation and calling, who have been, are now, and will be, called by the saving vocation of God from a state of corruption to the dignity of the children of God, through the word of the covenant of grace, and engrafted into Christ, as living members to their head through true faith, to the praise of the glory of the grace of God. From this, it appears that the catholic church differs from particular churches in nothing which appertains to the substance of a church, but solely in her amplitude.

And how does one get into this catholic church?  Arminius answers:

The efficient cause of the church, that both produces her by regeneration and preserves her by daily education, and that perfects her by an immediate union of her to himself, is God the Father, in his well beloved Son Jesus Christ, by the Spirit of Christ who is the Redeemer and the Head of the church. (2 Tim. i, 9; 1 Pet. i, 12.) We view the gospel as the instrument, that is, “the incorruptible seed by which the church is born again.” (1 Pet. i, 23, 25.)

When it comes to Arminius’ disagreements with the Calvinists of his day (and bear in mind that Arminius was a student of Reformed theology having studied under Beza in Geneva and was assigned by the Calvinists of his day to debate the Anabaptists), Arminius differed over the issue of creeds.  Arminius believed that creeds and councils and catechisms can err.  He wrote:

The authority of councils is not absolute, but dependent on the authority of God; for this reason, no one is simply bound to assent to those things which have been decreed in a council, unless those persons be present, as members, who cannot err, and who have the undoubted marks and testimonies of the Holy Spirit to this fact. But every one may, nay, he is bound, to examine, by the word of God, those things which have been concluded in the council; and if he finds them to be agreeable to the divine word, then he may approve of them; but if they are not, then he may express his disapprobation. Yet he must be cautious not easily to reject that which has been determined by the unanimous consent of so many pious and learned men; but he ought diligently to consider, whether it has the Scriptures pronouncing in favour of it with sufficient clearness; and when this is the case, he may yield his assent, in the Lord, to their unanimous agreement.

The cry of the Reformation had been: “Reformed and always reforming.”  The Reformation students understood that the church might err yet again as the Roman Catholics had erred.  Arminius understood this point, writing:

It is also allowable for a later ecumenical or general council to call in doubt that which had been decreed by a preceding general council, because it is possible even for general councils to err; nor yet does it follow from these premises that the catholic church errs; that is, that all the faithful universally err.

Apostasy can come to even the best of people.  Why?  Because they are humans (Romans 3:10-18).  People often make mistakes.  This is why Reformation is needed.  There is no denying that the Lord will always have His faithful bride (2 Timothy 2:19).  I see nothing in Scripture to suggest a complete apostasy from the faith but people do err.  We must be careful to examine all things by the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  We are called to test the spirits (1 John 4:1) and this only happens when we take the inerrant and infallible Word of God and test all teachings.

In this sense, I am Reformed.  I am not a Calvinist but I believe that the disciple of Jesus often needs reforming.  Our minds can wander.  Our hearts can grow cold (Revelation 2:4). We can become worldly minded.  The disciple should strive to know God and know His Word (John 17:3; Romans 12:1-2).  The disciple should be willing to allow the Holy Spirit to reform us not just in our theology but in our hearts and actions.  We are new creations in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:17) let us then live like it (Ephesians 4:17-24; 5:8-21).  The Holy Spirit is always desiring to reform us and make us more like Christ.

Arminius desired this as well.  He desired the church to always be reforming.  We must not grow satisfied with merely having sound doctrine.  We must not be satisfied with merely saying we are not Roman Catholics.  We must go hard after Jesus.  We should strive to love Him more and more, to worship Him who sits on the throne.  We should hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) knowing that our satisfaction will be found in Jesus our head.

My prayer is to be more like Jesus.  I am so tired of me.  I am tired of trying to reform my ways when my heart is the issue.  I pray that the Lord Jesus will be glorified through me and that He would be Lord of my life completely in every way.  I want to exalt Jesus and not myself.  I want to see Jesus glorified among His saints.

Grant this all Lord Jesus!

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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.

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