The Canons of Dort

The third of our Doctrinal Standards is the Canons of Dort, also called the Five Articles Against the Remonstrants. These are statements of doctrine adopted by the great Reformed Synod of Dortrecht in 1618-1619. This Synod had a truly international character, since it was composed not only of the delegates of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands but also of twenty-seven delegates from foreign countries.

The Synod of Dortrecht was held in view of the serious disturbance in the Reformed Church by the rise and spread of Arminianism. Arminius, a theological professor at the University of Leyden, departed from the Reformed faith in his teaching concerning five important points. He taught conditional election on the ground of foreseen faith, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace, and the possibility of a lapse from grace. These views were rejected by the Synod, and the opposite views were embodied in what is now called the Canons of Dort or the Five Articles Against the Remonstrants. In these Canons the Synod set forth the Reformed doctrine on these points, namely, unconditional election, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints.

Each of the Canons consists of a positive and a negative part, the former being an exposition of the Reformed doctrine on the subject, and the latter a repudiation of the corresponding Arminian error. Although in form there are only four chapters, occasioned by the combination of the third and fourth heads of doctrine into one, we speak properly of five Canons, and the third chapter is always designated as Chapter III-IV. All office-bearers of our Church are required to subscribe to these Canons as well as to the Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism.