The division between Calvinism and Arminianism is a hotly debated subject amongst evangelicals. This is one of the primary issues that threaten to cause a split in the Southern Baptist Convention. In our last article we discussed Calvinism. But what exactly do Arminians believe?
What Is Arminianism?
Jacob Arminius was a 16th century Dutch theologian who originally was a student of John Calvin before changing his beliefs. Some of his beliefs that were changed included his understanding on Soteriology (the Doctrine of Salvation.)
While Calvinism emphasizes God’s sovereignty, Arminianism places the emphasis on man’s responsibility and claims that he has a completely free will. Jacob Arminius was ordained in 1588. The latter part of his life became full of controversy for which he would be known throughout history. During a season of his life when he was called to bring charges of heresy against a man, he began to question his understanding of the doctrine of predestination, which led him to question his stances on the nature and character of God. He thought predestination was too harsh for a loving God. He began to promote a “conditional election” that allowed both man and God to take part in the salvation process.
After his death his followers would promote his teachings. They perpetuated his views by authorizing and signing the Remonstrance. In 1610 the Remonstrant Arminianism was debated at the Synod of Dort, which was the official gathering of the Dutch Reformed Church. Delegates from England, Germany, Switzerland and the Dutch Church were present and all voted in favor of Gomarus (who promoted the historic, Augustinianism view.) The Arminians were dismissed and many persecuted.
The Five Points of Arminianism
Human Free Will
This is also referred to as Partial Depravity. This belief states that man is depraved due to the fall, but man is still able to come to God and accept salvation. Arminians claim that though people are fallen they are still able to make a spiritually good decision to follow Christ based on the grace that God bestows to all people.
Verses Used By Arminians To Support This:
John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
When we take a look at John 3:16-17 in the Greek we see something really unique:
Houtos gar egapesen ho Theos ton kosmon, hoste ton Huion ton monogene edoken, hina pas ho pisteuon eis auton me apoletai all eche zoen aionion.
The section of “pas ho pisteuon” is very interesting. Most Bibles translate this to “that whosoever believes”. But the word “whosoever” isn’t actually there. Hostis is the word for whosoever. It is found in John 8:52, John 21:25, and 1 John 1:2. This phrase “pas ho pisteuon” is used in John 3:15, John 12:46, Acts 13:39, Romans 10:11, and 1 John 5:1. The word “pas´ means “all” or “the whole”, or “every kind of” and it modifies “ho pisteuon.” Thus, “pas ho pistuon” more accurately means “all the believing.” This puts quite a damper on Arminian theology. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten So, that the believing ones in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
2 Chronicles 6:36 “When they sin against You (for there is no man who does not sin) and You are angry with them and deliver them to an enemy, so that they take them away captive to a land far off or near.”
Romans 3:10-12 “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, There is not even one.”
Conditional election states that God only “chooses” those whom He knows will choose to believe. This belief says that God looks down the long hallway of time into the future to see who is going to choose Him.
Verses Arminians use to support conditional election
Jeremiah 1:5 “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”
Romans 8:29 “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined.”
God’s choice on who would attain salvation occurred before the foundation of the world. This choice rested solely on His own will. There is no scriptural evidence to support that God looked down the portal of time. In fact, that notion is entirely contrary to God’s nature. God cannot act in a way that is in violation of His divine nature. God is all knowing. There is not a moment in time when God does not entirely know everything. If God had to look down the portal of time to see, then there is for a moment of time when God did not now. Further, if God relied on man’s choice then He would not be all powerful or in complete control. God gives grace to those whom He has selected – their saving faith is a gift of God as a result of His grace, not a cause of it.
Proverbs 16:4 “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, Even the wicked for the day of evil.”
Ephesians 1:5,11 “He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will… also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
Romans 9:16 “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.”
Romans 8:30 “and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”
Also known as Unlimited Atonement. This statement says that Jesus died for everyone, even those who are not the elect. This belief says that Jesus’s death on the cross was for all of humanity and that anyone can be saved simply by believing in Him. This belief states that Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved, but that it did not actually secure salvation for anyone.
Verses Arminians use to support universal atonement
1 John 2:2 “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
John 1:29 “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!”
Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”
Frequently, in conservative circles, you will have people who are on the fence about this debate. They consider themselves to be Four Point Calvinists. Many members in Southern Baptist Churches would fall into this category. They hold to Calvinism except for limited atonement. They prefer to believe in universal atonement. Because it sounds “fair.”
But truthfully, we don’t want fair. Fair sends us all to Hell because we all deserve eternal punishment for the treason we commit against the Almighty. What we want is mercy and grace. Unlimited atonement can’t be true because it actually isn’t supported by scripture. Logically, there are only four possible options regarding Who can be saved (see R.C. Sproul’s video on the Sovereignty of God for more details on this list):
A) God can save no one. We all committed treason against the Creator of the Universe. He is HOLY and we are not. God is perfectly just and is not required to be merciful. This is still loving because He is perfectly just. We all deserve Hell. He is under no obligation to be merciful. If there is any obligation to be merciful – then it is no longer mercy. We are owed nothing.
B) God could save everyone. This is universalism and is heretical. Clearly, this is not supported scripturally.
C) God can give the opportunity for some people to be saved. That way everyone had a chance, but no guarantee for everyone to be saved. But there is no ensurity that any would be saved since it is left to man’s responsibility.
D) God can choose to save some people. That God in His sovereignty could choose to ensure the salvation of those who He has chosen, those He has predestined. He doesn’t merely give the opportunity. This is the only completely gracious and merciful option. The only option that ensures Christ’ sacrifice wasn’t in vain – that He completed that which was exactly what He set out to do. Christ’s redemption plan secures everything necessary for our salvation – including the saving faith He gives to us.
1 John 2:2 affirms limited atonement. When we look at this verse in context, we can see that John was discussing whether or not Gentiles could be saved. John is saying that Jesus is the propitiation for the Jews, but not for the Jews only, but for even the Gentiles. This is consistent with what he wrote in John 11.
John 11:51-52 “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.”
Ephesians 1:11 “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”
1 Peter 1:2 “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood: May grace and peace be yours in the fullest measure.”
Ephesians 1:4-5 “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will.”
Psalm 65:4 “How blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near to You To dwell in Your courts. We will be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple.”
This teaches that the grace of God can be resisted until it is quenched; that you can say no to the Holy Spirit when He calls you to salvation. This teaching says that God inwardly calls people who are also called outwardly, that God does all He can to bring a sinner to salvation – but man can thwart that calling and harden himself to God.
Verses Arminians use to support resistible grace
Hebrews 3:15 “While it is aid, ‘Today if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”
1 Thessalonians 5:19 “Do not quench the Spirit.”
God, the Creator of the entire Universe, the author and artist of all the laws of physics and chemistry – the God who holds all things together with the power of His thought – can be thwarted by a mere piece of dust that He created. Who am I to think that I can stop God from doing what He set out to do? Free will is not actually completely free. Our will to make choices is not outside of God’s control. Christ will never fail to save who He has set out so save because He is the all-powerful God.
The book of Hebrews is unique in that parts of it are clearly directed at believers, whereas other parts – including Hebrews 3:15 – are directed at the non-Christians who have an intellectual understanding of the gospel, but do not have saving faith. Here the author is saying do not harden your hearts – like the Hebrews did after they had seen proof of God for 40 years in the wilderness. These people had a false profession of faith. This is the second time in this chapter that he has a stark warning for the false converts – they will not persevere with a false profession of faith. Their hearts will become hardened. They will become calloused. They have become hardened against seeing God at work around them.
Quenching the Spirit in 1 Thessalonians. Quenching is to put out a fire. It is what we do to the Holy Spirit. Grieving is what the Holy Spirit does in response to our quenching. Looking at this passage – this is an entire passage written directly to those who have already been converted. This passage has nothing to do with the grace to draw people to salvation. So, what is quenching? When you fail to study the Word to show yourself approved unto God, when you mishandle Scripture, when you don’t receive Scripture with humility, when you do not apply it rightly to your life, when you do not desire the Word and search it diligently and letting it dwell in you richly – all these things we are told scripturally quench the Holy Spirit. This has to do with our intimacy with God. This has nothing to do with our salvation. The Holy Spirit draws us to intimacy with God – our process of progressive sanctification – that can be quenched.
John 6:37 “All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.”
John 11:38-44 “Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Remove the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, ‘Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?’ So, they removed the stone. Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, ‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me.’ When He had said these things, He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’ The man who had died came forth, bound hand and foot with wrappings, and his face was wrapped around with a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.”
Ephesians 2:1-5 “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ, by grace you have been saved.”
Fall from Grace
This is the Arminian teaching that claims that a person can become saved, and then lose his salvation. This happens when a person fails to keep up their faith or commits a grievous sin. But how many sins… or how many times we must fail to have perfect faith. It’s all a bit cloudy. Arminians are not entirely agreed upon this doctrinal stance.
Verses Arminians use to support fall from grace
Galatians 5:4 “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.”
Hebrews 6:4-6 “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly git, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”
Everyone who has been chosen by God, redeemed by the blood of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit are saved forever. Since salvation was not due to anything that we do ourselves – we can’t be the cause of it failing. Our salvation is eternally an act of God’s power and sovereignty over His creation – an act that is totally for His glory.
Galatians 5:4 does not teach that you can lose your salvation. This verse frightens a great many people when it is read out of context. In this book, Paul had already been addressing those people who were trying to add to faith by including works-based salvation in the act of circumcision. These were the Judaizers. They were not denying faith in Christ, nor were they requiring all of the law be kept – they were requiring a bit of both. Paul argues against their inconsistency and explains that we cannot go down both paths. Paul is saying that they were still seeking their justification. They were not like the true believers who professed faith in Christ, alone (Romans 5:1.) They were estranged from Christ, not in the fact that they had ever been united with Christ in salvation – but they were estranged from the only true source of eternal life – Christ alone. They had fallen from the grace alone concept and were destroying that concept by their beliefs of adding works to it.
Hebrews 6 is another passage that often times worries individuals. We have to look at it in context – especially since it starts with the word “therefore.” We have to see what the “therefore” is there for. Here the author is explaining that Jesus is better than the priests or the temple – even better than Melchizedek. He explains that all the old testament law was pointing towards Jesus, that Jesus is the completion of it. This passage in Hebrews 6 says that these people were enlightened. The word enlightened is not used in scripture to indicate someone who has been saved. They were knowledgeable. It doesn’t say anywhere that they believed. They were curious. They got a little sampling of Christianity. These people were never saved to begin with. Hebrews 6 is not talking about losing your salvation.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.”
1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that [a]it would be shown that they all are not of us.”
Famous Arminian preachers and theologians
- Jacob Arminius
- Johan van Oldenbarnavelt
- Hugo Grotius
- Simon Eposcopius
- William Laud
- John Wesley
- Charles Wesley
- A.W. Tozer
- Andrew Murray
- R.A. Torrey
- David Pawson
- Leonard Ravenhill
- David Wilkerson
- John R. Rice
The Scripture is clear – God alone is sovereign over who will be saved. Man is utterly wicked and a dead man can’t bring himself to life. God alone is responsible for redeeming sinners. God is powerful enough to bring salvation to completion in glory. Soli Deo Gloria.