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TEXT: II Timothy 1:13, Titus 2:10
SUBJECT: Five Points #1: Historical Introduction
This afternoon, with the Lord's blessing, I hope to begin a study of The Five Points of Calvinism. I do this every few years, not because I think Calvinism is the Gospel, but because I'm sure it clarifies the Gospel.
The Gospel, in short, is Christ died for our sins, and it is not a distinctly Calvinist doctrine. All Christians believe He did that for us. What the Five Points do is to answer some questions that surround the Gospel. They don't address every question, but the ones they do are among the most important. For example:
Without ascribing infallibility to the Five Points, I think they provide better answers than any other system I know of. If there's a better system out there, I'd like to hear it, but I'm quite sure it is not any of the systems currently popular in American Evangelical churches or seminaries or bookstores!
In my opinion, the Five Points are plainly taught in the Bible, and I know for a fact that they have satisfied some of the most intelligent, learned, and godly men in the history of the Church.
I'm going to get to the Five Points soon, I hope, but not today or next week (and maybe the week after). For now, I'll give you a thumbnail sketch of the history of the Five Points, and try to briefly explain what each one of them means. Next Sunday afternoon, the Lord willing, I'll lay down some laws for understanding the Five Points and for living up to them. And then, possibly, I'll give some of the doctrines that undergird the Five Points.
These things don't lend themselves too well to preaching and so I'll adopt more of a lecturing style. If you fall asleep, I won't be offended, because as Spurgeon once said, Some times we need a nap more than a sermon! If the style is boring, the subject isn't. Men have lived and died preaching and defending these things, and we'd do well to live up to their example.
THE HISTORY OF ARMINIANISM
The Five Points of Calvinism were not devised or written by John Calvin, who died more than fifty years before they were published. If any one man should be thanked for us having them, it would be Jacob Arminius, whose very name stands for the doctrines directly opposed to the Five Points!
The Five Points of Calvinism (in the form we now have them) come out of Holland in the early Seventeenth Century. Some decades before, the Church in that country turned away from Roman Catholicism and accepted the Reformed Faith. Needing an educated clergy, city fathers sent their best and brightest to Geneva to study at the academy founded by Calvin, and now presided over by his friend and successor, Theodore Beza.
One of the first students they sent there was a brilliant young man named Jacob Arminius. After completing his studies, he was ordained a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, and later, made a professor of theology at the University of Leiden, where he served until his death six years later, in 1609.
Though everyone admired his intelligence and respected his piety, more than a few educated men objected to his teaching. He wasn't a heretic, of course, but some of what he said worried them, and made them think he was leaning a bit toward a Roman Catholic view of sin and grace. Accused of breaking with the Reformed Faith, he said he had not, but before the matter could be formally decided, Arminius became sick, and died just short of his fiftieth birthday.
If the teacher was dead, his students were still alive, and wanting to honor the man they loved so well, they summed up his teaching in Five Points. Whether he would have agreed with their summary, we don't know, but this is what they got out of his teaching:
These are the Five Points of Arminianism, and although I disagree with each of them, I have to say this much for them: they make good sense and, by accepting one of them, logic presses you to accept them all. Many Christians accept some, but not all, but this is only the result of either sloppy thinking or (being a Calvinist I can say) God's grace!
THE FIVE POINTS OF CALVINISM
These five points were called The Remonstrances, which means 'the protests'. The students of Arminius were protesting against the Reformed Faith then held in the churches and universities of Holland. The protests were published in 1610.
About eight years later, the Church of Holland answered them. The leading pastors and scholars met in the city of Dort to deliberate and debate the issues. After seven months of study and conversation, they published a long document called The Canons of Dort. By 'canons' they don't mean big guns (though some Calvinists think that's what they are), but 'rules' or doctrines.
From these Canons we now have the Five Points of Calvinism, which, as I said a few minutes ago, directly oppose the other Five Points. The easiest way to remember them is to use the word, TULIP. And, to keep you from mixing up the tulip with a rose or a petunia, or some other flower, just remember the Five Points of Calvinism come from Holland and Holland's national flower is the tulip!
What are the Five Points of Calvinism?
If the Five Points of Calvinism are not the five most important doctrines taught in the Bible, neither are they the least five important. While some Christians can think about nothing else, others won't think about them at all. But if the Points are taught in the Bible, and if they clarify the Gospel of all things, we owe it to God, to ourselves, and to others to study them with care and to help others to know and love them. Not to stir up a party spirit, but for the love of God, His Word, and His People.
Let us remember the other name of Calvinism and live up to it. What are they called? They're called The Doctrines of Grace because that's what they're about. And if they're about 'grace' they're also about humility and love, obedience and thankfulness.
Let us hold fast to the pattern of sound words-Paul says in one place, and adds in another, Adorn the doctrines of God our Savior in all things.
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