The Historical Orthodoxy of Arminianism (Part One)

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Arminianism was condemned at the Synod of Dort (1618-19). And what of it? A group of supralapsarian Calvinists joined theological and political forces, calling on foreign political allies, to ruin the reputation, ministry, and systematic theology of some theologians who disagreed with their doctrines on soteriology. And this local phenomenon is supposed to carry weight in thwarting Arminianism? History itself is a witness to the sham of an operation under which the Calvinists instigated the hearings of the Synod of Dort.1

Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, who was Arminius’s mentor, promoted a supralapsarian model of God’s decrees (promoted today by such men as John Piper and James White). Calvinist Richard A. Muller noted that “Beza’s approach appealed to only a minority of the Reformed thinkers of the orthodox era, notably William Perkins, Francis [Gomarus], and Johannes Maccovius . . .”2 (emphasis added). And yet, the few who embraced Beza’s supralapsarianism were the most forceful and obnoxious in propagating it, especially Gomarus, with whom Arminius had more than one conflict.

Let us remember the time in which these events took place. The Church and state were bedfellows. Thus whichever theological system prevailed, with the state’s approval, was law in that state. Wynkoop writes,

      An interesting and important complication arose in regard to Calvinism. As the political hold of Roman Catholicism was giving way in the low countries [the Netherlands, home to Arminius and the Remonstrants, his followers], Calvinism as a political power gained ground. The Confessions [Belgic and Heidelberg, and later the Canons of Dort and Westminster] became a sort of charter under which a group of Christian people were permitted the right to exist as a church. The Confessions defined the peaceful nature of the group and usually prevented persecution and tended to moderate political interference.

But in the low countries it was not simply Calvinism, but Beza’s interpretation of Calvinism, that defined religious orthodoxy to an important degree. Hence, to challenge Beza’s interpretation of Calvinism was to challenge the political structure of the country and constituted treason against the government. Into this confused and complex situation stepped Arminius, who, as a good Calvinist himself, challenged an unbiblical interpretation of predestination. This challenge struck at the heart of a “rivalry between Dutch military and civil leaders. Religion and politics were inextricably interwoven in this country.”3

In such a state-controlled religious atmosphere, the followers of Arminius, at the conclusion of the Synod of Dort, were banished, leaving Oldenbarnevelt, who was once a national hero and heavily respected statesman, beheaded for supporting and protecting the Arminians four days later. The Arminian jurist in the Dutch republic, Hugo Grotius (founder of international law), was imprisoned, who, with the help of his wife, later escaped and fled to Paris, where he wrote his most famous treatise, On the Truth of the Christian Religion. It was not until under the rule of Maurice, prince of Orange (in 1626), that Arminians were granted entrance again into their own country, and Arminian theology was tolerated.

That Calvinists believe that they have “history on their side” is an understatement. Calvinist Loraine Boettner wrote:

      This cardinal truth of Christianity [an unconditional election unto salvation for some] was first clearly seen by Augustine, the great Spirit-filled theologian of the West. In his doctrines of sin and grace, he went far beyond the earlier divines, taught an unconditional election of grace, and restricted the purposes of redemption to the definite circle of the elect. It will not be denied by anyone acquainted with Church History that Augustine was an eminently great and good man, and that his labors and writings contributed more to the promotion of

sound doctrine and the revival of true religion

      than did those of any other man between Paul and Luther

4

    (emphasis added).

I wonder if Calvinists such as Boettner would have still considered Augustine a promoter of “sound doctrine and the revival of true religion” if he had not agreed with (or originated!) an unconditional election of grace, &c., especially given Augustine’s many erroneous and even heretical teachings, such as the following:

The subjective and dangerous Allegorical Hermeneutic
The heresy of Baptismal Regeneration (and even necessary for the salvation of infants)
The false idea that martyrdom could replace baptism
The Apostolic Succession of Bishops from Peter
The heresy of the sinlessness of Mary
The heresy of intercession of dead saints
The adoration of relics
The heresy of Purgatory
The idea that the worst sin behind the fallen human condition was sexual intercourse, and was considered by him to be sinful unless used for procreation
Polygamy — if it was solely for propagation
The heresy that God’s grace is distributed through Roman Catholic sacraments

Since when did these heresies of Augustine become “sound doctrine and the revival of true religion”? This “father of Roman Catholicism” has contributed to more heresy than any other “orthodox” Church father with which I am familiar. But notice that as long as one maintains a Calvinistic understanding of soteriology, then other Calvinists will hail that person as a preeminent proclaimer of Truth. Boettner, in another place, stated:

      The great majority of the creeds of historic Christendom have set forth the doctrines of Election, Predestination, and final Perseverance, as will readily be seen by any one who will make even a cursory study of the subject. On the other hand Arminianism existed for centuries only as a heresy on the outskirts of true religion, and in fact it was not championed by an organized Christian church until the year 1784, at which time it was incorporated into the system of doctrine of the Methodist Church in England.

5

Did you catch that? From Boettner’s (erroneous) study of Church history, a Calvinistic understanding of salvation has been around since Augustine, and an Arminian understanding wasn’t established until 1784. Whatever happened to objectivity? The only way to maintain any semblance of truth in Boettner’s statement is to rewrite Church history! When early Church fathers used terms such as “predestination” or “election,” they did not have in mind a Calvinistic understanding of those terms (especially given the fact that Augustine was the first to propagate Christian fatalism, later to be known as Calvinism). And let it also be noted that Arminians use and believe those biblical terms without employing a Calvinistic (i.e. fatalistic) understanding or interpolation.

As will be shown in another post, pre-Augustinian Church history has always favored an Arminian understanding of salvation; it was Augustine who deviated from the Church fathers. The legacy of Calvinism (having derived its foundation from Augustine) is one of deviation and novelty, not rooted whatsoever in the teachings of the early Church fathers or Church history.

To be continued . . .

(Classical Arminianism blog)

1 The Works of Arminius, Vol. I, trans. James Nichols, taken from “The Letters of Mr. Hales and Mr. Balcanqual” (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 541-579.

2 Richard A. Muller, “John Calvin and later Calvinism: the identity of the Reformed tradition,” in The Cambridge Companion to Reformation Theology, eds. David Bagchi and David C. Steinmetz (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 144.

3 Mildren Bangs Wynkoop, Foundations of Wesleyan-Arminian Theology (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1967), 45-6.

4 Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1932), 365-6.

5 Ibid., 2.