Home > Brian's Blogs, Theology > The Canons of Dort, Part 2: History

The Canons of Dort, Part 2: History

I begin my series on the Canons of Dort with a very brief overview of the historical context that gave rise to the Synod of Dort. I’ll do this by way of a short timeline:

1517: The popularly recognized beginning of the Reformation through Martin Luther.

1536 – 1564: John Calvin ministers in Geneva (with a brief tenure in Strasbourg from 1538-1541) until his death.

1559: John Calvin writes the French/Gallican Confession as a summary of Reformed faith.

1561: Reformed Christians in the Netherlands (modern day Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, and northern France) are experiencing tremendous persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church. Guido de Bres publishes the Belgic Confession as an apology for the Reformed Christians, primarily to prove that they are faithful and law-abiding Christians and, most importantly, are NOT Anabaptists! The Belgic Confession was greatly influenced by John Calvin’s French/Gallican Confession.

1575: Jacob Arminius begins education at the University of Leiden.

1581: Netherlands obtains independence from King Phillip II of Spain. Reformed Christians were still a minority but the Reformed church becomes the official state church.

1581/2: Jacob Arminius is educated by Theodore Beza (John Calvin’s successor) in Calvinistic Geneva.

1586/8: Jacob Arminius is ordained and begins his ministry in the Netherlands with the Dutch Reformed Church (and was given a recommendation by Theodore Beza!). It is reported that Arminius preaches some sermons in Romans that are not completely consistent with the Calvinism of the Dutch Reformed Church.

1602/3: Jacob Arminius becomes a professor at the University of Leiden, to the objection of some of the Calvinist professors.

1608: Jacob Arminius, who was increasingly accused of not being a good Calvinist, writes a “Declaration of Sentiments” outlining his theology. He seems to have been concerned about extreme or hyper-Calvinism.

1609: Jacob Arminius dies in good standing in the Dutch Reformed Church.

1610: The followers of Jacob Arminius write articles of protest, Remonstrance, seeking protection for holding to Arminius’s theological views. The Remonstrance is summarized in five points:

  1. Conditional Election: God saves those “who, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, shall believe.”
  2. Universal Atonement: Christ died for every and all men, but only the believer experiences forgiveness.
  3. Total Depravity: “man does not have saving faith of himself nor by the power of his own free will.”
  4. Resistible Grace: All good works are ascribed to God, but God’s grace is resistible.
  5. Uncertainty about Perseverance: Believers have the assistance of the Holy Spirit but “whether they can through negligence fall away…must first be more carefully determined from the Holy Scriptures.”

1611: The Calvinists answer with a Contra-Remonstrance.

1618: After years of debate, the government holds a national synod at Dordrecht (the Synod of Dort) to resolve this controversy. This synod had representatives not only from the Netherlands, but from all over Europe. The synod ultimately rejects the Remonstrance and issues the Canons of Dort with unanimous approval. The synod also adopts the Belgic Confession as a standard of Reformed faith.

So this is how the debate began! A few interesting points:

  • The Five-Points of Calvinism (commonly known as TULIP) were actually a response to the Five-Points of Arminianism.
  • While TULIP is more memorable, the actual order is ULTIP.
  • With all due respect to the many fine Dutch people in our congregation…this whole debate is your fault.

Next we’ll begin looking at TULIP in its proper order, with U.

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