A Brief History on Arminianism
To deny the doctrine of election is a doctrine itself. In theology we call this Arminianism. The name Arminianism comes from the teachings of James Harmensen, or in Latin, Jacobus Arminius. In the early 17th century, the church and state have always been united in Holland until a theological dispute arose. Professor Arminius presented a paper in which he named five points of doctrine concerning which he and others disagreed. These five points covered issues regarding the original sin, unconditional predestination, invincible grace in conversion, particular redemption, and perseverance of saints.
As a result, the government of Holland ordered the church to discuss and settle the issues regarding these five points of doctrines. In 1618, this meeting was the famous Synod of Dort, where not only the ministers from Holland were present, but also delegates from France, Germany, Swiss, and Britain came to discuss and settle those doctrinal matters. The Synod adopted the rule that every doctrine should be decided by the sole authority of the Word of God, leaving out all human philosophies, opinions, and speculations on side. After 29 years from this historical meeting came the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Shorter and the Larger Catechism in 1647. The people who refuted against the five points of the doctrines of Arminius were later labeled as the Five Points of Calvinism. It’s important to keep in mind that John Calvin himself did not come up with the Five Points of Calvinism, but rather, it was the Arminius’s camp who called the followers of Calvin, Calvinists, and their rebuttals against Arminianism, the Five Points of Calvinism.
Election & Depravity of Man
Views 1 and 2 are problematic because they both have erroneous views on the depravity of man. When people have trouble with the doctrine of election (and many do), their real problem is not with the doctrine of election itself, but it is with the doctrine of depravity of man, or in theology, the doctrine of total depravity or total inability.
The proponents of Views 1 and 2 along with the Arminianists do admit that they hold to the doctrine of the depravity of man (i.e., teaching that man is basically a sinner). But the problem with them is that they don’t go far enough on the depravity of man. In other words, how far did the human race fall when it fell? That’s the question. How sinful is sinner? Is he sinful 80% 90%? 99% Or, totally 100% depraved? Your answer to that question determines how you view yourself, God, and others.
If you truly believe that you are totally and completely 100% depraved, then you would believe that every faculty of your being has been completely and totally infected by sin. Thus in you, you do not have “power,” “ability,” “free-will” or “choice” to save yourself from your sin. And that’s the position, which the Bible teaches. Sin is a state of condition before it is an action.
But Arminians affirm that we are affected by sin (but not completely or totally), that’s why people possess the ability to turn from it and believe in Christ when the gospel is offered – by our own power or “free will.”
What does it really mean by “original sin,” “total depravity,” and “inability of the will”?
The Westminster Confession of Faith (which I believe to be a great historical faith that affirms the biblical faith), Chapter IX, Section iii, states that, “Man, by his fall into a state of sin, hath wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.”
Isn’t that what the Bible teaches? In Gen. 6:5, the Scripture says, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” That one verse alone destroys any notions (including evolutionism) that man is getting better or improving morally and spiritually. But rather, the truth of the matter is that man is getting worst and degenerating into more wicked morally and inventing more wicked and sinful things.
Also in Eph. 2:1, Apostle Paul tells us that we Christians were once “dead in trespasses and sins.” That means that every faculty of our beings were dead, including the will. Did you ever see a dead man who exercise will or choice? You see, a dead man doesn’t have the “ability” to exercise a will, choice, and etc.
As an unregenerate sinner, all he or she can do is sin. That is the nature of sin. Sin is a state of condition before it is an action. Unless the nature changes, a sinner is always a slave to sin. All he/she can do is sin. He always “wills” to sin or chooses to sin because that’s what the sin nature does. In other words, the state of the condition dictates the actions. So if you think about it, that doesn’t sound like a sinner has a “freedom” or “free-will” or ability to choose. No! Rather, he is a slave. He doesn’t have any freedom or the ability to choose. And isn’t that what our Lord Jesus said? In John 8:34, Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever commits sin is the servant of sin.” That doesn’t sound like a servant of sin has power to be free.
That’s why as an unregenerate sinner, all he or she can do is sin. That is the nature of sin, and unless the nature changes, a sinner is always a slave to sin. Let me illustrate it this way. There was a mighty lion that was ruling the jungle. Everyone in the animal kingdom was afraid of this lion. He was known for his strength and great appetite. Everyone was afraid to be his next meal. One day, the lion decided that he didn’t want to eat other animals anymore. He learned that he had high cholesterol so he wanted to stop eating meats. So he decided to eat vegetables and fruits instead. Much of the animals in the jungle were happy that the lion decided to go vegetarian. This went on for few days. Although the lion tried so hard to stay with his new diet program he just couldn’t. His will and desires were for the meats. One day as he was picking grapes in the vineyard he saw a pack of sheep. With his natural instinct, without any hesitation, he charged for the pack of sheep and killed three sheep and ate them all!
Now, I told you that story to illustrate this point: the lion will always be a lion. He can’t be like the cows, sheep, or other vegetarian animals that eat nothing but grass and other greens. Why? Because the nature of a lion is to kill and eat meat. Lions are carnivorous animals. Their will is to eat meat. They don’t have the “free-will,” because they are slaves to their lion nature. That is the nature of the condition they are in. Their state of condition dictates their carnivorous actions, and unless the nature changes, the lion will always be a meat-eating animal.
So what does it mean by “original sin”? Let me quote, R. L. Dabney (1820-1898), a nineteenth century American Presbyterian theologian: “By original sin, we mean the evil quality which characterizes man’s natural disposition and will.We call this sin of nature original, because each fallen man is born with it, and because it is the source or origin in each man of his actual transgressions” (The Five Points of Calvinism, 3.See http://www.crta.org/calvinism/5Points_Dabney.html).
Man is described by three components: body, mind, and soul. With that, he is made up of three elements: knowledge, emotion, and will. When the Bible declares that we are born as sinners (i.e. Rom. 5:12, “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”), what that means is that everything that we are (knowledge, emotion, and will) have been completely and totally contaminated by sin. That is why to an unregenerate sinner, there is no such a thing called “free will,” because his/her “will” is completely and totally chained to his sin nature. All his will is to sin. Unless the unregenerate sinner’s sinful nature changes, he/she doesn’t have the freedom to choose. To a sinner, sin is unlimited. There is no limit as to what sort of sin he cannot commit.