Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) was a theologian and pastor of Dutch descent living in the context of a land where the church had to a great degree embraced the doctrines of the Protestant Reformation. Arminius came to disavow these doctrines in many key areas. Overall, this can be summed up in his acceptance of a synergistic view of salvation rather than the monergistic salvation heralded by Luther, Calvin, Knox and others. Synergism is a heresy found in Pelagian and semi-Pelagian theology that has be condemned as error at various points in church history. Not surprisingly then, this left him embroiled in a fair amount of controversy for the rest of his life.
My sympathies go out to Arminius in this. Not because I agree with him doctrinally….I don’t. But because of the way the battle was engaged at times. Roger Olson, an Arminian himself, has written what is probably the authoritative book (Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities) on the subject from an Arminian perspective. Arminius faced many accusations about his doctrine, most of which were right on the mark. Yet he also faced many misdirected accusations, some of which even bordered on absurdity. His character was slandered and his integrity was maligned. Olson tells us that the heated exchanges even left Arminius accused of “being a secret agent of the pope and the Spanish Jesuits, and even the Spanish government” (p. 22). None of these accusations were grounded in truth. All of these personal attacks distracted from the real doctrinal issues that needed to be worked through.
Sadly, these kinds of ad hominem attacks were not new tactics in Arminius’s day and they continue in our day. They create much heat but little light. They do not help resolve issues of disagreement. They neither edify the Lord’s people nor glorify the Lord himself. These tactics are factitious in themselves and should be shunned for the sake of both truth and love. In Paul’s letter to Titus he says that elders in particular must “be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it” (1:9). Yet he also goes on to say that we should “show perfect courtesy toward all people” (3:2). The elders and congregations in Arminius’s day did not always work out this admonition as well as they could have. How well are we doing in our day?