Arminian theology spans a wide range of beliefs, just as Calvinism does.For this reason the presentation of Arminian doctrine on perseverance requires that it be divided into two pieces. The first, which you are reading now, will present the most conservative Arminian view that is closest to the theology of Arminius himself. The second part will delve into the doctrine as stated by the dominant Wesleyan Arminian theologians. With regard to the topic of perseverance, Arminius and the initial Remonstrants were not resolute in the opinion that one could become apostate from the regenerate state. He briefly addresses the topic here:
My sentiments respecting the perseverance of the Saints are, that those persons who have been grafted into Christ by true faith, and have thus been made partakers of his life-giving Spirit, possess sufficient powers to…gain the victory over those enemies–yet not without the assistance of the grace of the same Holy Spirit…So that it is not possible for them, by any of the cunning craftiness or power of Satan, to be either seduced or dragged out of the hands of Christ. But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, to institute a diligent enquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.
Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish; yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding. (The Writings of James Arminius)
Though his statement here lacks a definitive position, the ultimate point that derives from a complete examination of the ‘Reformed’ (cf. Stephen Ashby) Arminian theological system follows from the basic understanding of the conditional nature of salvation, predicated on placing one’s faith in Jesus Christ. If the entry into grace is conditional (Titus 2:11, Jn 12:32, 2 Pet 3:9, Jn 3:15, Acts 16:31, et al.) then it must proceed that perseverance is conditional as well, continued by the believer remaining in faith to the end of their life. The Bible, according to the Arminian, is replete with sufficient warning against apostasy (Hebrews as a whole esp. 6:4-6, 10:19-39, 2 Pet 2:18-22, Col 1:21-23, Gal 5:1-4) so as to support the development of this doctrinal position.
The possibility of apostasy is not presented by the Arminian solely as a logical assumption proceeding from the doctrine of conditional salvation but rather, it is seen in the scriptures as coming from a variety of directions:
- As mentioned before, the book of Hebrews is filled with warning passages about the very real possibility of apostasy.
- There are texts that point to the conditional nature of salvation (Col 1:21-23, 1 Pet 1:5, Heb 3:14)
- Passages name those who have fallen away and prove to be a danger to others (1 Tim 1:18-20, 2 Tim 2:16-18)
- Passages in which the author complains that their work may be in vain among believers (Gal 4:9-11, Phil 2:15-16, 1 Thes 3:5)
- The passages that speak of the possibility that a person’s name can be removed from the book of life. (Rev 3:5, 22:18-19)
If one accepts that apostasy is a possibility, the final question that must be posed to the Arminian theologian is, can this apostasy be reversed? From the classical theological position, the answer as supported the reference texts is no, this apostasy is irreparable. This stand is widely debated within the Arminian community and is a wide gulf between the classical and Wesleyan theologians who support a reversal of apostasy upon repentance. The definition and causes of apostasy must be approached very carefully then, in order to avoid seeing episodic sinfulness or even seasons of backsliding as definitive proof of the loss of salvation. The classical Arminian accepts only one proof and that is the complete rejection of faith in Christ which removes a person from union with Christ.
The classical Arminian doctrine that posits the conditional nature of eternal security is certainly not as popular as the ‘once saved, always saved’ idea. Though ultimately mile apart in their result, the Calvinist notion of perseverance and the Arminian doctrine of the possibility of apostasy share the same undergirding belief, faith in Christ is the key to security. The final and ultimate denial of this faith is the condition on which security is lost and the Christian must ponder long and hard about the lengths one must go to in order to reach this point of disaffirmation. Short of that point, staying in Christ and He in you grants the believer assurance of an eternity in His presence.