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Why I Am Not An Arminian

Why I Am Not An Arminian

By Chuck Collins

I've wondered about these things for a long time:

How is it that the Church of England started based on the reformed theology of the 16th century English Reformation (Edward VI, Elizabeth I, and James I - the Anglican formularies), but by the 1630s-40s (Charles I) the church had surrendered to Arminianism - which has generally ruled the day ever since?

Does this explain the hairshirt relationship Anglicanism has with its Calvinistic formularies (the Thirty-nine Articles, the Homilies, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer)?

How did we move from the high christology of salvation by grace through faith alone, to the high anthropology (moralism) of Laud, Hammond, and Taylor - then to the holiness movement of John Wesley - and on into modern expressions of Arminianism that value more what we do for God than what God in Christ has done for us (in it's forms of pietism, mysticism, the spiritual disciplines movement, and the invention of three-streams)?

Did God choose Jesus to be 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 17)?

What changed in Anglicanism to allow an Arminian high churchmanship (Laudianism) to develop that favored the altar over the pulpit, prayers over the preached word, and liturgical embellishments designed to satisfy our aesthetic tastes instead of the simple liturgical acts whose single purpose was to draw people to Christ?

Reformation Anglicans are obviously "reformed." Calvinism and Arminianism are not two views of a car accident that eventually meet up at some evangelistic crusade in Minneapolis. They are mutually exclusive teachings. Arminianism was invented to combat the teachings of Calvinism. And despite the chummy relationship between the two that Robert Prichard wishes for in the Episcopal Church (The Nature of Salvation: Theological Consensus in the Episcopal Church 1801-3), the two systems are plainly incompatible. And even though Charles Simeon's sentiments are pastoral, that it's good to preach both Calvinism and Arminianism depending on the day "just as the text happens to be," the historic formularies recognized by Anglicans through the centuries have no room in them for the tentacles of Arminianism in any form (decisionism, revivalism, moralism, progressivism, and a generally sunnier outlook on human capacity).

No wonder that Arminianism was quick to take hold. It's psychology appeals to the most core elements of human nature - on some level we all love the idea that performance and self-rightous advancements contribute to our salvation. This love affair has its youthful pangs 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 (Reformation Anglicanism). It was condemned by the reformed world, including the Church of England, at the Council of Dort (1618), but it lives on to see another day. Arminians and Calvinists both believe in predestination; they have to, the Bible teaches it! Arminians teach that predestination is corporate and not individual (Israel and the new Israel, the church), and that election of a particular individual to eternal life is conditional on that person's faith. 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, "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. 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.
"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." -- J. I. Packer

Both Armenians and Calvinists believe in God's righteousness for salvation - they have to, 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). "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 open the door to Arminianism and all its iterations and complications, including the high church movement. He gave the preferred episcopal positions to Arminian cronies. Under him, worship in the Church of England was embellished with ceremonial and ritual that, for theological reasons, was not permitted after the Reformation. The Laudians brought back altars to supplant pulpits in liturgical importance, and Holy Communion became a priority over the preached word. Laud infamously said, "in all ages of the Church the touchstone of religion was not to hear the word preached but to communicate" [receive Holy Communion].

The battle continues today. It's evident in the way some Anglicans respond to the formularies: "Yeah, but . . ." 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). 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 strength and choosing and we just need a coach, or we are dead in our trespasses and sins and we need a Savior who has already defeated death. 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.

Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism c. 1590-1640, Nicholas Tyacke
John Whitgift and the English Reformation, Powel Mills Dawley
William Perkins and the Making of a Protestant England, W. B. Patterson
J. I. Packer "Arminianisms" in Through Christ's World: A Festschrift for P. E. Hughes, Ed. W. Robert Godfrey and Jesse L. Boyd III

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