Election was the shared doctrine of the magisterial Protestant Reformers. It is not an exotic doctrine but a basic doctrine. That so many have come to see it as the unique possession of “the Calvinists” (as though the Reformed invented the doctrine of election) only illustrates how historically and doctrinally impoverished they are.
The Synod of Dort gathered for several reasons but among them two were chief: to defend basic Augustinian anti-Pelagian theology and preserve the Protestant Reformation doctrines of salvation by grace alone (sola gratia), through faith alone (sola fide). They Reformed churches from across Europe and the British Isles were responding to the five points of the Remonstrants, which had the effect of making our salvation conditional (and thus essentially legal) rather than unconditional or essentially gracious.
In response the Reformed Churches re-asserted the biblical doctrine of election:
VII. Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath, out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation. (CD 1.7a)
First of all, God elects. This is not only a plainly biblical doctrine but an ancient Christian doctrine held hundreds of years before Augustine and after him. Thomas Aquinas taught unconditional election and even the doctrine of reprobation in his Summa Theologica. It was the shared doctrine of the magisterial Protestant Reformers. It is not an exotic doctrine but a basic doctrine. That so many have come to see it as the unique possession of “the Calvinists” (as though the Reformed invented the doctrine of election) only illustrates how historically and doctrinally impoverished they are.
Further, election is not conditioned upon anything foreseen in us or done by us. This is what it means to say, “out of mere grace.” Here Synod is simply paraphrasing Ephesians 1. We know that it is out of “mere grace” because it is not the righteous whom God elects but the fallen. This implies that there is an order of thought in the way God reveals the doctrine of election. There were in the period two schools among the orthodox Reformed. One group, known as the Supralapsarians, held that God elects some and reprobates others out of what are considered potential creatures. In other words, they are not considered as created and fallen. The other group, the infralapsarians, held that the elect and the reprobate are regarded, in Scripture, as created and fallen and that it is out of the mass of fallen humanity that the elect are called and that the reprobate are permitted to remain in their fallen state.