The Canons of the Synod of Dort

I know that I need to do a good history of Calvinism besides the rebuttal that I have on this site. I do have a good history of John Calvin himself. This page, too, is a rebuttal, but to the Canons of the Synod of Dort. The synod took place from 1618-1619, and the canons are an answer to the oppositions of Jacob Arminius and his followers, who were opposing the predestination doctrines of Calvin.

An introduction to the synod is given on the Christian Reformed Church of North America web site. My refutation will address the articles as listed on that page.

The Canons of Dort say that God randomly chose a small portion of humanity to be saved in eternity past (Article 7). Calvinists object to the word "random," but an unconditional election, truly based on nothing by an impartial God, is the definition of random.

The rest, because they are wicked, are to be deservedly condemned at the final judgment. This is typical Calvinism, and Article 15 urges us to think well of this plan because "this is the decree of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin ... but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger."

After I suggested that this is a horrible picture of God, a supporter of Calvinism on Facebook informed me that the Canons of Dort except the children of believers from this dangerous random lottery. The children of believers are elect because their parents are (Article 17).

I want to suggest that this is one evidence, among many, that even Calvinists are not comfortable with their own depiction of God. They cannot imagine applying that fearful view of election to their own children. There is more evidence for Calvinist discomfort with their own teaching below.

Article 10

I want to address Canon 10 because it gives Scripture. Unfortunately it gives Scripture with skilled deceit (Eph. 4:14). Don't gloat, though, because Christians of all stripes practice this kind of deceit. In particular, Article 10's use of Scripture feeds you assumptions in advance, then relies on your subconscious acceptance of those assumptions to convince you that their verses are actually defenses of their position despite the fact that they are not.

First, Article 10 quotes Roman 9:13 about God's choice of Jacob over Esau before they were even born.

There are two things to note here:

  1. The election of God mentioned by Paul in Romans 9 had to do with the future plans of God involving nations, so it is an unusual one that applies to the tiniest percentage of the human race.
  2. Paul explains what he is trying to prove over the next two chapters, and it is almost the opposite of a random election of a few individuals to believe and inherit eternal life.

By citing the election of Pharaoh as an object of God's wrath and God's choice of Jacob over Esau, Paul is justifying God's choice to harden the Jews--temporarily and partially--so that the Gentiles can come in to his salvation. This will provoke the Jews to jealousy, and the end result is that when the time of the Gentiles is over, all Israel will be saved (Romans 10 - 11).

This is what Paul was trying to justify in Romans 9, and a reading of Romans 10-11 will make it clear. At the end of chapter 11, Paul calls this the great wisdom of God because it will save Jews and Gentiles alike. He is clearly rejoicing over this great wisdom, and we can all rejoice with him because "mercy to all" (11:32) is something we all love.

The Synod of Dort, with the rest of the Calvinists, wants us to assume that Paul is justifying the Calvinist idea that God chooses just a few in a random lottery having nothing to do with our efforts or attitudes. we have to assume that because Romans 9-11 certainly does not say that.

Now which of these conclusions will cause us to jump up and down and cry out, "Oh the depths of the riches and the wisdom and knowledge of God!"? (Rom. 11:33). Will Paul's conclusion, that God consigned everyone to disobedience so that he can show mercy to everyone (Rom. 11:32) or Calvin's conclusion that God consigned all to disobedience so he could show mercy to just a few, while everyone else looks on hopelessly?

Acts 13:48: Appointed to Eternal Life

Article 10 also points to Acts 13:48, which says that all those appointed for eternal life believed. Now, those who use that verse expect you to assume that those who believed were appointed to eternal life because of God's random lottery in eternity past.

We need to consider whether there might be other reasons God might have appointed them to eternal life. The verse does not specify. Did God appoint them to eternal life in eternity past, or did he appoint them to eternal life a few weeks or years earlier because they were fearing God and doing good (cf. Acts 10:35). Or maybe they were appointed to eternal life right there in the synagogue when they believed the preaching of Paul and Barnabas.

Or maybe it really was in the beginning, when God foreknew that people like Cornelius would be fearers of God and doers of God (Acts 10). He is timeless and knows the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10).

We don't know why those in Acts 13:48 were appointed to eternal life, but we do know why Cornelius was appointed because a messenger (angel) came and told him. It was because of his prayers and giving to the poor (Acts 10:4). 

Even Calvinists Can't Bear Calvin's Teaching

Finally, in the end, even the Canons of Dort cannot bear the conclusions of Calvinism, that God chose people for eternal life or allowed them to slip into eternal damnation without any possibility of redemption. In Article 17 we read: 

On the other hand, those who seriously desire to turn to God, to be pleasing to God alone, and to be delivered from the body of death, but are not yet able to make such progress along the way of godliness and faith as they would like—such people ought much less to stand in fear of the teaching concerning reprobation, since our merciful God has promised not to snuff out a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed.

In other words, if you are trying, God will notice because he is merciful and won't snuff out your meager efforts. That is what those, like Jacob Arminius, who opposed Calvinism propose.  

In the end, Calvinists act like Arminians because the conclusions of Calvinism are not just unscriptural but unbearable. Let's join Paul in believing that the elections of Romans 9 lead to the "mercy to all" of Romans 11:32, so we can feel like shouting about the knowledge and wisdom and mercy of God.

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