Calvinists often reveal that they have studied too much calvinism and too little from non-calvinists, by making the mistake to automatically call us arminians as soon as we tell them that we are not calvinists (and the next step is to call us semi-pelagians). Since there may be issues within arminianism (which some people call “calvinism light”) that we disagree with, it’s wrong to automatically assume that we are arminians – because that would be like ascribing views to us that we may not have. It’s wrong to make a person who believes in synergism an arminian by default. Strangely enough, some calvinists are reluctant to rephrase themselves even when corrected!
I still remember the first time I heard the phrase “arminian” (it’s a word not found in the Bible), and it was the first time someone assured me that I was one! (Funny to be an arminian your whole life without even knowing it…) I had not heard of James Arminius (1560-1609) either, and compared with all the books that I’d like to read, I feel no motivation to study up on what this particular person believed and to check whether I agree with him or not. I know loads of christians in real life and online, but I only know a couple who call themselves arminians. This tells me that arminians are very rare. There are no arminians in Sweden which I’m aware of, but I can certainly see that people constantly make free will choices in the Bible and often act against the will of God, so it’s not hard to find the concept of free will.
I can understand if people would like to call themselves calvinists if they agree with John Calvin and also believe that he was first with his doctrines/theology (even if they don’t necessarily agree with everything he taught). Calvin was the one who started calvinism, even if he got many of his ideas from Augustine. It’s also a good way to show one’s basic principles by saying one single word “calvinist”. Calling oneself an arminian on the other hand, doesn’t make much sense if you have the same views as people who lived several hundred years before he did. (I do respect those who prefer to call themselves “arminians” – maybe for the sake of convenience when having dialogues with calvinists, or for other reasons.)
ALL the early church fathers the first 300 years AD believed in free will without exception (see quotes here) and none of them taught that man was born with a sinful nature. This means that Mr Arminius was hardly the first person with his theology views, and it would make more sense to call oneself after Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Clement, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Eusebius, Origen, or some other church father who lived shortly after the death of Jesus. The disadvantage with calling oneself after a person, is that you are then expected to study the views of this person, in case someone asks you why you call yourself the way you do. If your claim is “I call myself an irenaeusian, because I believe in free will just like he did”, then the follow-up question is why you don’t call yourself after another theologian who also believes the same. This places an unnecessary burden on you to be forced to study books outside the Bible, and it takes valuable time from Bible reading. It’s of great value to study the views from the early church fathers (or reading books from other authors) and it’s sometimes I can recommend, but it’s wrong to make it a requirement. I personally feel no obligation to study up on what arminians believe due to the expectations from others.
If I have an uncle who believes in free will, would it make sense to call myself after him, instead of a person who lived in the end of the 1500’s? If I lived prior to the year 1590 (when James Arminius was 30 years old and still sided with the calvininist Theodore Beza) what would I call myself?
If a person doesn’t side with Mr Brown, does it follow that he absolutely HAS TO side with Mr Green? It’s one or the other and no other options? Let’s say that in the future a Mr White becomes a well-known christian and a man who believes in free will and who also writes famous books about it. Must I know change labels and call myself after HIM? I’m not against the idea to label oneself after a person per se, if the views in question originated with him.
The Synod of Dort
The synod of Dort was a Dutch regional conference (with a political context) which plays a big role for calvinists, but christians believed in free will long before this local meeting as well as afterwards. This synod was not a council of the Protestant churches of Europe, but a Dutch national synod to which some Reformed theologians were invited from various parts of Europe. It was not a free assembly for the discussion of the Bible, but a national ecclesiastical court for the trial of alleged heretics. Theodore Beza was John Calvin’s direct successor and he sent his disciple Arminius to Holland in 1589 to put down the arguments against his theology views. Beza believed that if God was absolutely sovereign and man helpless in sin and that men are saved/damned by predestination, then it followed that God causes men to sin just as he causes men to be saved. This position existed also in various degrees in Augustine and Calvin’s theology. The opponents argued that if God causes sin then God is in point of fact the author of sin. Arminius changed his position (against Beza) when starting to research the topic deeper and comparing with the Bible.
Whenever Arminius was given a chance to publicly defend his theology, his sound scholarship won the argument and nobody wanted to publicly debate against him. Nobody suggested that the Remonstrants mishandled Scripture but only that they failed to use Scripture to defend a predetermined position. Ironically nearly all of those who opposed Arminius wanted him to quit preaching the Bible as the final authority, because they felt such a message undermined their own authority. To settle this, Arminius sought after a synod to publicly debate and settle the theological and political rift that had occurred in Holland about these issues but he was denied a synod during his lifetime. Instead a synod was made after his death under conditions all together different from what he and his followers expected. Free debate was denied and the Remonstrants were treated as criminals. They were present only as defenders, and the calvinists were the accusers, and never the other way around. Four days after the Synod’s closure, those same leaders beheaded Johan van Oldenbarnevelt for the crime of general perturbation (treason) for his support of the Remonstrants. About the synod we can read:
“Whosoever casts his eye over the list of the foreign divines that composed this last of Protestant councils will find scarcely one man who had not distinguished himself by his decided opposition to the doctrine of conditional predestination, and who was not consequently disqualified from acting the part of an impartial judge of the existing religious differences, or that of a peace-maker.”
William Birch: “Arminianism was condemned at the Synod of Dort (1618-19). And what of it? A group of supralapsarian Calvinists joined theological and political forces, calling on foreign political allies, to ruin the reputation, ministry, and systematic theology of some theologians who disagreed with their doctrines on soteriology. And this local phenomenon is supposed to carry weight in thwarting Arminianism? History itself is a witness to the sham of an operation under which the Calvinists instigated the hearings of the Synod of Dort.”
Read more about the unfair and horrible events concerning the Synod of Dort and the aftermath here