Richard Ellis, “Arminius On Dissension #BaalGate”

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A contentious debate, which has been dubbed “Baalgate,” recently erupted online over the doctrine of infant damnation.

Calvinist are upset with non-Calvinist, non-Calvinist are upset with Calvinist. People are bashing people with name calling. Taking things out of context. Making it personal. And so on and so forth.

I’m not going to rehearse the details here, but you can follow the hashtag links on twitter or Facebook to find out more. Or you can visit these links: Soteriology101, The Church Split, Idol Killer, Alpha & Omega Ministries, and others on YouTube.

Alternatively, I want to ask the following question: what should we Christians do when conflicts happen? Should we be like the great and powerful Tay-Tay [Taylor Swift guys] who reminds us to “Calm down, cause we’re being too loud.” Should we get mad? Draw battle lines? Forgive and forget?


Well… I believe we can learn something from Arminius here. Hence why I am writing about this today.

He had the same question and spoke about it in a 1606 oration at the end of his term as Rector Magnificus. Obviously, his context was not the #BaalGate controversy. Instead, Arminius’s concern was with the conflicts arising between him and the faculty, students, and the imminent Synod that everyone was calling for (which wouldn’t happen until after his death in 1618-1619).

A source for this speech can be found in the English translation of his works, Volume One, under “Oration V: On Reconciling Religious Dissensions Among Christians.”

It is a good speech, so if you have the time, I do recommend reading it in its entirety. It can be found here: Oration V.

Arminius describes dissension like an illness. And therefore he offers some remedies.

But, dismissing all these violent medicines [the false remedies], that are of a bad character and import, I proceed to notice such as are holy, true and saving; these I distribute into preparative [what one should do prior to dissension] and aphæretics or removers, of this dissension.

To the class of preparatives, Arminius lists two:

First, he instructs his audience in the act of prayer and supplication. Why?— So as to obtain knowledge of the truth, and preservation of peace within the Church.

He quotes Psalm 122:6: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May they prosper who love you.” and  Luke 11:13: “So if you, despite being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Arminius also indicates that fasting should be included with the acts of prayer and supplication.

Secondly, he teaches that such preparatives should include a change in personal conduct, of both life and conscience. That is, one should seek to orientate one’s life towards God. Again Arminius quotes scripture, John 7:17:  “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know about the teaching, whether it is of God, or I am speaking from Myself.”

As to the removals, Arminius provides us with a long list. He writes:

  1. Let humility overcome pride
  2. Let a mind contented with its condition become the successor of avarice
  3. Let the love of celestial delights expel all carnal pleasures
  4. Let good will and benevolence occupy the place of envy
  5. Let patient forbearance subdue anger
  6. Let sobriety in acquiring wisdom prescribe bounds to the desire of knowledge
  7. Let studious application take the place of learned ignorance
  8. Let all hatred and bitterness be laid aside; and, on the contrary, “let us put on bowels of mercies” towards those who differ from us, and who appear either to wander about in the paths of error, or to scatter its noxious seeds among others.

Dang!!!!  What a list! What a list of challenging things to put off during times of disagreements. That is, disagreements with fellow believers! And what a challenge it is to exercise those things which removes such sin!

It honestly reminds me of Galatians 5:19-21:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: sexual immorality, impurity, indecent behavior, idolatry, witchcraft, hostilities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Here, Paul offers such similar challenges to the Church regarding the carnal flesh, before telling us about the fruits of the Spirit, which are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

This may be hard to do. So Arminius, in good pastoral fashion (he was a pastor in Amsterdam for over a decade), offers five practical things that we as Christians should reflect upon when disagreements arise. Think of it as character self-checks regarding our mentality over situations of disagreements.

First, Arminius reminds his audience to keep in mind that it is extremely difficult to discover the truth on all subjects without falling into error. —we’re not God, and therefore we do not possess perfect omniscience.

Second, Arminius states that one shouldn’t assume malice from those who disagree with them. Instead, one should think them perhaps in error rather than leading others astray.

Third, Arminius wants his audience to think of others as being under God’s grace, even when they disagree with them. They may very well be, as Arminius explains, a part of the elect. As he then asks (listen up Calvinists): “How then can we indulge ourselves in any harsh or unmerciful resolutions against these persons, who have been destined to possess the heavenly inheritance, who are our brethren, the members of Christ, and not only the servants but the sons of the Lord Most High?”

Fourth, Arminius challenges his listeners to place themselves “in the circumstances of an adversary, and let him in return assume the character which we sustain.” Why?— because, as Arminius states “it is as possible for us, as it is for him, to hold wrong principles.”

And fifth, Arminius wants all to consider the points of agreement. “…these will perhaps be found to be so numerous and of such great importance, that when a comparison is instituted between them, and the others which may properly be made the subjects of controversy, the latter will be found to be few in number and of small consequence.”

All in all, I think keeping to Arminius’s line of thinking here will do us a lot of good. And no, I am not elevating Arminius above Scripture. His advice is pastoral, and as such, if it helps you keep to the Scriptures then by all means that is great! That is why I am sharing it here with you.

Many of us would do well if we were to keep these preparatives as natural habits of our daily lives, and these character self-checks in mind when talking to our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. In turn, we must also remember Paul’s words, and lean heavily on the Spirit who bestows such fruit— not the carnal desires of our flesh.

#BaalGate brought about dissension. We’re united in Christ. Stop thinking the worst of people- and may God teach us how to love better.

Let humility overcome pride; let a mind contented with its condition become the successor of avarice; let the love of celestial delights expel all carnal pleasures; let good will and benevolence occupy the place of envy; let patient forbearance subdue anger; let sobriety in acquiring wisdom prescribe bounds to the desire of knowledge, and let studious application take the place of learned ignorance. Let all hatred and bitterness be laid aside; and, on the contrary, “let us put on bowels of mercies” towards those who differ from us, and who appear either to wander about in the paths of error, or to scatter its noxious seeds among others.

[Link to original post and comments at Richard Ellis’ website.]