The Doctrines of Grace: A Five-Part Series, based on the Canons of Dort

Chances are, if you have gotten anywhere near Reformed theology, the terms “the Doctrines of Grace” or “the Five Points of Calvinism” have floated into your ears. Either of these terms are used to represent the vitally important aspects of how God saves His Church - what is called soteriology, or the doctrine of salvation. Christianity, and especially the Reformed tradition, has rightly emphasized this area of theology because it shows each of us how we can have fellowship with a holy God and be secure in knowing that we have eternal life in Jesus Christ. Most importantly, the Doctrines of Grace show how our salvation is all of God, which is an incredible comfort to the Christian because it shows him how his Creator and Lord is also completely his Savior, able to save to the uttermost all who trust in Him.

I’m starting a new series of five posts to explain the Doctrines of Grace as they were historically expounded in the Canons of Dort, one of the confessional Three Forms of Unity which Covenant Reformed Church holds to (along with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism). In this introductory post, I’ll give a short overview of the historical background of the Canons to set the stage for the five posts that will follow, and then these posts will seek to explain each major doctrine in a concise, easy-to-understand format.

400 years ago in the Netherlands, a major theological controversy broke out over the doctrines of salvation, disturbing many of the Reformed churches. A pastor named Jacob Arminius began to teach a view of salvation that gave man more of an intrinsic role in saving himself, rather than the orthodox Reformed view which taught that salvation came entirely by God without man contributing anything to it by his own power. The ensuing controversy led to the calling of the Synod of Dort in 1618 to settle the question and refute Arminius’s followers, the Arminians. This synod (a gathering of church representatives in a special assembly) was comprised not just of Dutch theologians but also of Reformed theologians from several other countries - an international gathering. The Arminians who attended the Synod were known as the Remonstrants because they had previously written up a five-article protest against the Reformed teaching on soteriology.

After several months, in 1619, the Synod of Dort officially submitted a decision in favor of the traditional Reformed view, called the Canons of Dort. These Canons were structured into five heads of doctrine in order to refute the five articles of the Remonstrants. Today, the Canons of Dort are recognized as one of the most outstanding Reformed statements on soteriology; “the Doctrines of Grace” is a popular nickname for these teachings. The Reformed churches which accept the Canons as a doctrinal standard believe that they faithfully summarize the Biblical teaching concerning the work of God in salvation.

The so-called “Five Points of Calvinism” (sometimes called “TULIP”) only came about much later, perhaps early in the 20th century, as a quick way to summarize the Reformed teaching on salvation. The acronym runs thus:

T = Total Depravity
U = Unconditional Election
L = Limited Atonement
I = Irresistible Grace
P = Perseverance of the Saints

In spite of the fact that these points are also five in number, they do not run in the order that the Canons of Dort present them. Since many people today may not be aware of the historical context behind the theological formulation of the Doctrines of Grace, I thought it would be an interesting way to expound these precious truths concerning our salvation by using the Canons of Dort as my starting point. In the five succeeding posts, I will treat of each head of doctrine individually.

I think it is good for us to remember that none of this stuff is inconsequential nor too abstract to be “relevant” to us as Christians. When we realize the great depths of the love of God and the way in which He saved us, then we will greatly hunger after every tasty little tidbit of this Gospel and never grow weary of marveling at God’s wondrous works. We have been saved from the terrors of eternal hell to worship our Savior forever and ever, and it is our joy and privilege to continually seek to better understand how He has saved us.

It is also my prayer that those of you who may not be Christians may see in these five posts the wonders of how God can save you so that you may have fellowship with Him and enjoy Him forever.

So, let us get into the meat of the matter - stay tuned for the first post, which will cover the doctrine of election - how God chose a people for His own possession, for His glory!

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