Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Old School Arminianism III (this will blow your mind)

Article III

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 anything that is truly good (such as having 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."

This completely caught me off-guard. 

As I have previously said, Arminianism is portrayed today as a liberal theology that handles the Word of God loosely (and in most cases, that is what it has evolved into). However, as this crucial Article shows, the original followers of Jacobus Arminius were nothing if not conservative (perhaps even Calvinists?). 

The first statement is huge: "man has not saving grace of himself." In my conversations with extreme Calvinists, I have often been accused of believing that man can save himself. This is largely because of an idea which is portrayed by an illustration that is poorly thought out and typically used to create a straw-man by the extreme Calvinists. The illustration is of a man floating on a raft in the middle of an ocean, helpless and all alone, then he is confronted by a loving God who is extending a life-preserver and all the man has to do is reach for it and be taken by God to be revived and made well. The extreme Calvinist will say that this is what a non-extreme Calvinist believes and it is incorrect because the man is not alive on the raft, but dead. A dead man cannot reach out to God and a dead man cannot choose to be revived. It is all the sovereign work of God.

This illustration is poorly thought out for two very important reasons. 

First, we are dead in the sense that we are separated from God, not that we are completely annihilated. It is absolutely true that apart from the divine work of God, we are all dead in our sins. We are separated from God and we have chosen for ourselves a track that leads to eternal, conscious torment in hell. However, the death is not annihilating but separating. The extreme Calvinist claims that men cannot understand the Gospel unless God first opens their eyes, via regeneration, and allows them to choose Him by His grace. Unfortunately, you won't find any text like that in Scripture. It cannot be proven from the Bible that God must first regenerate a sinner before he can choose to believe in Christ. 


After Adam sinned, causing death and the ultimate fall of Man, he could still communicate with God (Gen 3:8-12). This means that Adam was not annihilated, but rather separated from the once good relationship he had with God. Adam was not in good standing with the Lord, in fact, he was cursed; however, he could still understand His word and choose how he would respond to it. Other places in Scripture show this very thing, that men can understand what is right and choose to do (or not to do) that thing (Deut 30:15-18, Josh 24:15, Jer 18:6-10).  

Second, having faith cannot be compared to a work. Romans 4:2-4 clearly states that faith is in juxtaposition to works. The two are in opposition. Faith is an action that takes place in the heart and works are actions that proceed from the heart. Faith is not an act of reception, it is a reception of the acts of Christ


But now there is a problem. This Article says that men can neither "think, will, nor do anything that is truly good." If this is the case, then men must be regenerated before faith because they cannot do anything good. But read the words written just before this quote-- "of and by himself." If we are left in our sinful condition with no grace, we are completely destined for hell. There is no hope. However, Jesus came to die for sin and claimed that when He would be crucified, He would draw all men to Himself (John 12:32). Because this drawing of God, some of us believe (1 John 4:19) and His grace and glory is full displayed in that. 

Now in this part of the Article I find myself disagreeing with one of the statements. After it speaks of men not being able to do good, it says "(such as having faith eminently is)," meaning that faith is something good that is performed. However, like I stated two paragraphs before, faith is not a work or a performance, it is a reception of Christ's completed work. Because these original Arminians believed in resistance of the Holy Spirit, I do not know how they would reconcile this conundrum of their own theology (faith being a work than man is not able to do, yet must do because God won't do it for him). 


In any case, the main point of this first clause is quite clear: man cannot save himself. God is the Author and Initiator of salvation.



The rest of this Article is so obviously true. Once we are born again through the Holy Spirit, we are able to live lives pleasing to God. What a wonderful thing we can all agree on! His abundant, persistent grace renews are thinking and causes us to fight the good fight. We have His power to rely on. We can do what is truly good and, as quoted, without Christ we can do nothing.    

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