Missions: Some Guidance from the Canons of Dort

Christian mission work involves the sharing of the gospel in places where it has not been shared before, or at least where most people do not understand it.  We can get guidance for Christian Missions from what some would consider an unlikely source: The Canons of the Synod of Dort.

The Canons of Dort came out of the Synod of Dort, held from 1618-1619 in the Netherlands. Theologians wrote them in order to counter the teaching of James Arminius, and they outline the system of theology known by many today as the “five points of Calvinism.”  However, the Canons of Dort contain much more than five simple points (sometimes summarized by the acronym TULIP, or total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints).
Turning to the Canons:

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… Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. 

Christ’s death could pay for the sins of all people.  Therefore, when a missionary tells an unbeliever that he can go to heaven if he repents of his sins and has faith in Christ, he is making a real, sincere offer on God’s behalf.

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 trust that God can change even the most sin-hardened heart.  We share the good news of the kingdom everywhere we go, and we should make special trips to as many places as possible (Mathew 28:18-20).

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.

All of us would reject God’s command to repent and believe if God did not do a special work in our hearts (Ephesians 2:1-10). When we do not repent, we are responsible for our choice because we do exactly what we want to do. Since people are responsible, our love for others can be a true motivation for missions.

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.  We must preach the gospel both in response to God’s command and because we desire others to be saved.

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.

God moves unbelievers to embrace the truth through the persuasion of His missionaries. God does not coerce the will from outside a person when He changes their heart. We cannot fully understand this, but it is true. 

[After God changes the heart] 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.

God gives some people a new heart. Those people repent of their sins and believe the gospel. God can give a new heart to anyone He chooses, and we can therefore expect our missionary work to be successful, even in the most difficult of people and circumstances. 

The Calvinism expressed in the Canons of Dort is an encouragement to missions, and it always has been.  
We can learn much from the Canons about Christian missions.

(More information on The Canons of Dort and the Synod of Dort can be found here: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/canons-dordt/  and http://wscal.edu/about-wsc/welcome-to-wsc/doctrinal-standards/canons-of-dort/ .)


Ricky said...

came across your blog today

J. K. Jones said...


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