The Three Forms of Unity is a collective name for the Belgic Confession (1561), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and the Canons of Dort (1619) which reflect the teachings of Calvinism and which are accepted as official doctrinal statements by many Calvinist churches, including the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). Anyone seeking an official position (minister, elder, deacon) in the CRC must sign a statement indicating their wholehearted agreement with these doctrinal statements. Communicant members are also expected to be familiar with these doctrinal statements and confess them as being, alongside the Bible “the true and complete doctrine of salvation”⃰. I suspect that few current members could claim even a passing familiarity with these documents, and especially with the last of these, the Canons of Dort.
How the Five Points of Calvinism came to be
While there are many aspects of Calvinism that I appreciate, I have come to a point in my Christian faith that I can no longer subscribe to everything in the Three Forms of Unity, and especially not to the teachings in the Canons of Dort. The Canons are a series of responses to specific theological controversies that began in the early 17th century in the Netherlands between the followers of John Calvin and Jacob Arminius. The debate centres around soteriology (the study of salvation), and disputes about matters such as total depravity, predestination and atonement. The crux of the Canons is to refute the belief in free will as held by the Arminians, primarily because such a belief does violence to God’s sovereignty in determining who will or who will not be saved. Without going into the details of these debates in this column, the conclusion of their outcome came to be signified by the acronym TULIP: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace and Perseverance of the saints. These five doctrinal positions about salvation have become known as the Five Points of Calvinism.
Since Christian Courier, as an independent Christian periodical, is not an official organ of the Christian Reformed Church, I believe it is appropriate to respectfully challenge a doctrinal statement that is now more than 400 years old. So, I will be writing my next few columns with comments on each of the Five Points of Calvinism. I begin with a caveat; I am not a trained theologian. I am simply an educated layperson with serious questions about what I’m supposed to believe, according to the church of which I have been a member all my life.
⃰This quote comes from the CRC’s form for the Public Profession of Faith, page 963 in the 1987 Psalter Hymnal, CRC Publications, Grand Rapids, MI.
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