Why are we Presbyterians? Because we are Reformed vs. Arminian in our Soteriology. Soteriology simply means, “the study of salvation.” There is a vast difference between Reformed and Arminian thought regarding how someone is saved.
Many people are familiar with the TULIP acronym in Reformed circles: “T” Total Depravity, “U” Unconditional Election, “L” Limited Atonement, “I” Irresistible Grace, “P” Perseverance or Preservation of the Saints. We call these the doctrines of grace. While many of you may have gone through studies on the TULIP we don’t often know where it came from. These doctrines of grace are usually associated with Calvinism although Calvin was not the one to develop the acronym. The thoughts behind it are consistent with the teaching of Calvin and other Reformers but these doctrines were laid out in this particular form in response to a crisis in the Dutch church in the early 1600’s.
Followers of Jacob Arminius contested theology in the Belgic Confession one year after Arminius’ death in 1610.
In 1610, forty-three of them signed a document called The Remonstrance, and his proponents became known as “Remonstrants.” The Remonstrance presented objections to the Belgic Confession and the teachings of Calvin and his followers, on several points of difference. It taught that God’s election of individuals was based on His foreknowledge of their accepting or rejecting Christ by their own free will, a universal atonement, resistible grace, and the possibility of lapse from grace. These doctrines came to be known as Arminianism. — (from The Canons of Dort, published by Chapel Library. www.mountzion.org)
Lest we think that debate on these doctrines is merely academic or simply theologians arguing amongst one another, we need to realize some important truths. First, the Synod of Dort declared Arminian thought to be heresy. Second, the vast majority of professed Christians today believe in some sort of Arminian thought regarding salvation. Third, these doctrines of grace today by many Christians are considered to be heresy which is why you may get strange or even hostile reactions from some if you were to say, “I am a Calvinist” (meaning you adhere to the TULIP — doctrines of grace). A lot has changed in 400 years.
The even greater question is not what happened in history or who believed what when, but what is Biblical? Rather than reinvent the wheel regarding Scriptural proof for the Reformed position on these doctrines, here is a website that gives Scriptural proof to clearly states why we believe these doctrines to be Biblical. http://www.fivesolas.com/tulipscriptures.htm
As Presbyterians we believe “T”: man is totally depraved, and has no ability to contribute to his own salvation, or to merit the merits of Christ. Arminians believe: Man is only partially depraved, and still has a free will capable of submitting to God’s truth.
As Presbyterians we believe “U”: election is unconditional, depending only on the sovereign choice of God. Arminians believe: election and condemnation are conditional upon the foreseen faith or unbelief of fallen man.
As Presbyterians we believe “L”: the atonement is limited to the elect. A definite redemption was made. Arminians believe: the atonement was made universally for all, including those who refuse to believe. The effects of Christ’s redemption depend upon man’s believing or not.
As Presbyterians we believe “I”: God’s grace is irresistible. Arminians believe: God’s grace can be resisted.
As Presbyterians we believe “P”: the saints will persevere in the faith, being kept by the power of God. Their salvation is certain. Arminians believe: there is the possibility that man, having chosen for God, can also in like manner fall away from God’s grace.
(The list contrasting the doctrines of grace from arminianism taken from: The Canons of Dort, published by Chapel Library. www.mountzion.org)
By putting the word “Presbyterian” before each of those letters in the TULIP I am not suggesting that only Presbyterians believe these things. There are many Reformed Churches and individuals who believe these doctrines and many even outside of Reformed circles that believe in some of these. It is just as true that some who adhere to Arminian thought in some of these areas may not believe all of them. I mentioned in my first weekly thought in this series that my efforts are not to make concrete statements about what everyone else believes but to give you, the reader, a basis to understand our perspective and what makes us Presbyterians.
I am uniquely qualified to speak on this particular part of what makes us Presbyterians because it was not too many years ago that I held to each one of these Arminian beliefs. I can unequivocally state, that while sincere in my beliefs on the salvation of man in the past, I was in error and the doctrines of grace are what the Scriptures teach.
*For further study see the Q & A on the OPC website, “Is Aminianism a damnable heresy?” https://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=247