The Synod of Dort
The charges and proposed doctrinal changes forwarded by the Remonstrants had to be answered for the sake of attributing all glory to God and for the purity and unity of the church. On November 13, 1618, an international meeting of church leaders was convened by order of the States-General of Holland. It met at Dordrecht and came to be called the Synod of Dort.
From Holland, Germany, the Palatinate, England, and Switzerland 84 delegates and 18 secular commissioners met for seven months to study the Bible on these matters. After 154 sessions they had produced statements answering point by point the Remonstrant’s Arminian doctrines. The Synod concluded its work on May 9, 1619.
Results of the Synod of Dort
The document which emerged from this meeting was called “The Canons of Dort.” It was a list of theological statements (canons) carefully affirming and clarifying the doctrines of Scripture which were presently held by the Reformed Churches. In addition, they answered various objections which men had or would raise. My own summary of the Canons of Dort appears in the Appendix of this book.
The Synod of Dort condemned the teachings of the Armininans as being out of accord with Scripture. The Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism were reaffirmed as being orthodox, biblical confessions for the Church. They also produced the Church Order of Dort, which we will not get into for our purposes here.
The reaction against Arminianism at that time was rather severe. Some, such as Hugo Grotius, were imprisoned or banished so long as they continued following the Remonstrant position. After a few years there was a negative reaction to this severe treatment and a certain toleration was given to the Arminian Remonstrants to hold and espouse their teachings.
Today, with the widespread influence of Arminianism, we are shocked by the fact that Arminianism was once such a minority position. Attitudes have reversed tremendously. Arminianism is widely accepted by the church of today, and the Calvinists are often ostracized.
Arminianism spread, as Calvinism had, to many countries of the world. In England an Anti-Calvinist movement was spurred on by Arminians. John Wesley bought into the Arminian doctrines and greatly influenced the Methodist church. Churches generally did not adopt the title “Arminian” as the name for their churches. Arminian doctrines are the confession of churches identified by various different names. To a lesser extent we may say the same of Calvinism.
Today, we find that the vast majority of Protestant churches, whether liberal or evangelical, have adopted all or part of the teachings of the Remonstrants. That which may grieve us most is that even among many individuals and congregations who claim a Reformed heritage, Arminianism has gained a foothold and an appeal such that the doctrines of Calvinism are often ignored or rejected completely. It is pathetic that in many circles the children of the Reformed heritage are no longer having these truths taught or explained to them. If these are doctrines taught in Scripture, let us never be ashamed to hold firmly to them and teach them to others.
Some aberrations within the system of Calvinism (such as “Hyper-Calvinism,” which will be examined in the course of this study) have led to a false characterization of all Calvinists. For the most part, the rejection of the validity of Calvinism has come from those whose faith and life cannot tolerate the notion of a sovereign God. The result is that the word “Calvinist” (or sometimes “Puritan”) has become a label used by many people to characterize it as a false, fanatical, and stilted set of beliefs that hardly anyone, except for a few misled “cultists,” take seriously today.
It is up to us to study the Scriptures and then set the record straight and continue to spread the gospel that truly proclaims salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. To the student of the Scriptures, this is our challenge.
Blog post content is taken from Rev. Paul Treick’s book, Faith of Our Fathers, Living Still: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, available for purchase. It is posted with the gracious permission of the author.
If you’d like to read the blog series from the beginning, start here.