Classical and Reformed Arminianism vs Wesleyan Arminianism.

Pastor Dennis Hartman

Mercy me. One would think that there is enough of stupid to go around forever more. When you observe Washington D. C. and the Republican party, you observe stupid. They do whatever the Presidents wants and whatever their hearts can dream up. If this group of senators and congressman where in charge in 1940, they would not have attacked Germany because they were out number and did not have places to land an army in Europe. And the presidents party allows him to be lawless. He is making orders and ruling like a King against the Constitution which is the national law of the land. They are really ruling against both the will of the people and the law of the land. But that is politics. One would think else where, like Christianity, things would be different. More rational. But alas, stupid is there too.

Recently a friend wrote to me about something that got him really upset. I did not blame him. It was on a topic or an aspect of a doctrine that I have tried to avoid because of my inability to see a real problem with it as such. My view was “live and let live.” The last twenty years have mellowed me somewhat. For example my doctrinal conviction beyond the cardinal doctrines of the faith are not as dogmatic as they use to be. Though I am Wesleyan/Methodist Arminian without apology, I am much more tolerant of Calvinism and a few other nonsense doctrines like that.

When I fist started in the ministry in 1972, seemingly in a whole different country as compared to now, Arminianism was the same across the board. I saw no difference though it was there. If you were an Arminian, that was welcome news to me. If you really stood for it, that was even better. Perhaps one reason that the Independent Methodist movements failed was because the leadership seemed to refuse to take a stand on their own Methodist doctrines. Most at the time were to busy impressing the Fundamentalist crowd that they too were fighters for the faith. Now there is nothing wrong with defending the faith. But their error was the fact that while the Fundamental Baptists did not give up their immersion and Calvinistic views while defending the faith, the Methodist leadership demanded that we preachers do. And we did. The conclusion is that almost all the churches which were at one time Independent Methodist are now Baptists. In those days the number of Independent Methodist Churches in the southeast at about 100. While there are currently several groups that call themselves “independent Methodist” they are more of the Wesleyan holiness position which came from the Holiness movement. And I would also suggest that the same thing will happen to those who split from the United Methodist Church, if they do not teach and strongly embrace the Methodist Arminian doctrines.

So, what is the difference between the Classic Arminian, Reformed Arminian, and the Wesleyan Arminian points of view? Perhaps we ought to start way back when a man by the name of James Arminius lived. He was well versed in theology, and the languages in which the scriptures were written. Why he even set under the feet of some greatest Calvinist teachers of his time. He was a brilliant scholar and preacher. Then a problem arose from a man who published a tract. Arminius was ask to defend that tract. But as he studied, as is the case many times, he started to come to a different conclusion from that of his Calvinist conviction. As time went by he argued that Calvinism got it wrong and needed to be corrected in the light of scripture. Well, this got him in deep trouble as one could well imagine with the authorities of the Church. This conflict then became the cause of one of the two different views of atonement in Protestant theology. One part would bear the name of John Calvin and the other would bear the name of James Arminius. Now I may have something wrong but this is generally the background. So, lets review the differences between these two great theologies.

It has been once said in order to know the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism, all one needs to do is have a firm grasp on either one. So what are the main points of difference?

Calvinism can be boiled down to five main points and it can be said in simple phrases. So lets take a quick look with very little commentary added.

First point is total depravity. This deals with the idea that all men need a savior. No one can get to heaven without Christ and his atoning work. All men have sinned and can not be saved without God’s gracious help. Why this is part of their five points I know not. The idea that man is so radically sinful, that he needs the help God’s Prevenient grace is well established. Man can not get to heaven through any means or work of his own. We are all hopelessly lost without the help of Prevenient grace.

The second point is Unconditional election. That is, that man is unconditional chosen from the foundation of the world to be either saved or lost. He has no choice in the matter. Of course the Arminian point would be opposite of that. That is God does give man the ability, via Prevenient grace, to chose to accept Christ or not. He if free to accept or reject Christ.

The third point is Limited atonement. This means that Christ came and gave himself on the cross only for those who he unconditional chose or foreknew from the foundation of the world. Only those then can be saved. The rest are damned. Once again the Arminian view is that Christ gave himself for all equally, and that it is very possible for all mankind to be saved if they wanted to.

The fourth point is Irresistible grace. Within this context it means that the elect from the foundation of the world are the only ones that hear his divine call. They can not refuse salvation. They must and will be saved. Of course the Arminian view points out how you can resist the call of grace and salvation.

And last is Perseverance of the saints. This particular doctrine of Eternal Security is what most evangelicals, fundamentalists and Southern Baptists believe today. This doctrine above the other Calvinistic doctrines is trumpeted over the Christian air waves across our land. It is as if it is one of the great cardinal doctrines of the faith. But it is not. It simply means that once a person is saved, he can never forsake their salvation. The Arminian view is that salvation can be lost by the Christian.

This then is a real general over view of the two great Protestant creeds. But we are not really discussing the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. Still it is important to know something about Calvinism as sort of a back ground as we look at the differences between Arminians.

I discern three views of Arminianism. Those views I would stigmatize as Classical Arminian, Reformed Arminian and Wesleyan/Methodist Arminianism (WMA). In order to really understand this, you would have to become acquainted with the writings of Arminius. While Arminius did not write the three volume set that bears his name, they do rightly stand against Calvinism. It is a work of in-depth and thoughtful theology. A novice would be advise to leave it alone. I have read many different portions of his works. Perhaps just enough to make me dangerous. But still, I found those writings to be right on. He left no stone unturned in his debate with the Calvinists. It is important to note that he did not comment to much on the doctrine of Perseverance. No doubt it is because of his early death that caused this seeming oversight. This will play sort of a key roll in how the differences stack up.

The Classical Arminian view can be sort of summed up like this. When one uses the term “classical” one would assume that it would be the closest to the original view. Yet, it is not what Arminius said that marks a difference between the Classical and the other two, but what he did not say. That is because Arminius did not write on eternal security or what is called Perseverance. Therefore it is not necessary to stand for or against that doctrine because it is not there. So what we have today is a whole school of thought that faithfully rejects three of the five points of Calvinism. The points that are objected to are, Unconditional election, Limited atonement and Irresistible grace. If you reject those three points, your in the club. You are a certified Classical Arminian. So really that would include many of the Baptist groups that we see all around us today. If that is the case, then the case can be made that Baptists are really Classical Arminians. For the most part they are immersionists too, right? But frankly, I doubt that any Baptist pastor I know of would want to be identified with the term Arminian for whatever reason. While there are other differences, this should get you started in your research.

The next view is called the Reformed Arminian. Here is where it really gets to be more fun, or difficult. This view is being championed by many of the Free Will Baptist brothers, along with misinformed Wesleyan/Methodist Arminians. They would agree with the Classical brothers on Unconditional election, Limited atonement and Irresistible grace. However, they would say that Arminius did believe that one could lose their salvation even though he did not write about Perseverance directly. They conclude that logically the other three points of his writings on the would lead to that conclusion. In this I would agree. Eternal security really needs the other points of Calvinism to survive. Without them, there is no warrant for that doctrine at all. Now when it comes to this point, the Reformed Arminian believe that once salvation is lost, it can never be regained. Never! They also, like the Classical Arminians hold to immersion. There is no wavering on that doctrine. One side note here, there is a cross over of preachers from the Free Will Baptist group to many Wesleyan Holiness type groups

Finally there is the Wesleyan/Methodist Arminian view point. It is this view that is dying. It is dying because most pastors across the board in Methodist/Wesleyan circles don’t care anymore about their theological heritage. Many United Methodist preachers don’t even know what Wesley and other Methodist scholars wrote or taught because of the struggles within that body. Nor do they take time to try to access any of those writings much less teach them to their congregations. And even if they found some of the newer conservative writings of Methodist Arminianism, I am not sure they would grasp this problem. Sadly this goes for many others. There is just a blank acceptance that anything called Arminianism is what Wesley taught. That is not the case! It is not the case in atonement, baptism, and some other areas. For example, the WMA view on eternal security is much different then that of the Classical or Reformed view. The Classic does not care one way or the other. But the Reformed view holds that once salvation is lost, it can not be gain back. It is final! But the WMA view holds that as long as the person is still denying Christ’s atonement that was offered for him, he can not be saved or reclaimed. In short, if he repents, he can still return to son ship in Christ, or as they said in the old days reclaimed. He can return to heavens highway and walk it as a Child of God. There are other differences too. There is the difference between the views of imputed righteousness. But these are points for farther study.

Perhaps one more criticism should be made here. Both Classical Arminian and Reformed Arminian harp on the idea that they are closer to Arminius’ teaching then the Wesleyan/Methodist Arminian. Yet they are so far off from Arminius in this one point, that is, baptism. So how could we trust them for the rest of their arguments against WMA? The WMA view is optional modes of baptism and the real Methodist/Wesleyan pastor would certainly teach sprinkling and pouring as more scriptural (which it is) then immersion. Arminius was not an immersionist! Really! Now look who is more like Arminius as if Arminius really cares to have such a silly discipleship! Yet this mode of immersion dare not be challenged in our time. And in this case, it is forced even on the sprinkling Arminius. It is as if without immersion, a person is not somehow completely saved. And that opinion my friend, is not Wesleyan Arminianism at any point!

Then to there is the idea of being “bought with a price.” To the Corinthians Paul reminds them and us that Christ’s atonement on the cross purchased the way of salvation for ALL men. Does this mean that Christ bought and paid for all mens salvation to the Devil? Well if we believe “bought” in the sense of the free market system, the answer is clearly yes. If we say that he paid the price of sin for only those who he foreknew, before the foundation of the world, that would be Calvinism. So how can we escape this quandary? Again, if the whole of lost man was “bought”, in the sense of our free market system, with a price then we are left with the problem of Universalism. The answer is clear friend. The way of salvation itself can no longer be closed. Satan can no longer keep people from the way. It is open, free, and there for all to access it through saving faith. Those of us who are saved, are saved because of his sacrificial blood. He laid down his life and no one took. He gave his blood and God alone accepted it, not Satan. We are not forced to be slaves as if a master bought a person for so to be. But we are willing to give our selves as slaves, for Paul said he was one too, though we are His children because of his great sacrifice.

And where was the place where Jesus gave Satan his blood? It was a payment alright, but the great Deceiver had none of it! He could not accept it because his head was smashed and his defeat assured, and his power over us broken! If it was a kind of payment as we understand purchasing things in the free market, then WMA is totally awash as well as Arminius himself. If I am bought and paid for in the free market sense of the word, I am his, I belong to him, and if that is the case, there is no need to strive toward perfection. After all, he owns me no matter what I do. He bought me. Just as I own my new F-150, it belongs to me, and that is that. It can not leave my ownership unless I give it away. And if I don’t like it after awhile, I can put a stick of TNT in the tail pip and blow it away. IF “bought with a price” means this sort of thing, then after you are saved God can still send you to hell. He owns you. Isn’t that after all what Calvinists believe about the potter and the clay? He can do with you as he pleases. He is the potter, and you are his lump of clay. So how can the Classical and Reformed Arminians deal with this using the same language as Calvinists?

I do not think that Wesley would agree with any of the above much less Arminius if this were the case. Yet the Reformed Arminians and Classical Arminians also try to use the same understanding with imputed righteousness as the Calvinists. To use their understanding, is to commit theological suicide. It would be best for the WMA’s to begin to get more engaged in this struggle. It is not necessary to hold to a strict view of what Arminius taught. After all even if you mildly hold to his views the Calvinists will unload on you. That was not Arminius’ desire to begin with. Like Martin Luther’s desire to relieve Rome of many of its silly doctrines, Arminius simply wanted to point out the problems of Calvinism. It was the Calvinists of his time who ruthlessly forced all to adhere to their five points. Arminius was not saying in his writings that only his narrow view was the correct Biblical doctrine. He certainly did not desire a following though one developed. But it was his desire to please God by pointing out the errors of Calvinism.

So which kind of Arminian are you? Me, I will remain faithful to the WMA doctrines. For in them alone, modified Arminian or not, do we have the possibility of being totally free (perfect) from sin in this life. And why not? After all the command is to be perfect as he was perfect, Matt 5:48. If it could not be so, he would have never teased us with such an unobtainable dictation? If it were not so, why would such a Holy God torment us with something so unreasonable? The possibility is ours today. His death broke the power of sin in us. He destroyed the power of sin in us with the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Greater is he that is in you then he that is in the world. The idea that we can only sin word and deed in this life is at complete odds with the gift of the Holy Spirit, but you can get by with that if “imputed righteousness” and “bought with a price” is understood in the Calvinist terms. Sin and the Holy Spirit are not compatible in any form. This generation of Arminians, as well as Calvinists give sin far more power in their lives then they need to. Perhaps, they should have spent more time in their salvation experience and less time in a tank of water, and more time praying and less time splashing. The need to day is to stay at the alter until you know you are born again and the Holy Spirit witnesses to your spirit that you are a Child of God. That is the strength of the Arminian way. That is you can know, and still not be eternally secure, that you are indeed a son of God. My dear reader, do you have this witness in your heart today? If not, struggle until you have it. God is faithful, and is not willing that any should parish. Seek him today while he can be found.