The 5th point of Arminianism: Sola Scriptura?

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[This post first appeared at]

“Arminius was remembered as a professor who directed his students primarily to Scripture. Scripture, and Scripture alone, is finally authoritative as a source of theology. … his ultimate responsibility is not to the creeds & confessions; rather, it is to God’s revelation as found in Holy Scripture.”

Stanglin & McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace, page 204

I remember one of my first interactions with an “Anti-Calvinist”.  I grew up in moderate Reformed circles where most folks held to a sort of Calvinism, but it didn’t really come up. Then, sometime after I finished university, I started attending a new church and was invited over for Supper at the home of one of the members.

I remember seeing a book about Calvinism on his bottom shelf–at that time I was only beginning to read theology books and still knew very little, but I had recently read Kevin Deyoung’s Why We’re Not Emergent and I was attracted to the more serious theology he presented–I commented about the book, but not because I knew anything about the topic, only because I recognized both of the authors: James White, whom I only knew because the Hip Hop artist Flame recommended one of his books (The Forgotten Trinity) on his website, and Dave Hunt who was popular for his Dispensationalism in the circles I grew up in. The book on my host’s bottom shelf was Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.

I remember my host responding with a joke that he put the good books on the top shelves where his kids couldn’t reach them; this one was on the bottom shelf because he didn’t mind if it got ripped or coloured on.

I don’t remember most of the rest of the conversation, but I do remember him making the comment that any Christian should be able to agree with the Five Articles of Arminianism (more formally, the “Five Articles of Remonstrance”). He said that although people often mistake Arminianism to mean the belief that “you can lose your salvation”, in reality (he said) the last point of Arminianism wasn’t “you can lose your salvation”; the Arminians only said “we need to look at Scripture more closely before deciding” and therefore the last point was really one we should all agree with: that Scripture is our ultimate authority. (He held to “once saved, always saved”).

How did the Remonstrants word that last point of contention?

Article V: Security in Christ and the Spirit

That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory, it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand; and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled, nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the word of Christ, John x. 28: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.

-The Five Articles of Remonstrance (1610)

In his review of the 5-Articles, Andrew Wilson, calling himself a “Seven point Armalvinist”, wrote on this point:

Translation: nothing external can stop a believer from persevering, and we’re going to read our Bibles very carefully before teaching confidently whether anything internal can. I think that’s brilliant, humble and thought-provoking; and interestingly, it is not contradicted by any of the nine ‘rejections of the errors’ included in the Canons of Dordt on this point. So I believe in the perseverance of the saints as expressed in the Canons of Dordt, but I also give a point (literally, in this case) to the Articles of Remonstrance.

-Andrew Wilson, “Seven Point Armalvinism

The language of this Article (like the others) is drawn from Arminius’ Declaration of Sentiments. There, after affirming perseverance in the same way as the Remonstrant Article, Arminius wrote:

… But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.

Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. On the other hand, certain passages are produced for the contrary doctrine [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.

-Arminius, “Declaration of Sentiments“, Works, Volume 1


So on the possibility of apostasy, Arminius was not so decided that he would teach it was possible to fall away or “desert … their existence in Christ”, and really did want to look more closely at what the Scriptures had to say about this.

But a more fundamental point here is the authority he places on Scripture. Arminius ends his Declaration by stating that he thinks there should be a National Synod which reconsiders some of the statements made in the Dutch Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism. The reason?

… how highly soever we may esteem Confessions and Catechisms every decision on matters of faith and religion must obtain its final resolution in the Scriptures.

-James Arminius, “The Revision of the Dutch Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism“, in Declaration of Sentiments, Works, Volume 1

Arminius says that the benefits of a new National Synod would include:

First. That it may openly appear to all the world that we render to the word of God alone such due and suitable honour, as to determine it to be beyond (or rather above) all disputes, too great to be the subject of any exception, and worthy of all acceptation.


Secondly. Because these pamphlets are writings that proceed from men, and may, on that account, contain within them some portion of error …

The first inquiry may be, whether these human writings are accordant, in every part, with the word of God, with regard to the words themselves, the construction of the sentences and the correct meaning.

Later he adds:

If the Church be properly instructed in that difference which really does and always ought to exist between the word of God and all human writings, and if the Church be also rightly informed concerning that liberty which she and all Christians possess, and which they will always enjoy, to measure all human compositions by the standard rule of God’s word, she will neither distress herself on that account, nor will she be offended on perceiving all human writings brought to be proved at the touch-stone of God’s word. On the contrary, she will rather feel far more abundant delight, when she sees, that God has bestowed on her in this country such pastors and teachers, as try at the chief touch-stone their own doctrine, in a manner at once suitable, proper, just, and worthy of perpetual observance; and that they do this, to be able exactly and by every possible means to express their agreement with the word of God, and their consent to it even in the most minute particulars.

-James Arminius, “The Revision of the Dutch Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism“, in Declaration of Sentiments, Works, Volume 1

So on the last point of Remonstrance, yes, it included a specific request to study the possibility of apostasy (and, after further study, the Remonstrants did conclude that apostasy was possible). But perhaps my host was right. Perhaps the more important point was their reliance on Scripture as the sole and absolute authority.

They (and Arminius before them) were not content to accept the confessions and catechisms as the final say–these were composed by men and therefore could err.

Instead, we must “measure all human compositions by the standard rule of God’s word”.