Are All Arminians Unsaved?
by Mitch Cervinka
I recently came across a website which makes such claims as
1. All Arminians are unsaved,
2. Anyone who claims otherwise is unsaved (even if he himself fully believes in Calvinistic doctrine), and
3. Any Calvinist who claims to have remained an Arminian for some time after he was regenerated is unsaved.
Moreover, in the brief "Confession" posted on this website, claims such as these constitute two of its six points.
There are certain obvious problems with a position such as this:
1. Its unreserved pronouncements regarding the unsaved condition of anyone who disagrees with its unusual views makes it very cult-like.
2. By defining itself in terms of the error it is opposed to, this position shows itself to be, not a Bible-based view, grounded upon positive Biblical teaching, but rather a mere reaction to the Arminianism it finds so distasteful. In contrast, the important Reformed Confessions consist primarily of positive statements of Biblical doctrine, rather than laundry lists of the errors they oppose.
3. By making saving faith to depend upon one's assessment of the salvation of Arminians, it displaces Christ as the focus of our faith. In answer to the question "What must I do to be saved?" the answer (at least in part) would be: "Believe that all Arminians are unsaved."
But the issue we want to address is this assertion that all
Arminians are unsaved. How do they arrive at this conclusion, and is their
The Argument Analyzed.
The argument goes like this:
1. A person's salvation is conditioned solely on the sacrifice and imputed righteousness of Christ.
2. This statement (#1, above) is "The Gospel" that we must believe in order to be saved.
3. Every Arminian denies this statement (i.e. #1 above), because he believes that salvation is conditioned upon faith.
4. Thus, every Arminian is unsaved, because he denies "The Gospel".
What do we say to this line of reasoning? Is it correct? If it is flawed, where is the flaw?
I fully confess the truth of statement #1 above. We are saved purely and simply because Jesus Christ at Calvary acted as our substitute, taking upon Himself the guilt of our sins, and bearing the punishment which we deserved because of our guilt. God has no more wrath to pour out upon those for whom Christ died because Christ bore the full penalty for our sins and fully and forever propitiated (i.e. satisfied) God's justice on our behalf.
Unregenerate men are so corrupted by sin that they have absolutely no desire to trust the one true, living and impeccably holy God for their salvation, and so no man can or will believe unless God gives him the faith to believe. Faith is not something which we supply in order to receive salvation. Rather, faith is a fruit and evidence of the Spirit's work of regeneration. Faith is one of the precious graces which Christ purchased for us when He died for our sins.
However, it is false to say that statement #1 above is what we must believe in order to be saved. Saving faith is not so much about assenting to certain doctrines as it is trusting Christ to save us from our sin and guilt by means of His shed blood and imputed righteousness. True salvation is evidenced by one's sense of personal guilt and sorrow for his own sins, a conviction that Christ and Him alone is able (by virtue of His redemptive death for sinners) to provide the justification and forgiveness we so desperately need, and confidence in His promise to fully save those who, in their guilt and despair, call upon Him for salvation.
Saving faith is, first and foremost, trusting the person, the resurrected, ascended, living God-man, Christ Jesus, to save us from our sins. It is not mere conviction about the truth or falsity of various theological statements. Saving faith is not mere academic knowledge about Christ and His cross, but a personal relationship with a personal Christ... a relationship of continual trust in Him and His cross, of loving submission to Him as the Lord of all and Head of His Church, and of absolute delight in all that He is and does.
This, of course, does not mean that objective knowledge of certain
Gospel-related doctrines is unnecessary, nor does it mean that we can deny
certain plainly-revealed Gospel truths. For example, the person who denies that
he is a sinner is lost. The person who denies that Jesus is God does not know
the true Jesus and is therefore lost. The person who supposes that salvation is
obtained wholly or partly by human merit is lost. The person who denies that
Christ died as the sacrificial Substitute for sinners to save them from their
sins, is lost.
Scripture is the Final Judge of Doctrinal Matters.
But, where do we draw the line between what must be believed as essential Gospel truths, and those truths which are not required for saving faith? The true test of what we must believe to be saved is not clever arguments about the sufficiency of the cross, but the plain declaration of God's holy Word. Scripture is the final arbiter of what is and what is not the Gospel message we must believe. We must search the Scriptures to see what truths are set forth in the evangelistic encounters of Scripture, and what truths are declared, in the doctrinal expositions of Scripture, to be the necessary object of saving faith.
Scripture often commands men to believe in Christ and in His redemptive sacrifice and promises salvation to those who do. However, the gospel presentations recorded in Scripture never explain the role of faith in salvation... Is faith the evidence that God has already saved you or is it a prerequisite condition to receiving justification? The Biblical gospel presentations do not clarify the role of faith adequately to answer this question...
John 20:31 - but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Acts 16:30-31 - and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Romans 10:4 - For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Romans 10:12-13 - For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for "WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED."
The Gospel, as such, is not so concerned with whether we understand our faith to be God-generated or self-generated, as long as the faith itself is fastened upon Christ.
Saving faith must center on Christ, to the exclusion of self. A truly saved person may errantly believe that his faith is self-generated, but genuine faith will never boast of itself or its own accomplishments...
1 Corinthians 1:29-31 - so that no man may boast before God. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."
Galatians 6:14 - But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Those who are preoccupied with their own act of faith, and who make such rash claims as "God cannot save you without your permission" or "God has done His part, now you must do your part" have dethroned God and turned faith into a redemptive human work. It is quite possible that such persons have never experienced the grace of God. That form of Arminianism which asserts that God "cannot" save us unless we permit Him to do so, is high treason against our Sovereign God, and those who truly believe this probably do not know Him as their Lord.
We should not, however, assume that every Arminian would make a statement like this. I am confident that many Arminians would recoil at such impious statements. They see their faith as self-generated only because they are poorly instructed on the relation of faith to regeneration and redemption. Even though they view their faith as self-generated, they would never be so bold as to ascribe merit to their faith, or to brag that it was "their contribution" to salvation.
There are two things we must understand about the nature of faith...
1. We must never assume that a self-generated faith must of necessity be a "work" of merit. No doubt some treat it this way... especially when they vehemently contend that their decision to believe was the reason why they were saved. Again, this comes dangerously close to boasting of one's own contributions, which indicates that their focus is on self and not on Christ.
But to have a proper sort of faith, we must feel the burden of our own sin and corruption, and we must find in Christ alone the justifying righteousness that is so desperately needed. The woman with the issue of blood who touched the hem of Christ's garment illustrates this kind of faith quite well...
Luke 8:43-44 - And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years, and could not be healed by anyone, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped.
This woman trusted that Jesus had the ability to heal her of an infirmity which no one else for twelve years had been able to heal, and she reached out to our Lord for the healing she so desperately needed. So it is with saving faith... we need not know precisely how it is that Christ's substitutionary death for sinners saves those who believe. We simply need to know that Jesus Christ, by virtue of His redemptive death for us, is fully able to save us from the incurable guilt and condemnation of our sins, and that He fully saves all who look to Him alone for salvation.
A person can have this kind of faith without having a proper understanding of the origin of his faith. A person who is new to the faith may very easily assume that his faith originated from himself, since he did not perceive anything obviously supernatural in the way he received his faith... no blinding light, such as Saul experienced on the way to Damascus... no sensation of someone "forcing" him to believe in Christ. The beauty of regeneration is that we simply come alive and begin spiritually "breathing" with faith, and it all seems so natural that we sometimes fail to recognize its supernatural origin...
Long my imprisoned
Fast bound in sin and nature's night.
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke-- the dungeon flamed with light!
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
(from "And Can it Be?", a hymn by Charles Wesley)
2. We must never confuse contingency with merit. Calvinistic apologists sometimes assert that, if faith is a condition of salvation, then it must be meritorious and this makes it a work of righteousness.
Whether this conclusion is true or not depends upon another consideration... namely, does the proponent of conditional salvation assert that human faith supplies something that is lacking in the work of Christ? Or... does he assert that there is nothing lacking in the work of Christ, but that God has decreed within Himself not to impute Christ's redemptive merit to a person until he believes? The former position turns faith into a work, and thereby proves itself to be every bit as damning as the Pharisees' doctrine of self-justification. The latter position, on the other hand, acknowledges the ability of the Cross to save all for whom Christ died, and leaves the matter of its imputation in the hands of a sovereign God who has determined to impute the justifying merit of Christ to those who trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness and righteousness they need.
Scripture never says that saving faith must believe that "salvation is conditioned solely on whether Christ died for our sins". The substitutionary death and resurrection of Christ are truths which saving faith must believe...
1 Corinthians 15:1-3 - Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
However, neither this passage, nor any other passage which discusses what we must believe to be saved, describes the work of Christ with such precision as to require us to believe that the death of Christ automatically justifies us before God, without regard to our faith. Yes, there are passages which teach this truth, but they never set forth this doctrine as something which must be believed...
Romans 5:9 - Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.
Galatians 1:15-16 - But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me ...
Philippians 1:29 - For to you it has been granted for Christís sake, ... to believe in Him ...
Hebrews 9:15 - For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.
Hebrews 12:2 - fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
The fact is that the Gospel
presentations in Scripture make statements about the work of Christ without carefully defining the
relationship of faith to the Cross. Yes, faith is the fruit of the Cross, rather than the
determiner of who will receive the justification purchased by Christ on the
Cross; but men are never commanded to believe this aspect of redemption
as a necessary requisite for salvation.
In What Sense is Calvinism the Gospel?
Calvinistic authors sometimes refer to Calvinism as the gospel of our salvation. J. I. Packer, for example, called it the "Old Gospel", and contrasted it with the "New Gospel" of Arminianism in his "Introductory Essay" to John Owen's "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ." One can also find Spurgeon, Pink, Gill and Whitefield making statements to the effect that Calvinism is the Gospel.
However, it is abundantly clear that none of these men meant it in the sense that one must be a Calvinist in order to be saved. We must understand this important point: There are two ways we use the term "Gospel". This was addressed in my article Is Calvinism the Gospel?, but it appears that this is a point which needs to be emphasized and elaborated more fully.
When we speak of "The Gospel", we can mean either of two things:
1. "The Gospel" as The Doctrines of Soteriology- Those teachings which describe in detail all that God does to save the sinner.
2. "The Gospel" as The Object of Saving Faith - Those teachings which every truly regenerate person must and will believe.
It cannot be stated strongly enough that these are two different and distinct uses of the word "Gospel". The doctrines which constitute the body of Biblical soteriology are all true, precious, important doctrines. Moreover, when they are properly understood, they help ensure that we understand the second meaning (i.e. "The Object of Saving Faith") correctly, and see it in its proper relation to other doctrines of life and faith.
However, it is false to say that one is unregenerate if he does not understand and believe all the various facets of soteriology. It is also false to assert that one is unregenerate simply because he has some erroneous ideas about certain aspects of soteriology. We need to draw clear distinctions concerning what is the essential object of saving faith, and what merely describes God's great works of salvation.
We also need to leave room for a certain amount of growth and progress in Christian doctrine and life. To insist that a person is not regenerate unless his doctrine is perfect is akin to saying that a person is not regenerate unless he lives a perfectly sinless life. If a regenerate person can still commit sin, then a regenerate person can still hold erroneous doctrines. It is somewhat arbitrary to place doctrinal error in a different category from moral error. Clearly, there are some doctrines which a regenerate person cannot deny, but it is arbitrary to place Calvinistic doctrine in this category (except for a few considerations which were discussed in my former article).
Moreover, a person can simply be ignorant of certain Biblical doctrines.
When a person first receives faith, it is unlikely that he has a very broad or
deep exposure to Scripture. Where there are holes in his understanding, there
are likely to be false ideas filling those holes. But if he is elect, then, as
he progresses through the Christian life, our faithful Lord will guide him into
truth, replacing those false ideas with sound doctrine, as he studies and
believes God's Holy Word.
We can be reasonably certain that the thief on the cross, to whom Jesus said "Today you will be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:43), did not have a comprehensive understanding of Calvinistic doctrine. He may very well have had some mistaken ideas about various aspects of salvation. Certainly, from what is written in Scripture, we have no reason to believe that our Lord expounded the doctrines of grace to this man. Indeed, when we consider the great pain and exhaustion involved in crucifixion, it is unthinkable that our Lord could have given him a brief course in Calvinistic soteriology while nailed to the cross.
Much the same conclusion can be drawn about many of the other evangelistic encounters in Scripture. When the Philippian jailer was stopped by Paul and Silas from commiting suicide, he asked them "What must I do to be saved?" The apostles did not give him a short course in Calvinistic soteriology. Rather, they made the simple statement: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved ..." (Acts 16:30-31).
They did not say "Believe that God from eternity past has unconditionally chosen certain ones unto salvation, that Christ died for the elect only, and that faith is God's sovereign gift, imparted by the Holy Spirit when He regenerates the elect individual."
But, what about this statement (i.e the one which Paul and Silas did not say)? Isn't it true? Isn't it important? Isn't it "The Gospel"? Yes, it's true. Yes, it's important. Yes, in one sense, it is "The Gospel"... But not in the sense that it is something which a regenerate person must understand and believe. It is "The Gospel" in the first sense listed earlier (i.e. "The Doctrines of Soteriology"), but not in the second sense (i.e. "The Object of Saving Faith"). Had it been "The Gospel" in the second sense, then Paul and Silas would not have merely said "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved...". Instead, they would have given the jailer a lesson in Calvinistic doctrine.
In fact, never in Scripture are distinctly Calvinistic doctrines held out as the things we must believe to be saved. We must believe in Jesus Christ (John 3:16; 20:30; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9; etc.), and we must believe in His sacrificial death and resurrection...
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 -Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
Does this mean that we can believe the statement "Christ died for our sins" however we please? Is the Arminian interpretation (i.e. that Christ died for all men to make them "savable") just as valid as the Calvinistic interpretation (i.e. that Christ died for the elect only, to actually save them from their sins)? Must we not believe the Gospel the way the apostle intended it?
This is good question, and it is the sort of argument that is used to try to prove that Arminians are unsaved. The problem with this argument is that it assumes that a person must come to grips with the question of who is meant when the apostle says "our sins". Unquestionably, "our" includes the apostle and the Corinthian saints to whom he wrote. Unquestionably, it also includes all who were ever saved (or who ever will be).
The only question left is "Does it also include those who will never believe?" The correct answer to the question, of course, is "No. Christ redeemed His elect only." But we are not so much concerned with what is the correct answer to this question as with whether a person must take a position on this issue in order to be saved. What if a person answers the question by saying "I honestly don't know whether Christ died for those who will never believe." Is this absolute proof that the person is unsaved?
Our critics may argue: "Yes, this proves he is unsaved, because it means he doesn't understand that we are saved by the blood of Christ alone." But for this argument to be valid, we must conclude that every regenerate person will unfailingly consider all the various aspects and implications of the doctrines he believes. It leaves no room for the person to say "I never considered that aspect of it." In other words, we must be careful systematic theologians who have done a complete study of soteriology or else we are unregenerate. But, is this true? Can it be substantiated from Scripture?
How often in Scripture do we read of simple, unlearned people trusting in Christ. The learned men of Jesus' day were the ones who wanted to kill Him. It was the blind, the lepers, the harlots and the tax-gatherers who exercised true saving faith. Jesus' own disciples were tax collectors and fishermen. There is no evidence that these were the kind of people who engaged in precise, thorough theological debate and dialogue, in an attempt to consider all the ramifications of the Gospel ...
1 Corinthians 1:26 - For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;
Isn't it possible, therefore, indeed likely, that a new believer will have many questions, misconceptions, and misunderstandings about many things? He knows that he is saved by the blood of Christ, but He may never have considered the implications of what it would mean to say that Christ died for the non-elect.
Take another example. John 3:16 says that "... whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Those who have studied the Biblical doctrine of election will recognize "whoever believes in Him" as denoting God's elect, since no one can or will believe in Christ unless God has chosen Him, and sends His Holy Spirit to regenerate Him. But there is nothing in the context of John 3:16 to explain the doctrines of unconditional election and irresistible grace. There is only this simple statement: "... whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
Must a regenerate person understand all the implications of how a person comes to have faith in Christ? ... Or, is it enough that he is trusting in Jesus Christ to save him from his sins? He knows that, as a believer in Jesus Christ, he fits the description of those who have eternal life, even if he does not yet understand all the details of how he came to have that faith.
But surely a person who expresses hatred at the idea of a sovereign
God is unsaved, isn't he? ... Perhaps. But consider this: if the individual has
a distorted understanding of God's sovereignty, supposing that would
make God the author of evil, and would mean that He somehow forces men
to sin, or that He exercises His sovereignty in a tyrannical or unjust manner,
then surely he ought to hate such a "God" as that! We all
ought to hate such a view of God! What we need to remember is that a new
believer will not have a perfect understanding of God (Indeed, will the finite
human mind ever fully grasp the infinitude of God?). At the very least,
he should understand that God is holy and just, and has full authority over all
His creation. But it takes a great deal of careful study and thoughtful
contemplation to come to grips with how God can be both sovereign (foreordaining
from eternity everything, whatsoever comes to pass) and just while holding men
accountable for their sin. We should not assume that a person must be firmly
settled on this matter before we can consider him to be regenerate.
The Essential Object of Saving Faith and the Message we Preach.
Perhaps it is more enlightening to think of the two uses of the term "Gospel" in this way...
1. The Gospel as The Message Preached
2. The Gospel as The Essential Object of Saving Faith
What is the essential object of saving faith? ...
Saving faith is trust in the person of Jesus Christ, in His mercy toward wretched sinners who feel the weight of their sins and look to Him for pardon and cleansing, in the efficacy of His atoning sacrifice to fully pardon them from their sins, in His faithfulness to honor His promise to save all who call upon Him for salvation, and in the fact of His resurrection from the dead, which proves once and for all that He is both Lord and Victor over sin and death.
The message of salvation we proclaim must contain the essential object of saving faith if it is to be a valid presentation of the gospel, but it will typically contain more. Why? .. Because it is important to set bounds around the object of faith, and to show what it is not as well as what it is. The message we preach should exalt and describe the essential object of saving faith, and lead men to a proper understanding and appreciation of it.
The message we preach will often include other things beyond the bare minimum of what must be believed. In the message preached, we demonstrate that all men are sinners who fully deserve the wrath of God, and that Jesus Christ has fully paid for the sins of everyone who trusts in Him. We show men the inability of the Law to save them. We declare to them that their good works can in no way contribute to their standing before God, because that would imply that there is some deficiency in the work of Christ. We warn them against trusting in anything else for their salvation than Christ and Him crucified, and offer them the assurance that everyone who looks to Him in genuine faith and repentance is truly saved.
The doctrines of grace (i.e. Calvinistic soteriology) seek to focus the hearers' attention on a God who is truly holy and just and who has the sovereign right to judge them for their sins, as well as being full of mercy, grace and lovingkindness toward His chosen people. They emphasize the fact of human sin, teaching us that we are so ruined by sin that we have no love for the one true and glorious God who reigns over us. They emphasize the fact that salvation must be by His mercy and kindness, because our sinful, unregenerate hearts would forever stubbornly refuse to submit to His rightful authority or trust His goodness. When we see that Christ died exclusively for His elect people, it helps us to understand more fully that we are saved by His sacrifice alone, and that there could not possibly be anything else required of us by God to make us righteous in His sight.
Thus, while the kernel of what we must believe can be present even when
distinctively Calvinistic doctrines are not preached, nevertheless these
precious doctrines serve as a great magnifying glass, helping us to see the
sacrifice of Christ clearly, displaying it in all its brilliance and splendor,
showing us the depth of the sin from which we are saved, the infinite worth and
efficacy of our Lord's suffering, and the great power and purpose of the Triune
God who works mightily and infallibly for our salvation. The doctrines of grace
thus supply great incentives and compelling reasons for us to
despair of ourselves and to trust wholly in Christ.
The Essential "Gospel Issue"
The essential issue addressed by the Gospel is that man is a sinner, under the condemnation of God. The Gospel never calls upon the unregenerate to believe that they are unable to believe. Rather, it calls upon us to recognize our guilt before God, and to see Christ's sacrificial death as the sole remedy for our guilt and condemnation.
The Gospel message is about guilt, condemnation and forgiveness. It is not about "Who chose whom?", or "Where does faith come from?" Gospel-faith is trust in the personof Christ, having the confidence that He, by means of His Substitutionary death, has borne our sin and is fully able to forgive everyone who calls upon Him for salvation. Gospel-faith recognizes that Christ saves only those who trust in Him. It does not necessarily recognize the truth that this trust is God-given.
How do we know this? ... We know it because Scripture says so. When Scripture describes what a person must believe to be saved, it says we must believe in Jesus Christ, and in His office as sin-bearer. The Scriptural exhortations to faith and salvation explain that the Gospel centers on the issues of guilt and forgiveness. Thus, the person who correctly understands himself to be a guilty sinner can do no better than to "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ" and be saved (Acts 16:31), or to "Call on the name of the Lord" and be saved (Romans 10:13).
Our critics sometimes compare Arminians with cultists, such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, or Moslems, as if the doctrinal error of the Arminian is of the same kind as that of these others. But an essential difference between what the Arminian believes and confesses, versus what these others believe and confess, is that the Arminian does see himself as a guilty sinner before God, and does recognize that no one but Christ is able to take away that guilt. (Another essential distinction, of course, is that the Arminian confesses the full deity of Christ, His incarnation, and the Trinity, whereas the cults often deny Christ by making Him out to be a mere man, an exalted angel, or one "god" among many).
There is, of course, a relationship between man's guilt and his utter depravity...
both have their origin in Eden, and man's sinful conduct stems from the same
depravity which keeps him from believing the Gospel or trusting in Christ. Even
so, these considerations are not at the center of the Gospel itself. Concerning
sin and depravity, a person needs only to realize that he has broken God's holy
law, that he has done things of which he is ashamed, that his own conscience
condemns him, and that, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot attain to that
standard of righteousness he knows he ought to obey. It is good for him
to also realize that, until God regenerates him, he will never have the desire
to genuinely come to Christ in faith and repentance, but, again, this
truth is never set forth in Scripture as one of the things which we must
believe to be saved.
What Saving Faith is Not.
We need to carefully read the Gospel invitations of Scripture, for, when they tell us what to believe, we find that they seldom require us to believe propositions, but instead require us to trust in a person... namely, the person of Jesus Christ...
John 9:35-37 - ... He said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?" Jesus said to him, "You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you." And he said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped Him.
John 3:16 - ... that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
Acts 16:31 - They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Acts 19:4 - Paul said, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus."
Romans 3:22 - even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
Galatians 2:16 - nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
Galatians 3:22 - But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
And, when Scripture does set forth propositions (i.e. theological statements) for us to believe, they are much more "minimal" and "basic" than what our critics assert is required for salvation...
John 20:28-29 - Thomas answered and said to Him, "My Lord and my God!" Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed."
John 20:31 - but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
Romans 10:9 - that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
1 Corinthians 15:1-4 - Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
Yes, there are doctrinal propositions which we must believe for salvation, but where does Scripture ever say that distinctively Calvinistic propositions are included among them? This is the ultimate proof that faith in Calvinism is not what saves, but rather faith in Christ as the God-man who bore the sin of guilty sinners and promises to save those guilty sinners who trust in Him (not merely in statements about Him) to save them from their sin and guilt.
We must beware of making doctrinal fidelity the sole test of one's spiritual condition. A person can hold sound doctrine, and yet be the devil incarnate in his judgmental attitudes, unmerciful treatment of others, hypocrisy and unholy life. Sound doctrine is very important, and much to be desired, but we must never equate saving faith merely with holding sound doctrine. Yes, we must be sound in the basic, essential doctrines stated in passages such as those cited above, but there is more to saving faith than simply holding correct doctrines.
The fruit of the Spirit is characterized by many things...
Galatians 5:22-23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;
True regeneration is evidenced by one's character and attitudes, and not merely by the doctrines he confesses. A true believer grieves over his sins and rejoices over the forgiveness purchased for him by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Matthew 5:3-10 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
1 Peter 1:8 - and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
A person who has not received such a heart is unregenerate,
regardless of what doctrines he holds. On the other hand, a person who truly
exhibits the fruit of the Spirit of God will confess those doctrines which are
truly essential to salvation (e.g. his own personal guilt, the deity of Christ,
salvation by Christ's sacrificial death, etc.), even if he is confused on other
A Spectrum of Arminianism.
Arminians (like most everyone else) come in different varieties. Here are some varieties I have observed...
1. The rabid, foam-at-the-mouth Arminian, who hates even the mention of the word "elect".
2. The sanguine, indifferent Arminian, who can tolerate any differing view, but will never critically analyze his own beliefs.
3. The humble, serious-minded Arminian, who is willing to change his beliefs if they do not conform to Scripture.
We should seriously question the claims that the first two are saved. The third variety, however, seems to display the Spirit's work... of humbling himself before God, and submitting to whatever His Word says. A person in this third category may eventually come to embrace Calvinism, as his study of the Scriptures reveals to Him the glory of God's sovereign grace.
Likewise, there are many theological views which fit under the general label of "Arminian", and some of these are far more honoring of Christ than others. When an Arminian utters statements to the effect that God is a failure (because, despite all His best efforts, many nevertheless go to hell), he has uttered blasphemy against His holy name and it is difficult to believe that such a person has truly experienced the grace of regeneration. When an Arminian divides up the ground of our salvation by saying that "God has done His part, now you must do your part", has he not denied the sufficiency of Christ?
Yet, I am confident that there are Arminians who are more careful in what they believe and how they express it. That Arminian is not far from the kingdom of God, who views faith, not as an ingredient we supply in our salvation, but rather as seeking from Christ that justifying righteousness which he so desperately needs and finds totally absent within himself. Even though he believes that Christ died for the sins of all men, yet he may affirm that God withholds the saving merits of the sacrifice of Christ from men until they exhibit true faith in Jesus Christ. If he believes that God sovereignly imputes the saving merits of Christ to believers only, and that it is Christ's merit alone that justifies the sinner, then we cannot accuse him of teaching that the death of Christ is unable to save those for whom He died, nor of trusting in his own merit.
Sometimes a person's actions do not match his profession. He may say he believes in free-will, but then he will pray for the salvation of his unbelieving friends and family members as if their salvation was entirely in God's hands. What does he truly believe? In Scripture, one's actions often speak louder than his words...
Matthew 21:28-31 - "But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go work today in the vineyard.' "And he answered, 'I will not'; but afterward he regretted it and went. "The man came to the second and said the same thing; and he answered, 'I will, sir'; but he did not go. "Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Jesus said to them, "Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you.
Thus, it may be that a person is a Calvinist at heart (i.e. praying that God would save his
unbelieving relatives), even though, on an intellectual level, he still has a
lot of Arminian ideas.
The Dangers of Arminianism.
It is one thing to admit that some Arminians are saved. It is quite another to endorse Arminianism as being a harmless error. The proponents of Arminianism have often been both zealous and irreverent in their formulation and preaching of Arminian doctrine; but even the least objectionable forms of Arminianism represent a weakened view of the corruption of man and a diminished view of the glory of God and of His salvation of sinners. However, the more objectionable forms of Arminianism have been downright blasphemous in their insistence that God cannot save us unless we permit Him to do so, or that God is a failure because He failed in His efforts to save all mankind.
It is no wonder, therefore, that some Calvinists have reacted against this extreme form of Arminianism by concluding that Arminianism per se is so contradictory and antagonistic to the Gospel that no Arminian could possibly be saved. Again, we must remember that Arminianism actually embraces a spectrum of views, or at least, a spectrum of attitudes toward the doctrines of depravity and redemption.
The greatest danger of Arminianism is that it opens the door to these extremes, which clearly are so contradictory to the Gospel that it is difficult to comprehend how a person who dogmatically holds to such irreverent and blasphemous views could truly be saved. Even in its more benign forms, Arminianism dilutes and obscures the reality of the atonement and its intent for particular, specific sinners.
Iain Murray explains this well...
Evangelical Arminianism preaches a substitutionary atonement and it also clings to a universal redemption, but because it knows that this universality is one that does not secure universal salvation it must necessarily weaken the reality of the substitution, and represent it as a more indefinite and impersonal thing -- a substitution which does not actually redeem but which makes the redemption of all men possible. According to Arminianism, the atonement has no special relation to any individual person and it renders the salvation of no one certain. For this same reason this teaching has also an inevitable tendency to underrate the meaning of propitiation and to obscure the fact that justification comes to sinners solely on account of Christ's work. It is not faith which makes the atonement effacacious for us, rather the atonement has secured the justification and righteousness of sinners, and even the faith by which we apprehend these blessings is a gift of which Christ is the author and purchaser. So while Arminianism does not deny the nature of the atonement as vicarious, there is always the danger that it may do so, and this is one reason why, in more than one period of history, Arminianism has led to a Modernism which denies substitution and propitiation altogether. Once a blurred and indistinct view of the atonement is accepted in the Church it is more than likely that the next generation will come to the ultimate obscurity of a man like F. W. Robertson of Brighton, of whom it was said, 'Robertson believed that Christ did something or other, which, somehow or other, had some connection or other with salvation.
(Iain Murray, The Forgotten Spurgeon, pp. 75-76. 1998, Banner of Truth, Edinburgh).
Murray's quotation from Thomas Goodwin is also enlightening...
Thomas Goodwin in his commentary on Ephesians, chapters 1-2:11, expounding 'the great love wherewith he loved us,' observes: 'That God in his love pitcheth upon persons. God doth not pitch upon propositions only; as to say, I will love him who believeth, and save him, as those of the Arminian opinion hold; no, he pitcheth upon persons. And Christ died not for propositions only, but for persons.... He loved us nakedly; he loved us, not ours. It was not for our faith, nor for anything in us; "not of works", saith the Apostle; no, nor of faith neither. No, he pitcheth upon naked persons; he loves you, not yours. Therefore here is the reason that his love never fails, because it is pitched upon the person, simply as such.... The covenant of grace is a covenant of persons, and God gives the person of Christ to us, and the person of the Holy Ghost to us....' Works of Thomas Goodwin, 1861, vol. 2, 151.
(Ibid, footnote at bottom of page 75)
What about Historical Calvinists?
The website I mentioned at the outset of this article claimed that any Calvinist who even suggests that some Arminians might be saved has thereby denied the Gospel and cannot possibly be regenerate. What does this say about some of the great Calvinists of history?
For example, it says that George Whitefield, one of the greatest Calvinistic evangelists since the apostle Paul, was unsaved. Why? ... Because he encouraged and supported John and Charles Wesley, who were quite Arminian, and regarded them as brothers in Christ to the day of his death. We should remember, however, that Whitefield did not approve of the Arminianism of the Wesleys, for he wrote a lengthy protest against John Wesley's attacks against predestination. Whitefield also refused to submit to the Wesleys' insistence that he be silent on the issues of Calvinism in his preaching. Whitefield replied that, if he could not preach the sovereign grace of God, he could not proclaim the Gospel.
It would mean that Jonathan Edwards, who highly respected Whitefield as a brother in Christ sinned by not rebuking Whitefield for his endorsement of the Wesleys. At the very least, this proves that he did not hold the views of those mentioned at the beginning of this article.
It would also imply that Martin Luther was unsaved, since he hand-picked Melancthon to be his successor, and Melancthon was the person primarily responsible for turning the Lutheran church away from Calvinism. I don't think we can say that Melancthon's defection from the doctrines of grace occurred after Luther's death, for he worked with Luther to develop the Augsburg Confession, which has little to say about God's sovereignty in salvation.
Charles Spurgeon is another casualty to this way of thinking. He once stated...
Far be it from me even to imagine that Zion contains none but Calvinistic Christians within her walls, or that there are none saved who do not hold our views. (Quoted by Iain Murray in The Forgotten Spurgeon, p. 65.)
Spurgeon also promoted the ministry of the Arminian D. L. Moody, and allowed him to preach in his pulpit. I believe he was wrong to do this, and that it served to undermine much of what Spurgeon preached and taught, but it is ludicrous to say that this proves Spurgeon was unsaved... One would have far greater reason to presume David to be unsaved because of his twin sins of adultery and murder, or that Peter was unsaved for denying Christ three times.
We would have to search far and wide for any statement by a well-known
Calvinist suggesting that all Arminians are unsaved. If the vast majority of
Calvinistic authors and preachers throughout history did not feel it was
important to assert that all Arminians are unsaved, then clearly they did not
believe that all Arminians are unsaved. The fact is that, historically, the
doctrines of grace have been defended and proclaimed almost exclusively by men
who regarded Arminians to be brothers in Christ. If not for men such as these,
the Gospel of God's sovereign grace would be virtually unknown today. The test
of one's faithfulness to Calvinistic teaching is not whether he judges
Arminians to be unsaved, but whether he is diligent to openly and faithfully
proclaim the doctrines of God's sovereign grace. And the test of one's
salvation is not whether he rejects Arminians as unsaved, but whether He trusts
in Christ's sacrificial death and righteousness as the sole ground of his
What about John Owen?
The great Puritan theologian, John Owen, is sometimes claimed as a proponent of the view that all Arminians are unsaved, based upon statements he made in his treatise A Display of Arminianism ...
... Be pleased but to cast an eye on the following instances, and you will find them hewing at the very root of Christianity. Consider seriously their denying of that fundamental article of original sin. Is this but a small escape in theology ?-why, what need of the gospel, what need of Christ himself, if our nature be not guilty, depraved, corrupted ? ...
Here, Owen charges Arminians with teaching that our nature is not "guilty, depraved, corrupted", and thus accuses them of "hewing at the very root of Christianity." And yet, Arminians do confess that the human nature is "guilty, depraved, corrupted". They deny that it is totally depraved, to be sure, but they do nevertheless confess that all men are guilty sinners, possessing a corrupt, depraved nature. Anyone who denies human guilt and corruption is certainly lost, and fully deserves the charge of "hewing at the very root of Christianity". But such a denial belongs to full Pelagianism, and not to the semi-Pelagianism of the Arminian.
Does this mean that Owen misrepresented his Arminian opponents? Not at all! In Owen's day, there were a variety of views which paraded under the general heading of "Arminian"... from the semi-Pelagianism of Arminius' follwers to outright Pelagianism, and a whole range of intermediate views as well. This is made clear by his statement only a few sentences later...
... Neither let any object, that all the Arminians do not openly profess all these errors I have recounted. Let ours, then, show wherein they differ from their masters. ... With some they appear only to dislike our doctrine of reprobation; with others, to claim an allowable liberty of the will: ...
Here, he makes it clear that those he calls "Arminians" hold a variety of positions, and that not all of them "... openly profess all these errors I have recounted."
We need to understand something of the historical events which occasioned his treatise. In Owen's day, there was political pressure being exerted by some to admit Arminians into the clergy of the Anglican Church. Owen wrote his treatise to show the danger to the Church of such an action. In his treatise, he speaks of "civil peace" and of "ecclesiastical peace", and how it would endanger both to admit Arminian teaching into the church alongside the truth of God's sovereignty.
... Now, the result of the one of these is civil peace; of the other, ecclesiastical: betwixt which two there is a great sympathy, a strict connection, having on each other a mutual dependence. Is there any disturbance of the state? it is usually attended with schisms and factions in the church; and the divisions of the church are too often even the subversions of the commonwealth. ...
Owen had reason to believe that this most recent attack upon the purity of the Church was occasioned by its Roman Catholic enemies...
... this I have heard, that it was affirmed on knowledge, in a former parliament, that the introduction of Arminianism amongst us was the issue of a Spanish consultation. It is a strange story that learned Zanchius tells us, how, upon the death of the Cardinal of Lorraine there was found in his study a note of the names of divers German doctors and ministers, being Lutherans, to whom was paid an annual pension, by the assignment of the cardinal, that they might take pains to oppose the Calvinists; and so, by cherishing dissension, reduce the people again to Popery. ...
Owen's treatise was addressed to a committee of the British parliament, "THE LORDS AND GENTLEMEN OF THE COMMITTEE FOR RELIGION". His concern was not the immediate harm which comes to the individual who embraces Arminianism, but rather the ultimate harm which would come to the Church as Arminian doctrine spreads and leads to greater and greater errors...
... With some they appear only to dislike our doctrine of reprobation; with others, to claim an allowable liberty of the will: but yet, for the most part,--like the serpent, wherever she gets in her head, she will wriggle in her whole body, sting and all,--give but the least admission, and the whole poison must be swallowed. ...
If we read Owen carefully, we will see that his purpose was not to prove that all Arminians are unsaved, but rather, like Spurgeon two centuries later, he asserts that Arminianism is a false and dangerous system of doctrine which, though it does not necessarily contradict the Gospel itself, nevertheless diminishes the glory of the Gospel and compromises its ability to bring the sinner to see the absolute helplessness of his condition and that his only hope is in the sovereign Lord he has so greatly offended.
... The Lord, when he means to save sinners, does not stop to ask them whether they mean to be saved, but like a rushing mighty wind the divine influence sweeps away every obstacle; the unwilling heart bends before the potent gale of grace, and sinners that would not yield are made to yield by God. I know this, if the Lord willed it, there is no man so desperately wicked here this morning that he would not be made now to seek for mercy, however infidel he might be; however rooted in his prejudices against the gospel, Jehovah hath but to will it, and it is done. Into thy dark heart, O thou who hast never seen the light, would the light stream; if he did but say, "Let there be light", there would be light. Thou mayest bend thy fist and lift up thy mouth against Jehovah; but he is thy master yet -- thy master to destroy thee, if thou goest on in wickedness; but thy master to save thee now, to change thy heart and turn thy will, as he turneth the rivers of water. ...
(C. H. Spurgeon, A Revival Sermon, delivered January 26, 1860, at Exeter Hall, Strand. www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0296.htm)
The essence of the Gospel is not a precise doctrinal formulation of how the forgiveness purchased by Christ's blood comes to the believing sinner. Rather it is the convicted sinner's realization that Christ alone, because of His substitutionary death for sinners, can save Him from his sins and the condemnation he so richly deserves, joined with a plea to Christ for mercy.
The Holy Spirit does not necessarily weed out every vestige of Arminian thinking from us the instant He regenerates us. But He does lead us into the truth as we progress through the Christian life.
We discern the spiritual condition of the Arminian the same way we do of a Calvinist... Does he exhibit the fruit of the Spirit of God? Does he affirm essential Gospel truths: His own sinfulness, the holiness and justice of God, the vicarious nature of Christ's atonement, that Christ alone is the sinner's righteousness? Does he acknowledge the full inspiration and inerrancy of God's holy Word? Does he love the Lord and His people? Is he humble and kind? Does He trust Christ to save him from his sins?
These are the marks of a true Christian, whether he holds to Arminian or
Calvinistic beliefs. Let us be Biblical, not merely philosophical
in our assessment of the salvation of others.