What is Heresy? Is Arminianism Heresy, Part II

In case you missed it, we explained the definition of heresy in What is Heresy? Is Arminianism Heresy, Part I. Read it before you proceed.

Somehow, James White has convinced people that we – that is, me, JD Hall and Pulpit & Pen – are “Hyper-Calvinists” and by that he means that we believe Arminianism is heresy. So, we feel the need to correct him and the endless (actually, it’s not endless; his followers are becoming fewer and fewer as his Downgrade becomes more and more apparent) mob of listeners who for whatever reason accuse us of “Hyper-Calvinism.”

There are two primary problems with White’s assessment. The first is that we are not “Hyper-Calvinists” as the term is historically understood, which is the only understanding that is meaningful. The second, even by his definition of Hyper-Calvinism, we are still not Hyper-Calvinists. Let me explain. As I wrote on November 23 in a post entitled, “Some Clarity on Hyper Calvinism: What It Is and What It Isn’t“:

Firstly, it would help us in this discussion to define what Hyper-Calvinism is not. Contrary to Arminian opinion, Hyper-Calvinism is not a synonym for Calvinism. Yes, I know they use the term “Hyper-Calvinist,” for anyone who holds to all five soteriological points of the TULIP, and we should all agree that they should stop doing that. Secondly, Hyper-Calvinism should not be a slur towards those who hold to the Doctrines of Grace more fervently or zealously than you do. How strongly someone holds to Calvinism does not determine whether or not that individual is a Hyper-Calvinist. Those using the term, Hyper-Calvinism, to describe anyone who is not apathetic or nonchalant about the sacred Doctrines of Grace is sub-intellectual as much as Hyper-Calvinism is sub-Christian. For example, a really zealous Modalist is not a Hyper-Modalist. They’re just a plain old, going-to-hell kind of Modalist who is really zealous about it. A Calvinist who is really enthused or really excitable about Calvinism is not a Hyper-Calvinist. Thirdly, a Hyper-Calvinist is not someone who thinks the Gospel is the same thing as Calvinism. Calvinism – like Arminianism – is a soteriological system. It is a doctrine that seeks to define salvation and how God saves sinners. One should hope that their understanding of soteriology is the same thing as the Gospel. That’s the entire point of professing a soteriological system. If everyone was honest about it – whether Calvinist, Arminian, or Pelagian – they would admit that they believe their understanding of the Gospel is the Gospel. If you find this thought detestable, call yourself a soteriological agnostic and have no opinion about the Gospel at all (I wouldn’t recommend it). Fourthly and finally, Hyper-Calvinism should not be a random pejorative employed toward people with whom you’re in disagreement just because you’re in disagreement. Unless they are actually holding to historic “Hyper-Calvinism,” call them a scalawag. Call them a ne’er-do-well. Call them wrong, but do not misapply terms. Words have meanings. Don’t abuse words.

Hyper-Calvinism, as we explained it from the annals of history, include (A) a belief that only Calvinists are born-again or converted believers and (B) a belief that not all men should be evangelized because not all are the elect, or that all men don’t have the responsibility to believe and repent. The “and” in the previous sentence is important. Historically, many (but not all) who best defined “Calvinism” or “the Doctrines of Grace” nearly universally agreed that Arminianism was a false gospel, or that it was heresy. When James White removes the and from his definition of Hyper-Calvinism, he does history a disservice, all in the desire to ad hominem (I’m using that as a verb) his opponents. It really is sub-intellectual and a-historical on his part, and to his shame. Again, you can read more about the historical definition of Hyper-Calvinism here. A summary is as follows:

1. The Hyper-Calvinist denies that gospel invitations are to be delivered to all people without exception. He limits the purpose of gospel preaching to bringing in the elect, and so only the elect are to be addressed with the commands, invitations and offers of the Word. There is to be no pleading with, exhorting and beseeching of an entire congregation of sinners. That attitude was totally rejected by Spurgeon, who on many occasions addressed every single hearer thus: “‘These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” Look to him, blind eyes; look to him, dead souls; look to him. Say not that you cannot; he in whose power I speak will work a miracle while yet you hear the command, and blind eyes shall see, and dead hearts shall spring into eternal life by his Spirit’s effectual working’ (MTP, 40, 1894, p.502).

2. The Hyper-Calvinist declares that the warrant a sinner has to come to Jesus Christ is found in his own experience of conviction and assurance. That warrant, the hyper says, cannot be obtained until we are inwardly spiritually exercised. But, Spurgeon preached that all mankind has a warrant to believe extended to them, giving them the right to place their trust in the Lord Jesus. That warrant is the universal command found in the Word of God that all men should repent of their sins and should believe on the Lord Jesus. ‘Do not wait for your feelings to convince you that you can venture on Christ,’ urged Spurgeon, ‘you have the right to come just as you are today because God is sincerely beseeching you to come to his Son for pardon.’ In his 1863 sermon on the, “Warrant of Faith,”  Spurgeon tells people that if the warrant were not in the Word of God but in the sinner’s own condition, the result has to be that people would be driven to look within themselves and ask, ‘Have I sufficiently broken my heart?’ rather than looking to a welcoming Saviour (MTP, Vol.9, p.529ff). And that exactly is the case today. Spurgeon pointed out pertinently that those whose hearts are most broken feel most the obdurate hardness of their hearts.

3. The Hyper-Calvinist declares that human inability means man cannot be urged to come at that moment to Christ. A universal command must presuppose a modicum of ability, he says. Spurgeon replied that he would not tone down man’s depravity and helplessness one whit. The gospel is one of grace and therefore rests upon despair of human resources and potency. It is only on the presupposition of total depravity and complete human impotence that the full glory and power of the gospel can be declared. Spurgeon then would exalt God’s power to save. There are two lines found in Scripture, one that declares man’s helplessness through being dead in sin and yet that he is responsible to turn to God, and the other, that the Lord is sovereign to save. As John Duncan said, ‘the idea that God did half and man did half is utterly false. God doing all and man also doing all is the teaching of the Bible.’

4. The Hyper-Calvinist denies the universal love of God. He has a fearful caricature of the real nature of God which would present him as fierce, and not easily induced to love. ‘If we fellowshipped more with Christ,’ said Iain Murray, ‘we would know and love him more. Then there would be no uncertainty that God desired the salvation of sinners. ‘How oft would I have gathered you,’ says the Saviour to recalcitrant Jerusalem. – From Spurgeons Battles with the Hyper-Calvinists (source link) [Emboldened type is my addition].

But, for the sake of argument, we need to deal with whether or not Arminianism is heresy. It should be well established that thinking so doesn’t make one a Hyper-Calvinist, but that doesn’t actually solve the problem or answer the question at hand as to whether or not Arminianism is heresy. Is it? Is Arminianism heresy?

By the definition of heresy presented in our post Is Arminianism Heresy Part 1, we defined heresy as follows:

WHAT IS HERESY?

Heresy – properly understood – is a false teaching with eternal consequences for those who hold to it, and typically deal with either the ontology (nature) of God or soteriology (salvation). Chiefly explained, heresy is a false doctrinal teaching that so changes the nature of God that the object of one’s worship is no longer the God of Scripture or changes the understanding of salvation to the extent that it cannot save.

Historically, heresy has been understood as dealing with these two primary issues. Arianism, Modalism, and Marcionism all change the ontology of God so severely, that it cannot be said that those holding to these doctrines are worshiping the God of Scripture. Denying the deity of Christ, the Holy Trinity, or the sameness of the God of the Old and New Testament (respectively) all make that god not the God of Holy Writ. Therefore, those holding to it are practicing idolatry and are damned in their doctrine. Likewise, those holding to Pelagianism, the Galatian Heresy, or Antinomianism all change the doctrine of salvation (respectively) that they are damning for those who hold to them.

WHAT IS DAMNABLE HERESY?

Damnable heresy is a redundant term. All heresy is damnable – by its very definition. The term is used (unwisely, often times) by those trying to distinguish heresy from heterodoxy.

WHAT IS HETERODOXY?

Heterodoxy is a teaching that is not orthodox. It can be any teaching that is wrong, and doesn’t accord to standard or historic Christian teaching. There are many, many heterodox teachings that – although wrong – do not rise to the level of heresy. These are what we might call “secondary issues” or “tertiary issues.” Depending upon your theological outlook, one might view mode of baptism, eschatological views, worship convictions, or evangelism methodologies as issues of heterodoxy rather than heresy because misunderstanding some of these doctrines are tragic, yet do not damn the soul (it is granted that more extreme viewpoints on anything could be heretical, but I am writing in the most general way possible while recognizing the infinite number of ways people have thought up to be stupid, doctrinally).

So then, if Doctrine A is wrong Biblically, but it does not affect one’s worship of the True God and it does not affect the true understanding of salvation, it is not yet heretical but is heterodoxical. If Doctrine B is wrong Biblically, and it so mangles their understanding of God that it makes him into a false god, or if it botches salvation entirely, it’s not merely heterodox, it is heretical.

WHAT IS ORTHODOXY?

Orthodoxy has a two-fold definition. In its plainest of terms, to be orthodox means to simply be “right thinking.” All correct doctrine is, by definition, orthodox. However, academically, orthodoxy also has a historic component to it. As Protestants (myself holding to the Second London Baptist Confession), we recognize that the only infallible rule of faith or practice is the Holy Scripture, and not church history. However, there is such a thing as “historic theology,” and it is a helpful tool to use in determining how far something has strayed from orthodoxy. The second component of orthodoxy is historicity. The question should be, “Has the historic church condemned this [aberrant teaching] as heresy?” In certain (but extremely rare) cases, heresies are new, and there is no historic record of its denunciation by the church. However, most heresies – or variant strains of them – go back millennia, and if the “Church Historic” has widely (that’s an important adjective) denounced those things as heresy, then they do not qualify as orthodoxy. Other practices or doctrines, which we find objectionable but which the church has historically found great peace with in certain centuries or regions and which do not affect God’s ontology or soteriology, we should be slow to say aren’t orthodox.

Understanding both the Biblical and historical caveats of orthodoxy should make us understand that saying something is or isn’t orthodox doesn’t mean that we are saying it is necessarily right or necessarily wrong, but speaks to how far outside the spectrum of acceptable historic Christian thought that practice or doctrine may be.

Is Arminianism heresy, damnable heresy, heterodoxy or orthodoxy?

Well, off the bat we can discount Arminianism as “damnable heresy” because we reject the notion that “damnable heresy” is a good term to use because it is a redundant and unnecessary term, as explained above. Secondly, we can certainly say that Arminianism is not orthodoxy by its plainest definition, because it is not right thinking, and stands opposed to the very concept of grace itself as unmerited favor. However, in the second component of “orthodoxy” – that which has been historically acceptable by the “Church Historic” there is no doubt that non-Calvinists and a “regeneration preceeds faith” Ordo Salutis has been widely accepted by the Church Historic. On this account and by this broader application of the term, it would be difficult to say that non-Calvinists (like John Wesley, as the locus classicus example) are not orthodox, as viewed by Christians throughout the ages. This is no change of opinion on my part; I have been clear, for example, that while some greatly disagree with infant baptism, I do not call it heresy because it has been widely accepted by the orthodox Christian church. It is wrong – and it is very wrong, in my estimation – but I have never called it heresy because my definitions of heresy, heterodoxy and orthodoxy have not changed one iota.

That answer, of course, is insufficient because even though we view history as a valuable tool to determine orthodoxy and heresy, it is not the infallible rule of faith and practice. So then, we will put the orthodoxy category (under the secondary, broader term) as “moot” for the sake of argument made in this particular article.

Regarding heterodoxy, we’ve no problem putting Arminianism squarely in that camp. Please note that this article is not meant to be an exhaustive explanation as to why, but merely to convey the official position of Pulpit & Pen and more particularly, me personally.

This leaves us with the primary (and original) question of “Is Arminianism heresy?” That Arminianism is heterodoxical does not by necessity imply it is heretical.

Here is the answer, as best I can provide it.

Misunderstanding the Ordo Salutis – the chief error of Arminianism – does not eternally damn one by necessity, in the same way that (for example) misunderstanding the ontology of God regarding the Trinity or misunderstanding Christology regarding the deity or Christ or misunderstanding soteriology on the same level as that of the Galatian Heresy does automatically damn one. For a full list of heresies we have and haven’t written about at Pulpit & Pen, click here. If you have read the link previously aforementioned, you might have noticed that Arminianism is not on the (very extensive) list of heresies we have cataloged and explained at this polemics site. Few have picked up on that caveat or detail, which might have given you insight into our actual position.

As plainly as possible, Arminianism only becomes a heresy when it is held to in such a way as to teleport the adherent to the heresies of Pelagianism (which is very common among self-professed Arminians, clearly). For the record, I absolutely believe that Leighton Flowers has crossed into clear Pelagian heresy, and I 100% affirm Sonny Hernandez and Theodore Zachariades in their refusal to give him the title of “brother.” When I refused to affirm Ante Pavkovic as a brother in Christ in my debate with him at the Judge Not Conference, it wasn’t entirely because of his Montanism, but because of his Pelagianism. I certainly can’t fault them for what I had done just a few weeks prior.

I agree wholeheartedly with George Whitefield who said, “We are all born Arminians. It is by the grace of God that we become Calvinists” (this is attributed to Spurgeon as well). I would go so far as to argue that most of us are born-again as Arminians, utterly convinced that faith was our contribution to our own salvation, blissfully unaware that faith is actually God’s contribution to our salvation and all we contributed was a steaming pile of our own sin.

However, if someone would go so far as to say that faith is a work by which they have earned, merited, or deserved salvation then they are not only practicing the heresy of Pelagianism, they are – at least in spirit – practicing the heresy of the Galatian Judaizers. That is, in no uncertain terms, a false gospel. And yet, it is my conviction, that few who believe the source of faith is their own heart who would actually attribute it as a meritious “work.” And, therein lies the rub. For those who consider their faith a meritorious work, then anathema to them. Many Arminians believe such a thing, and so with no hesitation, anathema to them (may God save them from the curse of the law). However, there are a great deal of Arminians (or non-Calvinists, to speak more broadly) who hold to a cognitively dissonant position that faith is a gift of God, and yet God has given faith to all men (who must utilize it somehow  by their own decision-making process), and yet not all men are saved. Yes, we recognize that’s terrible scholarship. But no, it’s not the same as the Galatian Heresy and it’s not the same as Pelagianism, which denies the necessity of grace at all.

I recognize that some may take this as a spiked football in the direction of brothers Hernandez and Zachariades, who seem to differ with me strongly. However, let me add this caveat lest someone take this post and bludgeon it to use as a blunt instrument with which to do damage to our 1689 Baptist brothers who hold to the Canons of Dort. When someone makes it their life’s ambition – as has Leighton Flowers – to very clearly challenge the sovereignty of God in the name of “Traditionalism” (if ever there was a lying term, it is that one; it is nothing short of a schizophrenic Arminianism), then I begin to look at the individual as lost. It’s one thing to be a poor theologian who has not fully thought out the implications of the suppositions under which you were discipled, but it’s another thing altogether to position yourself as an enemy of God’s righteous attributes and to kick against the goads of God’s sovereignty. I will remind you that in the works of our Beloved Spurgeon, he regularly refers to Arminians as Pelagians, for he had no patience for those advocating most strongly their heterodoxical views. I don’t believe Spurgeon failed to ascertain the nuanced difference between Arminianism and Pelagianism – for certain quotations from the Prince of Preachers makes it impossible for him not to have seen such a distinction – but he apparently felt Arminianism to be worth so little respect that calling it the pejorative “Pelagianism” seemed inconsequential to him.

I also believe that when Spurgeon said things like, “The doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works,” he is clearly indicating that Arminianism – if taken to its logical conclusion – can be outright heresy. That does not imply that Arminianism is by necessity taken to its logical conclusion. In a world of reality, the reality is that those who espouse Arminianism often do not take it to their logical conclusion, and unless they do, they are not heretics by my (or I believe, Spurgeon’s) estimation.

Finally, I believe that what Hernandez and Zachariades are espousing is essentially correct; Arminianism is a false representation of the Gospel. By that, I mean (I will let them speak on what they mean) that it is not an adequate or accurate understanding of how God saves sinners. I also affirm their assessment that no one is saved by an Arminian Gospel; if someone is saved by the preaching of someone like a John or Charles Wesley, they are saved by the Holy Spirit using the Scripture to make someone born again and then converted through a process best articulated by Calvinism. That being said, it can also be said that people can be genuinely saved by the preaching of Joel Osteen but it would not be because of Osteen, but in spite of him. I’d say the same thing if one of the hundreds of people saying the Sinner’s Prayer as led by Leighton Flowers happened to also be one of God’s elect, brought to penitent faith in the accomplished work of Christ.

FINALLY, FINALLY

I will repeat myself again. The fact is, as I have already laid out, much of historic Calvinism has claimed that Arminianism is heresy. For that reason, I have defended Hernandez and Zachariades from claims of Hyper-Calvinism, because they are simply being historic Calvinists. I remember the old Radio Free Geneva introductions (White may still use it, it’s been so long since I’ve listened I don’t know) there was a clip saying, “Calvin was a Hyper-Calvinist.” That soundbite was included to lift the accusation to scorn. The fact is, the position held to by Hernandez and Zachariades is much closer to John Calvin than that of today’s soft-bellied New Calvinists, and thus to impugn them with the title of “Hyper-Calvinist” would by necessity impugn Calvin himself.

I’m very grateful for Hernandez and Zachariades, and I’m very sorry they’ve been treated like pariahs in a growing ecumenical resurgence of fad Calvinism that doesn’t understand our theological roots, the kind and type of New Calvinism that can’t even anathematize the Eastern Orthodox like Hank Hanegraaff or Hyper-Montanists like Michael Brown. That type of New Calvinism really doesn’t say anybody is out of the camp, and they use “narrow” and “zealotry” as though they are pejoratives and not Christ’s own descriptions for the Kingdom of God.

IN SUMMARY

In the meantime, if you hear someone accuse me or Pulpit & Pen of being “Hyper-Calvinists” you can point them here. Arminianism can be heresy when it is taken to its foregone (logical) conclusions as it often is. It does not have to be taken to its logical conclusions (people are inconsistent, by our very nature) and when it represents a misunderstanding of the order of regeneration and faith and the Arminian doesn’t argue faith is meritorious (even though if it was ours to contribute it should logically follow that it would be), then I don’t believe they’re damned by a misunderstanding of the Ordo Salutis. However, when someone clearly understands the implications of their error and chooses to actively rebel against God’s Sovereignty, it is rightful to treat them in the very same way as we would treat someone challenging vigorously God’s omnipotence or his omniscience; in other words, we should treat them like they’re lost. I, for one, rejoiced to see Leighton Flowers treated as one blasphemes God, because indeed he is.

Here’s why this is an important debate, if it can be had without wildly calling people “Hyper-Calvinists” in a way completely divorced from dictionaries or history. You cannot evangelize someone and defend their brotherhood in Christ at the same time. It’s a very simple principle. When ministers – like Hernandez and Zachariades, for example – are doing open air or personal evangelism, the fact is that the majority of their Bible-belt audience has been “saved” by “asking Jesus in their heart” more times than years they are old. This is nothing but the bastard child of Arminianism. It’s as salvifically illegitimate as Jesse Jackson’s love child. These are people who – assuming their decisions saved them – do not need to receive the right hand of fellowship but the open hand of evangelism as though being brands plucked from the fire. They need Jesus. Not only do they need saved, they need “unsaved.” In other words, they need to recognize that the kind and type of Finneyesque Pelagian gospel taught by self-professing Arminians or “Traditionalists” brought them closer to hell than closer to Jesus. With that in view, it makes every sense to evangelize them presuming that they are lost until finding out otherwise.

If there is anyone who is a “Hyper-Calvinist” – those who do not believe in evangelism – it would have to be those who so quickly lean towards ecumenism that they are embracing the brotherhood of men who – at the very least – we should very, very cautiously consider. You can’t win to Christ who you affirm as already a part of Him.

[Editor’s Note: I haven’t told anyone I’m finishing out Part II or what my position on “Arminianism is Heresy” would officially be, including my good friends, Pastors Hernandez or Zachariades. I haven’t even told my editors, who are finding out right now. If I have misrepresented the position of Pastors Hernandez or Zachariades, they are welcome to write a rejoinder which I will gladly publish on this website and link it here in the editor’s note – JD]

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