The Doctrine of Predestination can be defined as follows:
eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to
of each man. For all are not created in
equal condition; rather
life is foreordained for some, eternal damnation for others.” Calvin
“The counsel of God concerning fallen men,
including the sovereign election of
some and the righteous
reprobation of the rest.” Louis Berkhof
Before we can begin a discussion of the controversy between
the Calvinists and Arminians, it would be helpful to grasp Calvin’s doctrine of
biblical predestination, and the controversies God used to shape his thinking.
Beginning early in Calvin’s Christian walk, he was taught
the biblical doctrines of predestination by the French reformer Jacques Lefevre
D’etaples. Other Reformers also
discussed predestination in their writings.
Martin Luther, for instance, wrote on the doctrine extensively, even
more so than John Calvin.
In his first edition of the Christian Institutes, Calvin gave no real discussion to predestination. Later, however, the teachings of Augustine,
a fifth century Church father who wrote at length on predestination in order to
counter the heresies of Pelagius, who denied the doctrine, came under assault
by Roman Catholic scholars. Calvin
expanded his Institutes to include
the doctrine because of these attacks.
His intentions were to defend the truth against error. “Even a dog barks,” wrote Calvin, “when his
master is attacked: how could I be silent when the honor of the Lord is
Two men were used by God to stir Calvin’s pen to define this
biblical doctrine for the Protestant Church.
The first attack against predestination came from a RCC
archdeacon named Albert Pighius. He
wrote a book called, On the Freedom of
the Will. In it he challenged
predestination, claiming the doctrine, and Calvin’s teaching of it, destroys
basic morality and makes God the author of sin. Calvin countered with writing a response, but Pighius shortly
died, and Calvin turned to other matters.
Another individual by the name of Jerome Bolsec also caused
controversy over predestination. Jerome
was an ex-monk who had become a protestant.
Even though he was protestant, some of his RCC theology remained intact,
including his rejection of predestination.
He came to Geneva as a refugee, but shortly after his arrival he began
to publicly denounce Calvin’s teachings on predestination. He was dealt with gently at first, with
Geneva’s church authorities telling him to cease from his denunciations. However, in 1551, during a church meeting,
he suddenly erupted in a vigorous attack against predestination and the Genevan
clergy. Calvin and Bolsec exchanged
terse words with each other and Bolsec was arrested and put into prison. He later was released and banished from
Geneva, and eventually, he returned to the Roman Catholic Church.
It was under these circumstances that Calvin was forced to
deal with the doctrine of predestination.
If there hadn’t been this opposition, Calvin would not have been so
closely associated with this doctrine, or written so eloquently upon it.
Calvin’s doctrine of
predestination: “It was both a horrible decree and a very
Calvin believed biblical predestination had two sides to it:
Election and reprobation.
Election displays God’s gracious mercy. Reprobation manifests God’s righteous
Calvin believed that nothing demonstrated God’s mercy more
than the doctrine of predestination.
The doctrine teaches that sinful, undeserving men, who should receive
divine wrath, instead receive divine salvation. That was the purpose of Christ coming to die. He died in the place of those sinful men God
chose to extend mercy. To diminish
predestination, in Calvin’s thinking, diminished the finished work of Christ on
the cross that accomplished salvation.
It was the other side of predestination that roused people’s
scorn and hatred of the doctrine.
Reprobation is God righteously condemning those he does not elect to
divine judgment. All men are deserving
of wrath. To acknowledge reprobation is to acknowledge that God hates and
punishes sin. When God passes over
those He does not choose to salvation, He gives them what they deserve, eternal
Calvin believed when this doctrine was fully understood and
accepted, it would result in a truer understanding of God’s character, and man
place’s before that God.
predestination results in:
Acknowledging God’s sovereignty: God is
sovereign over all things, especially the means of salvation. It is an act of God’s sovereignty to choose
those men He will save from destruction, and those men He will leave under
True Humility: A Christian who recognizes that
they didn’t get what they deserved, but received immense goodness extended to
them, would have their soul humbled in true humility.
Assurance: Rightly understood, predestination is
a bulwark against doubt. Those whom
Christ elected will surely be kept from falling away and can be assured of
Stimulation to Christian Activity: When sinners
are elected, God has elected them to be holy.
The new Christian desires to be active for God, especially with
evangelistic and missionary efforts. The Christian is that chosen instrument in
God’s hands to bring the gospel to others who are predestinated.
During Calvin’s life, his theology shaped the thinking of
all those in Geneva, and because of Geneva’s influence in Western Europe,
Calvin’s theology spread to many like-minded protestant churches in Switzerland,
Germany, England and Scotland, and the Netherlands (modern Holland). The major reformers were generally of one
mind with regards to the doctrine of predestination, or what was called, “the
doctrines of Grace.”
In the Netherlands, Philip the II viciously persecuted the
Protestants. His inquisition
intensified, but the Christians grew, and under the leadership of William of
Orange, they revolted against Philip’s tyranny, and gained independence,
forming a federation in 1579.
Arminianism takes its name from a seminary professor named Jacobus Arminius.
Jacobus Arminius was born in Holland in 1560. (His original
last name was Van Harmen).
He grew up under Calvinistic doctrine, and even had family
who died during the fight for independence.
When he was older, he attended the University of Leyden, and
then later he went to the academy at Geneva.
After the death of Calvin, a man named Theodore Beza took up
the leadership at the academy, and his teaching concerning God’s decrees
troubled young Arminus.
NOTE: It was Beza who taught what was called supralapsarianism. This has
to do with the order of God’s decrees.
There are two main views:
1. Supralapsarianism (from the Latin supra lapsum, “before the fall”)
God first decreed election
of some sinful men to salvation in Christ and reprobation of the rest of sinful
mankind in order to make known the riches of His gracious mercy to the elect,
and then permitted the fall of man to take place in order to carry out that decree.
2. Infralapsarianism (from the Latin infra lapsus, “after the fall.”)
God first decreed to
create the world and all men, and then decreed that all men would fall, and
then decreed election as the method of saving some.
Arminius believed Beza’s
teaching of supralapsarianism was too rigid and made God chargeable for
In 1588, after graduating from Geneva, Arminius entered a
pastorate in Amsterdam. He was a
well-liked preacher and teacher. In
1603, he was chosen to be the professor of theology in Leyden.
Legend has it that shortly after Arminius became a
professor, a scholarly layman named Dirk Koornhert, published some writings
against Beza and rejecting the doctrines of predestination. Arminius was called upon to reply to
Koornhert, and to defend Beza and supralapsarianism.
As he studied the issue, he came to reject the whole
doctrine of unconditional predestination.
There is reason to doubt this popular version. Arminian scholar, Carl Bangs, makes a
compelling case that Arminius was never Calvinistic in his convictions even
when studying in Geneva, that he had never accepted Beza’s predestinarian
views, and that he had always held to the theology that would eventually bear
his name. It may have been also, that
Luis De Molina, a Jesuit priest who was an apologist against the Reformers,
heavily influenced Arminius. Molina
thought up the Middle Knowledge view of predestination, a supposed middle
ground between God’s sovereign election and man’s free will.
What ever the case, Arminius drew two conclusions
with his theology:
He believed the Bible regarded faith as a free and responsible
human act. Thus, saving faith is
not caused by God, but is exercised independently from Him. (He seemed to
ignore Eph. 2:8: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and that, not of
yourselves: it is a gift of God.”).
Since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of
men, the ability to believe must be universal.
In other words, man is not so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot
savingly believe the gospel when he hears it; nor is he so controlled by God
that he cannot reject it.
Ariminus made man’s salvation dependent upon man
himself. God has only made a way for
man to be saved by the instrumentality of Christ’s sacrifice.
Controversy sprung up between Arminius and his colleague
Franz Gomarus, a staunch defender of Calvinism. There was so much contention between the two professors that a
schism resulted in the whole church of Holland.
Arminus made a public declaration of his beliefs in 1608,
however, he died in 1609, before he could develop them further, or defend them
with any lengthy debate.
Two of Arminius’s students, Jan Uytenbogaert and Simon
Episcopius, systematized his beliefs and published them in 1610 under five
articles. They were called, The
Arminian Articles of Remonstrance, (Remonstrance means “to
protest,” or “show opposition”).
Because of these five articles, the followers of Arminus
became known as The Remonstrants.
The five articles are summarized as follows:
God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or
unbelief. (In essence, God looks ahead through time to see who will believe
the gospel or who will not, and elects according to that basis).
Christ died for all men, although only believers are saved.
Man is just enough depraved, that grace is necessary unto
faith or any good deed.
(Though accused of it, Arminians never fully
rejected the depravity of man).
This grace, however, can be resisted, and rejected.
Whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere
in the faith is a point which needs further investigation. (This last point
was later altered to definitely teach the possibility of the truly regenerate
believer loosing his salvation. It should also be noted that Arminians have
been divided over this last point. Some do teach eternal security).
The Synod of Dort:
churches in the Netherlands were so divided over this issue that a council was
necessary to resolve the controversy.
On November 13th,
1618, the States-General of Holland convened a council in the Dutch city of
Dordrecht, [Dort]. Calvinist delegates from the Netherlands, England, Scotland,
Germany and Switzerland came to the city to participate in the Synod. From November 1618 to May 1619, seven months,
the delegates met 154 times to discuss the Ariminian’s doctrine.
professor, Franz Gromarus led the charge against the Arminians, and Simon
Episcopius was the chief spokesman for the Remonstrants.
requested an opportunity to discuss their views. They were denied.
What they thought
was an open forum for theological discussion, was in fact a hearing. They were
in effect being tried for heresy.
The Canon’s of
points were formulated to answer the Remonstrants in a document known as the Canon
of Dort. The document became
known as the Five Points of Calvinism.
The Five Points of Calvinism:
was totally unable to save himself. (Total
electing purpose was not conditioned by anything in man. (Unconditional election).
atoning death had as its end and goal the salvation of the elect. (Limited Atonement).
The work of
the Holy Spirit in bringing men (the elect) to faith will always achieve its
objective. (Irresistible grace).
are regenerated and justified will persevere in the faith. (Perseverance of the saints).
articles are denoted by the acronym T.U.L.I.P.
As a result of the
synod, the Calvinists defined their doctrine of salvation.
For refusing the
synod, 200 Arminian pastors were removed, 80 were banished from Holland.
Far from dealing a
crushing blow to the movement, however, the Arminians were forced underground
with their doctrine.
After the Canon of Dort was published, the
Arminians were rejected from Holland, but in 1632, the state extended
toleration to the group. They were
allowed back in to the country and even started their own university. There is
still a denomination in Holland called, the Remonstrants.
John Wesley and
his brother, Charles, are the most notable evangelicals who adopted the
Arminian doctrines of salvation. Wesley
refined Arminianism with a strong evangelical emphasis on the Reformed doctrine
of justification by faith alone. As an
‘Evangelical Arminian,’ he believed grace extends equally to all men and its
acceptance or rejection must therefore depend ultimately on human decision.
Wesley, and his
Calvinistic evangelist colleague George Whitfield, held to similar truths with
regards to the work of salvation:
believed that God commands all men to repent and believe the gospel.
human responsibility and insisted that sin alone is the cause of man’s ruin.
that Christ is to be preached with compassion to all men.
however, taught that those who actually receive Christ are those for whom God
intended salvation from all eternity. And further, they believed the work of
Christ is particular in that He will save
all those for whom He died. Wesley and
his Arminian followers replied that such beliefs prevent a preacher from
telling his hearers they are unable to exercise faith at any time. (See, Iain
Murray’s Revival and Revivalism, chapter 7, “The Emergence of
Revivalism” pg. 160-190).
Wesley brought his
Arminian beliefs to America in the 1700’s.
Those men who followed in his evangelistic efforts spread those beliefs
all over the new continent.
and Thomas Coke published the first
American Methodist newspaper in 1789.
It was called The Arminian
Magazine. Ashbury was so
anti-Calvinistic, that he wrote to Wesley asking him to provide, “the best
pieces you can get, both ancient and modern, against Calvinism.”
The 1800’s in
The new United
States experienced a second great awakening from the 1800’s to the
mid-1800’s. Unlike the first awakening
under Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, this period of time was marked by
much aberrant theology, a lot of it due to the doctrines of Arminianism.
scene in America saw:
emergence of camp revivals.
Religious meetings that gathered large crowds topping, at times, 20,000 people
who would camp for weeks to hear gospel preaching.
The Camp meetings were marked by:
1) Poor theological preaching.
2) Rank emotionalism. (These meetings
introduced a forerunner to being “Slain in the Spirit.”
3) Corrupt behavior. Such things as
prostitution, “hustlers”, and “swindlers.”
They were the basic forerunners to the
modern day mass crusades of the 20th century.
introduction of Charles Finney’s “new measures” evangelism. Finney was a full Pelagian. He rejected the biblical teaching of man’s
original sin. He believed God made away
for men to be saved, but men have to be persuaded to choose it. Thus, he
introduced new techniques (new measures) for evangelism. One such technique was his “anxious
bench.” A seat in the meeting place
where the anxious could come to be addressed specifically during the meeting. This led to the “invitation system” in which
the sinners under conviction would be “manipulated” to come forward to receive
Christ. (Note the man centeredness to all of these ideas).
emergence of new denominations.
Methodists sprang the Church of the Nazarene, Holiness churches, and
the Pentecostal denominations.
Campbell was the founder of the Disciples of Christ, which split to become
the Church of Christ and the Christian
3. Benjamin Randall formed the Free-will
emergence of new cults.
Smith formed the Mormons
founded the Shakers. (A charismatic version of the Quakers).
White formed the Seventh-Day Adventists.
is serious flawed with a major contradiction.
On one hand, it affirms predestination and grace, while on the other
hand it “guts” predestination of any significance by asserting that it is
conditioned upon man’s free will.
Though God has set up predestination, its effectiveness is dependent
upon man’s choice.
cuts down God’s sovereignty. God is no
longer sovereign over His creation.
Though most Arminians would agree that God is sovereign, they deny His
sovereignty extends to man’s salvation.
It is there God’s sovereignty ends, and man’s begins.
believe man’s salvation rests solely with God – monergism.
believe God’s grace initiates the act of salvation, but to become effective,
grace cooperates with the human act of response to that grace – synergism.
has led to some seriously awful evangelistic methodology. Preaching, for instance, is no longer
grounded in theological exposition of scripture, but on messages fitted for
evangelism. Thus, in most evangelical
churches, sermons are not designed for the edification of the body, but for
manipulating “the lost” present in the congregation to respond to a closing
evangelism is geared to teach Christians how get a response from a potential
convert. Often times, guilt trips are
laid upon believers who are not perfecting their “soul winning” techniques.
thinking has produced in our modern times churches suited for the comfort of
the non-Christian. This is done in the
hope that an unbeliever will feel at easy and attend a service.
this evangelism has produced a gospel that is too easy to believe. Committing one’s life to following Christ is
reduced the gospel to a simple prayer and the raising of the hand after a
crusade. The earnestness of the cost of
following Christ is ignored. Thus, it
is common to have a person pray to receive Christ, but not totally commit to
Christ’s lordship. A changed life
hasn’t resulted, because true salvation was absent. The potential convert has only repeated a pre-fabricated formula,
after he was manipulated down an aisle in a church or an arena.