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JOHN CALVIN AND JAMES ARMINIUS

By Curtis Pugh

In all probability this article will be criticized for a number of reasons. Be that as it may, it is a fact that there is a great division among those called Baptists. Sound Baptists of the historic sort are slandered as “Calvinists” as if they were disciples of that Protestant Reformer. In addition we shall present some historical information to show that John Calvin did not originate what is today called “Calvinism.” And neither did James Arminius originate what is today called “Arminianism.” (Note this: an Arminian – with an “i” - is one who believes in freewill doctrine: an Armenian – with an “e” - is one whose ethnicity sprang from Armenia. It is easy to remember: the word spelled with an “i” has to do with “doctr-I-ne” while the word with “e” has to do with -E-thnicity. Because of those two letter differences, these words are properly pronounced slightly different one from the other.)

We ask the question: where did “Calvinism” originate? Since the Bible consistently presents God as almighty and shows Him to always act without the interference of either angels or men, we conclude that God is sovereign in everything that He does. This is the foundation for what we prefer to call the doctrine of grace rather than “Calvinism.” Nothing outside of Himself compels God to do anything. He is not obligated or bound by anything outside of Himself. The Bible contains the words elect, election, predestinate, foreknow, determinate counsel, etc. The healthy method of Bible interpretation requires us to let these words say what they say: let them mean what they mean without twisting or manipulating them into meaning less than they do. We conclude from our study of the Bible that God chose whom He would save before the foundation of the world and that He is accomplishing His perfect will.

We came to these conclusions apart from ever reading the writings of Calvin or any other man. The Bible says, for example: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:4-6). And again, “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9). It ought to be a matter of historical interest to sound Baptists today that one group of our anabaptist forefathers was given the name “Paulician.” Our enemies today try to say that the Paulicians were so named after an early Armenian (note the “e”) bishop. However, Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, liv), says it means "Disciples of St. Paul." We think it is obvious that not only Paul but all the apostles believed in the soverignty of God in election, predstination, etc.

Another proof that John Calvin did not originate that which is called “Calvinism” today is this: Augustine of Hippo (sometimes called Saint Augustine) wrote and preached these things before John Calvin was even born. Perhaps you have read Spurgeon's comment concerning Augustine preaching sovereign grace doctrine. Note that Augustine was born November 13, 354 and died August 28, 430 – long before John Calvin: Calvin born July 10, 1509 and died May 27, 1564. His birth was, therefore, 1,155 years after the birth of Augustine. So it is ignorance to claim that John Calvin originated the doctrine of grace. It should also be noted that while Calvin did teach sovereign grace doctrine, he also taught baptismal regeneration and also that the sword should exercise its power over those who disagreed with his doctrine. He was, of course, a Protestant Reformer. What that really means is that he was once a part of the Roman Harlot and had a great part in giving birth to her daughters, for Rome is “The Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth” (Revelation 17:5). This preacher is not aware of anything good that came out of the Protestant Reformation. It is, first of all, a fact that a reformation is not possible. Proof: “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one” (Job 14:4). The second fact is this: no “reformation” was needed. There were anabaptist congregations in existence in most of the countries of Europe. Had the “Reformers” really desired to leave the Harlot, they could have made a clean break with her and sought membership with one of the Lord's congregations. But they kept Harlot baptism, Harlot church government, Harlot church state compromises, and actively persecuted anabaptists and other dissenting groups.

Now let us consider James Arminius and Arminianism (note the “i”). It may be a surprise to some to hear that John Calvin never heard of James Arminius nor of Arminianism. These two never had an arguement nor did they ever meet. Calvin lived a short time in France, but spent most of his life in Switzerland dying there on May 27, 1564. James Arminius was a Dutchman who lived in Holland. He was born there on October 10, 1560. A little math shows that Arminius was only four years old when Calvin died. Thus there was no interchange, correspondence or communication between the two.

What is Arminianism and how did this system of doctrine come about? First of all, it should be understood that just as there were men who preached sovereign grace before Calvin, so there were people who preached freewill doctrine before Arminius. In fact, a Dominican friar named Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic theologian, was the father of Roman Catholic freewill teaching. He lived from A. D. 1225 until March 7, 1274. So Aquinas lived and died before either Calvin or Arminius. He opposed the sovereighty of God teachings of Augustine and his doctrine became the basic doctrine of the Catholics. It is called “Thomism.” Again, it is obvious that Thomas Aquinas, Calvin and Arminius were not contemporaries, and never had any personal meetings or confrontations.

James Arminius began his professorship at the Dutch University of Leiden in 1603. Remember, Calvin had died in 1564. In the years following Calvin's death, a Dutch pastor, theologian and former student of his (Calvin's) named Guido de Bres crafted what is called the Belgic Confession. (The term Belgic then referred to not only Belgium, but all the low countries including Holland.) This Belgic Confession was the official doctrine of the Dutch Reformed Church and other “reformed churches.” The Dutch Reformed Church was the officially sanctioned state church of Holland. James Arminius died in October A. D. 1609.

After James Arminius died, his followers presented their objections regarding the Belgic Confession (Calvinism) to the Dutch government the following year. They opposed the established Calvinism and wanted to change the state church's doctrinal position. They wanted the teachings of James Arminius to be the official doctrine of their church. They opposed the sovereignty of God in salvation including total depravity, unconditional election, particular redemption, irrestible grace, and perseverance of the saints. It was these followers of Arminiuss who first came up with their “five points.” Their objections were presented to the Dutch government in an official document called “The Remonstrance of 1610.” These men were known as “Remonstrants.” In response to this Remonstrance of 1610, the Dutch government ordered a synod – an official gathering of church leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church and eight other reformed bodies. (No Baptists or anabaptists were present.) It was not until November 13, 1618 – about 8 years later - that the first meeting of the Synod of Dort was held. (Dort is another name for Dordrecht, the city where the synod was held.) These Reformed church leaders held 154 meetings, the last on May 9, 1619. In these meetings the Synod of Dort crafted “the five points of Calvinism” in response to Arminius's teachings. John Calvin did not formulate the famous “five points” that today bear his name. Additionally you cannot find anything like the familiar “TULIP” in any of Calvin's writings. The “five points of Calvinism” were a response to the “five points” of the Dutch Remonstrants who were disciples of James Arminius.

Considering these facts, and the fact that sound Baptists today reject Calvin's doctrine of baptismal regeneration and other abberations, why are they slandered by the name “Calvinist?” A multitude of freewill Baptists in various manmade organizations have never heard of James Arminius. But they have heard their preachers make ignorant and untrue statements about “Calvinism.” They have heard sovereign grace Baptists slandered and maligned. They have been taught that “Calvinism” is a horrible system of doctrine. They have not been told that what today is called “Calvinism” is the doctrine of the old Baptists because it is the doctrine of the Bible.

We think we can conclude this little article with no better words than those of Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said: “I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus.” We can only add: Amen! (Spurgeon's quote from: A Defense of Calvinism.)


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