Evidence of Inclusivism in Luther, Zwingli, and Arminius

A while back I did a post quoting from well known apologists throughout history that have advocated inclusivism (see here).  The list demonstrated that inclusivism  has been held by orthodox Christians since the time of the church fathers.  I have updated that post to include some relevant quotes from Luther, Zwingli, and Arminius.

Inclusivists believe the only way to be saved is through Jesus Christ.  Since Jesus died for everyone, inclusivists are also hopeful that some can be justified through Christ without explicit or complete knowledge of who He is. Inclusivists argue that unless salvation is universally accessible, it is meaningless to speak of Christ’s atonement being for all people.

Among the Protestant reformers, Zwingli was the most vocal inclusivist.  He sparred with Calvin over the issue (Calvin was an exclusivist).  Zwingli proposed that pre-Christian Greeks like Socrates would be saved, as well as others.

“Then you may hope to see [in heaven] the whole company and assemblage of all the saints, the wise, the faithful, brave, and good who have lived since the world began. Here you will see the two Adams, the redeemed and the redeemer, Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, Phineas, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, and the Virgin Mother of God of whom he prophesied, David, Hezekiah, Josiah, the Baptist, Peter, Paul; here too, Hercules, Theseus, Socrates, Aristides, Antigonus, Numa, Camillus, the Catos and Scipios; here Louis the Pious, and your predecessors, the Louis, Philips, Pepins, and all your ancestors who have gone hence in faith. In short there has not been a good man and will not be a holy heart or faithful soul from the beginning of the world to the end thereof that you will not see in heaven with God.” (Zwingli, Exposition of the Christian Faith, page 16)

Although less outspoken than Zwingli (at least on this issue), there is evidence that Luther also was an inclusivist.  In his commentary on Romans, Luther proposed that the unevangelized can be forgiven by God by responding to Him in the best way that they understand, that God can save them though His prevenient grace, and that God gives forbearance to the ignorant.

“Whoever fulfills the Law is in Christ, and he receives grace because as much as he is able he has prepared himself for it. Original sin God could forgive them [the unevangelized]  (even though they may not have recognized it and confessed it) on account of some act of humility towards God as the highest being that they know. Neither were they bound to the Gospel and to Christ as specifically recognized, as the Jews were not either. Or one can say that all people of this type have been given so much light and grace by an act of prevenient mercy of God as is sufficient for their salvation in their situation, as in the case of Job, Naaman, Jethro, and others.”

“They have therefore fulfilled the Law. Whatever was lacking (and for this lack they are excused on account of their invincible ignorance) God in His forbearance without doubt supplied so that it might be made perfect through Christ in the future. This is not different from what He did for the children who were uncircumcised and killed for His sake (cf. Matt. 2:16). He does the same thing today for our children.” (Luther, commentary on Romans, see Romans 2:10)

It’s also evident that Arminius was an inclusivist.  He didn’t write too much about the topic – no doubt because the Supralapsarian Calvinists were looking for reasons to have his head.  However, he held that God saves some by the internal revelation of the Spirit (without the intervention of human missionaries).  He also alluded to an even greater view of God’s mercy, but was unwilling to advance that view in writing.

“The ordinary means and instrument of conversation is the preaching of the Divine word by mortal men, to which therefore all persons are bound; but the Holy Spirit has not so bound himself to this method, as to be unable to operate in an extraordinary way, without the intervention of human aid, when it seemeth good to Himself….this very common sentence obtains our high approval…What peril or error can there be in any man saying, “God converts great numbers of persons, (that is, very many) by the internal revelation of the Holy Spirit or by the ministry of angels; “provided it be at the same time stated, that no one is converted except by this very word, and by the meaning of this word, which God sends by men to those communities or nations whom He hath purposed to unite to himself. The objectors will perhaps reply, “It is to be feared, that, if a nation of those who have been outwardly called should believe this, rejecting external preaching, they would expect such an internal revelation or the address of an angel.” Truly, this would be as unnatural a subject of fear, as that a man would be unwilling to taste of the bread which was laid before him, because he understands, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” But I desist; lest, while instituting an examination into the causes of this fear, I should proceed much further, and arrive at a point to which our brethren might be unwilling for me on this occasion to advance. A word is sufficient for the wise.” (The Works of James Arminius, Volume 1, Article 8)

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12 Comments

Filed under Inclusivism

12 responses to “Evidence of Inclusivism in Luther, Zwingli, and Arminius

  1. Excellent finds :-) Exclusivism is just too Calvinist for me.

  2. Wesley Wong

    Like John Wesley, I’m an inclusivist too.

  3. slw

    The Arminius quote is more than weak in service of the claim, for I too agree with Arminius’ sentiment as communicated by it (and would say we’re seeing such in the Middle East and Iran today), but am an exclusivist and see Arminius as one too.

    • Hi SLW,

      I agree with Olson on the matter, Arminius was an inclusivist. As were Luther and Zwingli, and they had a narrower view of God’s grace than Arminius. God converting people by internal revelation of the Holy Spirit without them hearing the preached word is inclusivism.

      • slw

        I don’t see how that can be a valid definition of inclusivism. If internal revelation is still specific to Christ, then it is not inclusivism, just non-evangelistic. Inclusivism isn’t unless it posits a less than complete revelation of Christ which is accepted in lieu. If God speaks to one in a dream about Christ, or an angel does so, the person is hearing specifically, clearly about Christ, even if an evangelist has never preached the Gospel to that one.

      • Arminius doesn’t specify that supernatural revelation must entail a complete revelation of Christ.

        Also, there are different types of inclusivism, some wider than others. Olson defines inclusivism as “any view that God may save persons without the intervention of human agency (i.e., without a missionary reaching them).” See here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/01/was-arminius-an-inclusivist-continuing-a-conversation/

      • slw

        “provided it be at the same time stated, that no one is converted except by this very word, and by the meaning of this word…

        You don’t think that is specific enough?

      • slw

        Hey Kevin,
        Olson’s definition is too broad. Of course if one accepts it, even the unwilling such as myself, would have to cede to the label. If knowing Jesus as the Son of God who saves those who turn to him is the message, you’ve got the Gospel. How can anyone call hearing the Gospel inclusivist merely over the vessel that communicated it? Was Peter inclusive convert over his confession (Matthew 16:17-8)?

        I have to wonder if stretching the word that far is merely to make a tent so large as to include just about everyone and thereby make a debatable position more tenable.

    • Hi SLW,

      The “word” (as Arminius uses it) is in reference to the supernatural revelation of the Holy Spirit. All revelation (natural and supernatural) always points to Christ, but not all revelation results in individuals having a conscious grasp of who Christ is. That’s the kind of inclusivism I hold to. It’s Christ centered. If individuals accept the revelation they do receive, they are saved through Christ.

      Arminius had a wider view of God’s grace than he was willing to express. He limited his discussion on the matter in the interest of not agitating the supralapsarians. “But I desist; lest, while instituting an examination into the causes of this fear, I should proceed much further, and arrive at a point to which our brethren might be unwilling for me on this occasion to advance.”

      Arminius did not throw out Zwingli’s take on the matter. If he was an exclusivist, he would have. Instead, Arminias argued that a position similar to Zwingli’s was impossible to completely prove (and I agree) “For, if it were produced by us, it would become a subject of controversy; as has been the fate of the sentiments of Zwinglius concerning the salvation of Socrates, Aristides, and of others in similar circumstances, who must have been instructed concerning their salvation by the Holy Ghost or by angels.”

      Arminius also references Acts 18:9-10. Paul goes to Corinth, and in a dream God tells him that he already has many people in the city. This is before Paul had preached extensively there. “Besides, if this saying of Christ had occurred to the recollection of our brethren, “Speak, Paul! and hold not thy peace: For I have much people in this city,” they would not so readily have burdened us with this article, who have learned from this saying of Christ, that God sends the external preaching of his word to nations, when it is his good pleasure for great numbers of them to be converted.

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