The system known as “Calvinism” (or Reformed Theology) has its roots in the writings of St. Augustine in the 4th century. Church historian, Philip Schaff, documents St. Augustine’s beliefs in his introduction to the works of St. Augustine.
“Augustin…asserts that divine grace is not conditioned on human worthiness, and maintains the doctrine of absolute predestination, or, that from the mass of men who, through the disobedience of Adam (in whom all mankind were present potentially), have sunk into corruption and sin, some are chosen by the free election of God to be monuments of his grace, and are brought to believe and be saved, while the greater number, as monuments of his justice, are left to eternal damnation.”
St. Augustine’s views were expanded and systematized by John Calvin, a sixteenth century Reformer. The core of Calvinism revolves around the sovereignty of God. God is ultimately the supreme ruler of the universe. Everything that occurs does so at His command. When this philosophy is applied to the question of salvation, it becomes obvious that man’s apparent free will is somewhat of an illusion. That is, man only appears to have free will. God ultimately decides who is to be saved and who is to be lost totally apart from any kind of decision on the part of the individual.
Before the creation, God sovereignty decided whom He would save and whom He would not. Man has no independent choice in the matter at all. Before an individual is born, God has already determined his fate. If he is one of the poor unfortunate souls whom God decided not to save, for whom Christ’s atonement was not accomplished or intended, there is absolutely no possibility of him ever being saved. On the other hand, those God predestined to be saved before creation cannot resist God’s overpowering will. Since God sovereignly controls everything, their will is no match for His. They will be saved no matter what.
James Arminius, professor of Divinity at Leyden, was trained in Geneva in the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition. Around 1591 he began to question some of Calvin’s teachings, and soon openly taught and wrote in opposition to Calvin. Arminius’ writings and teaching gained a considerable following, but brought him no real trouble from the Calvinist majority. However, shortly after his death, the Reformed Church launched a crusade against all prominent persons who were considered “Arminian” in theology.
The Council of Dort was allegedly convened for the Arminians to present their arguments against Calvinism in a fair hearing. They were not aware that in reality it was their “Protestant Inquisition” or “heresy trial.” The Five Articles of Remonstrance (five grievances) were prepared by the Arminian defendants to present their disagreement with the Church’s official Calvinist stand. The five articles outlined the main points where Arminians objected to Calvin’s theology. Essentially, they affirmed that man has a free will and the God-given capacity to choose to accept or reject God’s efforts to save Him. And, that Christ died for all men, not merely a select group.
The Five Arminian Articles of Remonstrance
- That God, by an eternal and unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ His Son, before the foundations of the world were laid, determined to save, out of the human race which had fallen into sin, in Christ, for Christ’s sake and through Christ, those who through the grace of the Holy Spirit shall believe on the same His Son and shall through the same grace persevere in this same faith and obedience of faith even to the end; and on the other hand to leave under sin and wrath the contumacious and unbelieving and to condemn them as aliens from Christ, according to the word of the Gospel in John 3:36, and other passages of Scripture.
- That, accordingly, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that He has obtained for all, by His death on the cross, reconciliation and remission of sins; yet so that no one is partaker of this remission except the believers [John 3:16; 1 John 2:2].
- That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the working of his own free-will, inasmuch as in his state of apostasy and sin he can for himself and by himself think nothing that is good — nothing, that is, truly good, such as saving faith is, above all else. But that it is necessary that by God, in Christ and through His Holy Spirit he be born again and renewed in understanding, affections and will and in all his faculties, that he may be able to understand, think, will, and perform what is truly good, according to the Word of God [John 15:5].
- That this grace of God is the beginning, the progress and the end of all good; so that even the regenerate man can neither think, will nor effect any good, nor withstand any temptation to evil, without grace precedent (or prevenient), awakening, following and co-operating. So that all good deeds and all movements towards good that can be conceived in through must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But with respect to the mode of operation, grace is not irresistible; for it is written of many that they resisted the Holy Spirit [Acts 7 and elsewhere passim].
- That those who are grafted into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby been made partakers of His life-giving Spirit, are abundantly endowed with power to strive against Satan, sin, the world and their own flesh, and to win the victory; always, be it understood, with the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit, with Jesus Christ assisting them in all temptations, through His Spirit; stretching out His hand to them and (providing only that they are themselves prepared for the fight, that they entreat His aid and do not fail to help themselves) propping and upbuilding them so that by no guile or violence of Satan can they be led astray or plucked from Christ’s hands [John 10:28]. But for the question whether they are not able through sloth or negligence to forsake the beginning of their life in Christ, to embrace again this present world, to depart from the holy doctrine once delivered to them, to lose their good conscience and to neglect grace-this must be the subject of more exact inquiry in the Holy Scriptures, before we can teach it with full confidence of our mind.
The Council of Dort, led entirely by Reformed Calvinists, completely rejected all five Arminian articles. A persecution of Arminians even to death ensued. Of the Arminian defendants, John Wesley wrote, “some were put to death, some banished, some imprisoned for life, all turned out of their employments, and made incapable of holding any office, either in Church or State.”  Rome’s wrath had previously fallen upon the Protestant Reformers at the Council of Trent. But, when the once-persecuted Reformed Protestant Church obtained political power themselves, they became the persecutors. They behaved precisely like Rome, killing and persecuting Christians who dared express a theology contrary to the new Protestant state Church. This behavior of the Calvinists was not an isolated incident. Calvin himself had people put to death in Geneva for having the gall to disagree with his theology.
In response to The Five Articles of Remonstrance, the council of Dort countered with what has become known as The Five Points of Calvinism. The first letter of each point forms the word “TULIP.” This is helpful to remembering each point.
1. Total depravity of man
2. Unconditional election
3. Limited atonement.
4. Irresistible grace
5. Perseverance of the saints
In the articles that follow, we will briefly examine each of the five points of Calvinism in light of Scripture, the character of God revealed in Scripture, and the true gospel of Jesus Christ. The last article in our series demonstrates that the beliefs of the earliest Christian writers corresponded to those of Arminius and not Calvin.
By Tim Warner Copyright © 2003
Next 1. Total Depravity of Man
1 Wesley, John. What is an Arminian. The Works of John Wesley, 1872 edition.