398 Years Ago Today – The Synod of Dort

On this day in 1618 the synod of Dort was convened. This event, though little known about, is of massive importance. In order to understand it better there’s some historical background to wade through.

In 1610, one year after the death of Jacob 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” (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.

Eight years later, in 1618, a national Synod was called to meet in Dort for the purpose of examining the views of the Arminians in the light of Scripture. The Synod was convened by the States-General of Holland on November 13, 1618. There were 102 men at this Synod. There were 154 sessions held during the seven months the Synod met to consider these matters, the last of which was on May 9, 1619. During these sessions the Synod deliberated and examined the five points given by the Remonstrance.

After comparing them with the testimony of Scripture, they failed to reconcile the Arminians teaching with the Word of God. Thus, the doctrines of the Remonstrance were rejected unanimously. But, the Synod felt that a simple rejection was not enough. They concluded that they ought to set forth five points of their own regarding the teachings that were previously called into question. This they did, and the five points they crafted became what we now call ‘the five points of Calvinism.’

The name Calvinism was derived from the French reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), who had taught and defended these views. It is now commonly taught in the acrostic TULIP, standing for: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.

It may seem strange to many in our day that the Synod of Dort rejected as heretical the five doctrines advanced by the Arminians, because these doctrines have gained wide acceptance in the modern Church. In fact, they are rarely questioned in our day while the vast majority of Protestant theologians of that day took a much different view of these matters. 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.

On this 398th anniversary of the beginning of Dort, may you embrace what they put forth. Not because they were better or smarter than the Arminians, but because what they put forth is the essence of the biblical doctrine of salvation. Because of these things, in order to honor the pursuit of right doctrine, read through the Canons of Dort, and drink deeply of robust theology.

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