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How Did Famous Arminians Celebrate Christmas?

Christmas brings up different emotions for me.  On the one hand, I have fond memories of Christmas as both a boy and an adult.  I have appreciated Christmas over the years.  Yet on the negative side is watching my own boys grow up in a culture where Christmas means one thing: presents.  Lost is the focus of the incarnation of God.

As a history buff, I am also torn on Christmas itself.  The practice of Christmas, as we know it now, is really the product of 19th and 18th century practices coming from Germany and England to the United States and because of the economic power of the United States, the practice of Christmas as focused on gifts and stuff is by in large an American edition to the holiday.  While both Germans and Brits did give gifts to each other in the late 19th century, the excessive nature of gift giving is a largely American focus.  Santa Claus, as we know him today, is the product of advertisement from 1931.  The really St. Nicholas was a bishop who was at the council of Nicaea and tradition tells us that he punched Arias for his blasphemy toward the deity of Jesus Christ.  Not the picture of Santa Claus we think of today!

When it comes to Church History, how did early Arminians celebrate Christmas?  I am only speculating based off information from that era and not off direct statements from Arminians themselves.

Let us begin with Arminius and the early Remonstrants.  No doubt they would have followed the Calvinist tradition of rejecting Christmas.  John Calvin had made Christmas illegal to celebrate in Geneva and Calvin viewed the day as more pagan than divine.  Calvin, like all the Reformers, viewed the Catholic Church as corrupt and vile. Calvin viewed the popery as the antichrist.  Calvin viewed the various Catholic holidays as having nothing to do with the gospel.  Calvin then rejected the Catholic celebration of Christ’s Mass (or Christmas).  Arminius, who studied under Calvin’s son-in-law and successor, Theodore Beza, would have likely rejected Christmas for the same reasons.  Arminius wrote much like Calvin on the popery and he too viewed the Catholic church as corrupt and he called her “the great whore of Babylon” (Revelation 17:5-6).  I suspect that Arminius would not have celebrated any Catholic holidays and neither would the Remonstrants.

By the time of John Wesley, England was a mixed bag when it came to Christmas.  The Puritans had sought to end the day called Christmas and even sought to officially change the name to Christtide.  The name didn’t stick.  The Puritans, like the Reformers, viewed themselves as Protestants and not Catholic and wanted nothing to do with the Catholic holidays.  The Puritan in 18th century America made it illegal to celebrate Christmas in many of their towns in New England.  They allowed “the strangers” (non-Puritan immigrants) to practice Christmas but only in their own homes.  The Puritans made sure to work on Christmas as to show they were not resting or celebrating with the Catholics.  In this environment, John Wesley came.  Wesley likely would have been in-between having strong love for the Church of England and his love for the Puritans.  Wesley never condemns the holiday but we find no record of him practicing it either.  Yet his brother Charles wrote Hark! The Herald Angels Sing which would become a theologically accurate hymn for Christmas that is sung even today by Catholics.

I suppose that we could bring up other Arminians in the past and show their views on the day.  What would Adam Clarke say?  Clarke opposed Charles Wesley’s organ playing in church so I suppose he would oppose Christmas in the church.  In his Bible Commentary Clarke notes in passing that Jesus was not born on December 25th and reasons that He was born possibly around late September since the shepherds were in the fields with their flocks (Luke 2:8).  Clarke makes no mention of Christmas.

Richard Watson likewise makes no mention of Christmas in his Theological Dictionary.  Watson does mention that Catholicism is heretical and unbiblical so it is safe to say that he would not have regarded Christmas with fondness.  Watson also takes aim at the heretical Catholic mass.

Today all Arminians that I know of have no trouble with Christmas.  The day has become a day to remember and ponder the birth of the Son of God.  I agree with Arminius and with others before me that the day is likely the day that Jesus was born on nor is a Christian less a Christian if they don’t celebrate Christmas.  In our day the birth of the Lord Jesus has largely become a day of giving of gifts, commercialism, Santa Claus and his flying reindeer.  The glory of the incarnation of the Lord Jesus has been either completely ignored by the secular or watered down by the Church.  I have often joked with my wife that it is the one time of the year that secular radio plays Christian songs and Christian radio plays secular Christmas songs.  It is the one time of the year that Christian radio will play Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas” and secular radio will play a secular artist singing “Silent Night.”

The reality is that Christmas does cause us, no matter who we are, to atlases acknowledge Jesus.  Militant atheists want to deny that Jesus even existed yet Christmas points to the biblical reality that Jesus did in fact live and the world continues to acknowledge this.  Secularist want to remove Jesus from Christmas and, like Easter before it, make it about children and about more stuff (greed).  Yet the incarnation of God (John 1:14) is still there.  While December 25th was probably not His birthdate, the reality of the birth of the Son of God drives unbelievers and sinners mad.

In my estimation, Christmas is neither good nor evil.  It is not biblical but it does point to a biblical reality: that Jesus Christ was born of the virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:34-35).  Jesus was born to die (Matthew 1:21).  He came to shed His blood for our salvation.  This is the miracle of Christmas.  The incarnation of Jesus should cause us to worship and adore Him for what He did for our salvation (Philippians 2:5-11).

The world has no problem with the Baby in the manger.  They have a problem with their sins and with the Judge of all the earth (Romans 1:18-21).  While the unbelieving world will celebrate the birth of the Messiah this December 25th, we disciples are looking to Hebrews 9:27-28 and we declare the Jesus is Lord!

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/23/2014 at 4:30 PM

Brief Thoughts on Original Sin

There is no doubt that Arminius affirmed original sin.  He wrote,

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.

Later Arminians such as John Wesley or Richard Watson affirmed with Arminius the doctrine of original sin.  The doctrine of original sin is defined as:

the doctrine which holds that human nature has been morally and ethically corrupted due to the disobedience of mankind’s first parents to the revealed will of God. In the Bible, the first human transgression of God’s command is described as the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden resulting in what theology calls the Fall of mankind. The doctrine of original sin holds that every person born into the world is tainted by the Fall such that all of humanity is ethically debilitated, and people are powerless to rehabilitate themselves, unless rescued by God.

I have no problem with such definitions.  The Catholic writer GK Chesterton wrote, “Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”  Chesterton, and others, point to the fact that children have to be trained to do what is right and not what is wrong.  I heard one original sin defender state once, “Just look at infants.  They are not good.  They are selfish and always want their way.  They cry when you don’t serve them and give them what they want.”  While I think he is reaching here a bit, he is correct to note that all humans are born with the inclination toward sin and toward pleasing ourselves.

Arminians, however, disagree over whether humans are born guilty of sin.  Dr. Jack Cottrell, for example, holds that humans are born in a state of “original grace” until they are tempted by their own flesh and sin.  He rejects that any person will be found guilty on the day of judgment simply because Adam sinned but each person will be found guilty for their own sins.  The Church of the Nazarene states about original sin:

“We believe that original sin differs from actual sin in that it constitutes an inherited propensity to actual sin for which no one is accountable until its divinely provided remedy is neglected or rejected.”

My brief thought here is whether one should be viewed as a heretic if they reject original guilt or inherited guilt?  I agree with Arminius and Wesley that we are born in original sin.  No one is capable of salvation apart from the gracious work of Christ.  None can save themselves.  Our desire is for the flesh.  Our desire is to please the flesh.  Our desire is not to honor God.  Salvation is the work of God alone (Ephesians 2:8-9) and good works cannot save.  Why?  Because good works are measured by sinful humans who often have an eye on flesh and not God.  Our “goodness” is not that good.  God’s standard also is not good but perfection.  Any one violation of His just laws requires judgment to come (James 2:10).  We are not good.  We are tainted by sin and by our flesh.  We need a Savior (Romans 7:24-25)!

I agree that because of sin, we cannot earn God’s perfect righteousness (Romans 10:4).  We must look to Christ alone to be saved and to have His perfect righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Christ alone turns away the wrath of God (Romans 5:8-9).

What is interesting is that even those who reject inherited guilt believe that because of sin, we still cannot earn God’s salvation.  We still must look to Christ.  While they reject the imputation of Adam’s sin to his posterity, they hold that because of Adam’s sin, we inherit a corrupted nature that loves sin and not God.  They agree with those who would hold to inherited guilt that none of us can save ourselves because of sin.  We must look to Christ alone to be forgiven (John 3:14-18).  Christ alone is the One who washes away our sins (1 John 1:9).

The older that I get, the more I see how corrupt I am apart from God’s grace.  I don’t love God in my flesh.  I love myself.  Yet I rejoice in both the mercy of God (that He withholds His just wrath against my sins) and His grace (which enables me to be forgiven of my sins).  By no means do I want to abide in sin.  I hate sin.  I want to fear God, to walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17).  I want to honor Christ as Lord through faithful obedience to Him (1 Peter 3:15).  However, I know that apart from His grace, I would be living in sin and rebellion against Him.  I read Romans 3:10-18 and I see myself.  I see my desires.  But oh the joy that comes from loving Jesus and allowing Him to guide my steps.  I am not perfect by any means but I seek to be like Christ more and more (Philippians 3:12-14).  My goal is not to see how much sin I can get away with but to look to Christ to help me, forgive me, restore me, and strengthen me to overcome sin.  He is certainly more than able to deliver me by His power (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Why the Early Methodists Grew?

John Wesley brought with him the rise of evangelical Arminianism and he helped found the Methodist Church (though Wesley never left the Anglican Church).  Wesley was a scholar but even more he was passionate to preach the gospel.  He would preach anywhere and everywhere.  Wesley was encouraged by his Calvinist friend George Whitefield to preach in the open air and so he did on April 2, 1739 for the first time.  Wesley described it this way:

Monday, 2.—At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people. The Scripture on which I spoke was this (is it possible anyone should be ignorant that it is fulfilled in every true minister of Christ?): “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord”

Wesley called it “vile” because he had been raised and trained to preach only in the church buildings and not in the open air.  From here on, Wesley would write in his journal about preaching to thousands upon thousands of people in the open air.  This led to the founding of the Methodist Church as Wesley and his companions were often kicked out of churches and even physically assaulted by the crowds for their preaching.

One Methodist historian describes the early Methodists like this:

During its early years in England and in America, Methodism was a despised sect.

Methodists were enthusiasts (too excitable); their camp meetings were out of control; their preachers were uneducated. They sang “ditties” instead of stately hymns. They offended people by talking to them about their souls. They opposed “worldliness,” which included Sabbath breaking, dancing, card playing, gambling, alcohol, and fancy dress.

For the first 75 years of their presence in America, Methodists would never have won any popularity polls. But Methodism grew. From 1784 to 1850, a period known generally as the Second Great Awakening, Methodism grew from 3 percent of America’s religious population, to 33 percent. It was in part because Methodism during this period thought it better to be despised for the gospel than to be respectable in the world.

Notice that the early Methodists loved the gospel and loved souls and desired to preach the truth of the gospel above being popular with the world.  This led to their growth.  They were “other” minded people, focused on eternity (2 Corinthians 4:16-18; Philippians 3:17-20).  They did not care about being friends with this world (James 4:4) and they lived and died with a focus on the glory of God (Philippians 1:20-21).  Amazing, faithful people!

But along with a zeal for the gospel, they had great men of God who were both solid theologians and solid evangelists at the same time.  Consider men such as Adam Clarke or Richard Watson or John Fletcher.  All three men were men of God who were known for their zeal, for their prayer lives, for their personal holiness but they also loved the Word of God and expounded the Word of God.  All three men were to be found teaching the early Methodists sound doctrine in their Bible classes but they were turn around and open air preach or lead their students back to their studies to pray.  They could on the one hand study the Greek New Testament and on the other they could spend all night in prayer.  John Wesley himself was a student of the Word.  He would often ride his horse and read a book as he traveled.  I own his Works and they are full of Greek, French, and Latin references.  Yet Wesley would rise up at 4 AM each day to pray and read his Bible.  He loved knowledge but he feared God as well.

Where is that today?  Where are the theologians who are known not just for their knowledge of the Word of God (such as Adam Clarke) but also their preaching, their zeal, their open air preaching, their hunger for souls.  Oh God give us men such as Paul the Apostle who could expound on the riches of justification in Romans 5 and pray to the Lord with much passion in Romans 10:1-2 for his own race to be saved!  We need both the scholar and the evangelist.  We need men of God who both love the Word, study theology, etc. but also love souls, love to pray, love to worship, and love to apply theology.  We often are educated beyond our level of obedience (James 2:14-26) and I fear that we have much knowledge about God but we know little of this God in a real and personal way (John 17:3; Philippians 3:8-11).  I want to know much about God but oh to have a zeal for Him where I take His Word and go out into the highways as Wesley did proclaiming the truth of His Word (Acts 5:20).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

12/16/2012 at 2:02 PM

Adam Clarke on God’s Rejection of the Jews (Romans 9-11)

I was listening to a Calvinist Bible teacher teach on Romans 9:20 and saying that Romans 9-11 teaches God’s unconditional election of people to salvation but he side stepped the issue of reprobation (though Calvin didn’t) by saying that God merely passes over the non-elect.  He concluded that to teach that Romans 9-11 is not about unconditional election to salvation would be almost heretical.

Ironically, Adam Clarke and the early Methodists interpreted Romans 9-11 to be Paul giving God’s justification for His rejection of national Israel.  Dr. Vic Reasoner points out that Methodist theologians such as Richard Watson taught that God predestined to election all who had faith.  This amounts to the personal election of every believer and the corporate predestination of all who believe.  Watson taught that there were three kinds of election in Scripture: the election of individuals to service, the election of nations or corporate, and personal election which is conditioned upon faith.  Our election is conditioned upon our faith regardless of our race.  This is Paul’s main point in Romans 9-11, that the Jews were rejected by God because they did not believe and were not saved simply because they are Jews.

Adam Clarke comments further,

It is observable that, agreeably to his delicate manner of writing, and his nice and tender treatment of his countrymen, he never mentions their rejection-a subject extremely painful to his thoughts-otherwise than in a wish that he himself were accursed from Christ for them, or to prevent them from being accursed from Christ, (ver. 3,) till he comes to chap. 11, where he has much to say in their favour, even considered, as at present, rejected. But it is very evident that his arguments in this chapter rest on the supposition that the main body of the Jewish nation would be cast out of the visible kingdom of God; and it is for this reason that in this and the two following chapters he considers the reception of any people into the kingdom and covenant of God under the relative notion of inviting and choosing, or of calling and election. The Jews were rejected and reprobated; the Gentiles were chosen and called, or elected. As this is most obviously the apostle’s meaning, it is strange that any should apply his doctrine to the particular and unconditional reprobation and election of individuals.

It is upon this rejection of the Jews that the calling and election of the Gentiles rest. If the Jews be not rejected, but are still the visible Church and kingdom of God, then the Gentiles, according to the most proper inference from the apostle’s doctrine, have no right to the blessings of the kingdom. Instead of being invited or called, they are intruders at the heavenly feast; and this the unbelieving Jews laboured to prove, and thus unhinge the believing Gentiles by persuading them that they were not duly taken into the Church of God; that the Jews were, and ever must continue to be, the only Church and kingdom of God, and that they could not be cast off so long as God was faithful to his promise to Abraham; and that the Gentiles were most miserably deceived when they supposed they were brought into that kingdom by faith in Christ, whereas there was no way of entering it, or of being entitled to its privileges, but by submitting to the law of Moses. This being the fixed opinion of the Jews, and the ground on which they opposed the Gentiles and endeavoured to sap the foundation of their hope of salvation from the Gospel of Christ, it was therefore a matter of the utmost importance to be able to prove that the Jews, by rejecting Christ and his Gospel, were themselves cast out of the Church, and this in a way perfectly consistent with the truth of the promise made to Abraham. He had slightly touched on this subject at the beginning of the third chapter; but it would have broken in too much on the thread of his discourse to have pursued the argument there, for which reason he appears to have reserved it to this place, where he (1) solemnly declares his tenderest affection for his countrymen, and his real grief of heart for their infidelity and consequent rejection, ver. 1-5; (2) Answers objections against this rejection, ver. 6-23; (3) Proves the calling of the Gentiles from their own Scriptures, ver. 24- 30; (4) Gives the true state and reasons of the rejection of the Jews and the calling of the Gentiles, ver. 30 to chap. x. 14; (5) Proves the necessity of the apostolic mission to the Gentiles in order to their salvation, chap. x. 14-21.

I agree with Dr. Reasoner further when he writes, “Because Calvinists ask the wrong question, they arrive at the wrong answer.”   Arminius stated that the real question before Romans 9-11 is, “Is not God’s word made of no effect if those Jews who seek salvation by keeping the law, not by faith, are rejected?”

The point then of Romans 9-11 is not predestination of individuals to salvation but about the Jews rejection of the gospel of God’s grace (Romans 11:28-32).  Arminius was right!

Great Arminians and the Sinner’s Prayer

Just a reminder that great Arminians in the past did not hold to nor practice the sinner’s prayer, the anxious seat, or the mourner’s bench.  This would include great Arminians such as Arminius himself who never states in his Works anything about how a sinner receives salvation other than by God’s grace through faith as Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9.  Neither did Arminians after him such as John Wesley, John Fletcher, Richard Watson, Adam Clarke, Thomas Pope, nor John Miley.  Non-Calvinists such as Alexander Campbell did not use the practice.

So what did great Arminian evangelists do to call sinners to salvation?  Wesley preached Christ.  Wesley preached that sinners should look to Jesus for salvation.  He would instruct sinners to be justified through faith as the Bible says (Romans 5:1).  He didn’t use manipulation to get sinners saved.  Wesley didn’t try to get his brother Charles Wesley to sing one of his hymns through just one more time so that that last sinner would come forward.  Wesley simply preached Christ.  Christ saves and no one else.  It is the name of Jesus that saves sinners (Acts 4:12).  You and I are only saved through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our works (Titus 3:5-7).  Works flow from justification but they do not secure justification (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12-13).  Faith works (James 2:14-26) but works flow from saving faith and not for salvation (Romans 4:5).

When you preach salvation to the lost, preach to them that they are to look to Jesus for salvation and not the Church nor any theologian.  Jesus alone saves (John 14:6).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/06/2012 at 10:57 PM

Fundamental Wesleyan Society Bookstore

If you have never visited the Fundamental Wesleyan Society’s bookstore, I want to encourage you to visit it.  The store has several worthy titles including Richard Watson’s A Theological Dictionary and several solid Arminian commentaries by Dr. Vic Reasoner on Romans and Revelation.  I also recently purchased Dr. Reasoner’s A Wesleyan Theology of Holy Living for the 21st Century which is a 2 volume set.  I have only begun to read these works.

It’s important that we Arminians be filling our minds first with the Word of God (Psalm 119:16) and then secondly with solid Arminian theological works such as these from the Fundamental Wesleyan Society.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/26/2012 at 4:33 PM

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