20 May, 2018

FAQ—Arminianism and the Arminians/Remonstrants

Q. 1. “What did the Arminians write concerning God’s will in the preaching of the gospel?”

In the “Opinions of the Remonstrants” (1618), the Arminians wrote in their opposition to the orthodox Calvinist position thus:

“Whomever God calls to salvation, He calls seriously, that is, **with a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save** ...” (Peter Y. De Jong (ed.), “Crisis in the Reformed Churches” [Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Fellowship Inc., 1968], pp. 226-227.)


Q. 2. “What did they mean by that?”

By that statement, they meant that God earnestly desires to save everyone who is outwardly called by the preaching of the gospel. God, in other words, desires all that hear the outward proclamation of the word to be saved.


Q. 3. “What does that have to do with the free or well-meant offer?”

That is what the “well-meant offer” IS: a desire/will/wish of God for all to be saved, expressed in the outward call.

The fact that the Arminians wrote this in response to the orthodox Calvinists constitutes proof that the idea is not orthodox Calvinism. If (as some say) the idea right at the heart of the well-meant offer was and is the official and historic Calvinist position all along, then the Arminians would not have written that statement, in the first place. There wouldn’t have been a need to.

Additionally, if “a desire of God for all to be saved” really was the historic and official position of the church back in the day, then words to the effect that “We have no idea what you are talking about, you Arminians. We HOLD that view!” would have been written in the Canons of Dordt, the official response to the teachings of the Arminians. But the Canons are completely silent as to “a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save all who are outwardly called.”


Q. 4. “If Arminianism is a ‘false gospel,’ and only a ‘true gospel’ saves, what are we to say with regards to Arminians themselves? Are they Christians? Are we to consider them to be ‘brothers in the Lord’? or are we to consider them to be unsaved?”

God calls us to judge doctrines and “gospels,” not persons. A confessed Arminian may be saved, but not by the false gospel he professes. If he is saved, he is saved in spite of his heresy, by trusting in Jesus alone as a sufficient Savior, and not in his supposed free will. A confessing Calvinist may be lost, but not due to the falsity of the gospel he professes. He perishes by his unbelief.
We Reformed judge doctrines, and we do so in light of the creeds which are derived from the Bible. The Canons of Dordt condemns the Arminian theology as the error of Pelagius out of hell (Head II, Rejection of Errors 3). The Heidelberg Catechism calls free will theology a denial of the only Savior (Lord’s Day 11, Q&A 30). Romans 9:16 denies that salvation is by the working and willing of the sinner. It affirms that salvation depends on the mercy of God, which is also the message of the entire book of Romans.
My warning to adherents of Arminianism, which is incipient Pelagianism, is that their gospel is false and does not save. This is not to say that God cannot save in spite of their profession of and adherence to a false gospel.
And then I would respond by asking them whether the main thing for them is the possibility of their salvation. A genuine, sound Christian is concerned also, and more, about the glory of God. Does the Arminian “gospel” glorify God, with its teaching that salvation depends on the free will of the sinner, rather than on the sovereign will of God? (Prof. David J. Engelsma, 25/09/2018)

It depends what one means by an Arminian. Is the person only just converted or a long time professing Christian? What teaching has the person received, much or little, solid or weak? Is he open to correction? Is he an office-bearer? What is the creed of his church? Etc. Certainly, someone who believes all the distinctive points of Arminianism, like Arminius, and is admonished for it and yet disseminated heresy is an unbeliever. More info is needed with others. Not that we are especially interested in prying into men's hearts. We teach the truth and pray, and leave it to God to harden or soften. (Anon.)

Can someone who is theologically Arminian be truly saved? This is not an easy question.
We want to emphasize at the beginning that Arminianism is another gospel that is no gospel (Gal. 1:6-7). Its teaching denies the sovereignty of God in salvation and the power and effectualness of Christ’s death on the cross (by teaching that Christ died for all, it teaches that His death actually saves no one). It also denies that salvation is by grace alone, with its teaching concerning the sovereignty of the human will. These are fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith.
Not only that, but we believe that Arminianism has crept into the teaching of many Reformed churches under the guise of a love of God for all men, a desire on God’s part that all men without exception be saved, and the teaching that there are gifts of grace and benefits of the cross for all. This poses a deadly danger to Reformed churches.
We agree, therefore, with the following quote: “False doctrine is worse when it goes under the cover of the truth, and when it quotes Scripture, and sings Amazing Grace. Satan is always at his best in opposing the truth when he does it in the name of Christ. There has never been a more subtle expression of false doctrine than which affirms all the ‘truths’ of the Christian faith on the basis of human effort, merit of works, foreseen faith, or ‘free will.’ To affirm grace on the condition of works is the ultimate perversion. It is The Lie” (John K. Pederson, Sincerity Meets the Truth, pp. v, vi).
But does this mean that those who hold to free will and other teachings of Arminianism cannot be and are not saved? We do not believe that. Even here, however, we wish to be very careful in our answer. We would insist that a person who truly and consistently believes that he is saved by his own willing and running, contrary to Romans 9:16, cannot be saved; he has denied the very heart of the gospel.
The teaching that man is saved by his own running is Rome’s; the teaching that he is saved by his own willing is that of apostate Protestantism, but, really, they are no different. That teaching, according to Romans 10:1-4, is ignorance of and refusal to submit to the righteousness of God, and leaves a person in need of salvation. By his emphasis on will and works, a consistent Arminian sets himself outside Christ (Gal. 5:4).
Nevertheless, many people inconsistently confess both grace and works. They ascribe their salvation wholly to God’s grace, and yet speak of having chosen Christ, of having free will, and of God being dependent in salvation on their own free will choice. They thank GOD for their salvation and yet speak as though they were the ones who made the decisive choices.
Usually this is the fault of the teaching they have received—teaching which speaks along two lines. It is a teaching that affirms grace on the basis of works and free will. Those who teach such things have the greater fault. Nevertheless, those who think along these lines, though they may be saved, also need to realize that what they believe is not the truth, and need to repent of it.
So, too, as the author quoted above says, “We need rather to be greatly ashamed of ourselves for our tolerant friendship with the doctrine of human sovereignty which lies at the rotten core of evangelicalism, and which, on account it, of our sleepy indifference to is a testimony to our own cowardice.” Grace saves—not free will and works. (Ronald Hanko, “Covenant Reformed News,” vol. 5, no. 17)


Q. 5. “How can we tell that those who confess both grace and works are actually ascribing their salvation wholly to God’s grace? We have to believe that what they say is coming from their hearts and is what they actually believe, and until we dig deeper in discussion with them and get clarification of what they actually do believe, could we not, in treating them as brethren, be in danger of affirming them in the lie? I know of ‘solid’ Arminians who will say that it was God that saved them and they thank God for their salvation—but in actuality hate the God of Grace and His truth. Would not a true child of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit testifying with his spirit, be uncomfortable in the teaching of the lie, although he may not at that time understand why? It is the work of the Spirit of Christ that leads into all truth and will not leave the believer comfortable in the teachings of those who blaspheme God’s grace and trample under foot the blood of the covenant.”

Some comments:
(1) It is exactly our point that we can never tell finally whether a person’s profession is honest or not, i.e., whether their confession of grace reflects what is in their heart. That is true of those whose doctrine is right, as well as of those whose doctrine is wrong. What we are saying is that it is simply not our business to make such judgments. We can and must judge their words and condemn any talk of free will as a denial of the grace of God. The rest must be left to God. Not only is it not our business, it is of no profit to make such judgments.
(2) Insofar as we do have the calling to judge (and we do not deny this, as do many), it is our calling to make the most charitable judgment possible, and we do that in this case by judging them on the basis of their profession of grace. That we must do this is clear from II Thessalonians 3:14-15, where the Word tells us to think even of those who have been excommunicated from the church (perhaps for Arminian teaching) as “brethren.” Indeed, our calling is exactly defined there: “admonish him as a brother.”
(3) The fact of the matter is that children of God, when backslidden, or when coming to the knowledge of the truth, can behave and speak worse than Arminians. Indeed, if only those were saved who make a completely sound profession of the doctrines of grace, there would be very few saved. I am certain that because of sin, there is no man living whose profession of grace is 100% sound. Even since becoming a minister, there are things I have learned and, as result of learning them, have come to see that I said things that were contrary to the grace of God. Was I then unsaved? Note also Jesus’ words to the travellers to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-26). Were they therefore unsaved?
(4) The leading of the Spirit referred to in John 16:13 refers especially to the church. There is no specific assurance that we know of in Scripture that every believer, under the guidance of the spirit, will come to a mature and fully correct understanding of the truth. That would leave most Christians outside the kingdom. (Ronald Hanko, “Covenant Reformed News,” vol. 7, no. 16)


Q. 6. “How is it possible for one who has Arminian beliefs to be saved in light of, for example, II John 9 (‘whoever does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God’)? Surely ‘doctrine,’ in this text, refers to the spiritually-imparted knowledge of limited substitutionary atonement? God gives this knowledge to ‘everyone’ He regenerates, and no one who does not have this knowledge is a true Christian.
Doesn’t Galatians 1:8-9 say that ‘whoever preaches another gospel ... let him be accursed’? If Arminianism is ‘another gospel,’ must not all Arminians therefore be ‘accursed’? (or ‘not saved/unregenerate’?)
Is not the idea that Arminians/Roman Catholics can be saved ‘in spite of’ the heresy of their churches an attack upon the clarity of God’s revelation to His elect?
Is not the idea that an Arminian can still be saved ‘in spite of’ his heresy a ‘denial of the gospel’?
John 17:3 says everlasting life is ‘knowing’ God and Jesus Christ. We cannot ‘know’ someone without truth (in this case, ‘doctrine’), and the true Christ, whom to know is eternal life, is the One who is taught in the true gospel of limited substitutionary atonement—and a Christ who ‘died for all men’ is *not* the true Christ; and, therefore, anyone who believes Christ died for all men surely *does not* have ‘everlasting life’ (and is still unregenerate)?
I John 5:20 says that the Son of God gives to all who are regenerate ‘an understanding that we may know the true One ...’ Is not this ‘understanding’ nothing else than the truth that the atonement is limited, definite and particular, and not universal? And, since Arminians believe in a death of Christ for all men, surely we must judge that they *do not* possess this ‘understanding’ and consequently *do not* ‘know’ the true One? (Cf. also Hebrews 8:11; John 6:45; Isa. 54:13)”

These arguments are strong and, in a certain respect, conclusive.  They are certainly a warning to every Arminian, as also to every Reformed believer who is inclined to take a weak position with regard to Arminian heresy.
My response is that despite their church membership and the official stand of the church to which they wrongly belong and from which they ought to leave, they themselves in reality believe salvation by grace alone.  And they themselves, despite the official teaching of their minister, believe in Christ alone for salvation.  Basically they are ignorant with regard to the theology of their church.  They are saved ‘in spite of’ the theology of their church.  In general, whereas the Arminian theologians, who sin against better knowledge, are certainly lost, some of the people can be saved by believing the true gospel despite the teaching of the church.  I hope so.  And as I said before, I leave this in the judgment of God.  I judge ‘doctrine.’
The scanty biblical evidence for this position, which I take with hesitancy, would be General Naaman in the Old Testament.  He lived in Syria, not in Judah, and outwardly he went through the motions of false religion without embracing that religion, but believing in the one true God of Israel.  (Prof. David J. Engelsma, 08/10/2018)

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