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Question and Answer

Are Arminians our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Question:

We are wondering if your church believes that Arminians are our brothers and sisters in Christ. About a year and a half ago we believe the Holy Spirit illuminated us to see that Arminianism is a false gospel. We saw on this website a question and answer about Arminianism being heresy. We felt very encouraged by the answer, but are wondering if you abide by the answer in practice. We only consider people to be our brothers and sisters if they believe the Holy Spirit is solely responsible for regeneration. We believe we would be lying by calling someone our brother or sister in Christ if they reject that regeneration is by grace alone. If a person believes in synergism and misinterprets the Bible verses that say, “It is not by our will, but by God's mercy,” we would not consider them to believe in grace alone. We reject that a person cooperates in the process of justification. God seeks his children and causes them to repent and walk in obedience with his word, giving glory to God alone.

Answer:

Thank you for your email. You asked if we believed that Arminians are our brothers and sisters in Christ. I think the most accurate answer would be that we believe that professing Arminians can be Christians, but that heart Arminians would not be. 

Why the distinction? Because a man’s heart is often better than his head. J. C. Ryle once said in effect that “Every true Christian is a Calvinist on his knees.” How often have you not heard a professing Arminian praying for God to save someone when, according to their theology, God is and has already done all he will do? Their heart is crying out what it knows, that only God saves and does so particularly and successfully when and where he chooses. It is only when that praying soul stands up to talk to me that he begins to talk strangely.

I have had opportunity on various occasions to talk at length with a number of people who professed to be Arminian. When pressed, they speak of their own conversion as an immediate work of grace by the power of the Spirit of God. They acknowledge that the Gospel message came to them in a particular and new way such that they could not (and did not want to) refuse. In relating their own salvation, they describe it in ways that contradict their professed theology. 

Once I even spoke by invitation to a class of high schoolers at a professedly Arminian Fundamentalist school who wanted to know “what the Puritans believed.” I led them along the distinctions of Warfield’s “Plan of Salvation,” and they agreed at every step. (If you are familiar with that work, you know that he tracks logically the principles of the Gospel. He goes from the division of “naturalism” and “supernaturalism” down through the particularism of the Gospel.) The students were entirely taken aback to be informed that what they were agreeing is the Gospel is called “Calvinism.”  

On the other hand, there are those whose heart reliance is on themselves, whether it is their “assistance” to the call of the Spirit, or their “decision” to believe, or any other such thing. It clearly is not a resting entirely on Christ alone by faith alone as the gift of God. I could not call such folk “brethren.” It is for this reason that the Synod of Dort (1618–19) called Arminianism a heresy shortly after it appeared in the church.

This is also why a part of our requirement of a “credible profession of faith” for membership in the OPC is specific about saving faith. The third vow calls upon a person not only to confess a repentance from sin but also to profess a “trust for salvation not in yourself but in Jesus Christ alone.” The fourth vow is a promise that the holy life of a believer is “in reliance on the grace of God.” Someone may not fully comprehend, in a systematic way, that these statements plainly state the doctrines of grace, but a true believer has no hesitation in affirming them, since they reflect accurately the heart.

So, a regenerate heart is not an Arminian heart. The truth of salvation entirely by God’s grace and power are undeniable when viewed in the person’s salvation. The corruption of sin is often so great and horrible, however, that the systematic application and explanation of that wondrous truth is seriously flawed.


About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)

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The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.

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You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.

The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.

Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been edited—all personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expanded—to make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.

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