Where is the line of Biblical Orthodoxy anyway? Does Arminianism cross the line, what about Pelagianism and why?
Here I apply the rules of mathematical logic to Pelagianism and Arminianism to try to find where the line of orthodoxy is crossed.
This paper is a bit less comprehensive than my others and is more of a record of some of my thought processes as I struggled to find where the line of Biblical orthodoxy lies.
I was reading Richard Hooker's "Learned Discourse of Justification, Works, and how the Foundation of Faith is Overthrown" the other day and read his argument that cross-plus theologies are not sufficient to prevent one's salvation. He was contrasting Romanism vs. Calvinism and claimed that cross-plus theologies were ok because they did not actually deny the cross per-se, hence they are our brothers in Christ.
I was quite curious if his logic was accurate, I was a bit suspicious. His writing style reminded me a bit of a mathematical proof so I decided to apply my mathematical background to see if his arguments could be confirmed or denied by appying the rigors of mathematics to it.
Here I use formal logic (truth tables) to confirm or deny Hooker's argument that adding works to the requirements of salvation does not deny the foundation of salvation itself, but merely adds to it, and thus those who believe in a cross-plus-works theology can be saved because they do not fundamentally deny the cross.
I do not mean a logical argument, that is something else entirely. I am referring to the mathematical principles of logic.
Formal logic is fundamental to a certain degree, to deny the laws of logic is to deny that any truth is objectively knowable at all, and in fact denies the very existance of truth of any kind. Mathematical logic is not to be confused with polemics, or clever arguments of men, logic is a mathematical absolute. The statement that God cannot lie has no foundation without logic, since that statement asserts that truth and falsehood do exist.
The laws of logic are quite limited in scope however, they merely show us how various truths and falsehoods interact with each other.
Let us dredge up the old logic formulas and truth tables, see http://www.math.csusb.edu/notes/logic/lognot/node1.html if you need a catch up on this concept.
We will only need two types of statements in our little excursion:
Skip on down to the text version if you like.
Statement type 1: if p -> q (p implies q) then the statement is true if:
when p is T, q is T when p is F, q is either the statement is only false if when p is T, then q is F Statement type 2: if p <-> q (stated as if and only if) is equivalent to both p -> q and q -> p being true statements In other words the statement p <-> q is true if both are true. both are false. the statement is false if either one can be false alone when the other is true.
It is ok if the above made your eyes glaze over, it took me a while to refresh myself of that stuff, following is a plain text explanation:
When we say that believing in Jesus implies salvation, we have:
c -> s (Believing in Christ implies salvation).
Another way of saying this is that believing in Jesus guarantees salvation, that is if it is true that one believes in Jesus, then it is also true that one is saved, which is a near direct quote from the Bible.
When we add to that and say that Jesus plus works are needed for salvation, do we violate the first statement?
(c & w) -> s (w = works, Christ and works implies salvation)
Another way of saying this is can salvation be obtained without Jesus or can one believe in Jesus and not be saved in the second statement, which would violate the first statement.
It is not so, the second statement does not deny the first one, both can be simultaneously true, because there is no way for s to be true without c also being true in either statement.
But what if we say that salvation is obtained only by Christ, that is "if and only if" Christ is true then salvation is obtained. This is very different from saying that Jesus is merely sufficient for salvation. Mere sufficiency leaves open room for saying that there is more than one route to salvation, the Bible flatly denies this of course.
c <-> s (c is true if and only if s is true, this is also called a bidirectional statement)
Another way of saying this is that Christ implies salvation, and salvation implies Christ, meaning salvation cannot be obtained by any other method than Christ.
Then does adding works to the statement deny the above statement?
(c & w) <-> s (w = works)
In this case being saved requires both c and w. But the problem is that for the second equation to be true, c alone is not enough to guarantee s, Christ alone is not sufficient to guarantee salvation which definitely denies the first equation. In other words I could create a case satisfying the second equation where c is true, w is false, and s is false, but that condition does not satisfy the first equation, thus the first equation is denied by the second, they cannot both be simultaneously true, each denies the other.
That is the crux of the argument here, adding the exclusive claim that Christ and only Christ is necessary for salvation, a basic tent of Calvinism, forces the second statement into total disagreement with it despite appearances of partial harmony.
Thus Hooker is proved wrong, because Biblical claims for the exclusivity of Christ in regards to salvation are absolute. Thus Calvinism and Romanism (or Pelagianism) are not reconcileable and fundamentally deny each other.
I think this is further reinforced by claims on both sides that claim salvation is obtained only by their methods, thus these kinds of additive (cross-plus) statements definitely contradict the first statement that Christ alone is sufficient for salvation.
I was not sure about this until I ran the truth tables, I had begun to consider the possibility that people could be saved in churches that were not entirely orthodox in their beliefs, but it is clear this can only happen if those people are ignorant of those very beliefs which their religious organization espouses. This I do not deny, in fact I would suggest it is quite common. Hooker also agreed on this point.
However, those who are not ignorant, who are fully aware of the claims and counterclaims, have no claim on Christ, sad but true, because they effectively deny Him as savior. Curiously, Hooker also assents on this point.
Thus he agrees with the supporting arguments and their intermediate conclusions but derives the erroneous final conclusion that their theology does not violate the nature of the cross, and thus concludes (incorrectly) that Romanism is part of the true Church of Christ.
My classification is to include them in the false church, those who profess Christ, but are not loyal to His word.
Now how do I present that in the gracious spirit that Christ has given us. I can think of no way other than to just state it, a solemn warning that these viewpoints are fundamentally at odds with each other and the inescapable conclusion that only one can be correct. And being incorrect effectively denies Christ, and so the consequences are dire indeed.
On to my second subject (Arminianism):
I have been exposed to arguments that that Arminian thinking is acceptable, that while wrong, it is not enough to prevent one's salvation.
I have struggled with these arguments enough that I find myself wondering if the same logic could apply here. I have as yet not come to an iron-clad argument one way or the other, although I have been leaning towards the idea that Arminians are our brothers in Christ, all other things being equal.
Arminians claim we can either accept or reject the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, but they also generally admit that without such convicting power humans have no desire or ability to know God. They water this down a bit by claiming that everybody gets the chance to face this convicting power however.
Arminianism does not deny that Christ alone is the requisite for salvation, but rather argues that we receive it (no ability to receive salvation without the ministry of the Holy Spirit is claimed by Arminians).
The problem comes up however that Christ could theoretically intend to save someone, and that we could in our free-wills violate His intentions, thus frustrating His plans and making Him insufficient for salvation, then the whole thing falls apart and becomes a clear denial of the sovereignty of God, and of the plan of salvation, thus violating the exclusivity claims of Christ. Some have maintained that Arminianism is therefore the road to Romanism as they assert it agrees with Rome in this very point.
However Arminians usually resort to a polemical argument that sidesteps the issue and say that God knew in advance what we would do, and has accounted for it already, thus nothing we can do can truly violate His plan. I think this is a weak but marginally acceptable argument. You are forced into this (poor argument) if you accept the fundamental tenets of Arminianism.
The fact that they make such an argument however is proof that they do understand where the scriptural line is, and they are careful not to cross it, hence the general understanding that they are our brothers in Christ.
In summary, Arminianism does not deny Christ or the cross, unlike cross-plus theologies.
There are however Arminians who have crossed the line and abandon the weak argument that is their sole claim to orthodoxy, and clearly claim that God tries to save many and that we (humans) frequently frustrate his plans. This is usually followed by claims that the Church is somehow deficient in the performance of its evangelical duties, and exhortations to increase one's level of effort (usually by giving money to the one making such claims).
That flavor of Arminianism I have no problem branding as false, although I think you could argue that sincere Arminianism is not represented at all there, but rather a form of con-artistry and guilt-manipulation in the name of Christ. Similarly, defaming all Arminians in a guilt-by-association form of reasoning is faulty logic.
Therefore I think a clear distinction can be made that Arminianism alone is not sufficient to be branded as heretical.
I feel better now. :-)
Note: Later as I look back on this writing, I find myself still solidly in the camp that Arminianism is a false doctrine, but they are our brothers in Christ, just as I concluded here. Sadly, I am also convinced that many (perhaps even the majority of) Arminians have crossed the thin line into unorthodoxy that I have identified here.