One of the things Christians disagree about is the importance of their disagreements, observed C. S. Lewis. Today many “Calvinists” and “Arminians” work hand in hand, but for hundreds of years they battled one another as bitterest foes.

The Arminians derive their name from Jacobus Arminius, who was born in the Dutch village of Oudewater in 1559 or 1560. He received a good education, but his studies at the University of Marburg were interrupted by tragedy. Spanish troops attacked his hometown of Oudewater, and Jacob, hearing the news, immediately returned home to find his family massacred.

He spent the next several years wandering through Europe, going from university to university, soaking up knowledge like a sponge. In 1587 he finally settled in Amsterdam, having been appointed a pastor there by city fathers. Arminius, who understood suffering better than most, made a good pastor. He visited the sick even during outbreaks of the plague, admonished the wayward, and counseled tolerance in theological matters. His sermons were powerful and popular.

After several years Jacob moved to Leiden to teach at the university, and there his six remaining years became embroiled in conflict with the prevailing interpretation given to Calvinism by Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor at Geneva. Beza hardened Calvin’s belief that God decrees to save and damn certain individuals by his own sovereign pleasure. Arminius, worrying that Beza’s position made God the author of sin, insisted that election to salvation is conditioned by faith. The controversy became so acute that the Dutch national assembly asked both sides to submit their positions in writing.

Arminius died before responding, but the controversy was just beginning. A war of pamphlets, books, and sermons so divided Holland that the national assembly convened the Synod of Dort, which began November 13, 1618. From the beginning the synod regarded the followers of Arminius as heretics, and on January 14, 1619 the Arminians were condemned. All two hundred Arminian pastors in Holland were thrown from office, and any who would not be silent were banished from the country. But the issue wasn’t settled. Christians have been arguing these doctrines—and about their importance—ever since.

Peter said, “Turn back to God! Be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven. Then you will be given the Holy Spirit. This promise is for you and your children. It is for everyone our Lord God will choose, no matter where they live.” (Acts 2:38,39)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Nov. 13.

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