This is part II of a series about the concept of salvation in Christianity. In this series, I will attempt to describe some of the historical views (part I), common views today and later in the series give the best representation of a particular view. I pray that this series will be edifying and a cause for discussion regarding this very important area of theology.
In my first posting I tried to give a brief insight into the underlying systems of soteriology that came about in the early church. I didn’t go into every detail, or provide other schools of thought. Please understand that I have no formal education in this area, only self-study. I encourage you, if you find this to be an interesting topic, to do your own research and come to your own conclusions.
Some consider that there are three things that a person can look to in order to be certain about something. The first being revelation, in this case special revelation in the Bible. The second is tradition or doctrine, what the church had determined to be true based on Scripture and the apostolic fathers (after much debate). The third being human reason, a reason that is completely subject to the first two.
At some point in history, the Church had declared itself the ‘governor’ of Scripture, and the only authority capable of interpreting Christian doctrine. As new philosophies began to flourish, new traditions began to replace old forgotten traditions, and traditions began to be elevated above revelation (Scripture). As Rome’s influence and political power grew, so did corruption. For example, the practice of a priest as mediator in all things related to salvation (sacerdotalism), and the word of God was not being preached (in it’s entirety) nor was it available to the common man.
There were many who objected to this church centered tradition point of view, striving to remain faithful to the teachings of Christ and the New Testament. A few of these individuals who called for reform were Peter Waldo, John Wycliffe, and John Huss. These men attempted to demonstrate how the new traditions of the Roman Church had contradicted the word of God. It could be said that if these men had the Gutenberg printing press available in their day, that the Reformation would have started sooner, instead of later with Martin Luther.
Martin Luther, as a theology teacher at Wittenberg, struggled deeply with his sin for many years. He spent hours confessing them to his priest, and as soon as he had left confession he felt guilty again. Under the current systems of the Roman Church and a reintroduction of a form of semi-Pelagianism by Gabriel Biel (whom William of Ockham studied under), Martin Luther felt hopeless in his pursuit of righteousness. Biel had developed a system through pacts where an individual determines to do the following: cease sin, turn to God, receive grace (pact of generosity), do ones very best not to sin, do good works, earn merit, and eventually earn acceptance to God (pact of justice).
Luther had turned to Scriptures for answers, rather than tradition (doctrine) of the church. He determined that “it behooves us to let the prophets and apostles stand at the Professor’s lectern, while we sit at their feet and listen to what they say, rather than what we [the church] say”. Luther, through his studies in Hebrews, Romans, Galatians and commentaries by Augustine, had begun to reason a doctrine of justification and faith that was different from what church tradition had developed. Luther began to question the traditions of the Roman Church, and on October 31st, 1517 formally requested a discussion over his 95 thesis regarding these traditions (such as indulgences). So unintentionally Luther began the protest for reform, in the Protestant Reformation.
Years later during this time of reform, a French theologian by the name of John Calvin developed a system of Christian theology based on the early church traditions (Creeds), and Augustinianism. In his works Calvin argues for the authority of scripture, as a self-authenticating revelation of God. He reintroduces the idea of original sin and the fall of man, first developed by Augustine. He also stresses the need for salvation in Christ alone, being justified by faith alone. He opposes teachings of Pelagius in regards to a sinless person in this life, and Semi-Pelagianism’s foreknowledge theory of election.
Jacob Arminius, a student of Calvin’s successor Beza, did not agree with the 16th Article of the Belgic Confession that came with the Dutch reformation. He believed that because it stated that only God’s elect would be saved, it contradicted the statement that God was both just and merciful. He began to preach against the teachings of Calvin and Beza, being accused by some of Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Despite controversy and countless debates against him, Arminius generated a large following of his teachings.
In 1610, followers of Arminius aimed to finish the reform work of their teacher by submitting the five articles of Remonstrance. The five articles stated the following:
- that the divine decree of predestination is conditional, not absolute;
- that the Atonement is in intention universal;
- that man cannot of himself exercise a saving faith without common grace;
- that though the grace of God is a necessary condition of human effort, it does not act irresistibly in man; and
- that believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace.
In order to address the divisive and bitter controversy that developed by these articles over the years, the Synod of Dort was held in 1618/1619 representing nine protestant countries. They concluded with a rejection of the Arminian views and established a doctrine within the “Canons of Dort” that refuted each point made in the five articles of Remonstrance. This doctrine of grace would become known as the five points of Calvinism. Additionally, the authority of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism was confirmed at the synod.
Despite the efforts of the synod, the popular Arminian theology would continue to spread, eventually ending up in England (and American colonies) where it would influence men like John Wesley, it’s most influential advocate. Thus we are left with the variations of two views of Soteriology: Calvinism (monergism), and Arminianism (synergism). These views being widely held today, though Calvinism the minority of the two despite it’s growth in the last 20+ years.
In part III I will aim to explain some of the Calvinism vs. Arminianism concepts. It will seem as if I’m repeating myself some because I’ve already talked about Augustinianism, what Calvin developed during the reformation, and the response to Arminianism. I’ll also give more historical setting for these systems.