Simon Episcopius, Subordinationism, & Modern Church Methodologies
Warning! This article has nothing to do with generational curses or any of those peculiar doctrines displayed on some Christian television networks. There is substance here…
Relatively little is known about Simon Episcopius (1583-1643), the Dutch theologian who was summoned to the Synod of Dort in 1618. Nonetheless, his contribution to theology and example in church history has had poignant parallels that are observed even to this day.
His given name was Simon Bisschop and he was a professor at the University of Leiden from 1612 – 1619. From that time until his death, demonstrating his adherence to Jacob Arminius teachings, he was one of the leaders of the Remonstrants, i.e. the Arminians. (Arminians are those individuals who deny the absolute sovereignty of God and hold to a Greek libertarian type of freedom. They are not to be confused with the ethnic group known as Armenians, of which I am one of.).
Episcopius attempted to defend libertarian free will before the Synod, but to no avail and was banished into the Spanish Netherlands (until 1626) where he would write and defend his version of Arminianism. He took what Arminius questioned to another level and what was obscure, he made definite. In doing this he quite possibly catapulted Jacob Arminius’ followers into places Arminius himself would never have dared to go.
Though Episcopius was a scholar, he shied away from “doctrine” and stressed holy living. Correct living became more important to him than correct doctrine. The Columbia Encyclopedia states, “His avowed aim was to present Christianity in a practical aspect and to liberate theology from the excessively rigid limitations of theory and ecclesiasticism.”(“Simon Episcopius.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2008. Encyclopedia.com. (March 14, 2009).http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1E1-Episcopi.html)
To Episcopius, he merely sought for the peace and unity of Christians and was willing to conceal any of his views on so called ‘unimportant truths.'(John Marshall, John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 353.)
This was his way to liberate theology. The “let us not argue but just love one another” banner he waved discloses him as the proto-theological liberal this side of the Reformation. The problem was that what Episcopius thought was ‘unimportant truths’ were foundation stones of historic biblical Christianity.
One area Episcopius compromised in was his Bibliology. He departed from the Reformers method of interpretation (Grammatical, Historical, and Christocentric) which was connected to the Antiochene Church fathers and the apostles themselves.
He believed that different views about the Bible each contained a truth that was important in the interpretative process. Therefore, he reasoned that a variety of outlooks on truth were healthy to the church. This might be sufficient when speaking about how we would like the church sanctuary set up or whether contemporary or traditional praise music would be better on Sunday mornings. But to take this and apply it to non-negotiable teachings that distinguish Christianity from other religions is profane.
This approach to the Bible is completely subjective and leads to theological relativism. Moreover, it is absolutely foreign to a proper hermeneutic. When approaching the Bible one must seek to discover what the author was trying to communicate to his original readers. As with all ancient literature, this involves observing the history, vocabulary, grammar, syntax, and literary units of context. We are dealing with the very word of God, people. Therefore, to simply ‘allow’ for multiple meanings on a text against the dictates of the author cannot be “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
In addition, Episcopius faltered in his Christology as well. Now there are many theologians who are sympathetic to those outside their own denominational lines when it comes to issues such as baptism or church government, but one must never budge nor compromise on a biblical Christology.
While his schoolmaster Arminius held to the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, Simon Episcopius deserted this historic bedrock of Christianity. He believed Jesus was eternal God, and through the influence of his friend, the heretic Socinus, who fully rejected the deity of Christ, he was corrupted. Episcopius would sell out and take the middle ground position on Christ. He held that Jesus was fully God but is less God than the Father. This reduction of the divinity of Christ is commonly known as subordinationism. The main form of subordinationism that has taken place historically is that the Son is not equal in his being and attributes as the Father. To hold the position that any person of the Triune God is inferior to another is erroneous.
These grave errors of Episcopius would move many away from the historic teaching on Christ. In addition, they also reveal a significant connection between the history of Arminianism and theological liberalism. History bears witness that Arminianism has led to Arianism, to Socinianism, and to Unitarianism. Each of these ‘isms’ are outside of the circle of biblical Christianity.
Yes, Episcopius sought for peace and unity among Christians, which is very noble and should be commended. However, we must ask the question whether or not peace can actually exist when truth is destroyed. Can we call it peace when it makes war with the Prince of Peace? Are we not to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints?” (Jude 3) The great Puritan Thomas Watson put it down rather nicely, “We must not be so in love with the golden crown of peace, as to pluck off the jewels of truth. Rather let peace go-than truth. The martyrs would rather lose their lives-than let go the truth.”
Now… here we stand today, with ecumenists and theological liberals in front of us, and the Emergent Church Movement creeping up from behind. These groups, being descendants of Episcopius have traces of the Episcopian curse on their hands as they call out for holy living and relevancy at the expense of proper biblical teachings.
“We must ‘repaint’ the Christian faith if we are to win people to Jesus,” the Emergent Church cries out. In the post-modern paint job they give Christianity there is an avoidance of discussing hell and judgment, and an avoidance to confront sin. They reason that preaching repentance is not nice. It might hurt people’s feelings and doesn’t work in getting people to church anymore. They toss out the ancient creeds and historic teachings for pragmatism; sola Scriptura for sola pragmaticas. Thus, they undermine the Bible as the authoritative Word of God.
How many pastors in attempting to pack their churches with people and gain popularity displace historic biblical teachings that our Reformational forefathers fought so earnestly for us to know?
They have watered down clear passages that speak about sin and repentance making their Bibliology barren. They have abused verses that proclaim the deity and supremacy of Christ and him crucified, crippling their Christology.
May we stand with all those who have loved biblical truth, all who have gloried in the cross of Christ, and all who have preached a gospel that does not devalue our Savior. As we have this passion for God and for applying his truth, holy living will necessarily follow.
Soli Deo Gloria
Growing up in the east side of Moreno Valley, California, by way of Detroit, Michigan, liking all sports Detroit, while adding at the tender age of 8 a love for the Denver Broncos, a product of the public education system yet somehow by the grace of God managed to get some graduate degrees, serving the Lord out of Sovereign Grace of Perris, coaching Thai boxing and teaching and preaching the Word, also a proud father of 3, and husband to a faithful daughter of Abraham.