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Tuesday
Dec132011

Theological Term of the Week

Canons of Dordt
The doctrinal statements adopted by the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), consisting of the judicial decisions on disputed doctrinal points from the Arminian controversy.

  • From the Canons of Dordt

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 12. And this is that regeneration so highly extolled in Scripture, that renewal, new creation, resurrection from the dead, making alive, which God works in us without out aid.  But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation that, after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the Author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.  Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence becomes itself active.  Wherefore also man himself is rightly said to believe and repent by virtue of that grace received.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 13. The manner of this operation cannot be fully comprehended by believers in this life.  Nevertheless, they are satisfied to know and experience that by this grace of God they are enabled to believe with the heart and to love their Savior.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 14. Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred upon him, breathed and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will consent to the terms of salvation and actually believe in Christ, but because He who works in man both to will and to work, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also

  • From Reformed Confessions Harmonized edited by Joel R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson:
  • The Synod of Dordt was held to settle a serious controversy in the Dutch churches initiated by the rise of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), a theological professor at Leiden University, differed from the Reformed faith on a number of important points. After Arminius’s death, forty-three of his ministerial followers presented their heretical views to the States General of the Netherlands on five of these points in the Remonstrance of 1610. In this doc- ument and even more explicitly in later writings, the Arminians, who came to be called “Remonstrants,” taught (1) election based on foreseen faith; (2) the universality of Christ’s atonement; (3) the free will and partial depravity of man; (4) the resistibility of grace; and (5) the possibility of a lapse from grace. They asked for the revision of the Reformed church’s doctrinal standards and for government protection of Arminian views. The Arminian-Calvinism conflict became so severe that it led the Netherlands to the brink of civil war. Finally in 1617 the States General voted four to three to call a national Synod to address the problem of Arminianism.

    The synod held 154 formal sessions over a period of seven months (November 1618 to May 1619). Thirteen Arminian theologians, led by Simon Episcopius, tried to delay the work of the synod and divide the delegates. Their efforts proved unsuccessful. Under the leadership of Johannes Bogerman, the Arminians were dismissed. The synod then developed the Canons which thoroughly rejected the Remonstrance of 1610 and scripturally set forth the Reformed doctrine on these debated points. These points, known as the five points of Calvinism are: unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints. Though these points do not embrace the full scope of Calvinism and are better regarded as Calvinism’s five answers to the five errors of Arminianism, they certainly lie at the heart of the Reformed faith, particularly of Reformed soteriology, for they flow out of the principle of absolute divine sovereignty in saving sinners. They may be summarized as follows: (1) Unconditional election and faith are sovereign gifts of God. (2) While the death of Christ is abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world, its saving efficacy is limited to the elect. (3, 4) All people are so totally depraved and corrupted by sin that they cannot exercise free will toward, nor effect any part of, their salvation. In sovereign grace God irresistibly calls and regenerates the elect to new- ness of life. (5) God graciously preserves the redeemed so that they persevere until the end, even though they may be troubled by many infirmities as they seek to make their calling and election sure. 

  • From The Canons of Dordt by R. Scott Clark:
  • The Canons of Dordt represent a remarkable consensus of conviction among the Reformed churches on essential doctrines. Indeed, the very Reformation was at stake. If God’s favor is conditioned upon anything in us, then we are lost because we are dead in sin. If the Gospel is reconfigured to include our obedience, then it is no longer the Gospel. If atonement is merely hypothetical, if the elect can fall away, then grace is no longer grace. 

    The synod’s response was careful, pastoral, and firm. The synod concluded that it does not help piety or assurance to make our salvation depend on anything in us. The Gospel is Christ for us. The Canons of Dordt are an inheritance to be treasured, but they are also to be used in our congregations, in our catechism classes, and as an example of how to respond to challenges. 

Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: The Canons of Dordt
  2. Christian Reformed Church: The Canons of Dort
  3. Believe Religious Information Source: Canons of Dordt
  4. R. Scott Clark: The Canons of Dordt
  5. Dr. Kim Riddlebarger: Introdution — Canons of Dort, First Head, First Head — Rejections, Second Head. Also, a series of notes on the Canons of Dort.
Related terms:

Filed under Creeds and Confessions.

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