Rector’s Weekly Letter to the Congregation for Sunday, November 3, 2019
In my letter last week, I mentioned the theological positions called Calvinism and Arminianism. It should be clarified that Calvin did not start the position called Calvinism, but Arminius’ ideas were what his followers espoused. Indeed, Calvin was instrumental in explaining reformation theology based on the Five Solae. Calvinism is known by the acronym TULIP, but the five points of TULIP do not comprise the totality of the theology of Calvinism. Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion laid out beautifully the theology of the Reformation Movement in contrast to certain teachings of the Roman Church. Calvin died of tuberculosis in 1564.
Jacobus Arminius, 1560 – 1609, born four years before the death of Calvin, became a theologian and church minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. He did not agree fully with all the theological teachings of the church and he made his misgivings known. After his death, his followers continued his teaching and established new churches in later years. The Dutch Reformed Church was not pleased with this and spoke against the Arminian doctrine. In 1610, Arminius’ followers presented a formal appeal to be tolerated in a document called a Remonstrance in which they articulated five positions of departure from the Belgic Confession which was the standard confession of the Dutch Reformed Church. The Remonstrance was signed by 45 ministers and was presented to the States-General of the Netherlands for consideration. The States-General did not immediately know what to do and how to proceed in the situation and a contentious period followed for eight years.
The Remonstrants’ Five Points:
Arminius taught that human free will plays into the equation of our salvation although he also admitted to the Sovereignty of God. Calvin had taught in the Institutes of the Christian Religion that “All events whatsoever are governed by the secret counsel of God” (Institute #307). The Remonstrance contained the following five points:
The Remonstrance said that although it is true that humanity is depraved, it retained some sanity and is able to seek God. Our fallenness does not extend to our being rendered incapable of seeking God if he extends his prevenient grace to us. Prevenient grace is the work of God in every human being to attract them to Jesus Christ. It is enough grace to make it possible for people to choose Jesus Christ. The Remonstrance argued that such grace is available to every human being, and every human being is a candidate for heaven if they choose Christ. Once granted that grace, the human will is free and has the ability to respond to God’s Spirit that is calling it to life in Christ. However, there are many Arminians who disagree with partial depravity and hold a position closer to Calvinism.
The Remonstrance presented that God chooses only those whom he foreknows will choose to believe in Christ. No one is predetermined for either heaven or hell. In his omniscience (the state of knowing everything), God foresaw those who would soften their hearts and respond to the message of the gospel and those who would persevere to the end and chose them.
The Remonstrance said that Jesus died for everyone, even for those who are not chosen and will not believe. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was for all of humanity, so salvation is available to everyone who accepts him as Savior and Lord.
God’s call to salvation can be resisted or rejected by human beings. Human beings have the free will to resist God’s pull towards salvation and choose hell for themselves.
A believer can lose his salvation if he continually rejects the promptings of the Holy Spirit in his life. The Christian must actively work out his salvation in order to retain it. There are many Arminians who reject conditional salvation and hold instead to eternal security, which says that our salvation is eternally secure, the result of God keeping us, rather than us maintaining our salvation.
The Canons of Dort
After eight years of heated controversies and debates between supporters of the Remonstrance and those who opposed it, the Dutch Reformed Church responded by holding a synod to settle the points of Arminius’ followers. The synod was held in Dordrecht the Netherlands in 1618-1619 and was attended by sixty-two delegates from the Netherlands and twenty-seven delegates from eight other countries. It produced what is known as the Canons of Dort, responding to the five points raised in the Remonstrance. The synod rejected the Remonstrance point by point in detail in five chapters which are called heads. For partial depravity, the synod found total depravity to be in line with what the Bible teaches; for conditional election, the synod found unconditional election; for unlimited atonement, the synod found limited atonement; for resistible grace, the synod found irresistible grace; for conditional salvation, the synod found perseverance of the saints.
The Canons of Dort did not invent the acronym TULIP. The earliest use of it was perhaps by the Rev. Cleland Boyd McAfee in 1905 in a lecture before the Presbyterian Union in Newark, New Jersey. This is recorded in the book, The New Outlook, 1913, by William H. Vail, page 394. What the Canons of Dort did was solely to respond to the Remonstrance in light of Scriptural teaching. I encourage everyone to read the Belgic Confession of Faith of 1561, the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563, and the Canons of Dort of 1618-1619. These three formed and still form the foundation for the Church of England’s Westminster Confession of Faith of 1646. All these documents can be found online, and also there’s a copy at the church office. Please know your faith and its history.
The Westminster Larger Catechism with Supporting Texts
Q. 5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man (2 Timothy 1:13).
What Man Ought to Believe Concerning God
Q. 6. What do the Scriptures make known of God?
A. The Scriptures make known what God is, the persons in the Godhead, his decrees, and the execution of his decrees (Hebrews 11:6, 1 John 5:17, Acts 15:14-15, 18, Acts 4:27-28).
Q. 7. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit, in and of himself infinite in being, glory, blessedness, and perfection; all-sufficient, eternal, unchangeable, incomprehensible, everywhere present, almighty, knowing all things, most wise, most holy, most just, most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth. (John 4:24, Exodus 3:14, Acts 7:2, 1 Timothy 6:15, Matthew 5:48, Genesis 17:1, Psalm 90:2, Malachi 3:6, 1 Kings 8:27, Psalm 139:1-13, Revelation 4:8, Hebrews 4:13, Psalm 147:5, Romans 16:27, Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 15:4, Deuteronomy 32:4, Exodus 34:6).
Q. 8. Are there more Gods than one?
A. There is but one only the living and true God (Deuteronomy 6:4, 1 Corinthians 8:4, 6, Jeremiah 10:10).