The Canons of Dordt: The Controversy Grows.

This week we are taking time from our study of the Gospel of John in order to observe the 400th anniversary of The Council of Dordrecht or Dordt. The council or synod began on November 13, 1618. It occurred in the Netherlands at a southern city called Dordrecht, which in English is shortened to Dordt. The resulting document from the synod is called the Canons (rules) of Dordt.

When Jacob Arminius died in October 1609, the controversy he created over the sovereignty of God in salvation entered a new phase. The Arminians, followers of Arminius, published a remonstrance, or formal protest, against the Reformed churches. They outlined and articulated five objections to Reformed doctrine. Some preliminary responses were drafted as early as 1611. However, it was the Remonstrants who first gave us five points to which the Reformed churches would respond at the Synod of Dordt.

Dr. R. Scott Clark, professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Seminary California and associate minister of Escondido United Reformed Church, explains that, The Synod of Dordt almost did not occur. Political forces within the government worked mightily to prevent a national synod to address the problem. The theological crisis threatened to break out into warfare. Prince Maurice of Nassau (1567–1625), who sympathized with the orthodox, called for a national synod. The Remonstrants responded by organizing riots in 1617. Maurice’s chief rival threatened war, but when Maurice arrived in Utrecht (an Arminian stronghold) in 1618 with battle-tested veterans, the opposition melted.”

The resulting synod to address the Remonstrants convened in Dordrecht, on November 13, 1618. Attending were delegates from across Europe and Britain. Forbidden by Louis XIII from attending, the French delegation was notably absent.

The Remonstrants proposed five points: (1) Election unto salvation is conditioned upon foreseen faith and obedience; (2) Universal atonement; (3) Regeneration enables sinners to contribute good works toward salvation; (4) Resistible grace; (5) Believers may fall away or lose their salvation.

The synod met to address each of these specific five points. They responded that God’s election of sinners unto salvation is not preconditioned by any foreseen faith by God in the sinner. Second, the synod supported the doctrine of limited atonement. Third, the council refuted that man’s good works contributed anything to his salvation. Fourth, God’s grace is always effectual. Five, the truly converted will never, and cannot, lose their salvation.

Dr. Clark adds, “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.”

Tomorrow, we will examine each of the five points beginning with what is known as Total Depravity. I trust you will join me.

It is often said that doctrine divides and love unites churches. However, true love for God and for one another must be rooted and grounded in biblical doctrine or truth. Let us strive to remember this and maintain a proper balance between truth and love.

Soli deo Gloria!



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