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Image: portion of illuminated manuscript page from "The Book of Kells."Photo: Columbia Icefields.  Photo Copyright 2006 S.G.P.  All Rights Reserved.

Note: The Prayer Foundation ™ - as an organization - does not take stands on most Christian doctrines not essential to Salvation, and therefore does not take a stand one way or the other in the historical Calvinist/Arminian debate, leaving it up to each individual Christian to decide this for himself or herself.  Some individuals involved in the ministries of The Prayer Foundation ™  believe one way, and some the other.

Arminianism is a school of soteriological ("the study of Salvation"...see discussion of this further below) thought in Protestant Christian theology founded by the Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius. Its acceptance stretches through much of mainstream Protestantism. Due to the influence of John Wesley, Arminianism was and remains prominent in the Methodist movement.

Arminianism holds to the following tenets:

  • Humans are naturally unable to make any effort towards salvation.
  • Salvation is possible by grace alone.
  • Works of human effort cannot cause or contribute to salvation.
  • God's election is conditional on faith in Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus' atonement was potentially for all people.
  • God allows his grace to be resisted by those unwilling to believe.
  • Salvation can be lost if a believer later rejects Christ, as continued salvation is conditional upon continued faith in Christ.

Arminianism is most accurately used to define those who affirm the original beliefs of Jacobus Arminius himself. 

There are two primary perspectives on how the system is applied in detail: Classical Arminianism, which sees Arminius as its figurehead, and Wesleyan Arminianism, which (as the name suggests) sees John Wesley as its figurehead.  

Wesleyan Arminianism is sometimes synonymous with Methodism.

John Wesley and George Whitefield

The debate between Calvin's followers and Arminius' followers is distinctive of post-Reformation church history.  

The heated discussions between friends and fellow Methodist ministers John Wesley and George Whitefield were characteristic of many similar debates.  

Wesley was a champion of Arminius' teachings, defending his soteriology in a periodical titled The Arminian and writing articles such as Predestination Calmly Considered.  He defended Arminius against charges of semi-Pelaganism, holding strongly to beliefs in original sin and total depravity.  

At the same time, Wesley attacked the determinism that he claimed characterized unconditional election and maintained a belief in the ability to lose salvation ("walk away from", to reject Christ). 

Whitefield debated Wesley on every point (except for their agreement on total depravity) but did not introduce any additional elements into the  Calvinist's conclusions set forth at Westminster.

 Denominational Distinctions

To this day, Methodism, Pentecostals, the Holiness denominations, and most of the Charismatic movement, along with General Baptists, usually subscribe to Arminianism, while Presbyterians, Reformed Churches, Primitive Baptists, Particular Baptists, and others subscribe to Calvinism.  

Lutheranism was uninvolved in the dispute, and official Lutheran doctrine does not fully support either group but teaches a view in between both.  

Post-reformation Roman Catholicism, and even more so, Eastern Orthodoxy, have remained outside the debate.

Jacob Arminius and the Early Arminians

Jacobus Arminius was a Dutch pastor and theologian in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. He was taught by Theodore Beza, John Calvin's hand-picked successor, but he rejected his teacher's theology that it is God who unconditionally elects some for salvation. 

Instead Arminius proposed that the election of God was of believers, thereby making it conditional on faith. Arminius's views were challenged by the Dutch Calvinists, but Arminius died before a national synod could occur.

Arminius' followers, not wanting to adopt their leader's name, called themselves the Remonstrants. When Arminius died before he could satisfy Holland's State General's request for a 14-page paper outlining his views, the Remonstrants replied in his stead crafting the Five Articles of Remonstrance

After some political maneuvering, the Dutch Calvinists were able to convince Prince Maurice of Nassau to deal with the situation. Maurice systematically removed Arminian magistrates from office and called a national synod at Dordrecht. 

This Synod of Dort was open primarily to Dutch Calvinists (Arminians were excluded) with Calvinist representatives from other countries, and in 1618 published a condemnation of Arminius and his followers as heretics. Part of this publication was the famous Five points of Calvinism in response to the five articles of Remonstrance.

Arminians across Holland were removed from office, imprisoned, banished, and sworn to silence. Twelve years later Holland officially granted Arminianism protection as a religion, although animosity between Arminians and Calvinists continued.

St. Augustine

The debate can already be seen 1,000 years earlier in the writings of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, who in early his Christian life was a proponent of free will (a later Arminian view) and in later life was a proponent of predestination (a later Calvinist view).  Augustine wrote against the Theological errors of Pelagius.

The False Charge ("Straw Man") of Pelagianism

Some critics of Arminianism do not present their views against the actual Arminian positions, but instead set up a false "straw man" by inaccurately accusing Arminians of Pelagianism.  

Pelagius was a heretic who was opposed by St. Augustine for rejecting the doctrine of "original sin", teaching that man was "basically good", and therefore had the power to earn his own Salvation simply by not sinning.  

Supporters from both primary Arminian perspectives in fact oppose Pelagian teachings vehemently.

Soteriology: The Study of Salvation

Soteriology is the study of salvation. The word comes from two Greek terms: soter, meaning "savior," and logos, meaning “word," "reason," or "principle."  Soteriology is the branch of Christian theology that deals with salvation as the effect of a divine agency.

 Arminianism and Calvinism are two major Soteriologies often considered to be or presented as being historically opposed to each other.  Both views are actually accepted as being well within the pale of orthodoxy.  That is, one can be considered a good orthodox Protestant Evangelical Christian while being on either side of this issue.

Christian soteriology focuses on how, through faith, people can take advantage of the atonement for sin through Jesus Christ. _____________________________________________________

Sources: Wikipedia - "Arminianism", "Jacobus Arminius", "Soteriology".


See Also:

Copyright © 2007 S.G.P. All rights reserved. 


Jacobus Arminius


 Also: Jacob Arminius, James Arminius, Jacob Harmen, Jacob Harmens, James Harmen, James Harmens.  Dutch Remonstrant Reformer, born: Jacob Harmenszoon.

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