Theodore Zachariades is the pastor of Sonny Hernandez and part of Reforming America Ministries. Reforming America Ministries has publicly asserted that Arminianism is a “foul heresy.” In fact, RAM has called Arminianism a “cheap-grace gospel-less heresy.” The purpose of this blog is to interact with the position of RAM in hopes of helping others see the errors involved in both their exegesis and their argument.
Before I dive into this issue, I want to say something about “getting it wrong” when accusing others of heresy. Heresy is a deadly sin. It is not something a person with genuine faith can practice to their death. God will always graciously bring his own out of whatever sin they may have fallen into. That said, we have to confront heresy with the seriousness it deserves. It should lead to excommunication if a person persists in it through the disciplinary process of Matthew 18. However, to accuse someone of holding to a doctrine that is heresy if they are not, in fact doing so, is malicious slander. To slander a true child of God is to slander Christ. We should always treat those in the body the way we would treat Christ. So then, slander must be avoided at all cost. In addition, when do are confronting someone who is involved in heresy, there is no license for the Christian brother to be undignified, rude, or disrespectful in any way. How we frame the issue and the tone we take with others is just as much legislated by God as every other behavior we engage in. Now, let’s get to the meat of this post.
In a conversation with Sonny Hernandez, Theodore’s partner at RAM, I asked him point blank if he believed in the well-meant offer of the gospel. If was very quick to deny that there is a well-meant offer of the gospel. I also asked Sonny if he believed that God’s love was universal, that is, that God loved even those who would perish in eternal judgment. Again, Sonny denied. The reason I asked these questions of Sonny was because I had a growing suspicion that RAM is actually not a mainline Calvinist ministry at all, but rather a hyper-Calvinist ministry. And based on Sonny’s answers, even though he flatly denied that he or Theodore are hyper-Calvinists, his answers to these questions contradicted his claim. The denial of the well-meant offer of the gospel is hyper-Calvinism. The denial of a universal love of God is hyper-Calvinism (HC). Sonny also denied that Adam possessed free-will prior to the fall. While this may not be associated with the traditional views of HC, it is at a minimum extreme. That is to say, it is contrary to historic mainline Calvinism to deny that Adam possesses freedom in his unfallen state.
Is Arminianism heresy? Sonny and Theodore affirm without hesitation and with intense passion and the strongest of conviction, that it is. However, one has to ask, what do Sonny and Theodore mean by Arminianism? Reading their understanding of Arminianism leads me to suspect that they either do not understand it, or worse, have intentionally created a straw man so that they can play with their Supralapsarian flamethrowers. Sonny Hernandez asked the question on one of his posts, “Why is Arminianism heresy?” Here are some of the reasons he gives for thinking it is.
First, Arminianism teaches that men are not totally depraved. Is that correct? Actually, it is patently false. If we permit Jacob Arminius and his closest followers to speak for themselves rather than setting up a straw man, what we see is an affirmation of the doctrine of total depravity: Fallen human beings are enslaved to sin, and have no innate power to think, will, or do anything spiritually good, unless they are first regenerated by the Holy Spirit. This is article three of the Five Articles of the Remonstrance submitted to the Synod of Dort. Sonny is absolutely incorrect in his assertion.
Second, Sonny says that Arminianism is heresy because it embraces the great idol of human free-will. Sonny does not bother to qualify or define free-will for us. Mainline Calvinism also holds that human beings possess free-will. However, this free-will is compatible with God’s providential control over all things. Does Arminius deny divine providence its proper place in order to emphasize free-will? Arminius said the following concerning this subject: I place in the subjection to Divine Providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature: so that nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things which are done in opposition to it. This view seems remarkably similar to that held by most Calvinists in the history of Calvinism. Augustine affirmed the free-will of Adam as did Calvin and the overwhelming majority of the rest of the reformed leaders.
Third, Sonny claims that Arminians elevate human decisions above the divine decree. I confess that I do not understand where Sonny came up with this claim. All I can guess is that he began with libertarian freedom and inferred this from that position. Needless the say, this is nowhere found in Arminius or the Five Articles of the Remonstrance. Riffle
Fourth, Sonny claims that Arminianism asserts that a true Christian can lose their salvation. In response to this, Jacob Arminius’ own words is the best refutation: I never taught that a true believer can either totally of finally fall away from the faith, and perish. Once more, RAM is provided an interpretation of Arminian theology that is contrary to what Arminius himself actually taught.
I cannot help but conclude that Theodore and Sonny have either completely misunderstood Arminian theology or deliberately misrepresented it. I choose to believe they simply misunderstand it despite their respective PhDs. So, at a minimum, it would be highly inappropriate to evaluation Arminianism based off RAM’s understanding of that system.
Arminianism is best defined by Jacob Arminius and the Remonstrants in the early 17th century. From these two sources, we can see what is called “The Five Articles” of Arminian theology. To summarize these articles, I will use Nick Needham’s 2000 Years of Christ’s Power:
- In the decree of election, God has purposed to save those whom He foreknew will believe and persevere in faith to the end.
- Christ by his death has purchased salvation equally for all, but this salvation is enjoyed only through faith.
- Fallen human beings are enslaved to sin, and have no innate power to think, will, or do anything spiritually good, unless they are first regenerated by the Holy Spirit.
- Divine grace alone enables fallen sinners to think, will, or do anything good; yet this grace is always able to be resisted. The difference between the righteous and the unrighteous is that the former cooperate with grace, but the latter resist it.
- Believers are given all the help of grace to persevere to the end; but whether a true believer can reject this grace, return to his sin, and be forever lost, is a question requiring further investigation from Scripture.
Now, before we can evaluate these articles and answer the question whether or not they are heretical, we should take a look at what heresy actually is. And the best way to come up with a good definition of heresy is to consult the Scriptures.
The New Testament uses the Greek word hairesis in two basic ways: 1) to describe a sect, group, school, or faction. 2) to describe teachings that are spiritually destructive. 1 Peter 2:1 calls it destructive. Gen. 5:20 informs us that those who practice affirming heresy will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal. 1:6-8 pronounces a curse on anyone who denies the doctrine of justification by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone. 1 Cor. 15 damns anyone who denies the resurrection of Christ or of future believers. 1 Tim. 6 and Jude condemn any doctrine that promotes licentious living as destructive. 1 John denies that anyone can reject original sin, the Trinity, the humanity of Christ or the deity of Christ and still be in true fellowship with the Father, the Son, or the true church. To accuse someone of heresy is to say that they are in desperate need of repentance and are heading for eternal judgment. This is a serious allegation indeed.
Having examined the New Testament text concerning heresy as well as Arminius and his earliest followers concerning Arminianism, we are now in a much better position to answer the question, “Is Arminianism Heresy?” While article (1) introduces numerous problems in how we understand God’s knowledge and decree, there is nothing in that article that entails heresy. It does not promote licentious living. It does not deny the resurrection, the Trinity, the humanity or deity of Christ, or original sin. Moreover, nothing in (1) necessitates that we infer a rejection of these essential components of Christianity. As we move through each article, it is difficult to find anything in their statements that necessarily entails heresy. The area that becomes most hazardous is how Arminian theology understands grace. The doctrine of prevenient grace introduces a difficulty that seems irresolvable to me. According to Arminius, prevenient grace is dispensed at the hearing of the gospel in order to enable the hearer to accept the message. Prevenient grace enables one to cooperate with saving grace. However, saving grace remains irresistible even though prevenient grace does not. While I view this as a serious error, I do not think one can argue from the NT that it entails heresy. It introduces significant inconsistencies in the Arminian scheme but does not seem to meet the NT standards of spiritually destructive beliefs.
Now, there are some modern Arminians who think that prevenient grace is universal and is dispensed apart from hearing the gospel. Of course, I am curious if this grace is applied to the infant and how such a belief might affect the doctrine of original sin. Remember, any doctrine that denies original sin is spiritually destructive. It is heresy. 1 John 1 tells us that anyone who denies he has sinned or is a sinner is a liar himself and makes God a liar. The doctrine of a universal prevenient grace has the potential to be the equivalent of denying original sin.
Based on a right understanding then of Arminian theology, and a biblical definition of heresy, it seems to me that the best course of action is to say that Arminianism involves serious error, but it does not necessarily entail heresy. For this reason, we receive Arminian Christians as our brothers and sisters in Christ the same as we receive reformed believers. There is no difference. Arminians are not second-class Christians in any sense of the word. They are fellow-believers with whom we have several differences of opinion, some of which are quite serious. Does this mean that I believe that Arminians are equally qualified to serve as a Reformed Christian? Actually, I do not. I would oppose placing Arminians into positions of leadership, such as elders, pastors, teachers, and even deacons. Again, I do not divide with my brothers or my own leaders over this issue. I am speaking entirely from my own convictions. I would never impose my convictions on others but if asked to contribute to a conversation, that would be my contribution. I would make the argument that all leaders should subscribe to the Reformed tradition of the Christian faith.
As of late, two opponents of Arminianism have come to my attention: Theodore Zachariades and Sonny Hernandez. I want to spend just a few paragraphs pointing out where these two gentlemen are coming from and to warn young men and others to be on guard regarding their doctrine. I do not mean to be impolite or disrespectful in any way. But the truth of the matter is that both Sonny and Theodore have expressed views and endorsed doctrines that range from extreme Calvinism and without question, hyper-Calvinism. For that reason, pastors should encourage those in their care to avoid the teachings of these two men.
Zachariades’ endorsement of Vincent Cheung is worth noting. On the Amazon review page, Zachariades gives Cheung’s book, The Author of Sin, five stars and says,
Here is a forceful and leonine approach to the question of evil. The writer pulls no punches. If you have ever wondered about the problem of evil, and have found the common “free will” approach as a cop-out as I have, you will get strong theology here. I have long admired Cheung’s work, and I am very sympathetic to it. Along with Gordon Clark’s God and Evil, this book is the definitive answer. God is God!
First of all, no one seems to know who Vincent Cheung is, or most importantly, where he serves and to whom he is accountable. His website says that he is a Christian preacher, a writer and that he and his wife live somewhere in the United States. It seems to me that we not only do not know Vincent Cheung, we do not know anything about him for the most part. Not for nothing, but I find this more than a little troubling. I have reached out to Cheung via email and he has not responded.
In his book, The Author of Sin, Cheung writes, “I have never come across a decent explanation as to what is wrong with God being the author of sin in any theological or philosophical work written by anybody from any perspective.” Cheung does not see a metaphysical connection between God’s being the author of sin and James’ denial of this fact in James 1:13-16. Cheung says that in order for it to obtain that it would be immoral for God to be the author of sin, God would have to “decree a moral law that forbids himself to be the author of sin.” Only then would it be immoral for God to be the author of sin. Since God has made no such decree, Cheung argues that there is nothing in God’s being the author of sin that contradicts Christianity. Yet, it is strange that no reformed theologian or scholar worth his salt would ever agree with Cheung’s argument. Does God have to decree law in order for there to be one? Does Cheung believe that prior to God’s eternal decree regarding a law that there was no morality whatsoever? But is the reason that God cannot do evil? There is no law imposed on God saying that God cannot do x and if God does x, then God has committed evil? If this were true, then God could torture babies for fun and so long as God has never decreed that it would be immoral for ‘God’ to torture babies for fun, then it is not immoral for God to do so. That seems to be Cheung’s metaphysics of the divine being.
Blasphemy: Is God the author of sin?
“Therefore, hear me, you men of understanding: far be it from God that he should do wickedness, and from the Almighty that he should do wrong.” (Job 34:10) “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity just and upright is he.” (Deut. 32:4) “To declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” (Ps. 92:15) Of course, there is also James 1:13, Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. A couple of things to note. First, if Cheung’s argument is correct, then to call God righteous simply means that God has not decreed a law for his own person that he has turned around and broken. This means that God’s righteousness is arbitrary. It does not mean that God is actually our moral superior in real terms, but that God just has a different set of rules. In fact, God could manifest as human, rape women and eat children, but because he has not decreed a law forbidding that he himself cannot do this, there would be nothing wrong with it if he did. And then Cheung could move to say that such actions mysteriously serve for God’s greater glory and that we have no right to question God. I am convinced that such an argument destroys Christianity and makes light of the moral perfection of God. God is not perfectly good because he hasn’t violated a law, decreed or not. God is, by nature, perfectly good and all law is good, not because God decreed it, but because a perfectly good God decreed it.
Whether or not Theodore Zachariades is a true Christian or not, is not for me to say. Unlike Theodore and Sonny, I am not willing to call him a heretic or an apostate. What I am willing to call him is clearly outside mainstream historic Calvinism. His views on Arminianism are extreme. His hard determinism is inconsistent with biblical Christianity. His denial free-will in Adam prior to the fall places him in opposition to standard reformed teachings on the matter, to include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the London Baptist Confession, The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dort. This alone should be enough for any discerning Christian to place Zachariades and his colleague, Sonny Hernandez on the watch list of propagators of serious theological error. However, Zachariades’ recent glowing remarks regarding Vincent Cheung are more than a little disturbing. This moves Zachariades very close to blasphemy and at a minimum, shows that he is endorsing someone who, by any reformed standard, and by the clear teachings of Scripture, is guilty of blasphemy when he unashamedly asserts that God is the author of sin. Zachariades gives his whole-hearted endorsement and has himself said as much in his articles on the RAM blog site. Theodore Zachariades and Sonny Hernandez are no less dangerous in their beliefs than the more radical Arminians they condemn. My advice is to steer clear of them. May their tribe decrease and enter extinction.