What GCF Believes About The Five Points of Calvinism
The Origin of The “Five Points”
To understand how and why the system of theology known to history as Calvinism came to bear this name and to be formulated into five points, one must understand the theological conflict which occurred in Holland during the first quarter of the seventeenth century.
The Protest of The Arminian Party
In 1610, just one year after the death of James Arminius (a Dutch seminary professor) five articles of faith based on his teachings were drawn up by his followers. The Arminians, as his followers came to be called, presented these five doctrines to the State of Holland in the form of a “Remonstrance” (i.e., a protest). The Arminian party insisted that the Belgic Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism (the official expression of the doctrinal position of the Churches of Holland) be changed to conform to the doctrinal views contained in the Remonstrance. The Arminians objected to those doctrines upheld in both the Catechism and the Confession relating to divine sovereignty, human inability, unconditional election or predestination, particular redemption, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. It was in connection with these matters that they wanted the official standards of the Church of Holland revised.
The “Five Points” of Arminianism
Roger Nicole summarizes the five articles contained in the Remonstrance as follows:
- God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.
- Christ died for all men and for every man, although only believers are saved.
- Man is so depraved that divine grace is necessary unto faith or any good deed.
- This grace may be resisted.
- Whether all who are truly regenerate will certainly persevere in the faith is a point which needs further investigation.
The last article was later altered so as to definitely teach the possibility of the truly regenerate believer’s losing his faith and thus losing his salvation. However, Arminians have not been in agreement on this point – some have held that all who are regenerated by the Spirit of God are eternally secure and can never perish.
The Philosophical Basis of Arminianism
J. I. Packer, in analyzing the system of thought embodied in the Remonstrance, observes:
“The theology which it contained (known to history as Arminianism) stemmed from two philosophical principles: first, that divine sovereignty is not compatible with human freedom, nor therefore with human responsibility; second, that ability limits obligation . . . . From these principles, the Arminians drew two deductions: first, that since the Bible regards faith as a free and responsible act, it cannot be caused by God, but is exercised independently of Him; second, that since the Bible regards faith as obligatory on the part of all who hear the gospel, ability to believe must be universal. Hence, they maintained, Scripture must be interpreted as teaching the following positions:
- Man is never so completely corrupted by sin that he cannot savingly believe the gospel when it is put before him, nor is he ever so completely controlled by God that he cannot reject it.
- God’s election of those who shall be saved is prompted by His foreseeing that they will of their own accord believe.
- Christ’s death did not ensure the salvation of anyone, for it did not secure the gift of faith to anyone (there is no such gift); what it did was rather to create a possibility of salvation for everyone if they believe.
- It rests with believers to keep themselves in a state of grace by keeping up their faith; those who fail here fall away and are lost. Thus, Arminianism made man s salvation depend ultimately on man himself, saving faith being viewed throughout as man’s own work and, because his own, not God’s in him.”
The Rejection Of Arminianism By The Synod Of Dort And The Formation Of The Five Points Of Calvinism.
A national Synod was called to meet in Dort in 1618 for the purpose of examining the views of Arminius in the light of Scripture. The Great Synod was convened by the States-General of Holland on November 13, 1618. There were 84 members and 18 secular commissioners. Included were 27 delegates from Germany, the Palatinate, Switzerland and England. There were 154 sessions held during the seven months that the Synod met to consider these matters, the last of which was on May 9, 1619.
The Synod had given a very close examination to the “five points” which had been advanced by the Remonstrants, and had compared the teaching advanced in them with the testimony of Scripture. Failing to reconcile that teaching with the Word of God, which they had definitely declared could alone be accepted by them as the rule of faith, they had unanimously rejected them. They felt, however, that a mere rejection was not sufficient. It remained for them to set forth the true Calvinistic teaching in relationship to those matters which had been called into question. This they proceeded to do, embodying the Calvinistic position in five chapters which have ever since been known as “the five points of Calvinism.” The name Calvinism was derived from the great French reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), who had done so much in expounding and defending these views.
No doubt it will seem strange to many in our day that the Synod of Dort rejected as heretical the five doctrines advanced by the Arminians, for these doctrines have gained wide acceptance in the modern Church. In fact, they are seldom questioned in our generation. But the vast majority of the Protestant theologians of that day took a much different view of the matter. They maintained that the Bible set forth a system of doctrine quite different from that advocated by the Arminian party. Salvation was viewed by the members of the Synod as a work of grace from beginning to end; in no sense did they believe that the sinner saved himself or contributed to his salvation. Adam’s fall had completely ruined the race. All men were by nature spiritually dead and their wills were in bondage to sin and Satan. The ability to believe the gospel was itself a gift from God, bestowed only upon those whom He had chosen to be the objects of His unmerited favor. It was not man, but God, who determined which sinners would be shown mercy and saved. This, in essence, is what the members of the Synod of Dort understood the Bible to teach.