Simon Episcopius (1583 – 1643 AD) and his colleagues, calling themselves Remonstrants, formulated the Arminian position in preparation for a public hearing. They summarized this position in the Five Points of the Remonstrants which were laid before the Dutch States in 1610 AD. These can be paraphrased as:
- True faith cannot proceed from the exercise of our natural faculties and powers, or from the force and operation of free will, since man, in consequence of his natural corruption, is incapable of thinking or doing any good thing. It is therefore necessary to his conversion and salvation that he be regenerated and renewed by the operation of the Holy Spirit which is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.
- God, from all eternity, determined to: (1) bestow salvation on those who, as He foresaw, would persevere unto the end in their free will faith in Jesus Christ and (2) inflict everlasting punishment on those who would continue in their unbelief and resist His divine grace.
- The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ covered the sins of all mankind in general and those of every individual in particular; however, none but those who believe in Him can be partakers of that divine benefit.
- The Holy Spirit begins, advances and brings to perfection everything that can be called good in man; consequently, all good works are to be attributed to God alone. Nevertheless, this grace does not force man to act against his inclination but may be resisted and rendered ineffectual.
- Those once united to Christ by faith may, by turning away from God, lose the great gift of salvation.
These five points were formulated to provide an antidote for the poison of Calvinism and restore Christian soteriology to that of the Apostolic Church. (see Section 1.21 of Theology Corner). The Remonstrants were crushed by the forces of Calvinism at the Synod of Dort (1618 – 1619); but the seed of opposition had been planted. Calvinism is viewed as blasphemy by most non-Calvinists because it designates God as the source of all evil in the universe and all sin in the human soul. Attributing Satan’s evil to God is only a slight twist on attributing God’s goodness to Satan, which is known to be blasphemy (Mat 12:22-32).
Nearly a century later, God sent John Wesley (1703 – 1791) to continue the struggle. Calvinism had flourished during the 17th century reaching a pinnacle of expression in the 1646 Westminster Confession, the 1689 London Baptist Confession and the Infra-Lapsarian system of decrees. John Wesley loved Calvinists (e.g. George Whitefield) but despised Calvinism (e.g. Wesley’s Sermon 128 delivered at Bristol in 1740 entitled Free Grace; also Wesley’s pamphlet entitled Serious Considerations on Absolute Predestination). Many books are available on the life and works of John Wesley so there is no need to repeat these events and accomplishments in this Section of Theology Corner.
Wesley is frequently credited with expanding the scope of Arminian Soteriology to include assurance of salvation and entire sanctification. But he did more! The following commentary by, Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, elucidates some of Wesley’s contributions.
“John Wesley’s major contribution to theology was a correction of a popularly held view of faith and a development and projection of this doctrine into every area of theology and Christian life…Wesley’s faith was not merely an intellectual affirmation or a superadded gift of God to the elect, but a new way of life, the enthroning of a new Master. Calvin’s emphasis had been on perfection in faith. Wesley taught that full salvation is perfection of love and obedience. One is static; the other dynamic in that faith issues in faithfulness and works of love…Being a Christian means having a faith which is active in love…Faith, then, has an ethical meaning. It means a realignment of life to please God…Faith does not make love and obedience unnecessary but, on the contrary, fosters the growth of love and obedience which faith in Christ initiates and develops…”
Wesley met the cold, high Calvinism of his era with:
“The necessity of a personally transforming experience of God’s pardoning grace for committed sins, the Holy Spirit’s cleansing power to remove the stain of inbred sin and a life worthy of God to be lived in this world and which answers the needs of a society shot through with selfishness and greed…Wesleyanism is Arminian orthodoxy infused with the warmth and power of the Holy Spirit…Arminius saw only dimly what Wesley saw clearly…
Wesley’s emphasis was on free grace, or prevenient grace, granted to any and all men and accounting for all the good found in the world. Natural man is devilish, evil and wholly corrupt. Any good in any man is only by the free grace of God. Man is totally corrupt and helpless in himself. Grace is back of every good or ability in man. Not even the Christian, no matter how established he may be, possesses goodness in himself…
Wesley added an essential element to the Arminian insight, the work of the Holy Spirit. And this dynamic is what constitutes a new and far-reaching element in today’s evangelical theology.” (Wynkoop, p 65-69)
Wesley founded methodism. Over 40 denominations have descended from John Wesley’s Methodist movement; the United Methodist Church (UMC) is currently among the largest. But the UMC is so beset with theological corruption that a spin-off (Global Methodist Church) was formed in May of 2022.