Thumb-nail Sketches of Doctrinal Patterns

Did You Know Arminius Was A Calvinist?

     If you believe in the teachings of historic Methodism, you are an Arminian. But if you were scarcely aware of this fact, you are an uninformed Arminian. Fortunately, however, a few minutes of thoughtful reading can, to some degree, remedy the situation.

What is an Arminian?

     An answer to this question must begin with the teachings of John Calvin, the great Protestant reformer, because Arminianism was, first of all, a reaction to Calvinism. These teachings are simply summarized in what are called "The five points of Calvinism." They are:

Calvinism's Five Points

  • Point one: Even before creation, God foreordained the fall of the human race in order that He might show forth His mercy by saving a select number of individuals therefrom. Obviously, those not included in this selection were thereby predestined to be lost even before they existed.1] This is called Predestination or, more accurately, Double Predestination.
  • Point two: The atonement of Christ, which was to be the basis for salvation, needed only to include those whom God had already chosen to save. All others, therefore would be excluded. This is aptly titled a Limited Atonement.
  • Point three: The corruption of man by sin was so complete that it left him without the ability even to call on God for mercy. This is termed Total Depravity.
  • Point four: But since God had already chosen to save certain ones, he would call them to salvation in such a way that they would be unable to resist His call. The name for this is Irresistible Grace or Effectual Calling.
  • Point five: Finally, and very logically, those who were thus called and saved would be unable ever to fall away and be lost. This is called The Perseverance of the Saints.

Cast-iron Logic

     These five points can be seen to compose a "cast-iron" system of logic. But locked into them is a conception of God which is austere and forbidding. One is saved or lost by eternal decree! It is not surprising that when this idea of "fixed-fate" laid hold of a poet of another century, he was moved to write,

"God, ever merciful and just
With new-born babes did Tophet[2] fill;
Down into endless torments thrust
Merely to show His sovereign will.
This is that Horrible Decree!
This is that wisdom from beneath!
God (O detest the blasphemy!)
Hath pleasure in the sinner's death."

     But in spite of its austerity Calvinism spread rapidly. By the end of the sixteenth century it had fanned out in all directions from Geneva but its strength had become particularly concentrated in the Netherlands. There, something startling happened. A Dutchman named Koornheerts infuriated the Dutch clergy by attacking Calvinism in his writings.

     Such an attack was not allowed to go unchallenged. A brilliant and well trained young Calvinist, Jacobus Arminius, was asked to answer Koornheerts. This he set about to do, but his study of the subject only convinced him that Calvinism was indefensible. From his thorough search of the Scriptures was born a view out of harmony with austere Calvinism.

Arminianism's Five Points

     A struggle followed but Arminius did not live to see it resolved. The "five points of Arminianism," however, are based on his writings. They are:

  • Point one: God wants to save all men. Those who respond to the call of His Spirit are the elect or the predestinated.
  • Point two: Christ died for all men. The atonement is adequate for the whole race generally and every man individually. Therefore, the atonement is universal in its scope.
  • Point three: Mankind, it is true, is corrupted by sin or totally depraved, but God extends to every man a grace which enables him to turn to Christ for forgiveness. This is called Prevenient Grace— the grace that goes before.
  • Point four: Because man is truly a free moral agent, he may, if he chooses, resist the grace of God. This is termed Resistible Grace.
  • Point five: Because man does not surrender this freedom when he is saved, he is able (though less likely than many preachers imply) to renounce his faith and be lost. Arminius was of the firm conviction that all men are free moral agents both before and after they are converted.

What Is an Arminian?

     Obviously, these five points are an answer to Calvinism. But they are more! They are a positive affirmation that God loves all men, that Christ died for all men and that no man is excluded from salvation unless he excludes himself by willful unbelief.

     That was the truth that gripped the hearts of the Wesleys over a century after the death of Jacobus Arminius. The fire in the soul of early Methodism was the conviction that God "is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9b). And this is still the abiding mood of a true "Wesleyan-Arminian."

What, then, is an Arminian?

     An Arminian is one who believes that God, in Christ, extends His love to all men and that each one must accept personal responsibility for his attitude toward that love.

Don Bastian, Pastor
Greenville Free Methodist Church

Centuries After Calvin And Arminius

     The Calvinism commonly encountered today is something less than the "high" Calvinism of John Calvin, even as the Arminianism of the Wesleyan movement is something more than the Arminianism developed by followers of Arminius after his death. Harsh doctrine has been bled from the former, and warmth of spirit has been infused into the latter.

     Arminius revolted from the rigid predestinarianism of Calvinism which held that man is saved or lost by God's arbitrary election from all eternity without regard to man's faith and obedience. This doctrine Arminius opposed on grounds of Scripture. He was one of the most scholarly men of his or any age, and his Biblical insight and keen logic disturbed the scholastic reasoning of Calvinists who falsely charged him with being heretical.

     After the great leader's death, some who called themselves his followers did wander into Pelagian rationalism, arguing that man never fell and therefore is born free from original sin. Thus they corrupted the teachings of Arminius and anticipated aspects of the liberal theology of today which exalts man and denies his need of salvation through the death of Christ on Calvary. Calvinists to this day sometimes identify Arminianism with liberalism, as did one who expressed to me his surprise that I could be Arminian and at the same time evangelical.

Wesleyan Arminianism

     A century after Arminius came the Wesleys who met the distortions of liberal Arminianism with two teachings, (1) the necessity of a transforming experience of pardoning grace for sins committed, and (2) the operation of cleansing grace to remove the stain of "inbred sin." We may say that Wesleyanism is original Arminianism baptized with the Holy Spirit! Thus the Methodist movement restored and vivified Arminianism.

     Not only did the Wesleyan movement restore Arminian orthodoxy and infuse it with the power of the Spirit, but its impact upon glacial Calvinism was so effective, both by its spiritual warmth and its theological and Biblical arguments, that by the close of the nineteenth and opening of the twentieth century leading Calvinistic bodies had been forced to revise some of their creeds in line with the "whosoever" of John 3:16. Early Methodists declared salvation for all with such radiant fervor and convincing logic that rigid Calvinism began to yield and its basic doctrine of "predestination" or deterministic "election" was rather generally abandoned.

Today's Neo-Calvinism

     From "high" Calvinism's primary doctrine of "predestination" had flowed a secondary doctrine of "the final perseverance of the saints." Obviously, once grant the premise that God chooses from all eternity those who will be saved, then nothing can prevent the final salvation of these "elect." But when the basic doctrine of "election" was abandoned, logically the secondary doctrine of "perseverance" likewise fell.

     But strangely enough, some in the Calvinistic tradition retained the dependent doctrine of "perseverance" after its foundation doctrine of "election" had collapsed. That old doctrine of "perseverance" now survives as "eternal security," a doctrine with varying interpretations according to its different advocates, but all interpretations agreeing that once a person becomes a Christian he can never be lost. Strange logic! According to this position not God but man decrees in effect by one act of choice his own eternal "election" to salvation. As a rebel against God he was once free to choose or reject salvation, but now as a Christian he is not free to choose another eternal destiny !

     The old foundation of "perseverance" having given way, these Neo-Calvinists sought a new basis for "eternal security" in isolated passages of Scripture to which they gave strained interpretations. Claiming to accept the Scriptures literally, they nevertheless resorted to fantastic figurative devices to bolster their positions, and too often seem to have taken the uninspired footnotes of some authoritarian editor of the Bible in the place of the plain teaching of the Bible text.

By Way of Summary

     Without claiming completeness and only in general terms, let us note the three channels of doctrine in this day that as intelligent and sincere Christians we should carefully distinguish.

  1. Liberal Arminianism is the essential position of liberal theology which minimizes or denies the basic fact of man's fall and his inbred sin and therefore exalts Jesus as an example more than Christ as a Redeemer.
  2. Neo-Calvinism, which has surrendered "high" Calvinism's basic doctrine of "predestination" but retains its secondary doctrine of "election" under the name "eternal security," resting the same on the insecure basis of isolated "proof-texts." These "proof-texts," taken out of their context sometimes distort the clear teaching of the Bible as a whole and open the way for Antinomianism, or security in sin after salvation.
  3. Wesleyan Arminianism, which is the original Arminian doctrine infused with the warmth of the Holy Spirit. It opposes the Pelagianism of liberalism by its insistence upon the necessity of a Redeemer because of man's historic fall and his present sins, and opposes the Antinomianism of Calvinism by maintaining the doctrine of deliverance from the taint of inbred depravity and grace to enable man to live without willful sinning.

In Any Case - Christian Courtesy

     What should be the attitude and relationship of Wesleyan Arminians to those in the other two groups?

  • First, let us remember that in both groups may be found some who are better than their doctrines require and who may indeed be Christian in life.
  • Second, while graciously tolerant of those who believe another doctrine, let us remember that in the long run what we believe will powerfully influence our lives; and to guard against the errors of others let us seek to understand clearly our own doctrines and their grounding in Scripture.
  • Third, let us live up to our doctrines so that our lives and our radiant Christian experience will carry conviction to our friends that a pure heart and life are indeed provided by God's abundant grace and can be maintained by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Leslie R. Marston
A Bishop of the Free Methodist Church

A reprint of two articles first appearing in Youth in Action

Distributed by the FORWARD MOVEMENT

Free Methodist Headquarters

Winona Lake, Indiana

[1] The late B. B. Warfield, a foremost Calvinistic authority on Calvinism, states the following in an article in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge: "In point of fact, there is and can be no difference among Calvinists as to the inclusion of the fall in the decree of God."

[2] Hell.