Arminianism is a protestant Christian doctrine. It began in the 17th century and was mainly taught by Jacobus Armenius. It is a departure from John Calvin’s teachings on man’s salvation. Arminianism asserts that God’s sovereignty is compatible with human free will (Acts 17:26-31). Fundamentally Arminianism teaches that God, in His sovereignty, created man with the ability to freely choose God and not to choose God (John 3:16).
Jacobus Armenius departed from the long-held reformed teaching of the Belgic Confession of 1559. This departure was a slow one as he was a student at Leiden University. Among his professors was Johann Kohlmann, who taught and believed that high Calvinism made God both a tyrant and an executioner. The Amsterdam Municipality sponsored Jacobus’ education at the seminary. In exchange, Jacobus would serve at the church of Amsterdam after his studies. Jacobus began his public ministry in Amsterdam in 1588, and a year later, the council of the church of Amsterdam requested Jacobus to respond to Darick Coornhert, who rejected John Calvin’s teachings on predestination, justification and punishment of the heretics by death. Jacobus hesitated to reply until he had studied the scriptures and church fathers on the topics.
In 1602 he became a professor of Divinity at Leiden University. He turned students from scholastic quarrels to biblical studies. He was accused of inventing new thoughts because of his views of predestination. Jacobus never defended himself; he led a quiet and peaceful life till his death.
Later his students popularised his teachings. Between 1618-1619 was a period that Christians called the Calvinist-Arminian controversy. The church held a debate at Dort where they declared Arminianism heretical. However, the followers of Arminius’ teaching left the Synod of Dort disgruntled. They then remonstrated against the decision of the Synod of Dort, and in return, they wrote five articles summarising what Arminianism was about.
Key Biblical Arguments for Arminianism
The Five Articles of Remonstrance form the main points that the Arminian proponents argue and hold dear. The following are the five points of Arminianism which stand in contrast to Calvinism.
1. Universal Atonement: Arminianism teaches that the death of Christ on the cross was a ransom paying for the sins of all men without distinction or exemption (John 1:29). Christ died for every single man and woman on earth (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). This means that God made available the work of Christ to every single person on earth (Romans 10:13). It also means that Christ’s death on the cross paid the total price of sin for every single person on earth.
2. Free will: In Arminianism, it is believed that humans can freely choose God since sin did not take that ability away (Romans 10:9-10). Therefore, it teaches that when the Bible calls people to believe (John 3:16), repent (Matthew 4:17) and follow Christ (Luke 18:22), it is doing so to people whom God created and gave the ability to make such choices. Arminians believe that an individual must have free will to be responsible, guilty, and suffer the penalty for sin justly. No man can be eternally damned justly for a choice or action they could not help but choose (2 Peter 3:9). Since the atonement of Christ is for all, it is now dependent on a man to choose to receive what God has benevolently already given him or not (1 John 1:9).
3. Conditional Election: Arminianism teaches that God chooses people for salvation on condition. God’s election is based on his foreknowledge of the people who choose to believe in Christ (Romans 8:29). According to Arminian theology, this means that God looked into the distant future and saw that person ‘A’ would choose him. God also saw that the person would persevere in obedience till the end. Based on that, God then elected person ‘A’ in Christ for salvation (John 3:16). God, in his unchangeable purpose, chose to select among sinful men, men who would believe in his son Jesus Christ before the foundations of the world.
4. Obstructable Grace: Arminianism teaches that a man free to choose can wilfully choose to reject God (Hebrews 6:4-6, Acts 7:51). Resistible prevenient grace, as John Wesley puts it, is universal. It is defined as a grace that God gives to open up the will of a sinner so that everyone has the opportunity to freely choose or not choose to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. It is the light of Christ that shines on all men (John 1:14), God’s invisible attributes that He has shown to all men through creation (Romans 1:18-20). It is the promise that Jesus gave that when he rises from the dead, he will draw all people to himself (John 12:32). Therefore, God’s grace is available for anyone who chooses it.
5. Fall from Grace: Arminianism teaches that those saved by faith and incorporated in Christ have full power to strive against satan, sin, the world and the flesh (Titus 2:12). The saved are not only avoiding the temptation by their power, but God by the Holy Spirit helps and gives them grace (Titus 2:11). When they are being tempted, it is up to the person to respond to God in obedience so that he might not fall from the grace of God (Romans 8:13). Falling from grace means that a person who once believed in Christ and was saved from the wrath of God and the bondage of sin may sin in such a way that he would abandon the faith and forever be lost (2 Peter 2:20-22; 2 Peter 1:12; Hebrews 6:4-6). This person is then said to have lost their salvation.
Key Historical Figures
Two main Historical figures believed in and taught Arminianism. First was Jacobus Armenius, as mentioned above; John Wesley came years later. Some theologians, in fact, render Arminianism as Wesleyan theology. John Wesley’s beliefs led him and his brother, the hymn writer Charles Wesley to begin the Holy Club at Oxford University in 1729. They were methodical in their study and devotion to scripture. They frequently had weekly meetings, fasted two days a week and had strict piety. The Holy Club is what gave birth to what we have today as small group bible studies. Their methodical approach led to the name methodists, eventually becoming the Methodist Church. The Holy Club was also involved in society. They believed that God had called them to have an impact on society. They visited prisons in Oxford, taught how to read and write, paid debts for those in prison because of debt, and even helped released inmates find work.
The Implication of Arminian Theology Today
Firstly, Since Arminians teach that salvation is dependent on man’s decision to believe in Jesus Christ, Arminians have a motivation to share the gospel emphasizing man’s responsibility for the salvation of their wretched souls (1 Corinthians 9:16, Acts 4:20). Secondly, Arminians will tend to have more passion for sharing the gospel with everyone. This is because they believe that God’s grace through the work of Christ is applied to every single person on earth, and they only need to hear about it so that they may choose Him (Romans 1:14).
Thirdly, Arminians teach that one can lose salvation (Matthew 7:21-23). Falling from grace is dependent on one’s obedience to God’s commands. Therefore there is a huge emphasis among Arminians to diligently uphold the spiritual disciplines, which include devotion to scripture, prayer, fellowship, and boldly sharing about Christ. Fourthly Arminians will put more effort into living a holy life (1 Peter 1:15-16). Therefore, they will constantly beat their bodies, so they will not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27). Finally, Arminians are ruthless towards sinful tendencies, individually and corporately (Isaiah 59:1-2).
our previous blog on Calvinism to see a contrasting view.
- Kelly M. Kapic and Wesley Vander Lugt, Pocket Dictionary of the Reformed Tradition, The IVP Pocket Reference Series (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2013), 16.