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Tip-Toe Through TULIP - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

T.U.L.I.P. - The Doctrines of Grace

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Where did the doctrines of grace come from? Yes, the Bible, but when were they formulated in theology?

What are the Doctrines of Grace? The term “doctrines of grace” is not a relatively new or novel term. It had been used at certain junctures and times through the history of the church, even dating back to the time just after the disciples. Augustine refers to it once or twice, some of the early church fathers make use of it, and certainly later, at the dawn of the Reformation with the magisterial Reformers and of the puritans after them, the term was quite widely used. It refers to the systematic formulation of those biblical concepts which teach and describe God’s sovereign work in salvation. Such passages as Ephesians 1:3-10, Romans 5:1ff, 9:1-32 and John chapters 6 and 10 come to mind. These doctrines, or teachings, resulting from a responsible survey and exegesis of the Bible, construct the heart of the Gospel. They are the precise teachings of the Gospel and of saving grace.

Pinpointing the most concise and helpful declaration of the doctrines of God’s grace by post-biblical theologians and writers is not difficult to do. We could look to Augustine’s Predestination of the Saints or Aquinas’ Suma Theologica and find all the facets of those doctrines housed through their writings. We could rummage around in the writings of the Reformation, such as Calvin’s Institutes, or the varied commentaries of Luther, and find houses of Gospel gold. Storehouses of treasured delight await us in the Reformation “solas” which express a Gospel liberation from the Roman Catholic bondage of a works righteousness. Though such Gospel treasures exist, they existed in an infancy and were not matured until the Puritan era. Certainly, and without doubt, the doctrines of grace existed, were propagated, and preached all through the history of the church – for without them there is no Gospel. Even during the well termed “dark ages” Augustinian monks rallied around these doctrines and preached them to the poor. Yet, in my estimation, it was not until the early 17th century that a concise and formal document of these doctrines stepped into the light. A term that is very familiar to most Calvinistically minded pastors, theologians and scholars, arose sometime after the famous Synod of Dordtrecht (or Dort) convened. The Netherlands’ churches, after much deliberation over the period of a year, with constituents from other countries, finalized a document called The Articles of the Synod of Dordtrecht which summed up the confessional and Reformed doctrines of God’s graciousness against the rise of certain heretical doctrines plaguing the church at the time. These doctrines are known as the “doctrines of grace” formally, and are summed up in the acronym T.U.L.I.P.

T.U.L.I.P. stands for Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. It has been said that this acronym came to light at the Synod itself, but this is not true. The term itself developed later, though the 5 points were readily distinguished in the 5 articles, or heads, of Dordt’s formulation of the doctrines of grace.

We may ask, “Why do we need a new “theological term when we have the biblical record?” Though we believe in the Trinity, the word does not appear in the Biblical record. Though we believe in original sin, this word also does not appear in the Biblical record. Though we believe Ephesians 1:3, Romans 9 and the like, we have taken all those passages and formulated them into a helpful memory tool which is simple to understand and readily available. It is also convenient that the popularity of the TULIP is all through Holland, the Netherlands and other Belgic states. It is also convenient that the flower of a tulip is five intertwined petals in one whorl making a complete flower. Though all this seems quite helpful and convenient, that still does not answer the question as to why such a acronym arose.

TULIP was a formulation of what was already believed, but restated concisely in reaction to heresy intruding into the church. It is almost always the case that such formulations, creeds and confessions arose out of such needs. It may be helpful, though, to retrace some of the more important facts concerning the rise of these articles and the later innovation of TULIP as a confession of the Reformed churches.

How did the formulation of the doctrines of grace come about in such a defined form? There are a number of factors for this. We ought always to be reminded of Pelagius, the British monk who rose up against the doctrines of grace when Augustine was Bishop of Hippo in Africa. In some flagrant ecstasy Pelagius thought Augustine would agree with him that men, in and of themselves, could, without the help of grace, please God in keeping His commandments and come to saving faith. Augustine vehemently denied such rubbish, and penned some of the most helpful insights into the destruction of this heresy which we have in print (See his Enchiridion, The Predestination of the Saints, and other anti-Pelagian writings). Pelagius taught that grace is helpful, but not necessarily needed. He could not reconcile the commands for men to repent, if they could not repent on their own, by their own power. You may be wondering why I would include Pelagianism in the line of heresies consummating at Dordt’s defense. This may be more clear in time since Arminianism is simply an extension of Pelagius’ thought, but not quite as radical. The church today has been caught by the Pelagian captivity of the church in the teachings of Arminius.

Other lesser-known men have arrived on the scene of church history to offer their deviant ideas concerning salvation. They were known as semi-Pelagianists. Why are they called such? You cannot call them semi-Augustinians, that simply would not fit. Their ideas are espoused to Pelagius, not Augustine. If they were Augustine’s progeny, they would plainly be called Augustinians – a name given to all those who hold to “reformed” teachings (at least as this term fits those theologically bound men of today). Semi-Pelagians believed (and believe) that the Fall in the Garden did affect all of Adam’s progeny, but not fully. Men are not dead in sin, but sick in sin. They are “kind of alive” but never completely dead rendering their “free wills” quite able to choose either good or evil. One man named Cassian of Marseilles was a Semi-Pelagian of the 5th Century; but he was not a popular fellow and did not gather a large following. Another man named Bolsec was in Geneva around 1552 and propagated Semi-Pelagianism. He taught the same doctrines but was not heeded because of his immoral lifestyle. A third man by the name of Corvinus attempted to stir Holland in 1560 with the same ideas, but it never came to a full fruition. It was not until an intelligent servant boy in a nearby inn was given the chance to attend the state University that Semi-Pelagianism would come to its height in the church.

James Harmensen was born in 1560. This is his name in Dutch, but the name we know him by within theological circles is his Latin derivation – James Arminius. While a young teen, as a servant in a public inn, a patron noticed his wit and keen intellect even for someone at such a young age. Being this caliber or intelligence as a boy this patron decided to offer him the chance at schooling in the University of Utrecht. This patron supported Arminius until his death, and then another picked up the tab where he left off. Arminius was then able to attend the University of Marpurg, in Hess, and then finally the University in Leyden. He was even sent to Geneva while Theodore Beza presided there, but indulged in insubordination and a spirit of self-sufficiency. He spoke privately to the other students against the teachers there and was ultimately thrown out of the University. After leaving Geneva, he toured Italy and then came back to Geneva, and had a wide following of people at this time. It is unfortunate that charismatic personalities are able to influence so many people in such a short amount of time. For when he returned, and people began to take notice of him in this manner, they decided to make him a minister of Amsterdam.

After serving as minister for some time, he was then called to the University of Amsterdam to teach on the condition that he would adhere to the Belgic Confession. Arminius pledged loyalty to the confession when entering the professorship. One of the Belgic articles asserts the following: “Article 16 – We believe that, all the posterity of Adam being thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of our first parents, God then did manifest Himself such as He is; that is to say, merciful and just: merciful, since He delivers and preserves from this perdition all whom He in His eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness has elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works; just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves.” It was this kind of teaching, solid reformed teaching after the manner of Calvin, and Turretin to come, that Arminius gave allegiance to, even though he really did not believe it. He was a scandalous, double-minded shadowy individual.

After a year or two he was found to be a scandalous man. It was his practice to teach the doctrines of grace in alignment with the Confession in class, but then distributed private confidential manuscripts among his pupils. (This being attested by Samuel Miller, Thomas Scott, and by many Dutch writers on the subject of the time.) By this “double-mindedness” he was able to continue in his popularity, while at the same time he was infecting the students under him of the same errors of “Arminianism” which he really believed. Truly, a double minded man is unstable in all he does.

The States General of the Netherlands sent deputies of the Churches to question him on this, and to discover whether the rumors were true. This would involve an open debate and discussion, and then the consequences of the discussion would be taken back to the National Synod to be discussed further as to what ecclesiastical action should take place. Arminius denied the “rumors” about this (in reality this was simply a lie to cover up his scandal) and he agreed to meet with the council on one condition: if they found anything wrong, they would not report him to the synod. What ploy was this? The entire idea of the deputies investigation here was to do just that! So the deputies, in view of his subtle refusal (?) refused, themselves, to pursue this discussion believing that Arminius was not being honest and forthright with them, or agreeing to this under a guise of integrity. Instead, sometime later, they summoned him to council with Classis, a reformed theologian. He declined and would not subject himself to an open synod. This was his mind from henceforth. His strategy was to win over the secular men of the state and university to have enough backing before going “public” on his “new and radical” views. This is important to note since Arminianism is the secular man’s salvation. Lost people find works-righteousness pleasing because they can contribute what their conscience dictates. Yet. when heresy arises it is never frank and open. Such heretical groups are almost never honest and candid as a party until they gain strength enough to be sure of some degree of popularity. Such was the case with Arius, Pelagius, Arminius, Amyraut, the Unitarians, etc.

Arminius’ goal was to unite all Christians, except the papists, under one common form of doctrinal brotherhood. If this was truly the case, why was it so difficult for him to be “tried” theologically in an open forum? His agenda and motives prove that his goal is true, but not for the good of the church. In his views (which are unorthodox and heretical) he agreed substantially in the five doctrines set forth by his predecessors in a more refined manner. He died in 1609 before he could ever be brought openly before a public Synod. Most hoped that with the death of Arminius that Arminianism would die quickly. Unfortunately, his infectious doctrine had overwhelmed too many younger students and a group called the Remonstrants arose soon after.

In 1610 the Remonstrants organized into a body and set forth a “Remonstrance” to the States General of Holland, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands . The word “Remonstrance” means “vigorously objecting or opposing.” These men were persuaded to continue Arminius’ teaching in a precise and ordered form. Their goal was to solicit the favor of the government, and to secure protection against the ecclesiastical censures to which they felt themselves exposed. They vehemently tried to raise up a man named Vorstius, a hero to their newfound party, to be given the chair of theology at Leyden. When King James I found this out (yes, the same King James of the KJV of the Bible in England) he exhorted the States General by letter not to admit such a man to the chair having such errors and being an enemy of the Gospel. Vorstius was prevented, barely, but another, Episcopius, rose up soon after. Arminianism was spreading at this time quite rapidly.

As much as it may be deplorable to some that the State involves itself in the affairs of the church today, as they should be, in days of old the practice was quite different. Prince Maurice of Orange, the prince of the day for the region, was opposed to the work of the Remonstrants and desired a National Synod against them. As a result of Prince Maurice’s determination to rid the Netherlands of Arminianism, on November 13, 1618 a national council commenced in the city of Dordtrecht (also abbreviated as “Dort” or “Dordt”.) The synod consisted of 39 pastors and 18 ruling elders from Belgic churches, and 5 professors of the University of Holland. There were also delegates from Reformed churches through the region. At least 4 ministers and 2 elders from each province attended the Synod: men from France, Switzerland, the Republic of Geneva, Bremen and Embden, as well as varied deputies of the Belgic church, some English Puritans such as Joseph Hall and John Davenant, and delegates from Scotland. With such a sublime gathering, Joseph Hall was compelled to say that, “There was no place upon earth so like heaven as the Synod of Dordt, and where he should be more willing to dwell.”

The Synod of Dort (Dordt, or Dordtrecht) convened to examine the Arminian’s Remonstrance as well as their Christian walk. Both their doctrine and life were “on trial.” Both are exceedingly important since such scandal had already befallen Arminius and these men were propagating the same teachings. It is regrettable, but the Remonstrants thought themselves ill-treated as a result of this, and did not attend the meetings except to submit their propositions in the form of 5 articles at the beginning. The council was held for over a year.

After the Synod convened in 1619, they gave the following censure by unanimous decision – for they seriously and responsibly examined the Arminian tenants, “condemned them as unscriptural, pestilential errors,” and pronounced those who held and published them to be “enemies of the faith of the Belgic churches, and corrupters of the true religion.” They also deposed the Arminian ministers, excluded them and their followers from the communion of the church, suppressed their religious assemblies, and by the aid of the civil government, which confirmed all their acts, sent a number of the clergy of that party, and those who adhered to them, into banishment, as Samuel Miller points out in his introductory essay to Dort’s articles. They did not treat them as reprobate, but under ecclesiastical discipline unless they would repent.

For some years Arminian theology was suppressed, but not dead. The Remonstrants, after a lapse of a few years, were relieved. Prince Maurice died in 1625 and so the ban was lifted on them by the States General, even to the point where some Arminians were restored to their position in the churches. Though the States General was commissioned to reconvene every 3 years to discuss the articles of the Synod – the orthodox articles – they failed to do so, and it turned into a more “dutiful” act than a religiously helpful responsibility before Jesus Christ. Though this is a sad ending, the Synod was a great help to the Christian Reformation. The Synod has furnished the Christian religion with one of the most excellent and helpful religious documents in the history of the church concerning salvation and the Gospel. The orthodox points may be found that this web addresses: The Synod of Dort.

The Remonstrance further defined their points from the original 5 articles, (shown below), to demonstrate their resolve of returning to the religion of Roman Catholicism rather than the Gospel. Their theologically defined articles may be read here: The Remonstrance Articles. Today Arminianism is the status quo in most churches through 21st century Christendom and the articles of such as the Synod of Dort are the minority report. Most people today do not believe the truth of the Synod’s articles. They are far more persuaded by certain aspects of Arminius’ teaching that the death of Christ is for all; that all are not necessarily dead in sin, but simply sick in sin; that election is based on men’s faith and God’s knowledge of that faith; and that the saints can ultimately fall away from grace. Yet, even in such adherence to blatant false doctrine, “Arminians” today cannot rightly be called “Arminians” like those of the 17th century. Most of what the church believes today is an amalgamation of various doctrinal positions, somewhat eclectic and hardly complimentary in harmony and synthesis. The Arminianism today is a shadow of what it once was, though certain points are certainly the same. That does not make 21st century Arminianism right, or acceptable, but simply more confused.

What do we for these people then? Today’s evangelicalism is sweeping the nation because its demands are easy. As Arminius taught of old, the secular man is drawn to the idea that he can fulfill certain religious dimensions of the commands of God, especially to repent and believe. So how do we help them see this is incorrect, and a reproach against Christ? I believe that help in this are is not going to come from brow beating them with the Doctrines of Grace. They are already taught that the doctrines of grace are wrong. When we mention TULIP they are already prepared to reject it even though they do not understand it. I think our tactic should be down another avenue. The reason the evangelical Arminian Christian rejects the doctrines of grace is because he does not know his Bible. He does not read His Bible. He settles for the “one minute Bible” with his “get it quick” morning study. He needs to fall in love with the Bible, and to read it and to digest it. Without becoming attracted to the Word, the living, breathing Word, he will never know the true Word. He will continue to trust the false teachers instead of listening to the voice of the Shepherd. So the friend, the business acquaintance, the relative, the wife or husband who is hard toward these Doctrines of Grace must be met with the Bible. Who among them would ever say that they reject reading the Bible? No Arminian I know would say such a thing. It is the persuasion to have them think through their Bible that we shoot for after they begin reading it. For no lax mind can possibly read Ephesians 1 or Romans 9 without becoming squeamish about their Arminianism. Even many of the great teachers of Arminianism squirm in those passages. I recall one of my former Arminian teachers in Bible college state that when he read Romans 9 his theology falls apart. That is a good thing he is reading, and an equally good thing that he is beginning to think. That was some years ago, and I hope he has thought through it all successfully. I say all this to persuade the reader not to attack or pillage the Arminian camp with such obtuse tactics. John Owen and his book “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ” has already done that for you. Owen has extinguished the Arminian flame theologically. But know we need the John Bunyan’s to come to life and take the theology out of the “Death of Death” and cause the eager reader to love the Word from which all this good doctrine comes. You might ask, “Why did he mention Bunyan?” I mention him because you should be like Bunyan; he was a master of taking the Bible and putting it into the hands of the people in an easily understandable manner. That is why Pilgrim’s Progress is the second most read book in the world next to the Bible. That is how you must help them to see it for themselves. Help them to love their Bible as a love letter sent to them from God so that they hang on every word of it; yes every word like John 6, John 10, Ephesians 1, and Romans 9. Otherwise, much of the time, unless you know how the Arminian is thinking, you will almost always fail in trying to make them buy TULIPS with Arminian money. They need to understand that they can come and buy “without money and without price.”

The Original Remonstrance

Article 1: That God, from all eternity, determined to bestow salvation on those who, as He foresaw, would preserve unto the end in their faith in Christ Jesus, and to inflict everlasting punishment on those who should continue in their unbelief, and resist, to the end of life, his divine succors.

Article 2: That Jesus Christ, by His death and sufferings, made an atonement for the sins of mankind in general, and of every individual in particular: that, however, none but those who believe in him can partake of that divine benefit.

Article 3: That true faith cannot proceed from the exercise of our natural faculties and powers, or from the force and operation of free will, since man, in consequence of his natural corruption, is incapable of thinking or doing any good thing; and that therefore it is necessary to his conversion and salvation that he be regenerated and renewed by the operation of the Holy Ghost, which is the gift of God through Jesus Christ.

Article 4: That which is divine grace, or energy of the Holy Ghost, which heals the disorders of a corrupt nature, begins, advances, and brings to perfection every thing that can be called good in man; and that, consequently, all good works, without exception, are to be attributed to God alone, and to the operation of his grace: that, nevertheless, this grace does not force the man to act against this inclination, but may be resisted and rendered ineffectual by the perverse will of the impenitent sinner.

Article 5: That they who are united to Christ by faith are thereby furnished with abundant strength and with succors sufficient to enable them to triumph over the seductions of Satan, and the allurements of sin and temptation; but that the question, “Whether such may fall from their faith, and forfeit finally this state of grace?” has not been yet resolved with sufficient perspicuity and must therefore, be yet more carefully examined by an attentive study of what the Holy Scriptures have declared in relation to this important point. (This last article was later changed by the Arminians who positively affirmed that the saint may fall away from a state of grace.)

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