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"Anglicans are not Arminians. We are Moderate Calvinists" -- Chuck Collins

"Anglicans are not Arminians. We are Moderate Calvinists" -- Chuck Collins
Arminians say that personal faith is the ground of justification; evangelical Anglicans say that justification is the ground of our faith.

By Chuck Collins
October 19, 2022

Jacobus Arminius, Dutch pastor and theologian, died October 19, 1609. But Arminianism is like kudzu that has taken over the church a mile-a-minute since then. This is especially true of American evangelicalism where we demand the freedom to pick and choose the elements of our personal creeds and where we teach our children that they have unlimited potential if they will have faith in faith.

But Anglicans are not Arminian: not if we are the least bit honest about the anchors of the Edwardian and Elizabethan formularies (the Homilies, the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer), and not if we are faithful to how we have described this church since the 16th century. And yet, the Arminian message of free will and I-have-decided-to-follow-Jesus Christianity fills the pulpits and pews of our churches. It sometimes seems that the kudzu takeover of altar call evangelicalism is nearly complete, and the collateral damage is a diminished view of the sovereignty of God in salvation.

I'd really like to know how it is that the Church of England started with a firm commitment to moderate Calvinism (Calvin before Calvinism: the message of the Anglican formularies), but after Edward VI, Elizabeth I, and James I the colors of the church changed to Arminianism (often called "Pelagian": see Article IX)? By 1630s-40s the church turned anti-Calvinist and has remained largely that ever since, and I wonder why and how we have become so disconnected from our Calvinistic formularies (the Thirty-nine Articles, the Homilies, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer). And, further, what explains the shift from the high christology of salvation by grace through faith alone, to the high anthropology (moralism) of Laud, Hammond, and Taylor 100 years after the English Reformation - that manifested itself in high churchmanship - morphed into the holiness movement of John Wesley - and then on to modern expressions of Arminianism that are found in forms of pietism, mysticism, the spiritual disciplines movement, and the invention of such things as "three-streams"? The bedrock theological question that underlies all is this: Is Jesus the Savior of all who choose to choose him, or is our eternal destiny predestined, individual, and absolute from "before the foundations of the world were laid" (Article XVII)?

The psychology of Arminianism (decisionism, revivalism, moralism, progressivism, and a generally sunnier outlook on human capacity) appeals to the most base elements of human nature - on some level we all love the idea that performance and self-righteous advancements contribute to our salvation. This love affair has its earlier expression in fifth-century Pelagianism and the semi-pelagianism of the Medieval Catholic Church. But as a brand, Arminianism was born in Holland at the turn of the 17th century in reaction against Calvinism. It was repudiated by the reformed world, including the Church of England at the Council of Dort (1618), but it lives on.

Arminians and Calvinists both believe in predestination; they have to because the Bible teaches it! Arminians teach that predestination is corporate and not individual (Israel and the new Israel, the church). Calvinists, on the other hand, believe that "predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor" (Article XVII). J. I. Packer said that "Arminians praise God for providing a Savior to whom all may come for life; Calvinists do that too, and then go on to praise God for actually bringing them to the Savior's feet."

Reformation Anglicans don't believe that God's love stops at the point of politely inviting, but that God takes the additional gracious action to ensure that the elect respond in faith, repentance, and then obedience. Jesus said, "No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (Jn 6:44). Arminians say that personal faith is the ground of justification; evangelical Anglicans say that justification is the ground of our faith.

Both Arminians and Calvinists believe in God's righteousness for salvation - they have to because it's in the Bible! Arminians believe that Christ's death and atonement made salvation possible "for all who will receive him," and that God's righteousness (his grace) is distributed incrementally over time so that we will become acceptable to the groom as his bride. High Church Arminians came to believe, as Roman Catholics do, that this infused righteousness is automatically delivered in the sacraments. Reformation Anglicans also share the belief that it is God's righteousness that saves, but they see it as God's very own righteousness that is imputed to undeserving sinners - the robe of God's righteousness, his garment of salvation so completely covers our unrighteousness that God sees us forever as the righteousness of God (Isa 61). Each Sunday we pray: "We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies..."

Since Arminians focus on our personal decision for Christ (that awful song, "I Have Decided to Follow Jesus"), they have a very different view of assurance and heavenly security than do Reformation Anglicans. They are in and out of grace depending on their faithfulness to trust in God for salvation (that horrible song, "Trust and Obey"). This "led inevitably to a new legalism of which the key thought was that the exerting of steady moral effort now is the way to salvation hereafter" (Packer). On the other hand, Reformation Anglicans believe that eternal security is about God's faithfulness, not ours, and since God and his promises are absolutely trustworthy, we can have absolute assurance: "For I am convinced . . ." "And I am sure of this . . ." (Rom 8:38-39; Phil 1:6).

William Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury under King Charles I, helped kick the door open to Arminianism and all its iterations and complications, including the high church movement. He gave the preferred episcopal positions to Arminian cronies. Under his leadership, worship in the Church of England was embellished with ceremonial and ritual that, for theological reasons, was not permitted after the Reformation. Laudians brought back altars to supplant pulpits in liturgical importance, and Holy Communion became a priority over the preached word. Laud famously said, "in all ages of the Church the touchstone of religion was not to hear the word preached but to communicate" [receive Holy Communion], even though St. Paul said much the opposite (Rom 10:14-17).

The battle continues today. It's evident in the "Yeah, but . . ." way some Anglicans respond to the formularies. And it is evident in the manipulated commentaries on the Articles of Religion, many of them written to justify preexisting theological preferences rather than "taken in their literal and grammatical sense" (ACNA's Constitution and Canons) - for example Edward Harold Browne's consideration of Article XVII as "ecclesiastical election," not individual. What is at stake is our core Anglican identity, but more importantly, the glory and sovereignty of God. Either we are capable of reaching up to God in our own choosing and we need only a coach, or we are dead in our trespasses and sins and we need a Savior who has defeated death and who has power to bring dead people back to life. Either the responsibility falls on us to raise our hand with all heads bowed and eyes closed, or God chose us from before the foundations of the world to be his children. Reformation Anglicans see that salvation is wholly of God from beginning to the end - a free gift of sovereign mercy for people who don't deserve it, who haven't done enough to earned it, and who would never have eternal life had God not supplied what is needed in the life and death of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Savior true,
No, I was found of thee.
Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea,--
'Twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
As thou, dear Lord, on me.
I find, I walk, I love, but, O the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee;
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
Always thou lovedst me.


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