Calvinism Eclipsed by Arminianism in Church of England

After the Synod of Dordt (1618-19), in less than thirty short years, Calvinism throughout England is "discredited by its association with the revolutionary movement."1 Calvinism always experiences an ebb and flow throughout its novel, four-century history. The Calvinistic Puritans are viewed as a threat to Elizabeth I.'s episcopal rule, as to that of King James as well, and their attempts at gaining control both in Parliament and the Church, both of which contexts the Puritans favor a Presbyterian model, are undermined by both at every turn. For the unjust nature of both the Calvinists, as well as the court known as the Synod of Dordt, also see: "What You Need to Know about the Synod of Dordt," "Life after Arminius: The Arminians and Dordt," "The Remonstrants: Prelude to Persecution," and "The Unjust Persecution of the Arminians."

The Puritans attempt to hold "prophesying" meetings in order to spread their doctrines and form a grass-roots solidarity. "In these meetings the ministers urged the exclusive authority of the Scriptures [the Regulative Principle, which cannot, ironically, be found in Scripture], the sanctity of conscience in their interpretations [but is, typically, not granted to others], and the doctrine of predestination [i.e., unconditional election]." But it is the "exaltation that came from believing they were among the [unconditionally] elect" that gives them "the strength to persevere in their endeavors to purify the Church."2 The notion of a pure church is a rather novel one in Church history: Christ Himself admits that both tares and wheat will exist in the visible Body of Christ until He returns. (Matt. 13:24-30) The only pure church is the invisible Body of Christ.

When their efforts are thwarted, not only by Queen Elizabeth I., who is only very mildly or nominally Calvinistic, but also by King James I., who is a mild Calvinist, as well as by Arminian King Charles I., they embark for the New World, where they seek to conduct their Presbyterian motif in both church and government. They also desire to form a Christian nation, sense a call of God toward that goal, and by "Christian," of course, they mean Calvinist. Back in England, during the first half of the seventeenth century, King Charles I., who is an ardent Arminian,3 names Richard Montagu as Bishop of Chichester, though Montagu had been condemned in 1625 for "publishing Arminian views."4 As for our overtly Arminian-minded King Charles I.:
His artistic tastes led him to admire the beauty of its ceremonies [the liturgy of the Church of England], and his love of order led him to despise the rantings of the Puritans. From the moment he ascended the throne Charles identified himself with the Arminians -- those clergymen who favored ritual and ceremony, who entertained ideas of free will [freed will], and who defended the prerogative [that grace is resistible].5
In 1633, in accordance with his Arminian theology, King Charles I. appoints William Laud, the "ablest" of all clergymen of his era,6 as Archbishop of Canterbury (from 1633-45). Laud is responsible for opposing the Puritans as zealously as Elizabeth and James before him, eventually being instrumentally responsible for nearly eradicating England of all Puritans. The Calvinists of Dordt (and elsewhere) may have won the theological battle at Holland, in 1619, but they experienced their comeuppance in England in the following decades.

Mind you, the Church of England is where the exiled Arminians of Holland are encouraged to flee after their forced flight from the Calvinists of Dordt. Henry Newton admits that Arminian-Remonstrant Hugo Grotius' good opinion of the Church of England inspires him to exhort the Arminians to take holy orders from their Anglican bishops, who are eager to ordain them, even within their mildly or nominally-Calvinistic theological context.7 Exiled by the theologically-intolerant Calvinists, after the conclusion of the Synod of Dordt, June, 1619, Newton encourages the banished Arminian ministers to "receive the laying on of hands from the Irish Archbishop ... and that when they are so ordained they afterwards ordain their pastors."8 If the Calvinists of Holland do not want and cannot tolerate the godly Arminian ministers, then the Anglican Protestants in England and Ireland will heartily embrace them in their churches!

The early to mid seventeenth century does not fare well for Calvinism: "Calvinism had suffered an almost total eclipse in the Church of England," and even some theologians who are trained in Calvinism are noted as modifying "some of its harsher features."9 Even Richard Baxter deviates "from strict Calvinistic orthodoxy sufficiently for his name to be frequently used to designate a position intermediate between Arminianism and Calvinism."10 Typically, such a sentiment is code for one holding to the doctrines of depravity and perseverance, but rejecting the novel theories of unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace, like the many Baptists of our own day. From the position of some Calvinists, Baxter's own "modifications" are not considered sufficiently Calvinistic, as with Moïse Amyraut, from whom derives Amyraldianism, a position not entirely favored by strict five-point Calvinists.

To say that history repeats itself should be self-evident. The Puritans in the University in England, knowing that, were they to boldly and defiantly promote their Presbyterianism and staunch Calvinism, their positions would be threatened, so, their "sole hope lay in biassing the minds of the students in the University, over whom they were placed; while, at the same time, they merely corresponded about their differences with their friends among the laity who were in power and influence."11 We Arminians have been calling this ploy "Calvinism on the Sly," and this method is, sadly yet tellingly, still being used by Calvinists. (link, link) By mid-seventeenth century, England can no longer tolerate Calvinism in toto, nor Calvinism on the sly:
Now it was, indeed, that the doctrines of the Church of England, founded on holy Scripture, were not only disputed, but positively denied. The opinions of Calvin respecting predestination, reprobation, election, and all the other kindred dogmas, were zealously maintained [by some in England], although their defenders might have known that, besides looking in vain for Calvin's horribile decretum in the holy scriptures, the [early Church] fathers, with the exception of St. Augustine, and his two disciples, Prosper and Fulgentius, never conceded such tenets, so far as individuals are concerned. ...12 (emphases added)
The English theologians have finally come to the same conclusion as that of Arminius and the Remonstrants: the theology of the Calvinists -- or, with regard to England, the Puritans -- are novel innovations and do not in any sense bear witness to those of the early Church fathers: "the books of Calvin made the rule by which all men were to square their writings, his only word ... admitted as the sole canon to which they were to frame and conform their judgments, and in comparison to whom, the ancient fathers of the Church, men of renown, and the glory of their several times, must be held contemptible."13 Even St Augustine is questioned as to whether he agrees with Calvin on some rather significant, dogmatic points, the atonement among them.

King Charles I., William Laud and most other theologians of the English church, fight against this base error -- interpreting Scripture solely through the lens of Reformer John Calvin -- even though "to offend against this canon, or to break this rule [the interpretation of Calvin], was esteemed a more unpardonable crime than to violate the apostles' canons, or dispute the doctrines and determinations of any of the four first General Councils [of the early Church]; so that it might have proved more safe for any man, in such a general deviation from the rules and dictates of this [previously Calvinistic-influenced] Church, to have been looked upon as an heathen or a publican than an anti-Calvinist."14 Those days are, clearly, behind them. As zealous as the Calvinists in Holland (and in England) oppose Arminianism, so is the zeal turned on them by the Arminians in England, and quite to the complaint of the Puritans decrying persecution.

Someone will argue that Anglicanism's Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion are Calvinistic in nature. John Parker Lawson responds that the Thirty-Nine Articles are neither Calvinistic nor Arminian, very strictly taken, but he then adds this qualification allowing for an Arminian understanding: 
But if by Arminian ... it be meant that the Church of England in its Articles, not in its clergy, rejects and disapproves a rash inquiry into those "secret things which belong unto the Lord our God," if it rejects the horribile decretum of Calvin [i.e., unconditional election and reprobation by a mere decree], on whose showing, to adopt the language of John Wesley, "the elect will be saved, do what they will; the reprobate will be damned, do what they can," and in all its public ministrations, formularies, articles, rituals, and homilies, asserts that every man, without exception, who hears the glad sound of the gospel may become a partaker of the same, and a true member of Christ's body ... and if its ministers are commanded to call on all men every where to repent, without any reservation of election or reprobation, then let it be called Arminian, for such is the doctrine of Holy Scripture.15
The author also notes that if the Articles are interpreted through an Episcopal lens, and one which agrees with Arminian ecclesiology,16 then let it be named Arminian. So, a rejection of Calvin, his novel theories of unconditional election, reprobation by decree (obviously, limited atonement and irresistible grace), a gospel-call that is intended to be published to every single creature, since every single creature is a potential candidate for salvation -- these comprise the underpinnings of the Thirty-Nine Articles: and if such belongs to Arminianism, then call the Thirty-Nine Articles Arminian by its very nature! 

One may argue that the original framers of the Articles are mildly Calvinistic, and that such an "Arminian" interpretation is foreign to them, but Archbishop William Laud disagrees: "When Laud boldly stepped forth to vindicate" the Articles of the Church of England "against the fancies and enthusiasm of her Puritan members," he insists that "those Articles 'had been wrested from the literal and grammatical sense, to fit them to the sense of particular persons [i.e., Puritans],' and 'a different construction had been put upon them from that which had been the true and genuine meaning of the men that framed them, and the authority which had confirmed them.'"17 Even Article XVII, on the issue of salvation and predestination, Arminius and Arminians affirm the statement in toto. Whatever one concludes regarding the Articles, many Arminians affirm, defend, and promote them fervently, and have been for over four centuries -- John and Charles Wesley, Jeremy Taylor, Archbishop Laud, Hugo Grotius and his wife, King Charles I. et al. among them. These people, living in the very age just after the framers of the Articles, deny any such confluence with the strict novelty of five-point Calvinism and its Puritan defenders.


1 Gerald R. Cragg, The Church and the Age of Reason 1648-1789 (New York: Penguin Books, 1985), 65.

2 Clayton Roberts and David Roberts, A History of England: Prehistory to 1714, Volume One, Third Edition (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1991), 298.

3 Ibid., 345.

4 Ibid., 343.

5 Ibid., 345.

6 Ibid. 

7 Hugo Grotius, The Truth of the Christian Religion, ed. John le Clerc (Edinburgh: Thomas Turnbull, 1819), 301.

8 Ibid. 

9 Cragg, 66.

10 Ibid. 

11 John Parker Lawson, The Life and Times of William Laud, Lord Archbishop of Canterbury (London : C.J.G. & F. Rivington, 1829), 22.

12 Ibid., 23.  

13 Ibid., 24-25.

14 Ibid., 25.

15 Ibid., 31-32. 

16 "The older English High Church tradition had two distinct aspects. In the sphere of theology it favored an elevated view of episcopacy (usually buttressed by the idea of apostolic succession), a strong emphasis on baptism and the ordinary workings of grace (in contrast to both enthusiasm [i.e., high-pitch emotional revivalism] and latitudinarianism), and a dislike for Calvinism in general and Puritanism in particular." Robert Bruce Mullin, Episcopal Vision/American Reality: High Church Theology and Social Thought in Evangelical America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), xiii-xiv. Mullin further states two basic principles were the foundation for the English theological scene: "The first was a rejection of Calvinism. However little they might have had in common, John Tillotson, the great Latitudinarian, and Charles Leslie, the great Nonjuror, both would have gladly danced on the grave of John Calvin. Until the rekindling of interest in Calvinism that accompanied the midcentury Evangelical revival [of Jonathan Edwards], major Anglican religious figures were largely united in their defense of the freedom of the will and their opposition to the five points to which Calvinism had been reduced. They criticized Calvinism for its tendency toward fanaticism, for its undermining of the moral nature, and for its susceptibility to metaphysics and speculation." (15) 

17 Lawson, 32.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.