Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Arminianism’

Arminianism: Error, But Not Damnable Heresy

December 12, 2012 16 comments

On occasion we in Calvinist circles come across someone with a very narrow definition of true Christianity, to the point of saying that Arminians are heretics: as in, not actual Christians.  Aside from the fact that the person may be confusing pelagianism and/or semi-pelagianism with Arminianism, such a view fails to see the difference between a serious error and misunderstanding, versus those we could not fellowship with as Christians.  As S. Lewis Johnson well summed it upWe’re all born Pharisees. We’re born again as Arminians. And the work of sanctification is to bring us to Calvinism.

Phil Johnson also addressed the issue in this talk (Closet Calvinists: Why Arminians pre-suppose the doctrines of grace) at the 2007 Shepherds Conference (article version, Why I Am A Calvinist, Part 1), noting that “I’m Calvinistic enough to believe that God has ordained, at least for the time being, that some of my brethren should hold Arminian views.”  In God’s great providence, shortly after I observed an online incident (a person calling Arminians heretics) and the follow-up discussion on that issue, I came to this great sermon from Charles Spurgeon in my reading through Spurgeon volume 7, “EXPOSITION OF THE DOCTRINES OF GRACE.”  Here are some good points from Mr. Spurgeon:

 The controversy which has been carried on between the Calvinist and the Arminian is exceedingly important, but it does not so involve the vital point of personal godliness as to make eternal life depend upon our holding either system of theology. Between the Protestant and the Papist there is a controversy of such a character, that he who is saved on the one side by faith in Jesus, dares not agree that his opponent on the opposite side can be saved while depending on his own works. There the controversy is for life or death, because it hinges mainly upon the Doctrine of Justification by Faith, which Luther so properly called the test Doctrine, by which a Church either stands or falls. The controversy, again, between the Believer in Christ and the Socinian, is one which affects a vital point. If the Socinian is right, we are most frightfully in error; we are, in fact, idolaters, and how can eternal life dwell in us? And if we are right, our largest charity will not permit us to imagine that a man can enter Heaven who does not believe the real Divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are other controversies which thus cut at the very core, and touch the very essence of the whole subject.

I think we are all free to admit, that while John Wesley, for instance, in modern times zealously defended Arminianism, and on the other hand, George Whitefield with equal fervor fought for Calvinism, we should not be prepared, either of us, on either side of the question, to deny the vital godliness of either the one or the other. We cannot shut our eyes to what we believe to be the gross mistakes of our opponents, and should think ourselves unworthy of the name of honest men if we could admit that they are right in all things, and ourselves right, too! … We are willing to admit—in fact we dare not do otherwise—that opinion upon this controversy does not determine the future or even the present state of any man!

Finally, in beginning to expound on what Calvinists do and do not believe, Spurgeon observed (something also applicable to other doctrinal differences among believers):

We have not come here to defend your man of straw—shoot at it or burn it as you will, and, if it suits your convenience, still oppose doctrines which were never taught, and rail at fictions which, except in your own brain, were never in existence. We come here to state what our views really are, and we trust that any who do not agree with us will do us the justice of not misrepresenting us. If they can disprove our Doctrines, let them state them fairly, and then overthrow them, but why should they first caricature our opinions, and then afterwards attempt to put them down?

Prevenient Grace: Its Different Meanings

January 5, 2012 Comments off

Some doctrinal terms can be confusing at first, since it turns out they can have very different meanings, depending on who is using the term.  “Prevenient grace” is one such term.  For several years I heard the term “prevenient grace” from a Reformed Baptist church, as describing what the Puritans believed:  the grace that comes to the person before they believe to bring them to the point of salvation.

Then recently online I’d heard it used disparagingly, as an Arminian free-will term. Someone I know, from an Arminian background, was then surprised to hear a Calvinist preacher, S. Lewis Johnson, use the term “prevenient grace,” since to him the term was associated with Arminian free-will ideas about our choosing God, the “wooing” which is resistible by the human will.

Throughout history the term “prevenient grace” has been used in different ways. Originally the term was used by Reformed theologians as a synonym for irresistible grace: the grace which comes before  salvation and brings us to salvation. Arminians came along later and changed its usage to suit their own ideas.  That does not preclude Calvinists from using the term with a different sense, and I found from googling S. Lewis Johnson’s transcripts, his statement that semi-Pelagians (which is what many Arminians really are) do not believe in prevenient grace:

Semi-Pelagians say, ‘I wanted to come and God helped me.’ They deny prevenient grace. That is they deny the grace that comes first that enables a man to respond to the word of God. They conceive of themselves as first responding, first choosing to come, and then being helped by God to receive Christ as Savior.

Here is an article that examines “Prevenient Grace in the Wesleyan System” (scroll down almost a page, to that section heading).

A Follow-Up on Theological Triage

July 7, 2011 2 comments

This is a follow-up from a recent post concerning Theological Triage.  Following are a few points I made in the follow-up comments, for clarification on my overall broad definition of eschatology and how it really is an issue of importance (not on the level of food and drink), very similar to the overall issue of Arminianism versus Calvinism and related to the believer’s level of overall maturity and doctrinal understanding.  Since comments are often lost and buried, I decided to repost it here as a separate post, with a few revisions and additions.

(Regarding the relative importance of eschatology, historically)… Just because it wasn’t an issue historically, is not valid reason to say that differences in understanding of eschatology are no obstacle or limitation on fellowship. Arminianism as I understand is also a relatively recent development, and yet differences in understanding DO limit the level of fellowship there, and thus Arminians fellowship separately, and Calvinists tend to feel uncomfortable in Arminian churches.  This is especially true when the Arminian preacher speaks against Calvinism, but even in the general handling of ideas concerning election and God’s sovereignty.  Calvinist preachers I know have said the same thing I’m saying here: we should not be too harsh and say that Arminians are not saved, but rather we acknowledge that Arminians are saved yet have an incomplete understanding of these issues, and so our fellowship is limited.

I would agree that among those believers who have not fully studied eschatology and don’t think it’s important, fellowship is unhindered. They are at the same level in their walk and maturity. Yet when some believers have studied the matter and have greater understanding, that DOES LIMIT the level of fellowship with those who either a) haven’t given it much thought or b) have contrary ideas. To those who do fully understand premillennialism, though, differences in preaching do come out when listening to non-premillennarians. I can notice the differences in the preaching of many different parts of scripture, since understanding of the church and Israel and the coming literal kingdom come out in so many scriptures, not just in the “classic” eschatology passages that everyone thinks of like Daniel or Revelation etc. So I contend that these differences in how we interpret various scriptures, have far greater impact on church fellowship (including what is being taught at that church), at least as much as differing views concerning baptism and communion. Again, since so few passages actually touch on those doctrines, those doctrines really don’t come up all that often in a particular church’s sermons or other teaching; yes, they come up in a particular church’s practices of actual baptism and communion, but not as much in the sermons.

Finally, consider this matter logically:
Correlation idea put forth:
1.  Christians really didn’t make much of an issue over such-and-such doctrine (doctrine A) for the majority of church history.
2.  Christians have studied and come to differing conclusions concerning doctrine doctrine A.
Therefore:
1. Therefore, doctrine A must be somehow unclear and speculative in nature, and
2.  Therefore, doctrine A must be unimportant.

Now, substitute “Doctrines of Grace” (i.e., the 5 points of Calvinism) for “doctrine A” above.

Christians historically did not question this matter, generally, until more recent times (Reformation and later, not really until the 18th century), and it wasn’t an issue.  Yet when Christians have studied the Doctrines of Grace they have come to very differing conclusions: Calvinism, Arminianism, even mid-range points such as Calminianism and Amyraldianism.

Therefore, the “Doctrines of Grace” must be somehow unclear and speculative in nature, and the “Doctrines of Grace” must therefore be of third-tier level, unimportant, and something we should not divide fellowship over.

Does this really make sense?