Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #1018 MP3 Audio File Video File

A History Lesson: Origins of Calvinism & Arminianism

Jeffrey T. McCormack

Delivered 06/28/20

This morning, we’re going to do something a little different. As the title states, we’re going to have a history lesson. Now, when I state what topic the lesson is about, I do hope that no one will immediately turn me off. I ask that you hear me out. I will not be defending or expounding a theological position this morning — dare I say, I won’t be even quoting any Scripture in this message, as this will be me simply giving a history lesson behind a position.

The reason for this message is because you may be surprised, as we are at times, at how often we get cards, letters and emails from people who have only recently discovered our church broadcasts and telling us the blessing it has been to them. So, we know that when it comes to all of the doctrinal positions presented here at Berean Bible Church, not everyone is necessarily on the same page in their understanding.

There are many theological terms that get thrown around sound very common to many of us because of our backgrounds, but there are people who may be hearing them for the first time. So, in light of Dave’s recent messages, a history lesson on a couple such terms felt like a timely message.

You see, for the past two weeks, Dave gave some pretty extensive defenses of part of the theological system known as Calvinism, and along the way, it’s counterpart, Arminianism. Hopefully regardless of which the debate you are on, you won’t immediately shut down this message. Again, it is a history lesson behind how these positions came about, and not a defense of either.

Back in 2012, near Reformation day, Dave gave a message on the history of the Reformation. In it, he discussed Martin Luther and many key aspects of what occurred in those days that ultimately led to that time in church history known as the Reformation. He also covered many of the key doctrines of Reformed Theology and the biblical basis for them.

So, if you are looking for a more concise discussion of the Scripture proofs behind some of today’s discussion, that message from Oct 2012 would be a good place to start, as well as many of the messages within his series on the Gospel of John. But again, this morning I will not be going into the Scripture proofs, but will mainly look at the formation and history around what came to now be known as the "Five points of Calvinism."

As you may already know, the terms Calvinism and Arminianism come from the names of two men in history. Calvinism of course, from French theologian John Calvin who lived from 1509 to 1564, and Arminianism from Dutch theologian Jacobus Arminius, who lived from 1560 to 1609.

As you can see, these two men were not really contemporaries. They did not have direct interaction with each other. There were no great debates between Calvin and Arminius. They lived at slightly different times, and in different countries.

The great Calvinism and Arminianism controversary, and the surround five points, while drawing their namesakes from these two men, were movements not actually created nor defended by either these men. No, it was not until one year after the death of Jacob Arminius, which was nearly fifty years after the death of Calvin, that we find the Arminianism controversary, as we know it, beginning.

And even though it is popular to hear the term, the "Five points of Calvinism," these five points were not a summation of the doctrines of Calvin’s teaching initially. Calvin did not even have anything to do with the formulation of these concise five points. No, these five points originated long after his death, and were simply a concise response by church theologians to the controversy taking place in Holland in 1610.

It was in 1610 that the followers of the recently deceased Jacobus Arminius drew up five articles of faith. These five articles were essentially a summation of some principles of the teachings of Arminius that his followers felt the church needed to change their current stance on. They wrote up these five points as a Remonstrance — which is a written protest.

Now, before going further, let’s stop right here. Does anything strike you as odd with this scenario? Or do the actions of these followers of Arminius remind you of anything similar? Here are a couple things that jump out at me about the action of these men. First off, their actions are in a way very similar to the actions of the Reformer Martin Luther. In both cases, the parties presented a list of doctrinal contentions to the church in their area.

This was the common thing to do if you had a grievance, you present your contentions in writing and seek to discuss them to work them out. Is that how disagreements in the church are commonly done these days? I would say, not usually. Usually if someone disagrees with their church on some theological issue, rather than address it and seek to resolve the issue, they flee the church.

These men, in this time, had more respect for the church as a whole, and often sought to address the issues and seek to reform things from the inside. They weren’t looking to necessarily rebel and leave, they were seeking to make changes that they felt were needed, so as to reform the church from within.

It is not hard to understand that over time, any church can start to stray from their doctrinal positions. It can start slow, and gradually lead to a different place than originally desired. That is a major reason why it is always good to be under the accountability of others, whether it be a denomination oversight committee, or even just a board of leaders within the congregation. Multiple eyes can see things a single leader may not, and they can point out things that may be in a blind spot.

Likewise, for a church body. It is always a good thing for church leadership to stop and evaluate their current positions to make sure traditions or desires of men have not caused them to begin to ever-so-slightly stray from their initial trajectory.

So, it is not necessarily a bad thing when someone raises concerns or questions the church leadership over actions and doctrines. Men like Luther, and even these Arminians, were not wrong to bring up what they believed to be areas that needed examined, in an effort to seek discussions with the church. Then we must look at how the church responds to such things, that ends up revealing a lot about a ministry.

This application is a little harder to apply in today’s climate where there are so many different and totally independent churches. If a major concern came up, there are few church councils to appeal to like there used to be. Some of the older denominations still have leadership higher up to appeal to, like the Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodist, etc.

So, in those cases if there was something going amiss in a local church, there is accountability that can be appealed to so they could investigate. What tends to take place today though, is usually one of two options. Either the church leaders are not open to being questioned, or the person doesn’t want to even make the effort to petition for a possible change.

Some leaders do not welcome being questioned or any attempt for them to be held accountable. These are the things scandals are made of. The independent attitude is strong and the leaders feel they are above reproach. This attitude says a lot about the heart of the leader.

Many times, if you raise a question or concern, it may be taken as a threat, and you are labeled a trouble maker. This can ultimately end with you being ousted or shunned enough that you end up feeling it is best to just leave over the tension.

The other option many take, is simply to leave and go down the street looking for something better. Rather than engage with leadership, and make the case for your position, and spend the time openly and lovingly going back and forth with them to present and defense the position, the person just splits from the congregation.

With the church being splintered into so, so many different direction doctrines, different theologies, different service types, different congregation sizes, etc. — if someone doesn’t like this church, they go down the street to find one more to their liking, and just continue hoping from church to church until they either appease their personal desires, and if that fails, they may start their own, and thus another independent church is started.

My family has had two similar issues that we have been through, both within the same denomination, and actually two local congregations both under the same church council. It never got taken to the overarching church council, but the individual congregations handled things quite differently.

At one church we were seeking to join, there was this unnamed doctrine that we held to, that was not in line with their creed. The church leadership there honestly had little or no knowledge of anything about the view and were not sure how to proceed. Instead of asking me to engage and present a defense for my position so they could examine it, they called some of their friends in the ministry.

They never inquired for me to explain anything, they simply, on the suggestion of others who supposedly "knew better," chose to dismiss me as unorthodox based on the historic creeds they held to.

Now, they did not say we couldn’t attend the church, but they questioned if we could even join a church body when that church body was not positive that they could even call us brothers in Christ, based on us not perfectly aligning with the creeds. So essentially, they didn’t think we could be called Christian in holding to our view, so suggested it might not be best for us to join in with a church that couldn’t accept us as saved.

Based on the fact that they were totally clueless on this topic, and were basically blindsided at the time, I can give them some slack for their ignorance. I do fault them for not seeking to further look into it themselves before making the decision they did, but again, in light of it all, they hadn’t run into such a problem before, and so they simply made a quick decision.

Should they have, out of concern for my soul, assigned a few people to come along side me and study it out with me, to correct me where needed? Seems a logical Matt 18 related response. We did not push the issue though, as we knew it was a conflict and would be troublesome to everyone involved, and we were not out to start trouble.

If we were to have stood our ground and presented a defense, who knows how it would have gone. Would they have even sought to hear a defense, or consider our point, or were they totally closed off to that direction of thought? We’ll never know. Have they since that time looked into it further to be better informed? Who knows?

Instead, we chose to peacefully go no further in the process, did not push the issue, and did not demand to be heard. We weren’t seeking to cause a major issue, so we returned to our former church in which we been attending for a few years prior, and were only seeking to leave due to proximity to the church to our home.

Now, when this same situation came up at that church, it was handled quite differently for sure. Maybe it was because we were already members, and not just new people seeking to join. Maybe since we were already under their leadership, they knew as a good shepherd they must seek what was best for us. I don’t know exactly, but the leadership knew how to better handle it in the end.

First, they sent two men to my house, my actual assigned church elder, and a newer elder on the committee. These men came and sat in my living room to initially inquire as to the truth of the allegations at hand. They admitted to being a little surprised when I unashamedly explained to the that what they had been told was indeed true, and did not try to cover over or explain away the situation.

They asked me to answer a few initial questions, biblical points they saw as contradictory to my view in their mind. Many I answered on the spot, others I told them needed more explaining, and that I would submit answers to all they asked. They assigned the new elder to my case to be my point of contact in the matter. The poor guy, I do not think he expected the response and wealth of material he received from me in defense of my position.

Pages and pages material on every topic they asked and then some. In the end though, I am doubting they spent much time at all actually examining or attempting to understand, much less refute, my material. But surprisingly, they said they loved us, they were not baring us from attendance, fellowship or the Lord’s table, nor were they banning us from talking about the topic to others who were interested. That last part was startling.

The only thing they did have to do, because of the denomination’s doctrinal statements and them being held accountable to the denomination board on these matters, was to remove us from being authorized teachers within the church. Both my wife and I had previously taught various Sunday school classes. Other than that, it was business as usual.

All of this to say, when a controversy or doctrinal concern is raised in a church, the leaders should take the time to examine, study, and respond to the issues at hand. In the modern church, that is rarely what happens these days, but that was not how things were more consistently handled in the past.

So, returning to our story, we find these examples of men doing what was the acceptable method of basically seeking to restore, what they thought, was doctrinal purity.

In Luther’s case, the Roman Catholic church responded more with arguments from tradition, though there was quite a bit of back and forth letters and responses from both sides over the few years after his nailing of the ninety-five thesis. In the end, Luther was pretty much forced to step down from his position in the church, and cast out to do his own thing.

When Luther started that trouble he had, in the next country over, little John Calvin was a mere eight years old. By the time John Calvin came of age as a theologian, the spark Luther had ignited was a fire of Reformation that influenced many in the surrounding areas.

Calvin was instrumental in further solidifying a system of theology that became key features in the Reformed faith as a whole. But again, he never formulated any five-point system.

Before we can get to that though, we must back up in time, and go way back to where these doctrinal issues began for the most part. For it has been acknowledge by many that, as the late Princeton Theological Seminary principal B.B. Warfield states, "It is Augustine who gave us the Reformation." As R.C. Sproul once commented:

It is not only that Luther was an Augustinian monk, or that Calvin quoted Augustine more than any other theologian that provoked Warfield's remark. Rather, it was that the Reformation witnessed the ultimate triumph of Augustine's doctrine of grace over the legacy of the Pelagian view of man.

You see, the Calvinism and Arminianism debate can actually be traced back to the days of Augustine and Pelagius in many ways. Augustine of Hippo and British monk Pelagius lived in the late 4th and early 5th century. The core of their disagreement essentially centered around the topic of original sin.

Pelagius denied such a notion and was a strong advocate for the belief in man having a "free will." Augustine viewed man’s will as being a slave to his original sin brought on by the Fall of Adam, and thus requiring of divine intervention in spiritual matter.

What became known as Pelagianism included additional beliefs Pelagian had, like asceticism — the denying and living free of worldly and sensual pleasures. As a whole, he and his views were deemed as heresy at the time by the church of Rome.

A later modified form of his belief, known usually as semi-Pelagianism, continued in some circles, and it too was ultimately condemned. Sadly, it did not go away. Again, from Sproul:

Humanism, in all its subtle forms, recapitulates the unvarnished Pelagianism against which Augustine struggled. Though Pelagius was condemned as a heretic by Rome, and its modified form, Semi-Pelagianism was likewise condemned by the Council of Orange in 529, the basic assumptions of this view persisted throughout church history to reappear in Medieval Catholicism, Renaissance Humanism, Socinianism, Arminianism, and modern Liberalism. The seminal thought of Pelagius survives today not as a trace or tangential influence but is pervasive in the modern church. Indeed, the modern church is held captive by it.

Theologian Adolph Harnack summarizes Pelagian thought in this manner:

Nature, free-will, virtue and law, these strictly defined and made independent of the notion of God - were the catch-words of Pelagianism: self-acquired virtue is the supreme good which is followed by reward. Religion and morality lie in the sphere of the free spirit; they are at any moment by man's own effort.

Pelagius believed that things like virtue, law, free-will, etc. exist and were attainable independent of the need for God. That man can self-accomplish such things, and that in response to them, man is rewarded by God. These things come from man’s own effort, and God rewards them when achieved. This is essentially the core of most man-centered works-based religions.

Much of the issues started when Pelagius was in Rome, and was appalled when he heard Augustine pray, asking Yahweh to:

Grant what Thou commandest, and command what Thou dost desire.

Pelagius denied that performing God’s commands required any divine gift or involvement, and that if God requires some responsibility from man, that such a requirement assumes that man has the ability to fulfill such a command in his own power. This in turn, means belief and faith are required to come from man without any divine assistance. Augustine opposed such a view of course.

For Pelagius, original sin, the sin of Adam, effected Adam and Adam alone. Therefore, he believed that every infant born since is essentially in the same shape morally as Adam was before the fall — thus a denial of a passing of any effects from original sin all together.

He acknowledged that grace from God can help, but it is not necessary for man. He also held that the general nature of man was not changeable at all, but was in essence indestructibly good. That would be the full force of normal Pelagianism, and was utterly condemned by Rome as mentioned.

What is altered when it comes to Semi-Pelagianism, is that it alters the view on original sin, agreeing that man has original sin, and that his nature is not actually indestructibly good, but was in fact been changed by the fall. But the view holds that while man’s nature is fallen, there still remains with man the moral ability that was not affected by the fall.

They would acknowledge that God’s grace is required and beneficial, but that man must interact, react and cooperate with God’s grace. God’s grace is necessary, but alone is not necessarily effective. Man must respond to it in his own free-will in order for it to become effective for anything.

This doctrine of the extent and effects of the fall is really at the core of this whole discussion between Augustine and Pelagius, Luther and Erasmus, and the Calvinist and Arminian debate, and it continues to this day.  As quoted from Sproul a moment ago:

…the basic assumptions of this view [Semi-Pelagianism] persisted throughout church history to reappear in Medieval Catholicism, Renaissance Humanism, Socinianism, Arminianism, and modern Liberalism. The seminal thought of Pelagius survives today not as a trace or tangential influence but is pervasive in the modern church. Indeed, the modern church is held captive by it.

Through the years, it went from being deemed heretical most every time it popped up, to eventually gaining worldwide acceptance in the church. And what was once historically the dominate view of soteriology, has now become a minority view, and vehemently hated by many.

Considered one of the pivotal and foundational unrefuted works, Martin Luther’s seminal book The Bondage of the Will still stands the test of time, and remains as the high-water mark of the historical and biblical view of the will of fallen man.

Now, picking up where we left off, we jump forward a thousand years from Augustine and Pelagius, and Semi-Pelagianism is confronted once again by the church. As mentioned, it is 1610, one year after the death of Jacobus Arminius, and his followers drew up five articles of faith.

These were essentially a summation of principles of the teachings of Arminius that his followers felt the church needed to change their current position on. Like Luther, these five articles were written in the form of a protest, seeking to challenge the current theological position of the church.

At the time, the Church of Holland held to their confession, the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism. These were their official expressed doctrinal positions, and the Arminians insisted that these documents be changed to conform to the doctrinal views outlined in their five points.

The Arminians disagreed on main categories like the extent of divine sovereignty, human inability, the idea of unconditional election or predestination, on redemption being for particular people and not all, on the irresistibility of God’s grace, and the eternal security of the saints. In Baker’s Dictionary of Theology, Roger Nicole summarizes the five points of Arminianism in this manner:

  1. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.
  2. Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved.
  3. Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed.
  4. This grace may be resisted.
  5. Whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation.

Originally, the last point was more or less not fully decided upon by all in their group, but later on became more solidified and taught that indeed, the truly regenerate believer could lose their faith and thus lose their salvation. Even to this day in various churches, it is not an agreed upon point among those who adhere to Arminian doctrines, as many Arminians believe in a once saved, always saved idea.

Theologian J.I. Packer has analyzed these points in the Remonstrance, and philosophically explains the position as:

The theology which it contained (known historically as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation. From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability must be universal.

Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted to be teaching the following positions:

  1. Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor
  2. Is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it.
  3. God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe.
  4. Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe.
  5. It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost.

Thus, Arminianism made man’s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him.

So, looking simply at the separate, individual points of this system, from a cause and effect philosophical type angle, each may sound all well and good. But I have always had an issue with the logicality behind it as a cohesive series of connected steps.

For instance, the point on election, which Arminians say is determined by God’s foreknowledge, meaning he looks down through the future and in seeing how man will respond to the gospel offer, He elects or not. I know the main focus on these points is regarding God, man and salvation, but what are the implications by this doctrine? How does this doctrine of foreknowledge affect other areas?

First it must be asked, is the future God looks down through, a future that is in fact set in stone and unchangeable? Or is it just a possible future if man doesn’t surprise God by changing his mind later on?

If God is making the choice based on a definite and unchangeable future that He is able to view, then sure, that is one way to explain how God is all knowing. He knows all because he sees all, and knows how it all works out. And because He knows all, he can therefore tell mankind pieces of this future history, under the guise of it being prophecy.

However, if the future is indeed set in stone, doesn’t that confuse and conflict with a need for the Arminian point that Christ died for all men in general? If God sees who will for sure accept the gospel, accepting the gift of the blood of Christ by faith, and who ultimately persevere to glory, then why demand their view that Christ died for each and every man?

Why would the Arminian view have an issue with the Calvinist view that says Christ only died for the elect? In the end, doesn’t both systems only have the blood of Christ being effectually applied for the same elect group of people? Sure, how they got to be elected is different, but isn’t the group in the end comprised of the same people if the future is fully seen and knowable?

If He died for all mankind, did Christ spill His blood and cover the sins of people God already beforehand knew would never come to faith and whom He never elected? Did any part of mankind die and suffer the punishment for their own sins, yet those same sins had already been paid for and covered by Christ? If so, what did Christ’s suffering, death and blood accomplish for those damned souls?

Actually, I know, these types of questions are not truly applicable at all, since Arminianism teaches that the blood of Christ did not effectually cover any of the sins of anyone in particular, but simply opens the door, or makes the forgiveness possible. So, it is a means to acquire salvation, but in itself, it is not an accomplishment of salvation for anyone.

Think with me further on this. If election if based on an unchangeable foreseen future, and only those who will ultimately be saved, then is the point of who Christ died for really even needed? And what about the point of man being capable of resisting God’s will? If God foresaw and unchangeable future, then He already knows who will resist, and wouldn’t He just not elect them to salvation and redemption to begin with?

And therefore, since He foresaw all of that, what purpose does it serve to mention perseverance in the plan? Yes, it was a topic that Arminians were and are still split on, but is either version of the view necessary if God has already foreseen the definite future? If once saved they will definitely persevere, God already saw and knows that and has elected based on it.

Likewise, if He foresaw that they would eventually choose to walk away from the faith, surely, He would never have elected them to begin with, correct? And if God’s grace can be resisted by man’s free-will, who really cares? For if God foresaw a concrete future, he already knows who will resist, and wouldn’t He just never even elect them or waste time offering grace to them to begin with?

Honestly, if the future is set in stone and God knows it, then is any point other than election truly needed? Wouldn’t He only elect those He foreknew wouldn’t resist, who would choose to receive, who would have the blood of Christ atone for them, and who would persevere to be saved and glorified?

I know these five positions were written up as a response to and correction of the key doctrines of the church that were being challenged by the Arminians. So yes, I understand why they exist in this form. But in the end, when considered as a system, don’t they all seem to hinge on how you view the idea of God’s foreknowledge? And if you believe in a concrete future view, wouldn’t election be all you really need?

Considering all of this, it seems the idea of a definite future being foreknown is not in line with the Arminian system. Plus, we know a set-in stone future is not generally the view held by Arminians in more modern times. In the Arminian system, they see God changing His mind and plans.

Also, we know that greatest majority of modern Christians, whether they’d understand their position enough to admit it, would have to reject that He’s sees a future set in stone. According to the most popular eschatological view of the day, believed by most all Arminians, is the view known as Dispensationalism.

This view plainly teaches that God had a plan of salvation, but it was thwarted by the will of man, and so He had to make a new plan. They say He chose a specific time to send His only son to save His people, but when His people instead rejected and killed His Son, He had to switch gears and go with a "plan B" called the church.

He still has a plan for His original people, though without any Messiah this time, since that ship and plan has already sailed. And since God can not know the future for sure, I guess He waits and plans for a chance at a new attempt in the future. But honestly, if God is able to only foresee a possible future, can His plan A ever be planned with any definite expected success?

If plan A was thwarted in the past, how can it ever be guaranteed to pass at some future point? How can any supposed future prophetic views of Dispensationalism ever be fulfilled with any certainty?

He may reveal His desired plan, but wouldn’t it have to be generic, nebulous and open ended as far as the nature and timing of fulfillment? Wouldn’t it would mean He can never know when, how or even if it will ever be accomplished? It’s most all dependent on man’s work and cooperation.

If someone holds to the Arminian view of God and man’s free will, is it even possible for them to align themselves with any view of biblical eschatology or prophetic system in general, aside from one that is based around indefinite and unpredictable future plans? I am not sure how anything else would work. If God cannot override man’s will, then man can always thwart any plan of God, right?

In the end, if man is free, and if man can resist God’s work, then God with certainty cannot know anything, can plan nothing, can predict nothing, and certainly can’t make anything come to pass with mankind, right?

Dispensationalism does seem to be properly applying their Arminianism logically to the situation. Man’s free will resisted God’s initial plan as the theology teaches. Can it be applied any other way? In this view, can God ever accomplish His plan without infringing on man’s freedom?

In essence, can any prophecy of a future for mankind ever be stated that is not simply a dream or desire that God hopes one day man may allow him to accomplish? God can manipulate the material world to do things in His plan, but can He ever do anything with man that would affect man’s ability to resist and change?

And since the future foresaw is not set in stone in this view, can God elect based on foreknowledge that is not a surety and can change? What if everyone He elects end up changing their minds and walk away from their faith? What good did the election and blood of Christ serve for them?

In this scenario, are we not left with the real possibility that Christ could have suffered and died, and yet ended up with no one ever actually making a free-will choice to accept the gift and persevere to glory? The logical conclusions of such a view are staggering and doesn’t it remove all future hope in anything?

Okay, let’s get back on track. The system is what it is, and it was sent to the church with an insistence that it replace the confessions of the Holland church. This was in 1610. Eight years later, in 1618, a synod was called together in Dort to examine these views proposed by the Arminians. Eight years! Can you imagine waiting eight years for your grievances to be addressed?

On November 13, 1618, the synod convened. It was a group of 84 Dutch delegates, which was made up of 18 secular commissioners, 27 delegates from various German states, Switzerland, England, and Scotland. For seven months, these delegates met for 154 sessions to consider the matter, the last one being May 6, 1619. That is a lot of time to consider five points it seems. In the end:

The Synod had given a very close examination to the "five points" which had been advanced by the Remonstrance, and had compared the teaching advanced in them with the testimony of Scripture. Failing to reconcile that teaching with the Word of God, which they had definitely declared could alone be accepted by them as the rule of faith, they had unanimously rejected them.

They felt, however, that a mere rejection was not sufficient. It remained for them to set forth the true Calvinistic teaching in relationship to those matters which had been called in question. This they proceeded to do, embodying the Calvinistic position in five chapters which have ever since been known as "the five points of Calvinism." (Ben Warburton, Calvinism, p.61)

So, over the course of 154 meetings, 84 people, including secular leaders, examined and heard the case, and came away unanimously rejecting all of the five points as incompatible with the teachings of Scripture. So, this is not just some body of staunch Calvinists who examined, this is a diverse group of people of all types, and when it was all laid out before them, they rejected it fully.

These doctrines were rejected by the early church when under the name of Pelagianism, again rejected under the name Semi-Pelagianism, and a thousand years later, rejected yet again under the name of Arminianism. At this point, let us now just do a brief run-through comparison of each point of Arminianism along with the response from the synod of Dort.

Arminianism Point #1: Free Will or Human Ability — Although human nature was seriously affected by the Fall, man has not been left in a state of total spiritual helplessness. God graciously enables every sinner to repent and believe, but He does so in such a manner as not to interfere with man’s freedom. Each sinner possesses a free will, and his eternal destiny depends on how he uses it.

Man’s freedom consists of his ability to choose good over evil in spiritual matters; his will is not enslaved to his sinful nature. The sinner has the power either to cooperate with God’s Spirit and be regenerated or to resist God’s grace and perish. The lost sinner needs the Spirit’s assistance, but he does not have to be regenerated by the Spirit before he can believe, for faith is man’s act and precedes the new birth. Faith is the sinner’s gift to God; it is man’s contribution to salvation.

Calvinism Response #1: Total Inability or Total Depravity — Because of the Fall, man is unable of himself to savingly believe the gospel. The sinner is dead, blind, and deaf to the things of God; his heart is deceitful and desperately corrupt. His will is not free; it is in bondage to the evil nature.

Therefore, he will not —indeed, he cannot—choose good over evil in the spiritual realm. Consequently, it takes much more that the Spirit’s assistance to bring a sinner to Christ. It takes regeneration, by which the Spirit makes the sinner alive and gives him a new nature. Faith is not something man contributes to salvation, but is itself a part of God’s gift of salvation. It is God’s gift to the sinner, not the sinner’s gift to God.

Arminianism Point #2: Conditional Election — God’s choice of certain individual for salvation before the foundation of the world was based on His foreseeing that they would respond to His call. He selected only those whom He knew would of themselves freely believe the gospel. Election therefore was determined by, or conditioned upon, what man would do.

The faith which God foresaw, and upon which he based His choice, was not given to the sinner by God (it was not created by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit), but resulted solely from man’s will. It was left entirely up to man to determine who would believe and therefore who would be elected for salvation.

God chose those whom He knew would, of their own free will, choose Christ. Thus the sinner’s choice of Christ, not God’s choice of the sinner, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

Calvinism Response #2: Unconditional Election — God’s choice of certain individuals for salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will. His choice of particular sinners was not based on any foreseen response or obedience on their part, such as faith, repentance, etc.

On the contrary, God gives faith and repentance to each individual whom He selected. These acts are the result, not the cause, of God’s choice. Election therefore, was not determined by, or conditioned upon, and virtuous quality or act foreseen in man.

Those whom God sovereignly elected He brings through the power of the Spirit to a willing repentance of Christ. Thus, God’s choice of the sinner, not the sinner’s choice of Christ, is the ultimate cause of salvation.

Arminianism Point #3: Universal Redemption or General Atonement — Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved, but did not actually secure the salvation of anyone. Although Christ died for all men and for everyman, only those who believe in Him are saved.

His death enabled God to pardon sinners on the condition that they believe, but it did not actually put away anyone’s sins. Christ’s redemption becomes effective only if man chooses to accept it.

Calvinism Response #3: Particular Redemption or Limited Atonement — Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was a substitutionary endurance of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners.

In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ’s redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith, which unites them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, thereby guaranteeing their salvation.

Arminianism Point #4: The Holy Spirit Can Be Effectually Resisted — The Spirit calls inwardly all those who are called outwardly by the gospel invitation; He does all that he can to bring every sinner to Salvation. But inasmuch as man is free, he can successfully resist the Spirit’s call. The Spirit cannot regenerate the sinner until he believes; faith (which is man’s contribution) precedes and makes possible the new birth.

Thus, man’s free will limits the Spirit in the application of Christ’s saving work. The Holy Spirit can only draw to Christ those who allow Him to have His way with them. Until the sinner responds, the Spirit cannot give life. God’s grace, therefore, is not invincible; it can be, and often is, resisted and thwarted by man.

Calvinism Response #4: The Efficacious Call of the Spirit or Irresistible Grace — In addition to the outward general call to salvation, which is made to everyone who hears the gospel, the Holy Spirit extends to the elect a special inward call that inevitably brings them to salvation. The external call (which is made to all without distinction) can be, and often is, rejected.

However, the internal call (which is made only to the elect) cannot be rejected; it always results in conversion. By means of this special call, the Spirt irresistibly draws sinners to Christ. He is not limited in His work of applying salvation by man’s will, nor is He dependent upon man’s cooperation for success.

The Spirit graciously causes the elect sinner to cooperate, to believe, to repent, to come freely and willingly to Christ. God’s grace, therefore, is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended.

Arminianism Point #5: Falling from Grace — Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith, etc.

Again, this point was not agreed upon by all who followed the teaching of the Arminians. Some believed in the tradition "once saved always saved" idea.

Calvinism Response #5: Perseverance of the Saints — All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit, are eternally saved. They are kept in faith by the power of almighty God, and thus persevere to the end.

So, there you have it, the basic principles of the protest, and the response to them from the synod in 1619. So, the five points of Calvinism were not the creation or creed formed by a Calvin directly, or the church initially, but were instead the responses to the protested five points presented to the church at the time. Theologian J.I. Packer, in speaking of these two sets of doctrinal thoughts, summarizes by saying:

The difference between them is not primarily one of emphasis, but of content. One proclaims a God Who saves; the other speaks of a God Who enables man to save himself. One view [Calvinism] presents the three great acts of the Holy Trinity for the recovering of lost mankind—election by the Father, redemption by the Son, calling by the Spirt—as directed towards the same persons, and as securing their salvation infallibly.

The other view [Arminianism] gives each act a different reference (the objects of redemption being all mankind, of calling, those who hear the gospel, and of election, those hearers who respond), and denies that any man’s salvation is secured by any of them.

The two theologies thus conceive the plan of salvation in quite different terms. One makes salvation depend on the work of God, the other on a work of man; one regards faith as part of God’s salvation gift, the other as man’s own contribution to salvation; one gives all the glory of saving believers to God, the other divides the praise between God, Who, so to speak, built the machinery of salvation, and man, who by believing operated it.

Plainly these differences are important, and the permanent value of the "five points," as a summary of Calvinism, is that they make clear the points at which, and the extent to which, these two conceptions are at variance. (J.I. Packer, "Introductory Essays" in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen, p. 4-5)

While we now have this concise five-point system, it must never be thought that all of Reformed thought, that all of what is labeled Calvinism, is contained just in these five points. They are not a full creed or detailed all-encompassing system of doctrine. They are simply a response to the initial five points.

And in essence, some have pointed out that these five points of Calvinism are really just one main point, divided into five inseparable functions. Each of the points are connected to the whole, and if one point fails, the system collapses. The one underlying point, and a foundation truth that fuels Reformed thought, is that God saves sinners.

God — the Triune Jehovah, Father Son and Holy Spirit; three persons working together in sovereign wisdom, power and love to achieve the salvation of a chosen people, the Father electing, the Son fulfilling the Father’s will by redeeming, the Spirit executing the purpose of Father and Son by renewing.

Saves — does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory; plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies.

Sinners — men as God finds them, guilty, vile, helpless, powerless unable to lift a finger to do God’s will or better their spiritual lot.

This is the one point of Calvinistic soteriology which the "five points" are concerned to establish and Arminianism in all its forms to deny; namely, that sinners do not save themselves in any sense at all, but that salvation, first and last, whole and entire, past, present and future, is of the Lord, to whom be glory forever, amen. (J.I. Packer, "Introductory Essays" in The Death of Death in the Death of Christ by John Owen, p. 4-5)

Arminianism was the minority doctrine throughout much of church history. It has only been in the last century and a half that is took a major foothold and has grown to be the more dominant view in the church these days. Most people accept it because it is all they know, and very few have taken the time to study its history and the principles upon which it has been rejected time and time again in history.

When they hear of the doctrines of Pelagian, they are quick to reject the notion, not always understanding how their belief stems from his belief. As Sproul puts it:

Modern evangelicals repudiate unvarnished Pelagianism and frequently Semi-Pelagianism as well. It is insisted that grace is necessary for salvation and that man is fallen. The will is acknowledged to be severely weakened even to the point of being "99 percent" dependent upon grace for its liberation. But that one percent of unaffected moral ability or spiritual power which becomes the decisive difference between salvation and perdition is the link that preserves the chain to Pelagius. We have not broken free from the Pelagian captivity of the church.

That one percent is the "little something" Luther sought to demolish because it removes the sola from sola gratia and ultimately the sola from sola fide. The irony may be that though modern Evangelicalism loudly and repeatedly denounces Humanism as the mortal enemy of Christianity, it entertains a Humanistic view of man and of the will at its deepest core. (R.C. Sproul, Augustine and Pelagius, on

And that concludes our brief look at the history behind what we now call Calvinism. To Yahweh be the glory in, through and for all things. Amen. 

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