An Introduction to Semi-Pelagianism
by Hadley Robinson
Pelagius was a 4th century teacher who was condemned as a heretic by the Council of Carthage in 418. He asserted that God would not require of Man anything he could not do as this would not
be just. "If I ought, I can." He believed that man has a free will that could choose either good or evil. The work of Jesus Christ on the Cross was not essential for man's salvation. It
was helpful, however. In this way, Pelagius could be considered a father of the more modern error known as Arminianism or Semi-Pelagianism. While not heresies, they often tend
towards self-justification and self-righteousness.
Some tenants of Semi-Pelagianism are:
- Man is not totally depraved – he has a spark of good, however small, that can respond to God's call to repent and believe in Christ. The Spirit calls and a man can say yes or no.
- Man's election into the body of Christ is conditioned on various things, principally whether he believes in Christ or not.
- Christ died for all men, everywhere, who ever lived, including such notorious sinners as Pharaoh and Judas Iscariot who, had they chosen properly, could have been saved.
- God's grace is resistible as evidenced by the fact that not all men believe.
- The Christian may not persevere in his faith. If he does, he will be saved from the wrath to come. If not, he will perish along with all the rest of the ungodly.
For a thorough theological discussion with reference to Scripture of why each of these points illustrates error, click
and read J. I. Packer's introduction to John Owen's "The death of death in the death of Christ".
At the root of Semi-Pelagianism/Arminianism (PA) is the fundamental belief that Man is not entirely dead in his sin nor utterly incapable of responding to the Gospel. It is a sort of modified
that recoils and is repulsed by the orthodox Biblical doctrine that God's grace is completely undeserved and that some men were created specifically for destruction (Rom. 9). PA
in its many forms rejects the teachings of St. Paul, St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others across history.
There are various corollaries of PA. One is that men will believe if the Gospel is presented skillfully and properly. As a result, charismatic appeal, selection of venue, and the content of
the Gospel will yield more conversions. This is the essence of such popular and modern evangelists, such as
of Campus Crusade whose tracts and publications contain doctrines that conflict with the Gospel taught in the New Testament.
Another corollary is the mistaken belief that we can change the course of history. If we just get the right man as President, we will enter a golden age (or something like that). This leads
to desperate appeals to recruit voting Christians and herd them to the polls, as James Dobson did during the 2004 Presidential election.
The United States is awash in adultery, immorality, idolatry, and bloodshed. Could we ever get a President the likes of King Josiah of Judah (2Chron. 34)? Even if we did, what use would it be? As the
Scriptures note, even though Josiah's righteousness was great or greater than King David's, the LORD would not turn away from His plans to destroy Jerusalem for all her sins.
so much innocent blood has been shed in the United States via abortion that, according to Scripture, there can be no atonement for it except the blood of the people who approved and did this.
Judgment is on its way but, perhaps, the presence of a godly remnant here may delay it for a generation or more – just as with Josiah whose righteousness (obedience, really) delayed the
destruction of Jerusalem.
If a man can claim credit, even the smallest amount, for his coming to Christ, he has reason to boast. If one should say to himself, "I am just a tiny bit more godly than ordinary
men which is why I accepted Christ and they did not." Is God pleased if a man congratulates himself?
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised
things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. -1Cor. 1:27-29
Bill Bright boasted about the millions who became Christians through reading his ubiquitous tracts. But such a boast is shameful because he altered the Gospel to make it attractive to the
flesh: Jesus came to give you what you want which is a "wonderful plan for your life
." This is hardly the Gospel Paul preached which regularly
subjected him to severe persecution and even death.
The Gospel becomes "what's in it for me?" instead of men repenting of their sins and receiving the grace of Christ. While Bright's tract contains most
elements of the Gospel, it distorts the Biblical repentance that a man must exercise in order to be saved. In another way, a truly converted man will be repentant whereas the unconverted will
not. A good example of the confessing – yet unsaved – man was King Saul.
Another error of PA is the notion that we must change the world. On the other hand, God has allowed us to be changed by the Gospel preached by Paul. The fruit of the Christian is his
righteous and good deeds which can include helping the poor, the hungry, and the naked. But the arm-chair Christian does not want to personally help the poor so he hires a proxy to do God's
work for him and the proxies-for-hire are everywhere, ready to take people's money and then send them glossy mailings of naked and starving children in order to get more money. It has become
a commercial enterprise.
Scripture teaches that Christians should mind their own business (1Thess. 4:11). But moralistic evangelicals want to force their brand of Christianity upon the heathen in our land. The
to the Constitution was the collective effort of similar do-gooders and busybodies who had lost their Biblical moorings. It brought us organized crime and widespread
violence while hurting the reputation of the Church. As Paul said,
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 1Cor. 5:12
Some evangelicals have the notion that they are to tackle what goes on in the bedrooms of the heathen. It is a vain pursuit. Consequently, we are often perceived as busybodies
Nonetheless, we still must publicly condemn sin. But where in Scripture are we called to use the power of the state to force holiness upon the unbelieving? How can we fight abortion, for
example, when the immorality that precedes it is widespread and, sadly, just as common among those in the church as among outsiders?
The Church's attempt to change the world can also result in a dangerous contest between the minority Church and the heathen. We must be patient and faithful: the time will come when Christ
will judge the world but He will do so without any help from us.
The conflicts we witness in the New Testament between the godly and the heathen (e.g., Stephen's martyrdom in Acts 6) resulted from such things as a believer's confession or calling sinners to
repentance, not from his actions in an attempt to reform outsiders. The Gospel should not be equated, among other things, with unwelcomed interference in the personal lives of the heathen.
On the other hand Scripture gives us these instructions for Christians:
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true
humility toward all men. Titus 3:1
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Hebrews 12:14
The Gospel spreads:
- By the will and purpose of God (Acts 16:6-10)
- By the changed lives of the converted that was done by God (1Thess. 1:8-10)
But if we listen to the self-appointed evangelists today, it is spread by other factors, especially slick marketing financed by lots of money.
On the other hand, a missionary evangelist true to Scripture:
- is anointed by the Holy Spirit for this important work of love for the lost
- is not encumbered with worldly concerns, like a family (1Cor. 7:32-33)
- preaches the Gospel taught by Paul
- relies on God's power to convert instead of slick tracts and corporate marketing strategies -- nothing more than Jesus Christ and Him crucified
Scripture labels us as aliens and strangers. What rights or expectations do aliens and strangers have? Do such people have any rights or responsibilities to tell the heathen what to do?
Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that
you will not be dependent on anybody. – 1Thessalonians 4:11-12
We are to do good in the way Jesus did (Acts 10:38). Everywhere He went, He would heal the sick, the blind, and the lame. If men were hungry, He fed them. If they lacked spiritual truth, He
would teach them. Mercy, grace, and peace evidenced in lives filled with joy and love for others.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Roman 14:17
In sum, PA leads to a false gospel that brings glory to Man, however little, denies God's sovereign work in men's hearts for His own purposes, and undermines the role of the Church in this
Rather than engage in marketing the Gospel, the Church needs to get back on track concerning the important issues that can destroy us if not obeyed and embraced. Have we invited
God's wrath upon us?
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is
coming. - Col. 3:5-6