This morning at Covenant I am beginning a five sermon series on what has been called, The Five Points of Calvinism. Among reformed and non-reformed people there is a great deal of misunderstanding of the background of these five points, as well as the meaning of the five points. I will seek to explain the background in this article.
Looking at the title one could reasonably assume that the Five Points were written by John Calvin. But in actuality, Calvin died fifty-five years prior to these five points being formulated. But they do reflect the teaching of Calvin during his long career in Geneva.
The Five Points are reflective of the teaching of the Synod of Dordt that ended in 1619. In the Dutch church there was a pastor, Jacobus Arminius, who created a stir in his relatively short ministry, by asserting that salvation depends not only on God’s choice of us but also on our choice of God. Arminius had studied in Geneva under Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza, but had come to reject the theology of Calvin and the Dutch reformed church.
In 1610, following the death of Arminius, his followers drew up five articles of faith based on his teaching. The original five points were The Five Points of Arminius! Arminius’ Five Points could be summarized as follows:
- Man is sinful but has not lost his ability to choose to follow God.
- God’s election is based on his foreknowledge. Foreseeing those who would believe, God elected them to salvation.
- Christ’s death was for all humans; Christ bore the sins of all humans on the cross.
- Man has the ability to resist the drawing of the Holy Spirit and so resist God’s intention to save him.
- It is possible to fall from grace and lose one’s salvation.
Forty-six ministers in the Dutch church signed what came to be known as the Remonstrance. In it they demanded that the church change its teaching and creedal statements to reflect the teaching of Arminius.
The official response to the Remonstrance came when the church called for a synod to discuss the theological issues. The Synod of Dordt was held over a six-month period of time ending on May 9, 1619. The synod was composed of eighty-four ministers and eighteen secular commissioners. The Synod rejected the teaching of Arminius as not being biblical. Positively, the Synod affirmed biblical teaching with the Canons of Dordt. The Five Points of Calvinism are a relatively modern summary but reflect the teaching of Scripture and the conclusions of the Synod of Dordt. The Five Points are remembered by the mnemonic “TULIP,” which stands for the following:
- Total Depravity
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irresistible Grace
- Perseverance of the Saints.
It should be noted that the teaching of the Five Points did not originate with Calvin or the Synod of Dordt. Calvin’s teaching was the same on the issues of salvation as the church father, Augustine, and all the leading reformers. Luther, Zwingli, Bullinger, and Bucer all taught the same theology as Calvin on the matters of salvation. Until the mid- 19th century this was the predominate understanding of salvation in the Protestant church. Today, unfortunately, the majority of churches reflect Arminius’ teaching.
The Five Points of Calvinism can be summarized as “God saves sinners!” Salvation is all the work of God, from the beginning to the end. Man deserves and should receive no glory for his salvation. All the glory goes to God because He acted when the sinner was depraved and unable to respond to God. In grace, the triune God acted to save a people in order to reveal the glory of His grace.
J.I. Packer has pointed out that the Five Points cannot be treated separately. There are five unique points but they are inseparably connected. The five individual points explain and support one another. If one of them is proved wrong the other four would fail. That is why some who claim to be three or four or even four ½ point Calvinists are, at best, inconsistent.
Today John Calvin has a bad reputation among evangelicals. There are those who use the term “Calvinist” as an epithet for someone who is unloving, cold, and overly stern. But the Five Points are reflective of a theology of salvation that is warm, loving, and abundantly gracious. I sing with gusto along with John Newton about God’s amazing grace. Scripture has taught me that I was a wretch but the Father elected me, the Son died for me, and the Holy Spirit applied the work of Christ to me. That is truly amazing grace.
To God alone be the glory!