As the year draws on, we find that we have suddenly passed the oft-celebrated date of October 31. For some, this date marked Halloween, or the culmination of ‘spooky month’.
For others, it was ‘Reformation Day’, when we commemorate Martin Luther posting his 95 theses in 1517. Last year, therefore, was the 500th anniversary, which resulted in much excitement and celebration.
If you are missing these celebrations, I have good news—from this very moment you can celebrate the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort, another Reformation milestone. Allow me to give an extremely meagre overview of this event and its importance to Christianity.
Synod of Dort
100 years after Luther’s posting, the teachings of the Reformation had spread across Christendom, and had taken root in the Netherlands. These Reformation teachings had continued through people like John Calvin and Theodore Beza and had been formalised in documents such as the Belgic Confession in the Netherlands.
However, some Dutch Protestants, who had followed a man named Jacobus Arminius before his death, presented objections to the Belgic Confession and some Reformed teaching. In 1610, they advocated ‘Five Articles of Remonstrance’, or points with which they disagreed.
In order to settle the ensuing division and controversy, an international Synod was held from November 1618 in Dordrecht (or Dort), which finished in May 1619. The Synod rejected the Articles of Remonstrance, and set forth the Reformed doctrine on each point.
These Reformed doctrines have come to be known as the Five Points of Calvinism, the doctrines of grace, or TULIP. TULIP stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints.
Of course, Reformed Theology, or Calvinism, is much more than simply these five points. However, they do provide a useful overview of Reformed soteriology, and have had a lasting impact on Christian theology.
I will therefore begin to introduce these points, and will conclude it in my next article. Of course, there are entire books written on each individual point, so bear in mind that this is simply a very broad overview. I am also not saying that these doctrines are essential to Christianity—there are many faithful Christians who disagree with TULIP. This is simply an explanation.
Total Depravity does not mean that every person is as evil as they could possibly be, nor that people are unable to do any good towards others or anything like that. Total Depravity, or Total Inability, refers to the fact that when humanity became corrupted by sin, they became corrupted ‘in totality’. People are totally unable to turn to God by themselves.
Biblically, Jesus Himself taught that “no one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws Him…” (John chapter 6, verse 44).
Paul then writes in Romans that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (chapter 3 verses 10-12).
He also explains in Ephesians that “you were dead in the trespasses and sins…” (chapter 2 verse 1). Finally, Paul writes that no person can naturally turn to God in 1 Corinthians: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (chapter 2 verse 14).
So this doctrine asserts that people are, because of sin, spiritually dead and unable to naturally love God or turn to Him without the work of His grace. The doctrine of total depravity highlights people's dire need for God—we need God’s grace, no matter how good we appear, because none can naturally turn to God in faith.
Unconditional election flows naturally from total depravity—if sin has so infected us that no one is able to follow God apart from God first working in us, then God’s choice to save people must be based solely on God's sovereign will, not upon the actions of the individual.
In this view, God unconditionally elects and saves certain sinful people. Those chosen have done nothing to deserve this grace, because as per total depravity, they cannot. Those who believe in God are not ‘better’ or more righteous than others.
Once again, proponents point to several biblical passages. First, Jesus seems to indicate that only people elected by the Father will believe in Him when He explains “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John chapter 6 verse 37). Christ later explains to His followers “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you…” (Chapter 15 verse 16).
The Apostle Paul then explicates this idea further in Romans, when he states, “‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” (Chapter 9 verses 15-16).
Paul then explains the eternal nature of this divine, unconditional choosing in Ephesians: “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will…” (Chapter 1 verses 4-5).
Finally, he writes in 2 Timothy that God “has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity…” (Chapter 1 verse 9).
To be continued…
So far, we have seen that in the Reformed understanding of salvation, humans are totally impacted by sin and are therefore unable to save themselves. Therefore, God must reach in and save people, not because they are better than other people are, but because God chooses to save them. Salvation in this view depends on God, not on people. In my next article, we will look at the final three petals of this TULIP.
Haydn Lea is an Ordained Minister, and is currently serving as an Air Force Chaplain in Adelaide. He is married to Shamsa Lea, is the father of Amira, and loves running, boxing and studying history and theology. Haydn describes himself as a five-point Calvinist, but he recognises that many faithful Christians disagree. Thankfully he isn’t a cage-stage Calvinist about it all.
Haydn Lea’s previous articles may be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/haydn-lea.htm