The Arminian Confession of 1621 – Introduction

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I have just started reading ‘The Arminian Confession of 1621’ and intend to do few posts about this confession as I make my way through it. In this first blog I would like to quote extensively from the Introduction. This was written by the Calvinist theologian Mark A. Ellis and includes some statements which many Calvinists today could well keep in mind when attempting to represent Arminian theology.

“The Confession also offers benefits to those from Calvinist/Reformed backgrounds. It dispels common misrepresentations, such as the Arminians were Socinians, an accusation the Arminians’ opponents brought against them from the beginning of the conflict. In chapter three of the confession, the Remonstrants gave a clear repudiation of Socianism’s denials of the divinity of Christ and the trinity and provided an orthodox declaration of trinitarianism, the eternal generation of the Son and procession of the Holy Spirit and the sharing of the divine nature by both.

More common are accusations of Pelagianism. The confession gives amply evidence that the Remonstrants did not hold to Pelagius’ theology.[10] Whereas Pelagius taught Adam’s sin affected himself alone and only served as a bad example for his descendents, the Remonstrants affirmed that all men except Jesus Christ were “involved and implicated” in Adam’s sin and so were subject to “death and misery” and “destitute of true righteousness necessary for achieving eternal life, and consequently are now born subject to that eternal death…and manifold miseries” (7.4).

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Footnote [10] “The Remonstrant rejection of Pelagianism had already been made plain in the Remonstrance or 1610, which stated in Article III, “That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free-will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostacy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as having faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John 15:5: “Without me ye can do nothing.””

“Whereas Pelagius defined grace as the native ability conferred through creation, together with a mind illuminated by the preaching of the law, the Remonstrants affirmed grace is a “special work” which only functioned in those who believe (7.1), and that under the Law, grace was “revealed it only from afar, obscurely and almost as if through a lattice.”

In contrast to Pelagius’ belief in human ability, the Remonstrants wrote that “(we) could neither shake off the miserable yoke of sin, nor do anything truly good in all religion, nor finally ever escape eternal death, or any true punishment of sin. Much less could we at any time obtain eternal salvation without it or through ourselves” (7.10). They reaffirmed human inability and the necessity of grace in (8.1, 8.2.2) and that salvation is the work of God (9.2). It is only by grace that people “may really believe in their Christ the Saviour, obey his gospel and be freed from the dominion and guilt of sin, indeed also through which they really believe, obey and be freed” (9.2). The Remonstrants clearly were not Pelagians.

If not Pelagians, were they semi-Pelagian?… Again if one allows history to define labels, neither Arminius nor the Remonstrants were semi-Pelagian. They made this plain in the original Remonstrance of 1610 [Article IV: “That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ, but respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible; inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places.”] and repeated the same in the Confession (17.6).

In the end, one wonders why those who took to Geneva would need to resort to fabricating or extrapolating their differences with the Remonstrants. The Remonstrant rejections of unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance, together with the unique doctrines they affirmed in the Confession as per se reasons enough to declare that they represented an alien theological development.

We also see in the Confession that the Remonstrant challenge was not merely doctrinal. From its inception, the Remonstrants considered their movement as a rejection of Reformed scholasticism as a theological method.”

Mark A. Ellis, ‘Introduction’ pp.v-vii

Ellis goes on to note how Arminius was critical of those who favoured logic over reliance on Scripture and how Arminius highly recommended Calvin’s commentaries on the Bible. He then briefly introduces several other important Remonstrant theologians and especially Episcopius (Simon Bisschop). He notes the importance of Episcopius for the survival of Remonstrant theology after the Synod of Dort (1618-19). He explains how one of the first acts of Dort was to subpoena Episcopius and how this signaled an end of open debate in favour of denouncement. Despite this Episcopius not only addressed the Synod but gave “an hour and a half oration detailing the Remonstrant position and their oppression at the hands of the Calvinist Reformed.” (ix) Dort denounced the teachings of the Remonstrants and drove them into exile in May/June of 1619. They were to eventually settle in Antwerp where they formed the Remonstrant Brotherhood.

Well that is the introduction and next time I post on this book I will give my thoughts on the first part of the Confession which was called ‘A Preface to the Christian Reader’.

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About aRemonstrant'sRamblings

I graduated in philosophy of religion many years ago and have since acquired my PGCE and now teach religion, ethics and philosophy.
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