Friday, December 4, 2020

Who is Jacob Arminius? What is Arminianism?

 


At the height of the Reformation era Calvinism became a powerful expression of the spirit of Martin Luther and the views of radical revolt against the prevailing Catholic orthodoxies. Increasingly the views of the Calvinist movement centered more and more thoroughly around predestination and election. A great movement of theological predestination held sway in much of Scandinavian Europe. They gathered around the theology of John Calvin, one logically influenced by Martin Luther, who was influenced greatly by St. Augustine. But another vein of theology was soon to rise up out of the ranks of the reformation movement, who would challenge the precepts and beliefs of the Calvinists. In history there rose one man who would stand against the powerful new Reformation Calvinist empire. And his name was Jacob Arminius. Jacob Arminius was raised up in the vein of reformed theology and once taught it’s precepts (EB, 2020). But increasingly he found himself more and more at odds with what he viewed to be the overreach of predestination into salvation (EB, 2020). This would lead to one of the most important movements in history, as Arminius developed the various doctrinal positions that would become historical Arminianism (EB, 2020).

Jacob Arminius was born October 10th 1560 in Oudewater, Netherlands (EB, 2020). He was once a leader in the Dutch Reformed Church (EB, 2020). But he increasingly found himself at odds with the strict teachings on predestination and election taught by the Calvinists (EB, 2020). He would develop his own system in response to these teachings (EB, 2020). Arminius’ influence would extend for generations to come, and his theological system would be embraced by millions across the world (EB, 2020). Even today his influence is felt in virtually half of modern-day evangelicalism which subscribes to various forms of Arminian theology (EB, 2020).

Jacob Arminius grew up in the Netherlands. Jacob’s father died while he was an infant, but he was later adopted by a man named Theodore Aemilius (EB, 2020). Arminius was schooled in Utrecht (EB, 2020). Later, Jacob’s adoptive father Aemilius would pass away, and Rudolf Snellius would become his new mentor and benefactor. Jacob Arminius gained further education at the university of Leiden, and later at Basel, and Geneva Universities (EB, 2020). Arminius was ordained in 1588 in Amsterdam. Arminius took on a professorship at the university of Leiden where he had schooled previously and would remain there from 1603 until October 19th 1609 when he died (EB, 2020).

Jacobus Arminius was actually regarded as a rather quiet and introspective individual, yet he found himself constantly pulled into controversies with the reformed camp, in regard to his views on election, predestination, free will, and perseverance (EB, 2020). Arminius found himself often at odds with supralapsarian Calvinist faculty member Gomarus, a colleague of his at Leiden (EB, 2020). When a student of Arminius, Willem Bastingius, hosted a public lecture to defend some theses of Arminius, this enraged Gomarus (EB, 2020). Gomarus later gathered a meeting headed by Samuel Gruterus, to attack those same theses and defend the reformed doctrines (EB, 2020). This became a controversy, with enemies of Arminius using the controversy to attack his theology and viewpoints (EB, 2020). The controversy drew criticism from the region of Dordrecht, where a letter of grievance was penned concerned with the serious theological differences of the theology professors at Leiden, to which the theology professors responded in a joint letter explaining that no fundamental theological differences existed, ironically enough (EB, 2020).

What exactly did Arminius believe? Well, Arminius was severely concerned with how all-encompassing the doctrine of predestination had become (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). It had become so prominent that Calvinists would assert that God’s predestining decree is what saved, not Jesus Christ and not the gospel (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). So Arminius felt it very important to point to Jesus Christ, and the salvation found in the grace of God (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). He felt predestination had gone too far into the realm of being a decree of God before the foundations of the Earth that saved the lost, instead of Jesus at the cross (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). He argued that predestination mislabeled God as the originator of evil and insulted the character of God (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). Arminius believed strongly in the importance of free will, that humans had free will and could resist God’s grace (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). Arminius believed God foreknew what decisions people would make, but did not force the outcomes, but simply had knowledge of what people would choose in the future (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). Arminius valued prevenient grace, that the grace of God was always at work leading people closer to Jesus but people could resist God’s grace as well (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). He believed God honored human free will and would not violate it (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). He wrote and spoke often against predestination and unconditional election and viewed God’s grace as something that could be resisted (Arminius & Gunter, 2012). These viewpoints left Arminius at constant odds with the Calvinists in the Netherlands at that time.

After his death Arminians would gather under Epscopius an Arminian theologian who would pen the Remonstrant in 1619 stating the five points that Arminians held in contrary to the reformed movement of the time (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). Though Arminius did not personally pen this document, his theology and viewpoints can clearly be seen through the five points cited. Let’s take a look at the five main articles. Article one was conditional election, the view that salvation was conditioned on the believer responding in faith, and God foreknew the individual would respond in faith (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). Article two was unlimited atonement, the view that Jesus Christ died for all people, not just the elect, but that salvation was only for the elect, those who responded in faith (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). Article three was a general point of agreement with Calvinism, stating total depravity, that sinful humanity was lost and could make no effective approach to God without the active work of the grace of God (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). Article four rejected irresistible grace and embraced prevenient grace, which included the concept that man’s free will allowed for resisting and rejecting God’s grace (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). Article five importantly rejected eternal security, the idea that a believer could never fall away, and indicated that a believer could in fact fall away from God, and lose their secure position (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). But it also affirmed the fact that God preserves a believer in a state of salvation to certain extents (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). It is important to note in regard to article five, the Remonstrants were at first uncertain of this point, later concluding that article five was in fact accurate (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). It’s also important to note that Arminius’ view on this was uncertain from his life and writings (Episcopius & Ellis, 2005). But these five points generally indicated the pattern that best represents Arminius’ theology during his life and how it developed after his life into a completed theological system.

As noted previously Arminius’ theology drew him into many disputes and difficulties with fellow faculty at the university of Leiden. Several times these theological controversies spiraled out of control. In particular, Arminius’ disputes with Gomarus were legendary. The controversies and theological disputes grew so out of hand that eventually Arminius and Gomarus ended up in the Supreme Court of The Hague arguing their two positions (EB, 2020). The justices concluded that they disagreed on only minor doctrines and encouraged them to love and be at peace with one another (EB, 2020). But it was not to be. The debate eventually grew into a split within Calvinism in the region (EB, 2020).

After Arminius’ death in 1609 his followers became known as Remonstrants because of a declaration they made in 1610 declaring five points of disagreement with Calvinism (EB, 2020). At the Synod of Dort in 1618 and 1619 the Remonstrants would be condemned as anathema, and Arminian preachers and pastors endured persecution for years after (EB, 2020). But the movement lived on. And the influential 17th century preacher John Wesley would be deeply influenced by the works of Arminius, championing the cause of Arminian theology (EB, 2020). Due to John and Charles Wesley’s influence, much of modern evangelical Christianity in the United States is Arminian in nature (EB, 2020). Such is the ongoing legacy of Jacob Arminius, who stood up to the Calvinist reformation to right the course of theology toward grace, free will, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

References

Arminius, J., & Gunter, W. S. (2012). Arminius and his "Declaration of sentiments": An annotated translation with introduction & theological commentary. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press.

Boer, W. D. (2010). Gods Twofold Love. doi:10.13109/9783666569081

Episcopius, S., & Ellis, M. A. (2005). The Arminian confession of 1621. Eugene: Pickwick Publications. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from http://evangelicalarminians.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Ellis.-ARMINIAN-CONFESSION-OF-1621.pdf

Hampton, S. (2014). Jacob Arminius. Theologian of grace. By Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall. Pp. xv 240. New York–Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. £17.99 (paper). 978 0 19 975566 0; 978 0 19 975567 7. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 65(2), 435-436. doi:10.1017/s0022046913002352

Leeuwen, M. V. (n.d.). Arminius, Arminianism, and Europe: Jacobus Arminius. Brill. Retrieved October 22, 2020.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. (2020, October 15). Jacobus Arminius. Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jacobus-Arminius

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