Pelagianism: The Calvinist’s Boogie Man

March 2, 2016

If I had a dollar for every time I was accused of being a “Pelagian” or “Semi-Pelagian,” I’d have at least enough money to put my eldest through college.

Typically, the accusation comes from those who are less informed about the historical use of these labels and their actual meanings as it relates to our current soteriological disagreements.[1] So, let’s get educated.

Pelagius was a 5th century British monk who was accused of teaching that people had the natural ability to fulfill the commands of God by an exercise of the human will apart from divine assistance (grace). Pelagianism came to be known as the belief that mankind is born basically good, without a sinful nature, and is thus capable of doing good without God’s help. [2]

Because Pelagius was deemed a heretic, little of his work survived to the present day except in the quotes of his opponents (not the most reliable of sources). Many modern scholars suspect that Pelagius’ actual teachings were greatly misrepresented so as to demonize and marginalize him (this is not difficult to imagine).

Despite what is commonly known of Pelagius, evidence indicates that he and his followers taught that all good works come only by divine aid (grace), which was seen as “enabling,” not “effectual/irresistible” in nature. For instance, in a letter to the Pope defending himself, Pelagius is reported to have written:

“This grace we for our part do not, as you suppose, allow to consist merely in the law, but also in the help of God. God helps us by His teaching and revelation, whilst He opens the eyes of our heart; whilst He points out to us the future, that we may not be absorbed in the present; whilst He discovers to us the snares of the devil; whilst He enlightens us with the manifold and ineffable gift of heavenly grace… This free will is in all good works always assisted by divine help.” [3]

And in an accompanying confession of faith, he states, “Free-will we do so own, as to say that we always stand in need of God’s help,” And he affirmed, “We do also abhor the blasphemy of those who say that any impossible thing is commanded to man by God; or that the commandments of God cannot be performed by any one man.” So, while Pelagius maintained human responsibility to keep the commands of God he still seemed to maintain the need of divine aid in doing so.[4]

Augustine, a contemporary of Pelagius, was the first on record to teach the concept of individual effectual election to salvation. Even Calvinistic historian Loraine Boettner concedes that this “was first clearly seen by Augustine” in the fifth century. In fact, Boettner notes, not only did the earliest Church Fathers not interpret the doctrine of election “Calvinistically,” but much of their teaching stands in strong opposition to such conclusions. A great emphasis on the absolute freedom of the human will and repudiations of individual predestination to salvation is found clearly throughout the earliest writings of the church. [5] John Calvin himself acknowledged this fact when he stated:

“Further, even though the Greeks [Early Church Fathers] above the rest—and Chrysostom especially among them—extol the ability of the human will, yet all the ancients, save Augustine, so differ, waver, or speak confusedly on this subject, that almost nothing certain can be derived from their writings.”[6]

So, by Calvinists own admission, Augustine introduced much of these unique (and often controversial) doctrinal beliefs in the 5th century.[7]

Pelagius stood up against Augustine’s new doctrinal positions and even went so far as to accuse him of being under the influence of his former Manichean (Gnostic) roots, which was known to teach pagan fatalism as if it were a Christian doctrine.[8] Augustine, in turn, accused Pelagius of denying any need for divine aid in the conversion process. It is likely that both of them went too far in their accusations, but history reveals that it was Augustine’s smears of Pelagius that won over in the court of public opinion.[9]

Pelagianism, therefore, has become known historically as “the teaching that man has the capacity to seek God in and of himself apart from any movement of God or the Holy Spirit, and therefore that salvation is effected by man’s efforts.”[10]

Traditionalists, like myself, wholeheartedly deny this belief and consider the label offensive and completely misrepresentative of our actual teachings (and I’m under the impression Pelagius himself would express similar sentiments if given a fair hearing today).

Here are a few reasons why this label would not rightly represent our views:

  • We believe man has the capacity to respond willingly to God’s means of seeking to save the lost, NOT that man would seek God if left alone.
  • We believe God is graciously actively working in and through creation, conscience, His bride, His Holy Spirit filled followers, and his Word to aid humanity in their conversion.
  • We believe salvation is wholly of God in that He owes no man forgiveness or eternal life, even if they freely repent and humbly submit to Him as Lord and Savior. Asking for forgiveness no more merits that forgiveness than the prodigal son’s return home merited the reception he received from his father. That was the choice of a gracious father alone.

What about Semi-Pelagianism?

First, it should be noted that the term “Semi-Pelagian” was first introduced in the late 16th century by Calvinistic theologians attempting to combat the rising popularity of Molinism, an alternative method of reconciling the problem of divine omniscience and human freedom.[11]

Calvinistic Apologist, Matt Slick, describes Semi-Pelagianism in this way:

“Semi-Pelagianism is a weaker form of Pelagianism (a heresy derived from Pelagius who lived in the 5th century A.D. and was a teacher in Rome). Semi-Pelagianism (advocated by Cassian at Marseilles, 5th Century) did not deny original sin and its effects upon the human soul and will, but it taught that God and man cooperate to achieve man’s salvation. This cooperation is not by human effort as in keeping the law but rather in the ability of a person to make a free will choice. The semi-Pelagian teaches that man can make the first move toward God by seeking God out of his own free will and that man can cooperate with God’s grace even to the keeping of his faith through human effort. This would mean that God responds to the initial effort of a person and that God’s grace is not absolutely necessary to maintain faith.”[12]

In my lengthy discussion with Matt Slick over our soteriological differences, he more than once accused me of “Semi-Pelagianism.”

Do Traditionalists, like myself, believe that “God and man cooperate to achieve man’s salvation?”

Let me respond to that by asking this question: “Did the prodigal son and his father cooperate to achieve the son’s restoration, or was that a gracious choice of the father alone upon his son’s return?”  The false belief that forgiveness is somehow owed to those who freely humble themselves and ask for it leads to erroneous conclusions such as this.

Do Traditionalists teach that “man can make the first move toward God by seeking God out of his own free will?” I challenge anyone to find just one Traditional Southern Baptist scholar who has even come close to making this kind of claim. I’m tempted to offer an award…(maybe a year supply of play-doh or something?)

Do Traditionalists teach that “God responds to the initial effort of a person?”  Of course not! Belief that mankind is able to willingly respond to the gracious means of God to seek and save the lost IS NOT equal to mankind making “the first move toward God.”

If it was proven that I could not call the President of the United States on the phone, would you also conclude, based on that information, that it would be impossible for me to answer the phone if the President tried to call me? Of course not, but that is exactly what those who accuse us of Semi-Pelagianism are doing.

In their shortsighted and ill-informed effort to discredit our perspective, they have resorted to what is known as a “boogie-man fallacy.” This is a certain type of argument, which, in fact, is not an argument, but a means of forestalling discussion and erroneously labelling an opponent’s position with that of a known heresy so as to demonize and discredit it.

For example, someone in a debate might say, “See, his view sounds like something Hilter said once, so you shouldn’t listen to him any more.” Hitler is a known “boogie man” or “bad character,” so if I can associate my opponent’s views with Hilter, then I’ll discredit him all together.  Likewise, Pelagius has become the Calvinist’s go to “boogie man,” and many of them will stop at nothing to slap that label on us so as to marginalize and discredit anything we say.

This method bears a certain resemblance to the ad hominem fallacy, and comes from the same root motivation: Discredit and marginalize the person and their views rather than objectively evaluating and offering a sound, non-fallous rebuttal. The ad hominem fallacy consists of attempting to refute an argument by impeaching the character of its proponent, where as the boogie man fallacy seeks to associate an argument with that of someone whose character (or belief) has already been impeached (like poor ol’ Pelagius).  This would be like an Arminian calling Dr. John Piper a “Hyper-Calvinist” (those who denounce the need of evangelism) on the basis that he teaches some similar views to that of known hyper-Calvinists.

This is pure “guilt by association” and it is the lazy man’s approach to avoid an otherwise rational and informed discussion of the issues. Those who resort to such tactics either do not know any better or they are nefariously attempting to marginalize and demonize the views of those who disagree with them. Readers of this article can no longer appeal to the former as an excuse.

Added Note: Some Arminians have mistakenly joined in this accusation against Southern Baptist Traditionalists. To read my response to Roger Olson’s critique of the Traditional Statement: CLICK HERE.

And to read a more thorough historical and biblical rebuttal of those who disagree on this issue: CLICK HERE.

To listen to my discussion with an Arminian over this subject: CLICK HERE

 

 

[1] http://baptistcenter.net/journals/JBTM_10-1_Spring_2013.pdf [Note: I highly recommend reading this journal article by Dr. Adam Harwood explaining in great detail why Traditionalists are not Semi-Pelagian.] [2] Matt Slick, CARM Ministries: https://carm.org/pelagianism
[3] Bonner, Gerald (2004). “Pelagius (fl. c.390–418), theologian”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/21784. Retrieved 28 October 2012.
[4] Pohle, Joseph. “Pelagius and Pelagianism.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 11. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 18 Jan. 2014
[5] Loraine Boettner, Calvinism in History: Before the Reformation, web site, available from http://www.seeking4truth.com/before_reformation.htm; Internet; accessed 17 April 2015.
[6] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion: web page: https://books.google.com/books?id=0aB1BwAAQBAJ&pg=PA259&lpg=PA259&dq=or+speak+confusedly+on+this+subject,+that+almost+nothing+certain+can+be+derived+from+their+writings&source=bl&ots=qBEMo_kr1v&sig=FjMfiVDcr7iliN31rPJ5pVSraI4&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiy5YqU3P_KAhVGmIMKHZGXBgYQ6AEIHzAB#v=onepage&q=or%20speak%20confusedly%20on%20this%20subject%2C%20that%20almost%20nothing%20certain%20can%20be%20derived%20from%20their%20writings&f=false
[7]  Robert Arakaki, Calvin Dissing the Early Church Fathers: https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/orthodoxbridge/calvin-dissing-the-fathers/
[8] Augustine is known for his nine-year fascination with Manichaeism: http://blogs.record-eagle.com/?p=4705
[9] The determination of the Council of Orange (529) could be considered “semi-Augustinian.” It defined that faith, though a free act, resulted even in its beginnings from the grace of God, enlightening the human mind and enabling belief. However, it also explicitly denied double predestination (of the equal-ultimacy variety), stating, “We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.” The document links grace with baptism, which was not a controversial subject at the time. It received papal sanction.[Oakley, Francis (Jan 1, 1988), The Medieval Experience: Foundations of Western Cultural Singularity, University of Toronto Press, p. 64.; Thorsen, Don (2007), An Exploration of Christian Theology, Baker Books, 20.3.4. Cf. Second Council of Orange ch.5-7; H.J. Denzinger Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum, 375-377; C. H. (1981) [1967]. “Faith”. The New Catholic Encyclopedia 5. Washington D.C. p. 797; Cross, F. L., ed. The Oxford dictionary of the Christian church. New York: Oxford University Press. 2005] [10] Adams, Nicholas (2007). “Pelagianism: Can people be saved by their own efforts?”. In Quash, Ben; Ward, Michael. Heresies and How to Avoid Them. London: SPCK Publishing. p. 91.
[11] Named after 16th Century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina, is a religious doctrine which attempts to reconcile the providence of God with human free will: Joseph Pohle, “Semipelagianism” in Catholic Encyclopedia 1912.
[12] https://carm.org/semi-pelagianism [Note: Ironically there is also much dispute as to whether Cassian actually taught what he was accused of teaching as well: The view that Cassian propounded Semipelagianism has been disputed. Lauren Pristas, writes: “For Cassian, salvation is, from beginning to end, the effect of God’s grace. It is fully divine. Salvation, however, is salvation of a rational creature who has sinned through free choice. Therefore, salvation necessarily includes both free human consent in grace and the gradual rehabilitation in grace of the faculty of free choice. Thus Cassian insists salvation is also fully human. His thought, however, is not Semi-Pelagian, nor do readers who submit to the whole corpus emerge Semi-Pelagians.” [see Lauren Pristas (1993), The Theological Anthropology of John Cassian, PhD dissertation, Boston College, OCLC 39451854]

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Lydia

“Pelagius stood up against Augustine’s new doctrinal positions and even went so far as to accuse him of being under the influence of his former Manichean (Gnostic) roots, which was known to teach pagan fatalism as if it were a Christian doctrine.[8] Augustine, in turn, accused Pelagius of denying any need for divine aid in the conversion process. It is likely that both of them went too far in their accusations, but history reveals that it was Augustine’s smears of Pelagius that won over in the court of public opinion.[9]”

I am not convinced it was public opinion but more about power. Granted, ingrained paganism and the dualistic mindset probably had something to do with it. just reading how Augustine responded to the Donatists over corrupt priests, his horrible treatment of the mother of his child and other components to his interpretations, it seems to be more about power and control. Another example of a guy being lauded for “doctrine” rather than basic Christian fruit of salvation.

The accusation of being heretical by calling one Pelagian is a perfect example of the much loved insult of bearing false witness. There is not enough to go on from the quill of Pelagius to make such an accusation against him. As you wrote, about all we have are the opinions of his detractors who loved power.

    Scott Shaver

    Very good historical synopsis, Lydia, which may underscore an interesting eternal possibility.

    I wonder how much God’s history book of human pillars in Christianity will vary from those of earthly church historians, denominations and clerics?

      Lydia

      “wonder how much God’s history book of human pillars in Christianity will vary from those of earthly church historians, denominations and clerics?”

      The documented murdered saints in Martyrs Mirror are often nameless. They are often described by their occupation. Thousands and thousands at the hands of Catholics and the Reformers. Sometimes entire villages were wiped out.

      We will know their names one day.

David R. Brumbelow

Thanks, very good article.

I well remember the angry accusations by some Calvinists when Traditionalists had a conference or produced a statement of belief.
As though only Calvinists have the right to do so? Or as though Calvinists have the right to determine what Traditionalists believe?

After the Traditionalist Statement there were many false charges of varying degrees of Pelagianism.
Keep up the good work.

And, Happy Texas Independence Day!
David R. Brumbelow

Robert Vaughn

I agree with the substance of this article. The terms “Pelagianism” and “Semi-Pelagianism” add nothing beneficial to the current soteriological debate. They are meaningless to the average Baptist and can be defined and labeled so as to suit the definer and labeler (whether maliciously, sincerely, or ignorantly).

That said, I have seen/worked/been in the presence of “soul-winners” who for all practical purposes operated if the salvation of the sinner depended entirely on them. And that’s just wrong, no matter what we label it.

Lydia

http://trradio.com/dr-wright-and-semi-pelagianism/

I do know that NT Wright has often been accused of being semi Pelagian. I read his book,” Paul and the Faithfulness of God” and did not see it but that is probably me and I probably need to read it again because it was a quick run through. I think he makes a very important point in the above link that the Reformed types throwing this insult around seem to be consistently focused on the 16th century when it comes to interpretations/understanding.

Chris Johnson

I too appreciate the tone of the article and can really identify with the attitude that you tease out as groupies from both ends of the spectrum tend to enjoy assigning folks into named camps.

One question I do have is around this statement you made…. “We believe salvation is wholly of God in that He owes no man forgiveness or eternal life, even if they freely repent and humbly submit to Him as Lord and Savior. Asking for forgiveness no more merits that forgiveness than the prodigal son’s return home merited the reception he received from his father. That was the choice of a gracious father alone.”

I am not putting you into any camp, although you have labeled yourself as a “traditionalist” (not sure exactly what that means, but hopefully that is a good thing)….. one of the bulleted points you put forth in the article seems to say (and this is where I am seeking some clarification)… that since God owes man nothing “even if they freely repent and humbly submit (belief, faith, etc.) to Him as Lord and Savior”, appears to many as no different than God electing him. Can you tease your thoughts out a little more, and illustrate the relationship between repentance and humility toward the Savior. If there is absolutely nothing that merits anything,…how would you form an answer to define God’s action toward that individual, as how God brings that lost sheep into the fold. In other words, does God really find his lost sheep, or do his lost sheep find him; or both.

Respectfully,
Chris

    Rick Patrick

    Here’s a basic definition of Traditionalism.

      Chris Johnson

      Thanks Rick

    Robert Vaughn

    I’d also be interested in clarification on the question Chris asked. “…God…owes no man forgiveness or eternal life, even if they freely repent and humbly submit to Him as Lord and Savior” sounds like God could choose to not save someone who repented and believed, but I feel certain that’s not what you meant.

Les

“This method bears a certain resemblance to the ad hominem fallacy, and comes from the same root motivation: Discredit and marginalize the person and their views rather than objectively evaluating and offering a sound, non-fallous rebuttal. The ad hominem fallacy consists of attempting to refute an argument by impeaching the character of its proponent, where as the boogie man fallacy seeks to associate an argument with that of someone whose character (or belief) has already been impeached (like poor ol’ Pelagius).”

Leighton, do you see these types of ad hominem and boogie man fallacies occurring by some non Calvinists toward their brothers in Christ who happen to be Calvinists? It might look like them pointing out what the non Cals believe are the erroneous teachings of say, John Calvin, and his boogie man status (in the non Cs eyes) and then associating said boogie man with those of us who are Reformed? In other words, Calvinism is a false gospel and and thus Calvinists are guilty by association of promoting a false gospel and Calvinism’s god (little g) is [fill in the blank]. Does that occur sometimes on blogs?

    Lydia

    “Leighton, do you see these types of ad hominem and boogie man fallacies occurring by some non Calvinists toward their brothers in Christ who happen to be Calvinists? It might look like them pointing out what the non Cals believe are the erroneous teachings of say, John Calvin, and his boogie man status (in the non Cs eyes) and then associating said boogie man with those of us who are Reformed? In other words, Calvinism is a false gospel and and thus Calvinists are guilty by association of promoting a false gospel and Calvinism’s god (little g) is [fill in the blank]. Does that occur sometimes on blogs?”

    The Good News does not include torturing, drowning, banishing or burning those who disagree.

      Andrew Barker

      Lydia: Good news. Les has just confirmed his allegiance to Pelagius by denying “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.” I think that’s how they used to work it in days of yore! Ask a few questions and if the wrong answer is given, get the matches out! (or strike two flints together) ;-)

      Les

      Andrew,

      “Les has just confirmed his allegiance to Pelagius by denying “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.””

      Nice try. Rookie mistake. By your “logic” you are in allegiance with the Reformed adherents since you both deny salvation by works. And of course you and the the Reformed adherents deny “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.” Welcome to the Reformed faith.

      Good on you bro.

        Andrew Barker

        Les: You are mistaken, yet again. I asked you a straight question as to whether or not you stood with Pelagius which apparently you do. Good on you! I specifically did not bring your other theology into it to avoid any accusations of going ad hominem (obviously the in word) on you. By the way, is it just the baptising babies you don’t agree with or is it the original sin bit?

        Les

        Andrew, darn! Mistaken again. Maybe one day I’ll get something right. I must have misunderstood your statement, “Les has just confirmed his allegiance to Pelagius by denying “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.” It appeared that you were citing some sort of aspersion (we baby baptizers love that word) that I was in agreement with Pelagius on something. Sorry if that was not your intent. Otherwise I don’t know what you meant by making that statement.

        I gave you a straight answer. And I answered, “I do not disagree with baptizing babies and I do not disagree with original sin.” Maybe that had not posted when you now ask again.” tAt 15:31.

          Andrew Barker

          Les: A straight answer would be nice. But I’m not sure (also an in phrase) that I’m getting one! At one point you say “As to whether “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin,” of course I don’t believe that and Reformed theology doesn’t teach that.” Now you are saying “I gave you a straight answer. And I answered, “I do not disagree with baptizing babies and I do not disagree with original sin.” (your reasons for baptising infants BTW don’t exactly sit well with Baptists do they! A sign of ‘regeneration and being in Christ’? tut tut )

          From this I think I can deduce that you agree with Pelagius and you don’t think babies should be baptised to remove original sin. But you do not disagree with baptising babies (reason not specified) and you do not disagree with original sin. There is some doubt as to whether Pelagius was more disagreeing with the original sin bit, so in fact he may not have been worried about baptising babies so much at all. In which case his main disagreement was with the original sin bit. Hence we find you are even more in agreement with Pelagius than I might be. I would disavow any suggestion that babies should be baptised, period.

          As it stands then, I’m happy to stand full square behind most of what Pelagius said in the records since most of what he *actually* said was trashed and no longer exists. What does, seems pretty sound to me, although he does favour man’s God given ability to choose which I know doesn’t go down well in all quarters. I am pleasantly surprised to see that you are in fact ‘more of’ a Pelagian than me. Good on you bro (if you don’t mind me quoting you). :-)

          Les

          Andrew,I’ve given you a straight answer to your question. But let me try to flesh it out a little more for you. You asked, “Les, is it the baptising babies you disagree with or just the original sin bit?”

          I’ll try it this way. I believe in baptizing babies, so I do not disagree with baptizing babies. Clear enough?

          I believe in original sin, so I do not disagree with original sin. So far so good?

          “your reasons for baptising infants BTW don’t exactly sit well with Baptists do they! A sign of ‘regeneration and being in Christ’? tut tut” Right, my reasons do not sit well with Baptists. Duh. “A sign of ‘regeneration and being in Christ’” Yep. Care to explain what YOU think that means in Reformed Presbyterian confessions? I’ll get some popcorn.

          “In which case his main disagreement was with the original sin bit. Hence we find you are even more in agreement with Pelagius than I might be. I would disavow any suggestion that babies should be baptised, period.”

          So what exactly was his beef with original sin? Tell us, please.And I’m shocked, shocked I tell you to hear that you “disavow any suggestion that babies should be baptized.”

          “I am pleasantly surprised to see that you are in fact ‘more of’ a Pelagian than me. Good on you bro (if you don’t mind me quoting you). :-)” I’m happy for you. It may surprise you to know that I agree with the Roman Catholics in the belief in a triune God.

          If this is your primary school level way of trying to show that I believe something in common with Pelagius, well I hope it gives you primary level glee. :) And quote me any time. Oh, and this…”‘more of’ a Pelagian than me” should be ‘more of’ a Pelagian than I. :)

            Andrew Barker

            Les: You manage to consistently misunderstand what is being said. Leighton’s point was that to call someone Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian is very often just a cheap way of either scoring a point or marginalising them and their argument. I’ve simply highlighted this for you by showing that you actually have more in common with Pelagius than I do and yet in the past I’ve seen plenty of comments from you criticising people for expressing views which you deem to be verging on Pelagianism or Semi-P.

            I’m not exactly shocked by people who baptise babies, but I am rather saddened that in many cases it will lead to misinterpretation by those close family members, some of whom will think the baby is ‘saved’ or is in some way protected and will eventually come to faith. On top of that, the baby may also grow up with these misconceptions. Baptism in scripture is definitely for believers only!!

            Your comment on my use of the English language is entirely in character I guess, although in common parlance Les, I’d have to say you’re being a bit of a prat. Hope that’s not too strong – I’m sure I’ve heard worse from Scott ;-) lol. So you are “more of a Pelagian than I.” Tut tut again Les. This really is ignorance personified. If you want to go round correcting the grammar of a native, English speaking person you’d better at least get it right yourself!! Granted, it may have become ‘normalised’ in American usage, (yes that’s normalised not normalized) but I can assure you that the preferred usage in English is “more of a Pelagian than me”! Ho hum, or as they say in Haiti “Pye pa gen rasinn : tout moun ka tonbe.”

            Les

            Andrew,

            You effectively had the last word as well. :)

    Les

    “The Good News does not include torturing, drowning, banishing or burning those who disagree.”

    Exhibit A. Thank you Lydia. I knew you would not disappoint in making my case.

    Scott Shaver

    The “ad hominem fallacy” Les? Did you just pull that out of thin air because it had a ring or something? Won’t bother to go into the meaning of ad hominem, but what you have here is a rebuttal of flawed theology (in fact theology gone murderous) as RECORDS of HISTORY.

    It isn’t personal (Lydia’s synopsis), it’s both theological and historical. Calvinism (per say) is not a person, place or thing, it’s a way of thinking.

    See meaining of “ad hominem”.

      Les

      Thank you Scott. I try to care. I really do.

      Lydia

      “It isn’t personal (Lydia’s synopsis), it’s both theological and historical. Calvinism (per say) is not a person, place or thing, it’s a way of thinking.”

      Good way to put it.

Andrew Barker

What have we here? Leighton writes a piece on the subject of the ‘boogie man’ Pelagius and Les chooses to turn it into a reason not to disagree with the errors of Calvinism!!

The two main people responsible for the scarcity of Pelagius’s writings were Augustine and Jerome. If they hadn’t tried so hard to wipe off the face of the earth just about everything Pelagius had ever written, we might not be so much in the dark on this issue. Fortunately, some of his letters did survive. But if you look at the records you find that Pelagius was condemned, among other ‘crimes’, for denying that “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.” Augustine on the other hand, did believe that “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.”

I could go on, but won’t. I’ll simply pose the question Les. What’s your view on whether or not “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.”? I only ask because if you understand what ad hominem really means, it’s not simply disagreeing with somebody, but trying to rubbish another person’s point of view by throwing scorn on either a personal characteristic or other unrelated flaw that person may or may not have. So I don’t want to be accused of doing that to you. I’m certainly not, so this is asked irrespective of your other views.

My straight forward question to you Les is this. Do you stand with Pelagius in his denial that “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin.”? Yes or no would be good enough.

Me? Yes, I’m more than happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with Pelagius! :)

    Les

    Hi Andrew. No I was not trying to turn the discussion as you say, “into a reason not to disagree with the errors of Calvinism!!” I was simply asking whether non Cals sometimes do the same thing as is being proffered here but in reverse. I happen to think they do. Rational discussions on here sometimes quickly devolve into slurs against Reformed folks via guilt by association with the “god” of Calvinism and such. It is said here that Pelagius is the Calvinist’s boogie man. I say that sometimes here for non Reformed folks Calvin is the non Reformed boogie man, rather than discussing theology.

    As to whether “Infants must be baptized to be cleansed from original sin,” of course I don’t believe that and Reformed theology doesn’t teach that. Permit me to do what I love so much, which is copy and paste. :) For if you want to know what Reformed theology teaches, go to the best (IMHO) expression of said Reformed theology the WCF.

    On the sacraments: “The grace which is exhibited in or by the sacraments rightly used, is not conferred by any power in them; neither doth the efficacy of a sacrament depend upon the piety or intention of him that doth administer it: but upon the work of the Spirit, and the word of institution, which contains, together with a precept authorizing the use thereof, a promise of benefit to worthy receivers.

    On Baptism: “Baptism is a sacrament of the new testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, not only for the solemn admission of the party baptized into the visible church; but also, to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in newness of life. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in his church until the end of the world.”

    Further, “Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it; or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.”

    If Pelagius is not so bad, why do so many of you (apparently not you Andrew) get undies all in a knot if someone says your theology is Pelagian or semi Pelagian? Pray tell.

      Andrew Barker

      Les, is it the baptising babies you disagree with or just the original sin bit?

      Scott Shaver

      Hey Les, an if it makes you feel better/more comfortable……You can call my “theology” Pelagian swamp voodoo, if you like, and I’ll send you a gri-gri bag as a reminder of which label to use.

      Les

      Andrew,

      “is it the baptising babies you disagree with or just the original sin bit?”

      I do not disagree with baptizing babies and I do not disagree with original sin. But you can read, right? I provided all you need to discern. Homework.

    Robert Vaughn

    Andrew (or anyone), do you know if Pelagius rejected infant baptism outright, or if he only disagreed on the purpose of it? (A quick online search yielded some contradictory info, and I’m not sure how reliable some of it is.) Thanks!

      Andrew Barker

      Robert Vaughan: Thanks. Interesting comment. Your sources were? I can see your point, he may have been focusing in on the error of original sin as taught by Augustine.

        Robert Vaughn

        If what I’ve found is reliable, that is probably what he was opposing. Here’s a bit of what I saw, which is merely from the main hits I got via internet search engine and not purported to be anywhere near the last word. I was hoping someone might have studied Pelagius and know more.

        Wikipedia: “that infants must be baptized for salvation…” (seems contradictory to me)
        Catholic Encyclopedia online: As to infant baptism he granted that it ought to be administered in the same form as in the case of adults, not in order to cleanse the children from a real original guilt, but to secure to them entrance into the “kingdom of God”. (attributed to “De libero arbitrio libri IV” which is not extant, so this is what someone said he said)
        B. B. Warfield: “that infants were not baptized for remission of sins, but for consecration to Christ”
        Pelagius: Life and Letters, by Brinley Roderick Rees (Google Books): “infants receive baptism not on account of their sins but in order that they may through baptism be, as it were, created in Christ and become partners in his heavenly kingdom” (doesn’t make much sense to me)

Chris Johnson

The view of baptism by Pelagius can probably be summoned relative to his understanding within the “tradux peccati” or his understanding of the inheritance of sin…. Pelagius states:

‘If baptism washes away that ancient sin, those who have been born of two baptized parents should not have this sin, for they could not have passed on to their children what they themselves in no wise possessed. Besides, if the soul does not exist by transmission but the flesh alone, then only the flesh carries the transmission of and it alone deserves punishment.”

Pelagius, Pelagius’s commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans: Translated with Introduction and Notes,Theodore De Bruyn, trans. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1993.

    Chris Johnson

    Since we have not been able to find written copies by Pelagius on the practice or his thoughts on infant baptism, certainly we can infer that Augustine pushed him on why he should continue the practice based on current tradition. So, at least with some sense of certainty, we could project that Pelagius found political or other value in keeping the tradition of infant baptism in tact, yet according to his personal theological belief system, it would in effect be of no intrinsic worth (at least to his thinking). It is little wonder that he made some waves.

    Lydia

    Oops, sorry Chris just saw your source. Are we sure he is not referring to what we now call imputed guilt for which Augustine was so fond with his with his take on original sin. The doctrine of evil babies who would kill us if they could. :o)

    Btw: Pelagius was fluent in Greek. Augustine was not.

    I want that book. It is 62 bucks on Amazon for a paperback!

      Chris Johnson

      Lydia: no problem… I really can’t say with any certainty what Pelagius really thought on the subject, because he didn’t make that known in any text that I’ve found. But, just from human nature…it does appear that he was vulnerable to being pushed around a bit. And, within that territory it is easier to not publish or stand on something you believe in light of prevailing tradition. Especially a tradition that would have you killed or placed one “too” far outside political discourse. With that said, it does appear to me that Pelagius did not believe that baptism actually did anything spiritually significant (changing from dark to light) except for going with the flow and continuing in the tradition of the day. He certainly didn’t want to rock that boat (that is kind of how Augustine hit on Pelagius logic).

      It does appear that Pelagius did “not teach” that a person at birth is under the wrath of God until they be quickened by the Spirit. And, that same theory is taught in many places, even today.

      Chris Johnson

      Lydia: and yes….that book is way too expensive. :)

Les

Oh, and shameless plug, if the moderator will allow. Our latest video is up on the blog. Totally non controversial. http://haitiorphanproject.org/blog/

Lydia

Les,

Matthew 6:1

    Les

    Lydia, is it possible for you to be kind, ever, and not always (at least with those you have disagreements with) assume ulterior and nefarious motives? Yes it was a shameless plug…FOR EXTREMELY POOR HAITIAN FAMILIES!

    Unbelievable.

      Lydia

      Les, I do patterns. Many will say I should keep it myself and I tend to agree except in some cases –like yours –that over time make some things obvious. You tend to trot this out when you are striving to present pious nice Les in contrast to arrogant ruling elder Les. I don’t advertise my charitable acts/needs for the reason that it is not the topic and comes off as self promoting in this venue. My guess is most here are involved in some sort of charitable ministries or acts.

      One good thing about aging is one finds it freeing and more honest to finally admit there are cow patties being thrown on path where one is walking and point them out. It is ok with me if you think I am mean. But I will never be in the “mean” league of Calvin.

        Tyler

        Les,
        “But I will never be in the mean league of Calvin.” Ohhhhh the humility.

          Scott Shaver

          Tyler:

          I’m convinced you Cal types have your own revised version of the English language. “Humility” has nothing to do with a statement of determined (and I’ll add enlightened) conviction (i.e. “will never be in the mean league of Calvin).

          Newsflash……you can read your Bible from now till the world looks level but you still don’t get to define the meaning of words. Ohhhh the ignorance.

      Les

      Lydia,

      Then you should stop your pattern sniffing. You’re not very good at it. You repeatedly presume to know people’s motives and heart intents.

      “striving to present pious nice Les in contrast to arrogant ruling elder Les.” Well if that were true, and you do patterns, then you’re missing a whole lot of arrogance thrown around by your like thinking brothers…missing calling it out. Or is it that they don’t even attempt “pious nice?” Or is it because you happen to agree with them? Maybe that’s the difference in your mind.

      “I don’t advertise my charitable acts/needs.” That’s great. nether do I. But I make no apology in making known the needs of starving Haitian families. I do it wherever I can and will continue to do so, your approval or not. I don’t really need it.

      “My guess is most here are involved in some sort of charitable ministries or acts.” And that’s fantastic.

      “One good thing about aging is one finds it freeing and more honest to finally admit there are cow patties being thrown on path where one is walking and point them out. It is ok with me if you think I am mean.” Yeah, I know something about aging too. 58 of those years now. You? You apparently like to judge motives and intents. The scriptures tell us not to do that. So I will strive by God’s grace to abide by the scriptures. Pardon me if I don’t follow your lead. You keep on looking into hearts. I’ll just keep on doing what I do as long as the Lord allows.

        Lydia

        “Then you should stop your pattern sniffing. You’re not very good at it. You repeatedly presume to know people’s motives and heart intents.”

        That is the point of long time patterns it is about focusing solely on words/Actions over time. I do not do ” heart intent” or motives. The old ” you don’t know what is in my heart’ shtick is silly. It is meaningless. And motive does not matter. It is also an attempt to turn the person who points out problem patterns as the real sinner for “judging my heart intent which is good but hidden” or motives

        we are treated to this meaningless heart/motives mantra on the news all the time, the grandma of the criminal is interviewed and tells us he is really a good boy with a good heart. He helps people, too and goes to church!

        Les

        Lydia,

        You effectively had the last word. :)

    Les

    By the way Lydia, it’s pretty difficult to make their needs known without talking about it publicly.

Lydia

“Since we have not been able to find written copies by Pelagius on the practice or his thoughts on infant baptism, certainly we can infer that Augustine pushed him on why he should continue the practice based on current tradition. So, at least with some sense of certainty, we could project that Pelagius found political or other value in keeping the tradition of infant baptism in tact, yet according to his personal theological belief system, it would in effect be of no intrinsic worth (at least to his thinking). It is little wonder that he made some waves.”

Chris, what is your source on Augustine pushing him and Pelagius relenting on infant baptism because it is an issue Augustine used to try and prove his Heresy. He was eventually kicked out of Jerusalem so it could be he relented on this issue a bit after all the heresy councils. They certainly dogged him.

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