Unitarianism and Arminianism at Odds

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It has been noted that historically, future generations of “Arminians” departed from the orthodox view of the Trinity, falling into the Unitarian heresy. The same sad state of affairs happened to many Presbyterian (i.e. Calvinistic) congregations during the eighteenth century. Therefore, it is puzzling how Arminianism is solely charged with inevitably leading one to a Unitarian understanding of God.

Calvinist Michael Horton, for example, once wrote, “Wherever Arminianism was adopted, Unitarianism followed, leading on to the bland liberalism of present mainline denominations” (see his “Evangelical Arminians,” from The White Horse Inn website, accessed 6/28/10). Perhaps Horton was unaware that, historically, many “Presbyterian congregations in England during the eighteenth century became Unitarian” (see Laurence M. Vance, The Other Side of Calvinism, 139: see also J. L. Neve, A History of Christian Thought, Vol. II, 31). Moreover, what are we to make of the “bland liberalism” of Calvinistic universities such as Princeton? Therefore, Calvinism in no wise guards a person from Unitarian (or any other) heresy.

Beginning with Arminius himself, let us trace Trinitarian roots in Arminianism. Arminius was never reticent in insisting in the Trinitarian reciprocity in man’s salvation: salvation comes through the grace of God the Father alone, by faith in Christ Jesus alone, initiated by the work of the Holy Spirit alone. Arminius states: “The Object of faith is not only the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but likewise Christ Himself who is here constituted by God the author of salvation to those that obey Him. . . . The Author of faith is the Holy Spirit, whom the Son sends from the Father as His Advocate and Substitute, who may manage His cause in the world and against it” (Works, 2:400).

That there are clearly three distinct Persons mentioned here in the Godhead, working mankind’s salvation, is notably obvious; and one would have to intentionally ignore these and other writings in order to conclude that the teaching of Arminius or the Remonstrants inevitably leads to Unitarianism.

What follows are statements made by Arminius’s successors (the Remonstrants, meaning protesters) regarding our Triune God. Any deviation from a sound Trinitarian doctrine is not in the slightest inherently Arminian, nor is it theistically Christian.

THE REMONSTRANTS: ON THE TRINITY

      1. God is moreover to be considered distinctly in three persons or substances, as He has exhibited Himself in the word of God, and as such to be known and contemplated by us. This Trinity of persons is known to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One of these Divine persons or hypostases in the Godhead is avaitios, that is, unoriginated or unbegotten; the other begotten or generated by the Father, or the Father’s only begotten; and the other proceeding alike and emanating from the Father by the Son.

THE SON BEGOTTEN; THE SPIRIT PROCEEDED

      2. The father alone is underived or unbegotten, but has from all eternity communicated [archaic word meaning shown forth, demonstrated, shared in] His own Divinity to His only begotten Son, made a Son, not indeed by creation, as angels were made the sons of God; not by adoption, as we, who are believers, are constituted sons of God.

Nor merely by a gracious communication of Divine might or glory as being mediator, but by a real, though mysterious and ineffable, generation; and also to the Holy Spirit, who has, from all eternity, proceeded from both, by an incomprehensible emanation or spirationem. Therefore the Father is justly held to be the fountain or original of the whole Deity.

DISTINCTIONS IN THE GODHEAD

      3. The Son, therefore, and Holy Spirit, as to their real being or substance, are truly distinct from the Father; nevertheless, they are really partakers of the same Godhead and absolutely distinguished by the same Divine essence with the Father, which appears most evident from the holy Scripture giving them the same titles, and attributing to them the same properties as to the Father.

Hence the Apostles’ Creed on this subject, which we cordially believe, and whose declarations we adopt; that is, we “believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, etc. — And in the Holy Spirit, etc.”

THE HOLY SPIRIT REVEALS THE GODHEAD

      4. The above declarations are sufficient in relation to this holy mystery, a subject which we think it is expedient and becoming always to treat with modesty, prudence, and religious reverence; and we hold it to be the safest course, when speaking of this profound subject, to express ourselves, as much as possible, in the very words, and according to the mode and phrases in which it is presented to us by the Holy Spirit Himself.

Seeing that the Spirit of God Himself must best know Himself, and is the most capable of stating and exhibiting His own nature and being; and so far as it was necessary to be declared and revealed, it has pleased Him to reveal it to us.

It is therefore especially becoming of us, that with reverence, humility, and devout feeling, we follow the mode thus presented to us of speaking on this subject, until we be permitted to see God face to face, when in the glory of that bright and celestial world, He will perfectly make known Himself to us, amid the unclouded visions and manifestations of His being and will (The Arminian Confession of 1621, 51-53).

MY PERSONAL CONCLUSION

If what has been presented here inevitably leads anyone into a Unitarian view of God, then I suppose that even the strictest of Christians among us could not persuade a person to hold the right, orthodox view of the Godhead any better. Therefore, we conclude that Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Unitarians, Arians, Oneness Pentecostals, or any other group claiming to be Christian or in the Christian tradition, hold to heretical views of God; indeed not merely errors, but damnable heresies. Could I make this statement any stronger?

Arminian Confession of 1621, ed. Mark A. Ellis. Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2005.

Arminius, James. “Seventy-Nine Private Disputations: Disputation XLIV. On Faith in God and Christ.” The Works of Arminius, vol. 2. Ed. James and William Nichols. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996.