Arminianism is based on theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and his historic supporters known as Remonstrants. His teachings held to the five solae of the Reformation, but they were distinct from particular teachings of Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and other Protestant Reformers. Jacobus Arminius (Jakob Harmenszoon) was a student of Theodore Beza (Calvin’s successor) at the Theological University of Geneva. Arminianism is known to some as a soteriological diversification of Protestant Calvinist Christianity.However, to others, Arminianism is a reclamation of early Church theological consensus.
Dutch Arminianism was originally articulated in the Remonstrance (1610), a theological statement signed by 45 ministers and submitted to the States General of the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort (1618–19) was called by the States General to consider the Five Articles of Remonstrance. These articles asserted that
Salvation (and condemnation on the day of judgment) was conditioned by the graciously-enabled faith (or unbelief) of man;
The Atonement is qualitatively adequate for all men, “yet that no one actually enjoys [experiences] this forgiveness of sins, except the believer …” and thus is limited to only those who trust in Christ;
“That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will,” and unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God’s will;
The (Christian) Grace “of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of any good,” yet man may resist the Holy Spirit; and
Believers are able to resist sin through Grace, and Christ will keep them from falling; but whether they are beyond the possibility of ultimately forsaking God or “becoming devoid of grace … must be more particularly determined from the Scriptures.”
“These points”, note Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, “are consistent with the views of Arminius; indeed, some come verbatim from his Declaration of Sentiments. Those who signed this remonstrance and others who supported its theology have since been known as Remonstrants.”
Many Christian denominations have been influenced by Arminian views on the will of man being freed by Grace prior to regeneration, notably the Baptists in the 16th century, the Methodists in the 18th century and the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the 19th century. Some falsely assert that Universalists and Unitarians in the 18th and 19th centuries were theologically linked with Arminianism. Denominations such as the Anabaptists (beginning in 1525), Waldensians (pre-Reformation), and other groups prior to the Reformation have also affirmed that each person may choose the contingent response of either resisting God’s grace or yielding to it.
The original beliefs of Jacobus Arminius himself are commonly defined as Arminianism, but more broadly, the term may embrace the teachings of Hugo Grotius, John Wesley, and others as well. Classical Arminianism, to which Arminius is the main contributor, and Wesleyan Arminianism, to which John Wesley is the main contributor, are the two main schools of thought. Wesleyan Arminianism is often identical with Methodism. Some schools of thought, notably Semipelagianism—which teaches that the first step of Salvation is by human will,—are confused as being Arminian in nature. But classical Arminianism holds that the first step of Salvation is solely the grace of God. Historically, the Council of Orange (529) condemned semi-Pelagian thought (as well as Supralapsarian Calvinism), and is accepted by some as a document which can be understood as teaching a doctrine between Augustinian thought and semi-Pelagian thought, relegating Arminianism to the orthodoxy of the early Church fathers.
The two systems of Calvinism and Arminianism share both history and many doctrines, and the history of Christian theology. Arminianism is related to Calvinism historically. However, because of their differences over the doctrines of divine predestination and election, many people view these schools of thought as opposed to each other. The distinction is whether God allows His desire to save all to be resisted by an individual’s will (in the Arminian doctrine) or if God’s grace is irresistible and limited to only some (in Calvinism). Put another way, is God’s sovereignty shown, in part, through His allowance of free decisions? Some Calvinists assert that the Arminian perspective presents a synergistic system of Salvation and therefore is not only by Grace, while Arminians firmly reject this conclusion. Many consider the theological differences to be crucial differences in doctrine, while others find them to be relatively minor.