This is not the usual post. Actually it is an invitation for you (and others you know) to join me in discovering God’s grace in a brand new way. You will see why I say this by the end of this post. But first, a quote from my friend, Dr. James White:
“What are the ‘doctrines of grace’ and why do they matter? Such is like asking, “What does the Bible teach about the very heart of the gospel, and does it matter one way or the other?” The doctrines of grace are the biblical teachings that define the goal and means of God’s perfect work of redemption. They tell us that God is the one who saves, for His own glory, and freely. And they tell us that He does so only through Christ, only on the basis of His grace, only with the perfection that marks everything the Father, Son, and Spirit do. The doctrines of grace separate the Christian faith from the works-based religions of men. They direct us away from ourselves and solely to God’s grace and mercy.”
The raging fire of the Protestant Reformation was sparked into flame by Martin Luther. A number of notable men opposed the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church before Luther did – men such as John Wycliffe (1329-1384), John Hus (1373-1415) and William Tyndale (c.1494-1536). Tyndale had a monumental role in translating the Bible for the English speaking world, and shared the same fate as Hus by being burnt at the stake. But certainly it was Luther who sparked the Reformation itself with his posting of the 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg on October 31, 1517.
Following on from Luther, God raised up a Frenchman by the name of John Calvin to lead the growing Protestant movement. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin opposed the errors of the Roman Catholic Church concerning salvation, directing people to the truth of the Bible. Though definitely in agreement with the doctrine of justification by faith alone; John Calvin (based in Geneva, Switzerland) through both his preaching and his writings, systematically applied the message of the Bible to every aspect of life. Calvin’s Institutes became the handbook of all the Reformers. Like Luther before him, Calvin believed in the Sovereignty of God. Concerning the doctrines of election and predestination, there was nothing in Calvin’s writings and sermons that were not first found in Luther’s. Yet Calvin also wanted society, as well as the church, to view the world through the lens of the Bible, so that the laws of the land were established upon biblical principles.
These men were not only concerned with what the Scriptures taught, but that the common people had access to read the Bible in their own language. It would be a fair appraisal to see these men’s earlier efforts (under God) as foundational to the sweeping changes throughout Europe that Luther and Calvin would bring. Wycliffe, Hus and Tyndale built the bonfire, so to speak, and Luther simply lit the match and held it to the wood! The result – most of Europe was set ablaze with the biblical doctrines of grace.
As time passed, controversy ensued as a man by the name of Jacob Arminius began to raise strong objections to the teachings accepted amongst the Reformers. Arminius studied under the Calvinist teacher Theodore Beza at Geneva and became a professor of theology at the University of Leyden in 1603. Over time, his objections became stronger and stronger until they became a prominent issue amongst all the Church in Holland. The followers of Arminius, known as the Arminians, drew up their creed in Five Articles and outlined them before the state authorities of Holland in the year of 1610 under the name Remonstrance, signed by forty-six ministers. (These Five Articles can be read in Philip Schaff’s, Creeds of Christendom, vol. 3, pp. 545-547.)
The official Calvinistic response emerged from the Synod of Dort (Dort is short for Dortrecht, the town in Holland where the Synod was held) which convened to consider the Five Articles or objections raised by the Arminians. The Synod of Dort met from November 13, 1618 to May 9, 1619 and wrote what has come to be known as the Canons of Dort. They stated the Five Points of Calvinism in response to the Five Articles of the Arminian Remonstrants. This is a very important point to make because the so-called Five Points of Calvinism (or the Doctrines of Grace) were not chosen by the Calvinists as a summary of their teaching. Calvin never wrote down his theology under five main points. There was far more to Reformed Theology than these doctrines. These five points were simply a response to the five Arminian objections.
The Synod of Dort viewed the Arminian errors as extremely serious – a flat denial of the free grace of God in salvation, with God being robbed of His glory, and merely the first steps on a synergistic highway leading straight back to Rome. Therefore, the Synod classed the five Arminian doctrines as heretical, and many preachers in the Dutch Reformational Churches, holding to these ideas, were put out of the ministry.
Knowing something of the history of the debate is helpful but it is far more important to know these doctrines are in fact biblical and at the heart of our Christian faith. They are not mere historical novelties – something in which only theologians and church historians should have an interest. These are biblical doctrines and they matter deeply. To ask why these things should be of interest to us is to ask the question, “Why is it important to understand what is at the heart of our Christian faith?” Where each of us stands on these five doctrines deeply affects our view of God, man, regeneration, salvation, assurance, the nature of the atoning work of Christ, worship, evangelism and missions. Somewhere along the way, for the English speaking world at least, the five points of Calvinism came to be summarized by the acrostic TULIP.
T – Total depravity
U – Unconditional election
L – Limited atonement
I – Irresistible grace
P – Perseverance of the saints
C. H. Spurgeon remarked, “We believe in the five great points commonly known as Calvinistic; but we do not regard these five points as being barbed shafts which we are to thrust between the ribs of our fellow Christians. We look upon them as being five great lamps which help to irradiate the cross; or, rather, five bright emanations springing from the glorious covenant of our Triune God, and illustrating the great doctrine of Jesus crucified.”
Back in 2008, Dr. John Piper conducted a 9 part seminar on this theme of TULIP, walking us through the biblical basis for each of the five doctrines. If you have never watched the series, I strongly encourage you to set aside some time to do so, believing it will have a tremendously positive impact in your life.
Over the next few weeks, I will (God willing) be posting a video session here on the blog every 4 or 5 days or so, hoping that will give you enough time to watch each session. Then, once you have done so, I would invite you to write a comment here to let others know what the video teaching is doing for you in terms of your understanding of the Scriptures and in your walk with the Lord. Would you come with me on this journey?
I love learning more about the Lord, about His Word, and especially about the amazing grace of God. If you feel the same way, I think this could be a lot of fun, especially if we can show kindness and gentleness to one another (even if ultimately we may disagree). We can disagree without being disagreeable. Yet, if this can be a safe place where people can make their comments in the right spirit, showing respect for one another, this can be a richly rewarding adventure of discovery for us all. The idea has exciting potential, I think.
Perhaps you can also let other people know about this and invite them to join you too. Is there anyone you know that you can invite to watch this seminar?
I have never done such a thing before online, but its good to step into new territory and perhaps this is one of the reasons for this blog to exist – to help the Body of Christ grow deeper in their understanding of His effectual grace. That is my prayer.
I really hope you say “yes” to my invitation. Here then is Dr. John Piper’s first introductory session of the TULIP seminar, lasting 42 minutes (below). God bless!
Part 2 is now posted here)