Much of Christian History at Odds With Calvinism

Great article at SEA documenting this:

Prereformation Church History & The Calvinist/Arminian Debate

Of course, the earliest Christian writers prior to Augustine (the ante-Nicene fathers) rejected all of the basic features of what is now known as Calvinism (e.g. exhaustive determinism, inevitable perseverance, limited atonement, unconditional election and predestination, etc.), while affirming the central features of what would later come to be known as Arminianism (e.g. libertarian free will, resistible grace, conditional election, the possibility and reality of true believers abandoning the faith, unlimited atonement, etc.).

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7 Responses

  1. Well, hmmmm, then I guess the Bible is true when the odds on favorite points to what you just established!

    The many and the few and based on your rational you just established who is the few:::>

    Mat 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
    Mat 7:14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

    Maybe Calvin did get it right, seeing, according to your stats, there are few of them and than there are of you?

  2. He didn’t state that there are more Arminians than Calvinists. The article only states that Calvinist thoughts have not dominated Christian history.

    The article was very insightful. My takeaway is that people’s theology on difficult issues was not as black and white as one might think. All the more reason to diligently study the scriptures, and continue to speak the truth in love.

    As to your comment from Matthew, I don’t think Jesus was referring to John Calvin, but Himself, as the “Gate” or the “Way” to the Father.

  3. Exactly. Calvinism is not the narrow gate, Christ is.

  4. Bossmanham,

    Amen!!

  5. Michael,

    The many and the few have reference to believers and unbelievers; not to two different view points among believers. Talk about prooftexting.

    Anyway, historical precedence doesn’t decide the matter one way or the other, but such points as these are helpful for the sake of those Calvinists who pretend that historical Christianity has always come down on the side of Calvinism. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  6. This is simply not true.

    Although the pre-Augustinian fathers did seem to say things that would, based upon later technical definitions, make them opposed to Reformed theology it is unfair to assume that they meant what later generations meant by their words since the controversey had not yet happened.

    The early fathers assert most plainly that man is responsible for his actions and has a “free” will but a close reading of them also shows that they understood this freedom to be limited by moral corruption. Passages from most of the early church writers can be used to show that variously they understood and supported elements of the later famous five points.

    It isn’t that they are inconsistent, but the argument had not yet begun so they did not need to be as technical in their use of language on these issues as later developments compelled teachers to be.

    As far as historical Christianity always coming down on the side of the Calvinist… that is also not true. There have been supporters of both views in every era, with the pendulum swinging back and forth historically.

    I am Reformed, but I don’t pretend that Arminians are Pelagians (which they are not) and I also don’t pretend that somehow every serious Christian in the past has agreed with my position. The question is… What does the Scripture teach? If both sides could honestly submit themselves to that authority and seek to make the discussion an exegetical one done with respect and love then really the history (which is on both sides) would be secondary and close to irrelevant.

  7. kbaz,

    Thanks for stopping by. Did you read the article before commenting? The article was actually more defensive than it was a polemic. It was in response to Calvinist claims that historical Christianity has basically always sided with Calvinism. I think that if you had realized that you might not have written some of what you wrote in your comments. For example (from the article),

    “On the other hand Arminianism existed for centuries only as a heresy on the outskirts of true religion, and in fact it was not championed by an organized Christian church until the year 1784, at which time it was incorporated into the system of doctrine of the Methodist Church in England.”

    This statement is horribly inaccurate and the article was careful to address those inaccuracies.

    You wrote,

    Although the pre-Augustinian fathers did seem to say things that would, based upon later technical definitions, make them opposed to Reformed theology it is unfair to assume that they meant what later generations meant by their words since the controversey had not yet happened.

    It may be true that the disagreement wasn’t as “technical” as it is today, but that doesn’t mean that we cannot decipher their meaning at all. Indeed, the context of such early Christian comments leaves little doubt that they held to a libertarian view of free will (though that term was not being used back then). It should also be noted that most of the comments on free will (in the Ante-Nicene fathers) were in the context of defending the truths of Christianity against the perversions of the Gnostic sects. So it really wasn’t even Christians arguing against Christians. It was Christians unanimously arguing against the determinism of Gnostic and other heretical sects.

    The early fathers assert most plainly that man is responsible for his actions and has a “free” will but a close reading of them also shows that they understood this freedom to be limited by moral corruption.

    I agree, and this only proves that they were basically Arminian in their beliefs. But when we see how they defended man’s responsibility against the determinists, we see that they defended it just like Arminians do, even appealing to the exact same Scriptures that Arminians appeal to today. It really isn’t nearly as muddled as you would have us believe. Rather, their argumentation was very clear and direct.

    Passages from most of the early church writers can be used to show that variously they understood and supported elements of the later famous five points.

    I think you would be hard pressed to demonstrate this without taking extreme interpretive liberties with their writings.

    It isn’t that they are inconsistent, but the argument had not yet begun so they did not need to be as technical in their use of language on these issues as later developments compelled teachers to be.

    The argument had certainly begun, but instead of Arminians versus Calvinists, it was Christians versus heretical sects.

    As far as historical Christianity always coming down on the side of the Calvinist… that is also not true.

    Nobody claimed this, which makes me think again that you didn’t read the article. But it is true that the Ante-Nicene fathers were in unanimous agreement against much of what later become defining features of Calvinism as I noted in the introduction to the article in this post. Did you even notice the title of the post? Notice the first word, “Much [not “all”] of Church History at Odds with Calvinism”

    There have been supporters of both views in every era, with the pendulum swinging back and forth historically.

    Again, this isn’t really true of the Ante-Nicene fathers (the earliest Christian writers, many of whom were discipled by the apostles or by disciples of the apostles).

    I am Reformed, but I don’t pretend that Arminians are Pelagians (which they are not) and I also don’t pretend that somehow every serious Christian in the past has agreed with my position.

    That’s great.

    The question is… What does the Scripture teach? If both sides could honestly submit themselves to that authority and seek to make the discussion an exegetical one done with respect and love then really the history (which is on both sides) would be secondary and close to irrelevant.

    I agree that the primary issue must be sound exegesis, but Calvinists often appeal to church councils and reformation history and paint an unbalanced picture of the history of this discussion. The main purpose of the article linked to in this post and other similar articles that I have linked to or written, is to make sure that people understand that there have been supporters of what Arminians basically believe going back to the earliest Christian writings we have available to examine. Calvinists often paint a one sided and unbalanced view of church history while defending their doctrines and articles like this are intended to set the record straight. Surely, you will not fault us for such things.

    If you get the chance, you may want to read the article linked to in “Part 2” as well.

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/much-of-church-history-at-odds-with-calvinism-part-2/

    God Bless,
    Ben

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