Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Theological Foundations, Part 1 - The Remonstrance - Arminian Articles

For some time I've wanted to delve into those documents that are descriptive of my own theological convictions. That is not to say that these statements are authoritative, as is Scripture. I came by most of my doctrinal convictions honestly, with just the Bible and personal study. I've found that these statements, however, do help "flesh out" or clarify what I have accepted and taught in a broad sense, and have challenged me to think deeper and clarify the particulars of my beliefs. Hopefully, I'll be able to post additions to this particular topic over the next several weeks.

The first document I will post and comment on deals with the subject of Soteriolgy (The study of Salvation). In the late 16th and early 17th century, the Netherlands were a hotbed of theological angst and dissent. Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), a prominent pastor anf professor of theology in the Dutch Reformed Church sought to redefine or recast the teachings of John Calvin, whose original teachings had been amplified to teach, in a sense, an absolute spiritual determinism. The "Calvinists" had been the only "Reformed" theology, though it's teachers since Calvin had been deterministic in their interpretations of soteriology to varying degrees.

Arminius, while a Pastor and later a professor at the Univeristy of Leiden, developed a concept of soteriology that he believed fit into the general Reformation theological ideal, but also preserved the concept of the capacity of humans to make moral and spiritual decisions as "Free Moral Agents," and to champion the teachings of Scripture that Christ died for the whole world, for all mankind, and not merely for "the elect," as Calvinism had come to proclaim.

Arminius did not set out to destroy Calvinism, or undermine the Gospel of Grace as his critics past and present have often accused him. In fact, Arminius professed a great respect for Calvin, and read his Institutes of the Christian Religion regularly, along with Scripture. The second and third generation of Calvin's followers, however, would have none of it, and opposed Arminius and his alternative interpretation of soteriology at every turn.

When Arminius died in 1609, he left behind a number of followers within the Dutch Reformed Church [DRC] known as "Remonstrants." They came into constant conflict with Dutch Reformed Calvinists of the next decade. Finally, the DRC called a synod, held at Dordtrecht in 1618-1619. The "Synod of Dort," as it has commonly been known, was allegedly intended as an opportunity for the Remonstrants to lay out their soteriological concept for consideration. They did so in the form of the articles which I've posted below. Calvinists who controlled the DRC, however, had no interest in hearing their case, altering their views, nor sharing their own power and positions. The Synod condemned the Remonstrants as heretics in 1619.

Arminianism survived in the Remonstrant Church in Holland for sometime, though it has in recent decades degenerated into universalism and liberalism -- as have so many other denominations and sects within Christendom. Still, forms of Arminianism survived and indeed thrived in various men and movements, chiefly within some streams of Anglicanism, with John Wesly and Methodism, and within my own denominational heritage of Baptists.

It must be noted that the small congregation of English Separatists that would become known as the first Baptists came into Holland to escape English persecution around 1609, and remained there for over two years. During their time in Holland, they apparently interacted with both DRC Remontrants and with the Anabaptists (forerunners of the Mennonites, Brethren and Ahmish). This interaction had profound effects on the leaders of the English congregation -- John Smyth and Thomas Helwys. I'll discuss that a bit more in my next post on the subject. For now, please note these brief statements of the Remonstrants. I will comment on some of their statements below, and perhaps in another post shortly.

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The Remonstrant Articles

Article 1

That God, by an eternal and unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” and according to other passages of Scripture also.

Article 2

That agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Article 3

That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.”

Article 4

That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. but respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible; inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts 7, and else­where in many places.

Article 5

That those who are in­corporated into Christ by 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 10:28: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginning 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 Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our mind.

These Articles, thus set forth and taught, the Remonstrants deem agreeable to the Word of God, tending to edification, and, as regards this argument, sufficient for salvation, so that it is necessary or edifying to rise higher or to descend deeper.

Phillip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, Volume 3, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI: 1996.Ppages 545ff.

The following is one of 2 documents held by the Remonstrants(Arminians) as a statement of their faith in response to "reformed" teaching. This document has been condemned as heresy by the reformed churches at the Synod of Dordt, 1618-1619.


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I've added bold print to emphasize the most interesting, misunderstood or mischaracterized ideas often ascribed to Arminius and Arminians in general. I'll comment on these items in the next post or two.

For now, we can draw some general principles about Arminians ans their soteriology. Arminians tend to affirm the following:

I look forward to any comments.

Blessings,

JDW

4 comments:

Rev. James M. Leonard said...

Thanks, J Dale, for the thoughtful reflection.

It prompts some questions for me. First, given that the Dutch Reformed were not all high or Bezan Calvinists, and that there continues to be some debate over whether or not Calvin held to limited atonement, and that there were Coornhaert (?) and Coolhaes who preceded Arminius, and that some Lutherans held to universal atonement, is it really necessary to cede the terminology and equate "Reformed Theology" with 5 point Calvinism?

Second, I wonder how appropriate it is to refer to the Dort Canons as being established at the "Synod" of Dort. Seeing that certain Calvinists persuaded Prince Maurice that the Remonstrants would somehow weaken his claims to independence from Spain, and that, consequently, Arminians were only permitted to attend the meeting as defendants, thus eliminating the participation of many pastors and church leaders, I wonder how legitimate it is to refer to it as a Synod. Minimally, these facts call into question the notion that the so-called Synod of Dort defines the Dutch Reformation.

Thanks for your helpful analysis.

J. Dale Weaver, M.Div. said...

Thanks for your response James.

I think you make a good point regarding terminology in relation to "Reformed Theology." I approached this issue in my post from the perspective of how it's usually explained and accepted in the current theological context. I agree with you, however, that it isn't necessary to "equate" reformed theology with 5-Point Calvinism. In fact, there were many shades and degrees of the views Arminius espoused, both within the Dutch Reformed Church, among Lutherans, and among Anabaptists. To say that "Reformed Theology = 5-Point Calvinism" is an error -- Reformation theology encompasses much more than just Calvinism. If it seemed I suggested any other, forgive my lack of clarity.

As to the legitimacy of the "Synod of Dort," and it's true representation of the Dutch Reformation, I again adressed this event as it is usually understood today. That it was unfair is certain. That it excluded many Pastors and Scholars of the DRC is also obvious. Yet, the decisions of the Synod did hold sway and carry some political and ecclesiatical authority -- it was accepted, at least for a while. That there is a Remonstrant Church even today demonstrates that the Synod solved nothing in the long run, but it did set the theological stage for the next 4+ centuries.

In short, claims that Reformed Theology and Calvinism are one in the same is an error -- both historically and theologically. Still, in addressing these issues, I started with what many readers would commonly accept or understand.

Blessings!

J. Dale Weaver, M. Div.

Godismyjudge said...

Dear JDW,

The 5th point of the remonstrants does seem to say what your last bullet says (ie that salvation can be lost). It seems to indicate that the remonstrants wanted to look into the issue.

God be with you,
Dan

J. Dale Weaver, M.Div. said...

Dan:

The Remonstrants certainly left the possibility open -- though they weren't conclusive at that time (1618-1619).

One note I should add -- I went back and changed the word "lost" to the word "forfeited" because I think it's a much more accurate term to describe both the views of Arminius and my own.

The word "lost" has the connotation that salvation can be laid aside, left for a while, and then returned to at the prerogative of the individual. This is not reflective of Scriptural teaching, nor is it the position of Reformation Arminianism.

Thanks Dan.

Blessings,

JDW