Canons of Dort – What is it?

Canons of DortReady for a little church history lesson? I’d like to recommend an important document that I believe every Christian should be familiar with known as the Canons of Dort (full text available here).

The Canons of Dort is a collection of doctrinal statements that were documented by a committee that assembled in the Netherlands in 1618. When the teachings of Jacob Arminius (1506-1609), a theology professor at Leiden University, were systematized into a document called “The Five Articles of Remonstrance“, controversies arose to such a serious level that they could not be ignored. In Creeds Of Christendom, Philip Schaff wrote,

The controversy was purely theological in its nature, but owing to the intimate connection of Church and State it became inevitably entangled in political issues, and shook the whole country. The Reformed Churches in France, Switzerland, Germany, England, and Scotland took a deep interest in it, and sided, upon the whole, with the Calvinistic party; while the Lutheran Church sympathized to some extent with the Arminian (Vol. I).

62 Dutch delegates of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands were joined by 27 delegates from 8 other countries to form a synod for the purpose of addressing and responding to the heretical views presented in the Articles of Remonstrance. The Synod of Dort met in 154 sessions held over a period of seven months (Nov. 1618 – May 1619).

[Side Note: You might recall, it was at this same time that a group of English Separatists living in Holland was developing a plan to move their families to the New World. The Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts the year after the Canons of Dort were ratified.]

The representatives focused their attention on the five points in the Remonstrance: 1) election based on foreseen faith, 2) the death of Christ for all men equally, 3) the free will of man to choose salvation, 4) the resistibility of grace, and 5) the possibility to fall from grace. These are essentially the views held and taught by historical Arminianism. Using scripture, the delegates examined each view in light of the teachings of Scripture, and explained the doctrines held followed by the views that were rejected, with scriptural support.

In the Preface to the Canons, the writers state the purpose for the document:

With search and examination being now by God’s singular mercy dispatched and finished with all diligence, conscience, and faithfulness, and with the joint consent of all and every one; this Synod, for the advancement of God’s glory, for the upholding of that truth which leadeth to salvation, and for the maintenance of peace and tranquility, as well in men’s consciences, as in the Belgic Churches, determine to publish this their judgment; wherein the true doctrine agreeable with God’s word, touching the five aforesaid heads of doctrine is declared, and the false and disagreeing with God’s word is rejected.

The Canons are divided into Five Headings:

1.  Of Divine Predestination – 18 Articles with 9 Rejections
2.  Of the Death of Christ and the Redemption of Men Thereby – 9 Articles with 7 Rejections
3/4.  Of the Corruption of Man, His Conversion to God, and the Manner Thereof (the members viewed these two issues to be inseparable) – 17 Articles with 9 Rejections
5.  Of the Perseverance of the Saints – 15 Articles with 9 Rejections

The five points refuting the views of the Remonstrance came to be known as the five points of Calvinism, which are: 1) Total depravity of man, 2) Unconditional Election, 3) Limited Atonement (aka Particular Redemption), 4) Irresistible Grace, and 5) Perseverance (or Preservation) of the Saints, producing the commonly used acronym TULIP.

The term Calvinists actually prefer for these beloved Reformed doctrines is the Doctrines of Grace. If you’ve heard of Calvinism but aren’t clear what the “Five Points” teach or why they’re important, this little document will be helpful to you. The Canons of Dort is admittedly a bit heavy reading, but the document is not very long, and well worth the time to go through.

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How familiar are you with the Doctrines of Grace, aka the Five Points of Calvinism? Do you agree with this position, or are you an opponent of Calvinism? If so, why?

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