The Reason for Dort

After the Reformation, one of the greatest challenges to the Apostolic faith arose within the Dutch Reformed Church from a minister and professor named Jacobus Arminius and from his followers.

In 1608, Arminius was required to write out his views — his Declaration of Sentiments — for evaluation by the civil government, which supervised the university. This declaration showed his rejection of a Calvinist doctrine of election. Recent studies of his work have concluded that he was motivated not so much by a desire to assert some human freedom or cooperation in salvation as by a desire to defend the goodness of God against any suggestion that God is a tyrant or the author of sin.

 

Jude in his epistle teaches that while the faith was given to the church by the Apostles, the church through the ages will have to defend that faith over and over again (Jude 3). Paul opposed the legalists, Athanasius opposed Arius, Augustine opposed Pelagius, and Martin Luther opposed Erasmus. These are a few examples of how Christians have contended for the Apostolic faith in history. After the Reformation, one of the greatest challenges to the Apostolic faith arose within the Dutch Reformed Church from a minister and professor named Jacobus Arminius and from his followers.

Arminius (1559–1609) as a boy lost his father in the Dutch revolt against Spain. He was educated through the generosity of the Reformed churches at the new university in Leiden and then continued his studies at Geneva and Basel. At Geneva, Theodore Beza, John Calvin’s successor, was the leading theologian and a great champion of Calvinist teaching. Arminius showed himself to be a bright and clever student. With letters of recommendation from Beza, Arminius returned to the Netherlands and was ordained to the ministry in Amsterdam. He served there as a pastor from 1588 until 1603, when he was appointed to teach theology with two other professors at his alma mater, Leiden. He served there until his death in 1609.

While Arminius experienced some controversy in Geneva and in Amsterdam, no lasting trouble followed him. But concerns about his doctrine grew during his early years in Leiden. These concerns were difficult to evaluate because Arminius published nothing in his lifetime. After his death, a number of writings were found—enough to fill three sizable volumes—but, very unusually for the time, he had not published them. During his life, his theology was judged on the reports of students, and his fellow professors and ministers became more and more concerned. Finally, in 1608, he was required to write out his views—his Declaration of Sentiments—for evaluation by the civil government, which supervised the university. This declaration showed his rejection of a Calvinist doctrine of election. Recent studies of his work have concluded that he was motivated not so much by a desire to assert some human freedom or cooperation in salvation as by a desire to defend the goodness of God against any suggestion that God is a tyrant or the author of sin.

In the years after his death, those who claimed to follow him became more radical in their theologies. They increasingly adopted the views that we think of as “Arminian” or “semi-Pelagian,” teaching a limited effect of sin on human abilities and a measure of human freedom so that man is able to cooperate with or to resist saving grace. They summarized their views in a document that became known as the Remonstrance of 1610. That summary had five points: conditional election, universal atonement, complete depravity, resistible grace, and uncertainty about the perseverance of the saints.

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