It is no secret that Protestant Christians have been subdividing since about half an hour after Martin Luther posted in 95 theses on the Wittenberg Cathedral door in 1517.
In fact, I recently wrote here about one of those early disputes.
But today is a good day to remind ourselves of another reason for historical discord among Protestants because this is the anniversary of the birth in 1560 of Jacob Arminius, the Dutch theologian who battled against John Calvin's notion of predestination. (Arminius is shown here today in his high school graduation photo.)
A theological movement of Protestants known as Arminianism is the result.
Arminius got involved in a hot debate with a rigid Calvinist (avoid them, if you can) named Franciscus Gomarus over predestination. You'll find some details about that at the links I've given you on the Arminius name, but in terribly simplistic terms, the Calvinism argument was that salvation was completely up to God, while the Arminian position was that humans had a say in it, too.
But as Miriam Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions reports, "Arminianism. . .tended to be more liberal than was Arminius himself."
In fact, something parallel could be said of John Calvin, who was not a rigid hyper-Calvinist, unlike many of his later disciples. Indeed, Arminianism in the U.S. eventually led to Unitarianism, who generally embrace the term liberal in a theological sense.
That's the thing about founding religious movements. You have no control over what ultimately will happen to them. Would the Buddha be happy about the Buddhists in Myanmar who recently have been doing violence against Muslims? Would the Prophet Muhammad be happy with the likes of the Osama bin Laden's Islamists? Would Jesus delight in the thuggery of the Ku Klux Klan? (If you answered no, no, no, you're on the right track.)
But a good reason to know religious history is so we know where our traditions came from and so that we can make adjustments in our beliefs and practices if we find that our ancestors led us down this or that rabbit trail. And if you know about the influences of Arminianism and Calvinism, you also can more easily explain what historically has separated Methodists from Presbyterians, even though to most folks they seem like carbon copies of one another. In fact, most American Methodists and American Presbyterians probably would say that today, too. And most would be unable to explain how Arminianism influenced John Wesley, the Methodist founder, while Presbyterians look to Calvin as their (brilliant but flawed) theological father.
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FAITH IN THE SHUTDOWN
The partial shutdown of the federal government is even affecting religious groups. Religion News Service documents how. It's how odd even though people of faith are praying for the government, some in the government seem determined to prey on people.
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THE BOOK CORNER
The President's Devotional, by Joshua Dubois. Before Barack Obama first was elected president in 2008, one of his aides, Joshua Dubois, with Obama's permission, began sending him daily e-mails containing a Bible verse, a meditation, a devotional. And he kept this up for years. This book is a collection of 365 of those devotionals, and it's quite engaging. Each one is short but packed with things to ponder for the day. Dubois, by the way, later served as the White House director of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This book won't officially be published until later this month but can be pre-ordered now on Amazon.com, the link I've given you above.
I also wanted to tell you today that for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the death of C.L. Lewis (he died the same day JFK was assassinated), HarperOne has issued an annotated edition of The Screwtape Letters, that book of letters from one of the devil's tempters on Earth to his home office. The millions of Lewis fans will want this on their Christmas list.
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P.S.: Although previous plans called for the former vacated Truman Road campus of Saint Paul School of Theology to be sold to a coalition working against sexual exploitation, the school announced this yesterday: "Saint Paul School of Theology is pleased to announce that we have executed a contract to sell the Truman Road Campus to Guadalupe Centers, Inc. The buyers are currently in their due diligence period that will end around Christmas. If all goes well, they will close the transaction right after the first of next year." Saint Paul has moved to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood. Check The Kansas City Star and its website for more information.