Arminianism today: The war lost?
Today, much—virtually all—of American (and UK) Evangelicalism is affected by Arminian theology. Some Dutch Reformed denominations that count the Synod of Dordt as part of their historical heritage no longer defend Dordt’s doctrine in every respect. The doctrine of the well-meant offer, which compromises Dordt’s stand on total depravity and irresistible grace, plagues many Reformed churches. The idea of common grace that Abraham Kuyper promoted in Dutch Reformed circles, and its further development by the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, undermined the doctrines of total depravity, irresistible grace, and particular atonement. Teach that Christ died only for some humans, not each and every one, and many members of Reformed denominations will believe that you are mistaken. Ask them to explain God’s decree of election, and be saddened but not surprised when many say that it is God’s will to save all who will believe and obey in their own power, not His determination to save certain specific persons whom He ordained to eternal life.
If the battle appears to be lost on those battlefields, what of the closest battlefield? By God’s grace, the Protestant Reformed Churches in America and her three sister churches not only hold the Canons of Dordt as an official confession, but also teach and defend the doctrines taught in it.1 But does each and every member understand those doctrines, and see their importance? Would each and every member readily defend and promote them?
And how goes the battle in our own lives? We confess that God, from eternity, ordained some to eternal life in Christ; but in our hearts do we question His justice in sovereignly reprobating others—especially if those others are our close friends or family members? We confess that the human race is totally depraved, and find abundant evidence of this in current events around us. But do we deny or excuse our own sins—a practical denial of total depravity? We praise God for His irresistible grace—but are we quick to boast of some work of our own?
The battle against Arminianism is unceasing both on the church front and in our own lives. Each of us is susceptible to losing a particular battle against Arminianism in our own hearts. If we have not lost the battle against Arminianism in our own hearts, and if we will not, what is the explanation? Only this: God has preserved us whom He has called in Christ to be saints.
Our sure hope: Certain victory
In history, the cause of orthodoxy seems to have suffered defeat after defeat. But truth will be victorious. Orthodoxy will at last prevail. This will become evident when our ascended Lord brings His glorified church to heaven. No, the church in heaven will not subscribe to the Canons of Dordt; it is an earthly document, and with all other earthly documents will be destroyed with fire. However, the church in heaven will confess and praise the sovereign grace of Jehovah in salvation; we will confess then the same central truths that are expressed in the Canons. The glorified church will sing a new song of praise to Jehovah for His irresistible grace shown to sinners, based solely on the shed blood of the Lamb and its saving effect (Rev. 5:9-10, 14:3). Those singing this song will realize that they, though sinners, have been appointed to everlasting life, and preserved with a view to it.
Even in time, the war will be won. The church must always know that this threat is ever present and constantly fight it, without letting down her guard. This error’s continued presence leads us always to rely on the grace and mercies of Jesus Christ, and gives occasion for many prayers for defense and safety from our enemies.
Yet, there is a sense in which the battle that Dordt won is won again and again. It is won in the hearts of faithful believers who love the truth. It is won every time an unbeliever is brought to true, saving faith, and every time an ungodly person is turned to godliness. It is won by faithful churches who refute and oppose Arminianism and preach sovereign grace. It will be won as the faithful church preaches the gospel, for (as the Canons remind us) this gospel must be preached indiscriminately throughout the world. The preaching of this gospel is the running of the white horse of Revelation 6:2, and the cause of the gospel will be victorious.
Until Christ returns to defeat the enemy decisively and deliver the church from such error, may the prayer with which the Canons conclude be on our lips:
May Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, seated at the Father’s right hand, gives gifts to men, sanctify us in the truth, bring to the truth those who err, shut the mouths of the calumniators of sound doctrine, and endue the faithful minister of His Word with the spirit of wisdom and discretion, that all their discourses may tend to the glory of God and the edification of those who hear them. Amen.
Douglas Kuiper in Standard Bearer May 1st 2019