ARMINIIANISM & THE WORD OF GOD by Dr. Henry, President of the A.O.C.I. 4/24/2010
First, I want to make it clear that the purpose for me in writing this paper is not to be divisive. However, I believe it is important for our brethren to begin to understand the fundamental truths of Classical Arminian theology. I believe there is confusion not only with the brethren who hold to Calvin’s teachings, but equally confusing are Arminian brethren. Let me just state for the record that I consider myself a “Classical Arminian”. I believe there is much misunderstanding, confusion, and downright ignorance when it comes to truly understanding Classical Arminianism. Let me also say for the record that both soteriological approaches are authentically protestant and evangelical. These views are merely very different approaches to the doctrine of salvation (soteriology). To begin building a working bridge between both views, let me briefly outline what both camps believe in. Each believes in salvation by Grace through faith. Both camps believe Christians should remain active in pursuing good works as we are saved unto good works. Each approach denies that we must work for our salvation and that salvation is works based. Both approaches preach and teach that believers “CANNOT” earn their own salvation through their own human merit. Each approach claims to the authority of holy writ and that the Bible is the inspired word of God. And both Calvinists and Arminians affirm the sovereignty of God, the priest hood of believers, and to the awesome Justification by faith whereby Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer and preserves the distinction between justification and sanctification. His ways are far beyond finding and we will never know everything there is to know about any one particular subject since God is omniscient! Praise God! (Rom. 11:33) PROVIDENCE AND PREDESTINATION are the two doctrines of belief where Calvinist and Arminians have a different perspective and are the key doctrines that each approach differs from. Classical Arminianism is neither Pelagian nor semi-Pelagian, it is neither heretical nor humanistic synergistic. For the sake of brevity, we will not be covering this point but merely will suffice for now to declare what Classical Arminianism is not.
Classical Arminians like Rev. John Wesley never denied total depravity or the grace of God to save sinners but he did affirm free will and conditional predestination Even one of my favorite Calvinist Theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul believes that God for-ordained the fall in a sense that he chose to allow it, but not in the sense that he chose to coerce it. So God permitted it and allowed it but did not in some fatalistic way ordain it. It is interesting that people point to Satan as the main proponent of the fall of Adam and Eve. Yet, Satan actually was indirectly responsible for the fall. It was Adam and Eve who are “primarily” responsible for the fall of man. God gave them rules to obey and live by and built them with free will. Ultimately, humans are responsible for the fall not God or Satan. This concept of free will and responsibility, I believe, is hard for our modern generation to grasp. We live in a society that does not want to take responsibility even now and has the mentality of “entitlement”. After all, don’t we have rights within laws? We have our rights as Americans don’t we? And we certainly deserve to be successful and receive all that we can.
Due to the complexity of this theological viewpoint, I will not be going through every single point of Classical Arminian theology but rather state my position with a generalized overview of what I believe to be scripturally sound and a good representation of Classical Arminian theology. I want to challenge all my Calvin and Arminian friends (clergy and laity) to first fully understand each position prior to making your final analysis/decision. It is interesting to me that most believers in both camps do not even fully understand their own position. What is certain is that a believer can hold to each distinctive and still be a born again child of God. This is no cause to divide but we can have internal debates and questioning, and at the end of the day, both are biblically orthodox doctrines and each believer should settle their approach.
I want to begin by giving you the top 10 myths in Arminian theology written by Dr. Roger E. Olson in his book, Arminian Theology-Myths and Realities. This book is the most extensive and complete writings on Classical Arminianism. I would encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself. Any good clergyman or woman should have one in their library.
Here are the top 10 Myths (misrepresentations/misunderstandings) of Arminianism:
1. Arminian theology is the opposite of Calvinism/Reformed Theology 2. Arminianism is not an orthodox evangelical option 3. The heart of Arminianism is belief in Free Will. 4. Arminianism denies the Sovereignty of God. 5. Arminian theology is Human-Centered Theology. 6. Arminian theology is not a theology of Grace. 7. Arminian theology does not believe in predestination. 8. Arminian theology denies Justification by Grace alone through faith alone 9. All Arminians believe in the Governmental Theology of the Atonement. 10. A Hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is Possible.
Dr. Robert M. Norris, a Calvinist, said in reference to law and love (grace) that “to lose the balance will always lead to spiritual deformity because, if either “law” or “love” is absent from the life of God’s people, the gospel will fail to operate in its God-intended way.” The famous and renowned Calvinist theologian and one of my favorite theologians Dr. R.C. Sproul said that “unconditional love is not found in the bible.” Surely even God has limits. Dr. Sproul goes on further to say that he is sick and tired of so called Christians to believe that they can go on sinning and live anyway they want, and call themselves Christians. Dr. Sproul has even been sited to say that if you don’t go to church, there is a 99% possibility that you have not been born again. Are we to assume that Dr. R.C. Sproul is an Arminian? Absolutely not! You better not even say that in his presence or you will at the very least receive a puzzled look from the great Calvinistic theologian.
Let me begin by pointing out a very important but often overlooked scripture. 1 Cor. 9:27 in particular Paul writes the word disqualified. The word disqualified (Gk. Adokimos) in 1 Corinthians 9:27 means a. disqualified from receiving any rewards in heaven b. Second, the word means to become a castaway or reprobate. One who walks away from the faith and loses his faith. Although the Bible teaches the security of the believers (Rom. 8:28-39; John 5:24; Heb. 7:16; Phil. 1:6) Christians should not presume that they are going to heaven regardless of what they do or how they live their lives. Christians cannot afford to become complacent and lax. No Christian can afford to take lightly the many warnings of Scripture. Here the word also means one who is cut off from eternal salvation and has become disqualified based on not demonstrating the fruit of the spirit. Christians can become reprobate. Interestingly, in most bibles there is a cross reference in Jeremiah 6:30 that gives us insight into what Paul was saying using this word “Adokimos”. Jer. 6:30 is talking about a people which the LORD had “rejected”. Paul understood this concept for himself so he would bring his body (flesh) under subjection (control) in order to live a successful Christian Life by the Spirit so he would ensure he made it to heaven even if God chose him to be the Apostle to bring the Holy Word of God! If this applied to Paul, shouldn't it apply to us? If Paul could clearly see that he might become "reprobate (disqualified) shouldn't we be concerned as well? Or does this apply only to Paul? Let me give you something to chew on here. GOD HAS A RIGHT TO DECIDE WHO WILL SPEND ETERNITY WITH HIM AND WHO WILL NOT BASED ON THEIR OWN FREE WILL. Sadly, again, humans are so driven by entitlement that we have the most difficulty with this biblical position. The traditional Arminian stance on eternal security dictates that it is possible for a Christian to become a reprobate (turn away from God so far as to spend eternity in Hell.) Dr. Stanley Horton a classical Arminian theologian has written that it is possible for man to turn away from God and be lost, but because of God’s tender and merciful love and grace the LORD does not let go that easy and it is only by God’s grace that we are kept. BUT BY GOD’S GRACE!! Yet, we cannot assume to even know how long the Lord will tarry with a rebellious son or daughter.
4 THINGS TO ENSURE WE STAY ON COURSE WITH GOD
1-We must cooperate with the Holy Spirit
2-We must cultivate our Christian life
3-We must live for Christ with intensity and keep ourselves in training under the direction of the Holy Spirit
4-We must not run aimlessly. We must keep God given goals
In the final analysis, we must embrace, believe, preach, teach, and declare what the Word of God says, even if it goes against our own understanding and presuppositions. Even if it goes against what we have been taught all our lives and even if it contradicts the denomination affiliation we were raised in.
In light of this preface and what the Bible teaches about our eternal security as it relates to the relationship we have with Christ (John 15:6), with the biblical view that the Bible calls all believers to a life of holiness and separation from the world (1 Peter 1:16; Heb. 12:14); with the clear teaching that man may have his part taken out of the book of life (Rev. 22:19); and with the scriptural teaching that one who believes for a season may fall away and become a reprobate (Luke 8:13; 1 Cor. 9:27) I cannot in clear conscience preach or teach that once you are saved, it is a done deal. I cannot preach that you can “never” lose your salvation. I disapprove this and do caution any truly called clergyman or women. I have personally witnessed many a so called Christians take the “once saved, always saved” worldview and use it as an opportunity to allow their own sin to remain in their lives. Many a Christian will use this to justify their direct disobedience to the Lord and will use it as a license to sin. I do not accept the doctrine of unconditional security of the believer which holds that once a believer is saved it is impossible for that believer to be lost or not enter into eternity with God.
I embrace and hold to mans free will and his responsibility between himself and God. After one is regenerated, God does not take away your will and will never take away your right to make decisions however trivial or important.
I want to emphasize these four points in order to stimulate further study and to solidify and once and for all lay this vitally important doctrine of salvation to rest:
1. Salvation is available to EVERYONE (2 Peter 3:9; John 3:16; Rom. 10:11-13)
2. Salvation is RECEIVED and KEPT by faith (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 3:9; Heb. 10:38; 1 Peter 1:5; Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:20,21)
3. Continuing in Sin will affect the believers faith adversely (1 John 1:8; 3:8; Rom. 3:5-8; 1 Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 3:12-14; 12: 1)
4. A believer can FOREIT their salvation by REJECTING Christ (John 17:12; Heb. 10:38; 1 Tim. 4: 1; 5:12,15; 1 John 5:16; 2 Peter 2:20; Heb. 10:26,27; 6:4-6)
ADDITIONAL SCRIPTURES THAT TEACH APOSTASY IS POSSIBLE FOR THE BELIEVER: II Cor. 13:5; 1 Cor. 9:27; 1 Peter 4:17, 18; 2 Peter 1:8-10; 2:15; 3:17; II Thess. 1:8; 2:10; Matt. 24:42-51, 25:1-13; 25:14-30; Rom. 11:15-25; 2:3-11; 2 Peter 2:20-22; 3:11-12, 14, 17
I want to list both schools basic theological approaches so as to provoke further comparative study.
THE FIVE POINTS OF CLASSICAL ARMINIANISM
1. FREE WILL – The fall of man is not total and maintains that there is enough good left in man for him/her to accept Jesus Christ for salvation
2. CONDITIONAL ELECTION – Election is based on the foreknowledge of God as to who would believe. Human beings act of faith is seen as the “condition” for his being elected to eternal life, since God foresaw him/her exercising “free will” in response to the wooing of the Holy Spirit to receive Jesus Christ
3. UNIVERSAL ATONEMENT – Redemption is based on the fact that God loves EVERYBODY, that Jesus died for EVERYONE, and that the Father is not willing that any should perish but have eternal life through Christ. The death and resurrection of Christ then provides the grounds for God to save ALL mankind, BUT EACH MUST EXERCISE THEIR FREE WILL (CHOICE) in order to be saved
4. OBSTRUCTABLE GRACE – Because God wants all mankind to be saved, He sent the Holy Spirit to draw men (woo) to Christ, but since man still has free will (even after elected), he is able to resist God’s will for his life. God’s will to save all men can be frustrated by the finite will of man. Mankind must first exercise his own will first, and then is born again. (note: this is directly opposite of classical Calvinism teaching which declares that regeneration proceeds faith and that faith is the fruit of regeneration and not the cause of it. In Classical Arminian theology you must have faith in order to be born again because God will never violate mans free will. This is not to say that God at times will impose his power to accomplish his divine will upon the life of an individual for His Glory. Again, God can do what he wants to do)
5. FALLING FROM GRACE – If then mankind cannot be saved by God unless it is man’s will to be saved, then man cannot continue in salvation unless he continues to will to be saved.
THE FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM (T.U.L.I.P)
What has always been very interesting to me regarding these five points of Calvinism (TULIP) is that the French reformer himself, John Calvin, did not formulate what today we know as the five points of Calvinism. This came out of the Canons of the Council of Dort (1618), and subsequent statements among the many Reformed Confessions which expanded these matters.
1. TOTAL DEPRAVITY – Man is in absolute bondage to sin and Satan, unable to exercise his own will to trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Man can only be saved by God and cannot be saved without the help of God since mankind has TOTAL DEPRAVITY there is nothing they can do for and by themselves to be saved.
2. UNCONDITIONAL ELECTION – Election by God is not based upon the decision that man makes but it is based on the “free will” of GOD ALONE. Foreknowledge then is based upon the plan and purpose of God alone. A Calvinist Reformer theologian, Dr. R.C. Sproul preaches and teaches in what is called "double pre-destination". God pre-destines some for heaven and God pre-destines some for hell. This view of double-predestination is truly calvinist to the core however you will see many variations on predestination with calvinist.
3. LIMITED ATONEMENT – Jesus Christ died for the ELECT ALONE. Jesus died for those who will be saved ONLY and Jesus DID NOT DIE FOR THE NON ELECT or those who will be lost. Jesus died to save those who were given to Him by the Father in eternity past.
4. IRRESISTIBLE GRACE – Jesus possesses irresistible grace that CANNOT BE OBSTRUCTED. Man’s free will is so far removed from salvation, that the elect are regenerated (made spiritually alive, born again) by God even before the person expresses their faith in Jesus for salvation. If a totally depraved person wasn’t made alive by the Holy Spirit, such a calling on God would be impossible.
5. PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS – Because salvation is entirely the work of the Lord then man has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS PROCESS. Christians will persevere because God will see to it that He will finish the work He begun and there is absolutely no way for a Christian to end up in hell and lose their salvation. (note: Dr. R.C. Sproul prefers to name this last doctrine as the “preservation of the saints because the word perseverance implies that the believer has anything to do with entering heaven or being saved”)
FINAL BIBLICAL POINTS ON HUMANS HAVING FREE WILL TO RESIST AND REJECT
Jesus clearly acknowledges the fact of human resistance and rejection - John 12:46-48; Acts 7:51
The Apostle Paul also acknowledges this fact of human resistant and rejection – Rom. 10:21
The book of Hebrews 10:26 warns of insulting the Spirit of Grace. Clearly, God’s grace can either be resisted or received by the exercise of human free will.
BIBLICAL WARNINGS FOR THE COMPLACENT CHRISTIANS AND THOSE WITH A FALSE SENSE OF SECURITY
Jesus warns that not everyone who even acts like a Christian or professes to be a Christian will be saved-Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 9:62
Similar warnings are included in Paul’s letters. Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5; Gal. 5:4
Other scriptures that exhort Christians to live godly and the possibility of Christian apostasy. Col. 1:22-23; 2 Tim. 2:12; Heb. 3:12; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Thess. 2:3; 2 Peter 2:20-21; 2 Peter 1:10; Jude 24
I realize it is not easy to maintain the unity of the Spirit among this matter. It seems that the sovereignty of God and human responsibility is one thing which are minds have a hard time understanding. I find it easy however to just preach and teach those things that are contained in the bible (nothing more, nothing less). It is always not easy, comfortable, or completely understandable. However, the Bible tells us that the wisdom from above will be loving and kind toward all, seeking the unity of the believers, not trying to find ways to divide and separate from one another. May the Lord help us all to love each other, to be kind and tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Jesus Christ has forgiven us (Eph. 4:32).
With difficult doctrinal matters such as this, may we have gracious attitudes and humble hearts, and above all, desiring to please the Lord. May we wrestle with scripture until we reach glory! Internal debates? Yes! Divisions? NO! May the Lord bless you as you continue to study His Word!