Baptist Church Planters’ Council member, Dan Adams, and I were visiting, and he made a statement that caused me to think. He said that “almost all the trouble in the present day church is the result of Arminian thinking.” I have been pondering that statement and would like to share some thoughts.
Arminianism can be defined as the belief that man has a significant role in salvation, can resist the grace of God, and can lose his salvation by unbelief or unfaithfulness.
John Calvin, defending believers who were seriously challenged and defamed by the Roman Catholic Church, taught that their salvation was not in question as the Church would have them believe because salvation is of God, not man or the church. For those that have come to faith in Jesus Christ, this was an ordained gift from God. This grace could not be long resisted, and once received, would persevere to the end.
Note this from Dr. James Boice: “The Arminian teaching does not uphold any of the five solas. It denies sola Scriptura (scripture alone), because its essential arguments are non-biblical, but are philosophical (“isn’t predestination unfair, etc.”). It denies sola fide (faith alone) by changing the character of faith so that it is basically a work. It denies sola gratia (grace alone), by centering salvation on us instead of on God. And it most certainly denies soli deo Gloria (to God alone be glory), since I am saved ultimately because of what I have done. So it is a serious error. Essentially, Arminianism is a rationalistic rejection of the Protestant Reformation.”
Note present day implications from the erroneous teaching of Arminianism:
- If you take this position, the focus of the church tends to be man-driven rather than God-driven. It can come off that the church is using Christ to accomplish her purpose, thus the focus is more on the church than on Christ himself.
- If the focus is on man, men are lifted to a position beyond what God intended, and Christ is diminished, not verbally, but in a pragmatic way.
- If man is the focus, there is a tendency to place the emphasis on the presenter rather than the Word of God.
- If you take the view that man is in control of his own salvation (I make the decision if I want Jesus or not), you have a strong tendency to make the church attractive to the sinner and seek to convince him or her of the benefits of trusting Jesus.
- If you take the view that man can resist salvation, then you lean toward putting pressure on man to accept the gift of Jesus, realizing that he or she might be on the brink of salvation. Pressure or longer invitations are the obvious course. (I’m not against invitations as long as they are not the result of bad theology).
- If you take the view that man can lose his or her salvation, why would you not be asking them to make things “right with God at every juncture”? Again, pressure would follow to make sure every attendee has not fallen from grace. How dreadful to have a believer at a service who thought a sinful thought and did not get right with God, get killed on the way home and awake in hell!
- Holding this position causes believers to think the world centers around them, not around a sovereign God. Because of this, the believer thinks God owes him good things because he serves Him, and when things go wrong, the believer is confused and often angry or simply walks away.
- Churches who take this view are quick to believe a weak testimony of salvation (I asked Jesus to save me) without determining if this was a work of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11).
- Churches that take in members on weak confessions will usually keep members on the role for an indefinite period of time or struggle to hold them accountable for known sin.
Dan is right in his observation. Arminian doctrine is subtle and dangerous. Many of the problems we are facing in churches and in Christendom in America go back to erroneous doctrine.
- Churches built on Arminian doctrine have a tendency to:
- Be more concerned about relevancy than reverence.
- Compromise purity of the church for growth.
- Build the church on feelings rather than on facts.
- Collapse easily because too much emphasis is placed on men.
- Churches built on Calvinistic doctrine or God’s sovereignty have a tendency to:
- Develop a deep reverence for God in all its services and ministries.
- Allow any emotion to come from the truth of scripture rather than experience.
- Not be consumed with growth but with God working in the lives of people from the Word.
- Hold the idea of baptism and membership as a sacred responsibility of the believer.
Years ago, the late Dr. John Benson spoke on theology, those holding to Keswick theology* and those who hold to Reformed theology. He made this analogy. The pastor that views the church people as mainly carnal will preach for decisions to move them from carnality. The pastor that views the church people as mainly spiritual (some place in their spiritual journey) will preach for each participant to take the next step of faith in their spiritual journey.
I took the reformed view, and it made a huge difference in my approach to the people and in my preaching.
May God help us to have the right theology so that we can effectively lead the church of Jesus Christ.
*Keswick theology from Wikipedia
The Higher Life movement was a movement devoted to Christian holiness in England. Its name comes from a book by William Boardman, entitled The Higher Christian Life, which was published in 1858. The movement is sometimes referred to as the Keswick movement, because it was promoted at conventions in Keswick, which continue to this day. The main idea of the Higher Life movement is that the Christian should move on from his initial conversion experience to also experience a second work of God in his life. This work of God is called “entire sanctification,” “the second blessing,” “the second touch,” “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” and various other terms. Higher Life teachers promoted the idea that Christians who had received this blessing from God could live a more holy, that is less sinful or even a sinless, life. The so-called Keswick approach seeks to provide a mediating and biblically balanced solution to the problem of subnormal Christian experience. The “official” teaching has been that every believer in this life is left with the natural proclivity to sin and will do so without the countervailing influence of the Holy Spirit.