The Canons of Dort

I believe that the Canons of Dort are true. This is a statement that came out the Synod of Dort, held from 1618-1619. The Canons of Dort outline the system of theology known today as the “five points of Calvinism.” The problem I have with most “five-point Calvinists” is that the Canons of Dort contain much more than five points. Many explanations of the TULIP (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints) are gross simplifications of the Canons of Dort.

[This is especially true of explanations given by those who oppose Calvinism. It is easier to knock down a straw man than it is to knock down a real man, and so it is easier to criticize an oversimplified Calvinism that the more robust form.]

Some of those who teach the “five points” leave out some of the quotes below:

This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world… This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is--as was necessary to be our Savior--not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God's anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved… Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life… all who are called through the gospel are called seriously.

There is nothing lacking in the payment Christ made for sin. Therefore, when a person tells you that you can be assured of heaven if you repent of your sins and have faith in Christ, he is making a real offer on God’s behalf. There is nothing outside you that keeps you from repenting. If you turn from your sins and trust Christ’s sacrifice to pay for them, you can be saved (John 3:16). It is, in this sense, your choice, and it is a real choice.

This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.
We do not look for evidence of seeking or evidence of a changed heart before we share the gospel. Everywhere we go we should share the good news of the kingdom (Mathew 28:18-20), and we should make special trips to as many places as possible (Acts 1:8).

…many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault…But all who genuinely believe and are delivered and saved by Christ's death from their sins and from destruction receive this favor solely from God's grace--which he owes to no one--given to them in Christ from eternity… Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform…There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him--so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.
God elects, but men are responsible. All of us would reject God’s command to repent and believe if God did not do a special work in our hearts. We need new hearts to repent, but when we do not repent, we are doing exactly what we want to do. We do what we want to do, and we are responsible for our choice.

What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.
God’s saves the elect through the preaching of the word (Romans 10:14-15). The Holy Spirit does not act to give men new hearts without this preaching.

In this life believers cannot fully understand the way [God’s giving of a new heart] occurs… this divine grace of [God’s giving of a new heart] does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back.
The Canons of Dort allow for a doctrine of persuasive action. God does in some sense persuade men to embrace the truth. God does not coerce the will from outside a person. How this is done cannot be fully understood in this life.

...a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely dominant. It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists. Thus, if the marvelous Maker of every good thing were not dealing with us, man would have no hope of getting up from his fall by his free choice, by which he plunged himself into ruin when still standing upright.
God gives some people a new heart. Those people repent of their sins and believe the gospel. Those people also do good works as naturally as sparks fly upward. They are not perfect, but there is a change of heart that results in a new, better life (James 2:14-26).

This is not an exhaustive list of the finer points of the Synod of Dort, but it is a start. I encourage you to study and approve this great statement of faith.

The five points of Calvinism communicate truth, but that truth is incomplete without a careful explanation. All who discuss Calvinism, friend and foe alike, should remember this.



Part of the problem is that the current revival in reformed theology is not actually a revival in Reformed theology. Adherence to five or, more frequently, four points of Calvinism is that which qualifies one as reformed these days and thus as part of the movement. Yet such adherence leaves massive and important areas of theology and church life undecided. A movement built on such minimal agreement is a movement whose strength and unity depends to a large degree on sleight of hand or at least on pretending that much else can be filed under `Agree to differ.' - Carl Trueman

I believe in the system of religion outlined in the Westminster Standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms. Those detailed statements of the Christian faith ask and answer many questions about the Bible and theology. All of the things mentioned in them are important.

Relatively few of the so-called “new Calvinists” hold to a robust statement of faith such as this one. Some “new Calvinists’” statement of faith can be written on one double-spaced, 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper.

I do not believe that a person with a simplified statement of faith is truly "reformed."


Another Article for My Local Paper

This is the third in a series of articles I have written for our local paper.

The Heidelberg Catechism: Question One and Two

In the last two weeks, our articles introduced the idea of a catechism and introduced The Heidelberg Catechism. This week, we will discuss the first of the fifty-two sections of the catechism. This section contains questions one and two.

The first question reads:

“What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”

Christians belong to Christ, whose kingdom knows no end (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Romans 14:7-9, Titus 2:14). Christ has saved His people by dying for their sins (1 Peter 1:18-19, I John 1:7-9). Christ makes it so Christians do not have to live in sin any longer (John 8:34-36, Hebrews 2:14-15, I John 3:1-11). Nothing that happens to us is outside of the care of Christ, our friend (Matthew 10:29-31, Luke 21:16-18). Christ ensures the Christian that everything he or she goes through ultimately leads only to salvation and joy (Romans 8:28). Christ makes us want to follow Him with joy in our hearts (Romans 8:15-16, 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, 2 Corinthians 5:5, Ephesians 1:13-14). Christ Himself is our great comfort (Romans 8:1-17).

This answer is a great summary of the entire catechism. This answer is great comfort for a Christian facing persecution, suffering, or death.

Question two gives us the outline of the catechism: “What must you know to live and die in the joy of this comfort? Three things: first, how great my sin and misery are; second, how I am set free from all my sins and misery; third, how I am to thank God for such deliverance.” In three words, the three sections of the catechism are guilt, grace, and gratitude.

As Kevin DeYoung says in his book The Good News We Almost Forgot, “The rest of the catechism will follow this three-fold outline. First, we understand our sin. Then we understand salvation. And finally we understand how we are sanctified to serve.” That is a great summary of the Christian faith.

Join us next week as we continue to look at The Heidelberg Catechism.


Another Article for My Local Paper

What is The Heidelberg Catechism?

Last week’s article gave a brief definition of a catechism and an introduction to a catechism’s use in the church. We learned that catechisms are “structure statements of faith written in the form of questions and answers.” This week we will look at the background and history of a reformation catechism respected by several different denominations, The Heidelberg Catechism.

The Heidelberg Catechism was composed in Heidelberg, Germany, in the late 1500’s. Elector Frederick III, who ruled the German province, which contained the city of Heidelberg, had the catechism written in order to bring unity between the various religious groups under his rule.

Many believe Zacharius Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus were coauthors of the new catechism, but the Elector wrote that the catechism was written “with the advice and cooperation of our entire theological faculty in this place, and of all superintendents and distinguished servants of the church." It was most certainly a group effort.

The church in Heidelberg approved and adopted the catechism at a meeting in January of 1563. The churches soon divided the catechism into fifty-two sections, called “Lord’s Days.” This was so one Lord's Day could be explained in preaching and teaching each Sunday of the year.

Why should we take the time to study something written so long ago? Mark Noll, in his excellent work, Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation, puts it like this: “…prospects for thoughtful Christian faith …are seriously damaged if in the confusions of our own day we refuse to listen to these voices from the past.” We suffer greatly when we ignore great thinkers from the past.

The Heidelberg Catechism is divided into three sections: guilt, grace and gratitude. These three sections outline the Christian faith.

All men and women are guilty of sinning against a Holy God and stand condemned by Him. This does not refer to feelings of guilt, but to real guilt. We feel guilty because we are guilty.

God’s grace can save us through the Person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ if we have faith in Him. Christ’s perfect life and death for our sins on the cross purchase a place in heaven for those who trust Him.

Those who have true faith then live holy lives out of gratitude for what Christ has done for them. We do good works because we have eternal life, not to earn eternal life.

The catechism explains The Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and The Lord’s Prayer, in that order. Following God’s commands and praying as our Lord taught us come in the section on gratitude. Placing the commandments and the prayer in the last section emphasizes the fact that God’s laws apply to the Christian. Christians are still obligated to follow them.

Protestants wrote this great catechism. It is a product of the Protestant Reformation in all its glory. It tells of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone, as described in Scripture alone, and to the glory of God alone. The many Scripture references contained in The Heidelberg Catechism point to the Bible as our authority.

Next week we will turn our attention to the first question and answer of The Heidelberg Catechism. Join us on our journey through this great work.

Two books that will be helpful in our journey include The Good News We Almost Forgot by Kevin DeYoung and The Heidelberg Catechism: A Study Guide by G. I. Williamson. The catechism itself can be found at either this link or this one


Grace Presbyterian In The News

Our church has been running a series of newpaper articles in our local paper that I have mentioned here before.  We now have a web page where people can leave comments on those articles.  Just follow this link.

Another Article for my Local Paper

Below is a re-print of an article I wrote recently for our local paper.  It is an intorduction to a series our church and some special guests are doing on the Heidelburg Catechim.

What is a Catechism?

Last week’s article finished Soli Deo Gloria’s look at J. I. Packer’s book Knowing God. We will now begin our next series of articles dealing with The Heidelberg Catechism. This week’s article will define the word “catechism” (pronounced ka-tə-ki-zəm) and look at how the modern Christian church can use catechisms for education in Christian doctrine.

Almost all Christian denominations have developed written statements of faith to express what they believe the Bible teaches to be true. These statements of faith have included The Apostle’s Creed, The Nicene Creed, The Westminster Confession of Faith, The Articles of Religion of The Methodist Church, The New Hampshire Baptist Statement of Faith, The Declaration of Faith of The Church of God, and the modern Baptist Faith and Message. These written documents have played a vital role in defining and explaining the facts a denomination believes.

Mark Noll, in his book Confessions and Catechisms of the Reformation, defines catechisms as “structured statements of faith written in the form of questions and answers.” This question and answer format makes a catechism easy to remember and easy to learn.

Children and adults can learn the answers to common questions by reading a catechism. Authors of catechisms try to pick the questions people ask about the Christian faith that are most important. The authors then write the answers to these questions in memorable form so that a person can learn them either by content or by heart. Scripture references are placed in the answers to each question.

The best catechisms have the most memorable wording. Many can quote the first question and answer from the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” This is a valuable truth to learn to find purpose and meaning in life, and the catechism states it simply and memorably.

Typically, the questions and answers are learned and discussed a few at a time. This process can be over a period of weeks, months, or years. Christians for centuries have called this process “catechesis” or being “catechized.”

Many current-day pastors and teachers lament the fact that children raised in the Christian church leave the faith behind after high school. The eighteen-year-old turns his or her back on the faith and never looks over his shoulder.

But what if that faith has been drilled into the mind of a child from a very early age by both parents and preachers? What if they had a firm grasp of the basic beliefs of Christianity and the basics of Christian ethics?

Adults need to be well grounded in the truths of the Bible to face the many challenges and temptations our modern world brings. They too must know right beliefs and the difference between right and wrong. Besides, adults who love their children cannot teach them what they do not already know.

Catechisms typically contain questions and answers about who Christ is, what He did, and how we can be united to Him in faith. They also contain explanations of the Ten Commandments and Christian standards of right and wrong. This doctrine is solid information that the Holy Spirit can use to change the hearts and minds of young people who face life on their own. This sound truth can give an adult something to shape the remainder of his or her life.

Next week we will read about the history of one of the most beloved catechisms written by reformation-era Protestantism: The Heidelberg Catechism. Please join us as we read and discuss each question of this time-honored catechism

More to come here.

Write to Understand

Folow this link to a great post containing quotes from famous theologians on writing.

Write to Understand

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