Calvin and Arminius agree

Calvinism and Arminianism are commonly presented as opposing propositions on the question of what the ultimate cause of salvation by faith is:

From Arminius (and I must confess that these are somewhat mangled, because I’m unsure of which variation I’m describing):

  • Free will
  • Conditional election
  • Unlimited atonement
  • Resistible grace
  • Hold on for dear life, that you do not fall away

Tulips from Calvin:

  • Total depravity (or total inability, or original sin)
  • Unconditional election
  • Limited atonement (or particular atonement)
  • Irresistible grace
  • Perseverance of the saints (once saved always saved)

We are offered these two all-encompassing theories, and told to pick one.  Each one offers unpalatable conclusions – Calvin’s determinism offers man only the appearance of autonomy; Arminius offers a faith that might not actually save, while trying really hard to justify that man’s little work is not what saves him.

You would think there is no agreement between these two, but they do actually agree on some things – wrong things:

“Gotta make faith work”

Arminius (Jacobus Arminius, or Jakob Hermanszoon) published 5 articles of dispute against the Belgic confession (in 1610).  The synod of Dort responded with a set of 5 articles that say “you’re exactly wrong”.  This is what lawyers do: one sets forth is argument, and the other says that each and every point is denied.

Plaintiff’s lawyer: Defendant should pay for the vase that he cracked:

  1. The defendant borrowed the vase
  2. The vase was whole when he received it
  3. The vase was cracked when he returned it

Defendant’s lawyer: not my client’s problem – I deny each point:

  1. The defendant did not borrow the vase
  2. The vase was cracked when he received it
  3. The vase was whole when he returned it

The point of the joke is that simply denying emphatically every statement that is made in a dispute does not resolve the matter.

Arminius and Calvin (or more accurately, their theological descendants, Calvinism and Arminianism) believe they agree on this:

Salvation is by faith alone, not by works

The points of argument between Calvin and Arminius seems to assume this proposition one way or another:

Faith is itself a work – a small work, but yet a work.

Arminius says that faith and the production of faith is the work of unregenerate man.  Calvin says that faith and the production thereof is the work of God.  Arminius says that unregenerate men seek God and have a spark of faith in some undamaged part of their free will, and Calvin says that they do not – that there is no spark and the will is bound in death.  They disagree bitterly and neither accepts the way that their position is characterised by the other.  Each can see the faults of the other clearly, and each produces devastating arguments in support of their disagreement.

Let’s fix this.  How about this proposition:

Faith is not a work

Faith is not a work.  Neither is a man’s faith produced by works, whether works of man or the secret work of God.  Faith is not a choice.  Neither is faith produced by a choice and an act of the will.

Paul writes:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Faith is itself: faith is faith: it is what you believe, what you hold dear, what you cling to.  How do you come to believe things?  You hear them.  This applies to all manner of things, but in the context of saving faith, you hear the word of God: you hear the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God, descended from David, crucified, dead and buried, and raised from the dead according to the scripture.

The context after the above definition of faith examines the question of why the children of Israel have not believed.  Israel stubbornly would not hear, preferring the sound of their own contradictory voice, but instead those who have not sought God have heard him instead – the gospel has been offered to the gentiles:

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.
But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.
But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.
But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.

On account of not wanting to shut up and listen, on account of persisting in empty forms of the law, the children of Israel missed the grace of God in Jesus Christ.  The gospel comes to those who are not seeking God, and by hearing they find him.

More succinctly, Paul asks the Galatians whether they were saved by the law, or by faith, which he says came from hearing:

He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Here is Arminius’s actual third article, which kinda says the opposite of the “free will” position he is said to have held:

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.”

Notice that faith is considered to be bound with the will, and Arminius would have the man semi-saved so that he can be saved.  Wikipedia (that unassailable source of truth) says the Arminian position is this:

That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ His Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of a fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, 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.

I submit that “perserverance” as used above is in error, and would nullify “believe on”.  By attempting to answer the question of “how shall saving faith endure and save”, Arminius has wandered off into an unprofitable error.  (The quoted verse is also about the perserverance of the wrath of God, come to think of it.)

Additionally, the phrase “through the grace of the Holy Spirit” neglects that the message of the gospel is the instrument by which God has chosen to minister his grace by his Holy Spirit – and that brings another point of agreement:

“It’s between you and God”

The questions under consideration that lead to these two systems of thought are:

  • what was the initial condition of the man before he was saved?
  • what is the final cause of his salvation?
  • how will “salvation” endure?

A second point of agreement in these five points of dispute is that the components in salvation are these:

  • The sinner
  • God
  • The passing of time

This boils down to the following false propositions that both Calvinists and Arminians should immediately reject as soon as they see it in print:

The preacher of the gospel plays no great part in whether a man will be saved.

The gospel itself is of little account in salvation.

Those are so wrong, I hardly need to explain why it’s wrong.  The preacher and the gospel itself are not elements of the dispute between these doctrines – they are merely assumed as static props in a great philosophical discussion.

Leaving the preacher and the actual gospel message out of a discussion of salvation is a critical failure which renders any the conclusion that is drawn incomplete.  It is like a mathematical proof which involves dividing by zero, but that’s considered ok, because there are two zero’s involved.  The subtleties of dividing by zero should produce calculus, and not “all things are equal”.  Removing inconvenient terms from the equation leads to well constructed theories that have only limited bearing on reality.  Perversely, though considering important terms constant in an equation is the only way to understand certain unusual cases, to understand the general case, you need to weigh all the terms properly.

Paul makes much of the gospel being the means of salvation, and the preacher being the means of the gospel.  He mentions this in one form or another in every one of his letters.

For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.”

In Romans:

“For whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”

Peter’s letters agree that people are saved by the word preached:

.. being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.  For all flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of grass.  The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word by which the gospel is preached unto you.”

The dead church of Sardis is commanded to return to the gospel that they heard:

Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent.

Mark’s gospel (the “censored” portion) explains how the preaching of the gospel was accompanied with the working of the Holy Spirit:

And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.

Bad ideas

Let’s just reject these ideas:

  • Faith is a work” – faith is not a work
  • Salvation is just the sinner and God” – don’t forget the preacher and the word of life

In the Bible, there are a few things said about the secret counsel of God (for Calvinists) and there are a few things said about acts of the will (for Arminians), but there is a great deal more said about the word of God, and the power of the gospel when it is preached to transform save those that believe it.

The immediate and visible cause of faith is that someone got off his rear end onto his feet and opened his mouth and set forth Christ from the scripture:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I have preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures


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