Is Arminianism Heresy?

This question comes up most of the time. There are professing ‘Calvinists’ who say that a true Calvinist should not even have fellowship with an Arminian.

McMahon, from A Puritan’s Mind, believes that the Canons of Dort condemned Arminianism as a heresy, here’s why,

Dordt stated that in reaction to the Arminian and Remonstrant Articles and Opinions, that Arminius and the Remonstrants, “summon back from hell the Pelagian error.”[1] They said that Arminianism “deceive(s) the simple,”[2] “is an invention of the human brain,”[3] is a “pernicious error,”[4] “smacks of Pelagius,”[5] “runs counter to the entire Scripture,”[6] is “gross error,”[7] “militate(s) against the experience of the saints and is contrary to Scripture,”[8] “contradict(s) Scripture,”[9] “attempt(s) to give the people the deadly poison of Pelagianism,”[10] “contradict(s) the apostle” and “contradict(s) the Savior,”[11] “is an insult to the wisdom of God,”[12] “is opposed to the plain testimonies of Scripture,”[13] “is a teaching that is entirely Pelagian and contrary to the whole of Scripture.”[14] Christians should know that “the early church already condemned this doctrine long ago in the Pelagians,”[15] “is obviously Pelagian,”[16] and “nullifies the very grace of justification and regeneration.”[17]

But in answering this question, we must consider one’s understanding of what heresy is. It is customary nowadays that to say that a belief is a heresy is to say that it is a damning error (in contrast to false teachings which are damaging errors). Let’s see how it is defined,

[Richard Muller] - haeresis (from the Greek αἵρεσις, hairesis): heresy, indicating a choice, which even in classical usage came to mean a course of action or system of thought, such as a set of philosophical principles or a school holding a particular set of beliefs. In Christian usage it referred to an erroneous belief characteristic of a sect and opposed to right teaching, or orthodoxy.

Heresy is defined as simply deviating from ecumenical creeds or orthodox teaching. A Reformed Baptist pastor friend, when asked if Arminianism is a heresy, said,

It is indeed heresy, in the simplest sense: a belief that is contrary to the historic, orthodox, Christian faith.

But as Arminianism developed in evangelicalism, it adopted certain aspects of Reformational soteriology, such as penal substitutionary atonement, and therefore many of its adherents can hold to the system’s error while still believing in the Gospel.

If you’re using heresy in this way: a deviation from orthodox Historic Christianity - then Arminianism is clearly heresy. If you’re talking about DAMNABLE heresy: those heresies which strike at the heart of the Christian Gospel (unitarianism, works-salvation, etc.) then NO, most Arminians today do not hold to a damnable heresy.

J.I. Packer avoids making a sweeping statement that Arminianism is heresy in saying that,

“Arminianism vary, so that blanket judgments are not in order: each version of post-Reformation semi-Pelagianism must be judged on its own merits… that Arminianism should be diagnosed, not as a creative alternative to Reformation teaching, but as an impoverishing reaction to it, involving a partial denial of the biblical faith in the God of all grace. The lapse is less serious in some cases, more so in others, but in every case, it calls for responsible notice and compassionate correction. The logical conclusion of Arminian principles would be pure Pelagianism, but no Arminian takes his principles so far (otherwise one would call him a Pelagian, and be done with it). Calvinists should therefore approach professed Arminians as brother evangelicals trapped in weakening theological mistakes and seek to help them to a better mind. So we move to our final brief section.

Finally, let us listen to the “Learned Doctor” William Ames (1576–1633) who was the secretary to the president of the Synod of Dort,

The view of the Remonstrants [i.e., the Arminians], as it is taken by the mass of their supporters, is not strictly a heresy, that is, a major lapse from the gospel, but a dangerous error tending toward heresy. As maintained by some of them, however, it is the Pelagian heresy, because they deny that the effective operation of inward grace is necessary for conversion. 

Let us see how George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon treated John Wesley, who was said to popularize Arminianism,

On one such occasion, someone asked Whitefield whether he thought he would see John Wesley (1703-1791) in heaven. Whitefield humbly replied, “No, I don’t expect to see John Wesley in heaven; because he will be so close to the throne, and I will be so far away, that I will not be able to see him.” 
[Charles Spurgeon] - Most atrocious things have been spoken about the character and spiritual condition of John Wesley, the modern prince of Arminians. I can only say concerning him that, while I detest many of the doctrines which he preached, yet for the man himself I have a reverence second to no Wesleyan; and if there were wanted two apostles to be added to the number of the twelve, I do not believe that there could be found two men more fit to be so added than George Whitefield and John Wesley. The character of John Wesley stands beyond all imputation for self-sacrifice, zeal, holiness, and communion with God; he lived far above the ordinary level of common Christians, and was one “of whom the world was not worthy.”

Arminianism is indeed an error that is tending toward heresy. But its essential belief is not a major lapse from the gospel. So, in the present use of the term (damning error), it is not a heresy. A belief in Arminianism is not damning. How about you? What do you think?

Update: I found this helpful article written against Neo-Gnostic Calvinists who say that belief in Calvinism is necessary for salvation,

They assert with bellicose intensity that unequivocally, all Arminians are lost because "Arminianism is a false gospel" and under the anathema of Gal. 1:8-9. They set the stage for this "leap of logic", by describing the five points of Arminianism and showing how incompatible Arminianism is with the gospel of grace. Again, any thoroughgoing evaluation of Arminianism would demonstrate this to be true but they then use this evaluation to assert that all who have never yet grasped the doctrines of grace to be by default, Arminians, thereby validating their "lostness".

May we not fall into this trap. We put emphasis on God’s sovereign grace in order to humble man and exalt God. We are glad to embrace this truth and for “many of us grasping these truths or better, being gripped by these truths, was the real “second blessing” in our Christian pilgrimage.” But as we put emphasis on this let us forget Greg Fields’ warning from the above article, “This emphasis can very quickly lead to incredible arrogance. Each fresh discovery of Sovereign Grace (as exhilarating as this is!) can easily obviate other equally vital truths…”


Published by Jeff Chavez

Sinner saved by grace

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