Arminianism is a theological system named after the Dutch Reformed theologian, Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), a popular Reformed preacher in Amsterdam and professor of theology at Leiden University. Arminius rebelled against the more extreme aspects of Calvinistic theology, particularly as they were being taught by Calvin's successors in Switzerland and Holland. He rejected extreme views of predestination and the divine decrees, particularly those under the name of supralapsarianism, which claimed that God had to ordain sin in order that man must be lost so that God could save him. Arminius wished to defend the justice of God and the freedom of man's will, taking the position that predestination was based upon foreknowledge. Because of his views, he was bitterly attacked by Gomarus, a fellow theologian at Leiden. The controversy was not settled before the death of Arminius even though the Dutch government directly intervened. Unfortunately the theological issues became confused with political issues, the Arminians being generally in favor of republicanism in Holland, whereas the Gomarists preferred the monarchy. The leaders of the Arminian party after 1609 were Episcopius, Arminius' successor at Leiden, Uyttenbogaart, Limborch, and Grotius, all men of great talent and scholarship. These men set forth their position in the "Five Articles of the Remonstrance" addressed in 1610 to the Dutch government, in which they rejected the five main ideas of classic Calvinism. The followers of Arminius refused to be called Arminians, taking rather the name Remonstrants.
The Arminius-Gomarus controversy was finally settled by the famous Synod of Dordrecht (1618-1619) which condemned the Arminian articles, deposed some 200 Arminian preachers, and exiled from the country those who refused to submit. In 1619 the Arminian group organized, under the name "Remonstrant Reformed Brotherhood," in effect a new denomination which at first suffered persecution, but was tolerated from 1632 on and finally officially recognized in 1795. In Holland the movement remained small, but the ideas of Arminius had influence far beyond his native land. Many Lutherans in Germany found them more congenial than confessional Calvinism, and many of the leaders of the Anglican Church in England in the 16th and 17th centuries held substantially the same position. However, the greatest historical influence for Arminian ideas came through the Wesleyan movement in England where John Wesley, John Fletcher, Richard Watson and other Methodist theologians advocated them wholeheartedly (George Whitefield, however, was a Calvinist). Arminianism thus became the official Methodist theology from the mid-18th century on. The Mennonites of Holland were also basically in sympathy with the position of Arminius, although they did not share those Calvinistic views which he still maintained.
Because of their opposition to the absolutism of Dutch Calvinism, particularly in its persecuting form, the Arminians advocated instead toleration and sympathized with other persecuted Protestant groups. This made for a friendly relation with the Socinians when the latter fled from Poland to Holland during the persecution after 1650. Due to Socinianism and other influences the Remonstrants gradually became more liberal in their theological position, departing considerably from the original position of Arminius, which was completely evangelical and orthodox and not rationalistic or liberal.
Arminianism as a system can best be described by showing how it differs from the historic five main points of Calvinism, which are: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints or eternal security. Arminius taught by contrast that depravity is a state which leaves the will free and man responsible for his own destiny through choice of faith or unbelief, denying the imputation of guilt for Adam's sin, although acknowledging inherited depravity. Election or predestination is conditional, based upon God's foreknowledge and not upon an arbitrary decree. The atonement of Christ is for all, not just for the elect, even though not all accept it and therefore fail to receive its benefits. God's grace is not irresistible, but can be rejected, and persistently, by man in his free will. The possibility of falling from grace is asserted, and the claim that those once in grace will never be lost is rejected. Arminius did strongly believe and teach the necessity of the grace of God for man's redemption, the sinfulness of man, the objective character of the atonement and the reality of the keeping power of Christ. He did not deny God's omnipotence, but he did not follow the doctrinal development that made God the author of sin and the eternal condemnation of humans. He emphasized on the basis of clear expressions of the Bible the need and the importance of faith as the condition for the effective operation of the grace of God.
In essence Arminianism was a mediating position between hyper-Calvinism and Pelagianism with its emphasis on the goodness of man and his ability to save himself. Arminius was more on the side of Luther than that of Calvin and Beza although Luther was also a predestinarian. Unfortunately in the course of the succeeding centuries Arminianism in Holland inclined more and more to Socinianism and Pelagianism, that is, Unitarianism and moralism. This was true in England also. However, the combination that John Wesley made, whereby he joined a vital emphasis upon regeneration and the experience of the sanctifying grace of God with Arminian free will and responsibility made the Methodist teaching a powerful and satisfying evangelical theology. In this form it has had great influence, particularly in North America. It can readily be seen, however, why insistent Calvinists condemn Arminianism and accuse it of being the forerunner of modern liberalism. This charge is, however, historically incorrect, particularly when applied to Arminius himself. The later developments are a deviation from original Arminianism.
Mennonites have been historically Arminian in their theology whether they distinctly espoused the Arminian viewpoint or not. They never accepted Calvinism either in the Swiss-South German branch or in the Dutch-North German wing. Nor did any Mennonite confession of faith in any country teach any of the five points of Calvinism. However, in the 20th century, particularly in North America, some Mennonites, having come under the influence of certain Bible institutes and the literature produced by this movement and its schools, have adopted the Calvinist doctrine of the perseverance of the saints or "once in grace always in grace." In doing so, they have departed from the historic Arminianism of the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement. To some extent the extreme doctrine of total depravity has also won entrance here and there, although nowhere do the other three Calvinistic articles seem to have won acceptance. It might be mentioned here also that on the other hand some Mennonites, particularly the Mennonite Brethren in Christ, later called United Missionary Church, have also taken over certain ideas from Methodism, particularly the doctrine called "second work of grace," by which is meant a distinct experience of sanctification apart from and subsequent to regeneration.
In Holland the Mennonites came into close and friendly contact with the Arminian movement, both in its Remonstrant organized form, and its Collegiant form. The seminary that the Remonstrants established in 1634 furnished Mennonites the opportunity for a theological training for the ministry before the establishment of the Amsterdam seminary in 1735. Relations between the two groups have always been friendly. When in 1619 the Dutch government prohibited church services of the Remonstrants and banished their leaders, owing to the lack of preachers a movement originated in favor of the lay sermon, which found organized expression in the society of Collegiants sometimes called Rijnsburgers, because they had their chief center at Rijnsburg near Leiden. Members of the Reformed, Remonstrant and Mennonite groups could join a local Collegiant society without forfeiting membership in their own denomination. Since many of the Mennonite ideas, such as adult baptism, rejection of war, simplicity in clothing and life, practical Christian love, etc., were shared by the Collegiants, the contact between the two groups was close, intimate and continuous. Through this channel also the Mennonites became more familiar with Arminian ideas. Dutch Mennonitism in the late 19th century adopted a modernistic Unitarian theology that went far beyond historical Arminianism. However, the Mennonites of West Prussia, Russia, South Germany, France, Switzerland and North America remained on an evangelical Arminian basis, not because they adopted an official Arminian terminology, but because in essence this was what they have always held from the beginning. So far as is known the writings of Arminius and of the Arminians were never read to any extent by the Mennonites outside of Holland, who remained basically readers of the Bible and of Menno Simons.
Harrison, A. W. Arminianism. London: Duckworth, 1937.
Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon, 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967: v. I, 83.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 1, pp. 159-160. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Bender, Harold S. "Arminianism." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1953. Web. 20 June 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A757.html.
APA style: Bender, Harold S. (1953). Arminianism. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 June 2013, from http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/A757.html.