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The Canons of Dort, First Head of Doctrine, Rejection of Errors, Paragraph Three.


Synod rejects the error of those . . . 

III  Who teach that God's good pleasure and purpose, which Scripture mentions in its teaching of election, does not involve God's choosing certain particular people rather than others, but involves God's choosing, out of all possible conditions (including the works of the law) or out of the whole order of things, the intrinsically unworthy act of faith, as well as the imperfect obedience of faith, to be a condition of salvation; and it involves his graciously wishing to count this as perfect obedience and to look upon it as worthy of the reward of eternal life.

For by this pernicious error the good pleasure of God and the merit of Christ are robbed of their effectiveness and people are drawn away, by unprofitable inquiries, from the truth of undeserved justification and from the simplicity of the Scriptures. It also gives the lie to these words of the apostle: God called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of works, but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time (2 Tim. 1:9).


This particular Arminian error may be the most pernicious, since it appears to come close to the truth, but nevertheless bases the ground of our salvation upon an act of the creature, not in the decree of God and the merits of Christ.  This argument is often presented by more capable Arminian theologians.  

In this instance, the Synod Dort rejects the error of those who argue that God determines the way of salvation (
faith in Christ, not good works), but who at the same time also argue that God’s purpose does not involve the individuals themselves who are to be saved.  In other words, God’s purpose in election is to limited to determining how people are to be saved, not who will be saved.  To put the matter yet another way, God chooses a method of salvation, not the individuals he will save.

In the particular error being rejected by the synod, God is said to regard the act of believing (faith) as the ground for the imputation of righteousness to those who believe.  This is frequently associated with consistent Arminianism and the governmental theory of the atonement, found in writers such as John Miley.  As set forth by the Arminians, the act of faith is itself regarded as righteousness by God, because God has decreed to regard faith as though it were righteousness.  Those who hold this view reject the notion that it is the alien righteousness of Christ (the ground of our justification) which is imputed to the believer, through the instrument of faith.  

This formulation enables the Arminians to use the language of “justification by faith," as well as the term “imputation.”  But these terms have been re-defined so that they mean something radically different from what is taught by the Reformed and Lutheran confessions.  

The primary error involved is that the ground of salvation is now located in the action of the creature.  The sinner is said to able to exercise his or her free will to embrace the gracious plan of salvation God has chosen.  The sinner is able to trust in Christ alone (their faith is regarded as justifying righteousness), and willingly rejects the sinful attempt to earn heaven through good works.  Notice, however, that although orthodox language is used throughout, when push comes to shove, the fundamental Arminian assumption remains–namely, that fallen men and women are saved because of something they do (exercise faith), and not because of something God does (elect specific individuals whom he chooses to save, who are unable to exercise faith, and who are "dead in sin").  

A variant of the Arminian position can be seen in throughout contemporary American evangelicalism whenever it is argued that God has done everything possible to provide for your salvation by sending Christ to die for your sins.  But unless you “appropriate” the death of Christ, and unless and until you make Jesus your “personal-Lord-and-Savior,” the death of Christ is of no avail.  As Moody famously put it, God has voted for you, Satan has voted against you, so it is your vote that determines where you will spend an eternity!  

Sadly, such a view reflects American egalitarian culture and democratic optimism, but completely undermines the biblical doctrine of grace alone (sola gratia).  Ironically, those holding this view can boldly affirm sola fide, (since we are justified by faith alone), and yet at the same time must reject sola gratia, (since God’s action is always in response to what the creatures does with his or her own free will).  In this sense grace is strictly potential and available, but is not an effectual and saving act on God’s part.

Reader Comments (1)

Here is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) position, and I'm sure the LCMS and the Reformed would agree:

"We reject every teaching that people in any way contribute to their salvation. We reject the belief that people with their own power can cooperate in their conversion or make a decision for Christ (John 15:16). We reject the belief that those who are converted were less resistant to God's grace than those who remain unconverted. We reject all efforts to present FAITH AS A CONDITION PEOPLE MUST FULFILL TO COMPLETE THEIR JUSTIFICATION.

Keep in mind Philippians 1:29 which says, "For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."

Even our ability to believe and repent is God's gift to us!!

May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd

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