Since the beginning of its history the Christian church has evolved. From its inception with Jesus and the Apostles it has morphed into many branches and theologies. After the start of the Protestant Reformation Lutheranism got its start in Germany. Meanwhile is Switzerland reformed theology was born on January 19, 1523 when, Ulrich Zwingli, issued sixty-seven articles which were the first code of the Swiss reformed church.
These codes would later be expanded upon by a lawyer turned theologian by the name of John Calvin. Calvin himself was a former Roman Catholic who saw issues with what he saw were unbiblical teaching of the Church. He would expand on these views by writing many essays that were collected into a volume known as the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Many Christians today believe that the five points of Calvinism, known as TULIP, originated with Calvin himself. Further investigation will show that the principles were described by Calvin, but were not totally defined. This further defining would come in 1618 at the Synod of Dort when the reformed church would deal with what they considered to be the Arminian heresy.
WHAT IS TULIP?
To understand the history and origins of TULIP a step back must taken. This step back will allow us to understand exactly what TULIP is and the biblical basis that the Swiss reformers had for the doctrines. This journey will not be a critique on the theology, but an unbiased look at it.
TULIP is an acrostic that stands for Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints. It should be noted that the acrostic itself is fairly new in the context of Church History. The Synod of Dort had a similar acronym of ULTIP. The actual term TULIP was first coined by Loraine Boettner in his book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, though it may have been spoken of earlier and not recorded.
The concept of Total Depravity is not only the “T” in TULIP, but drawn on the earliest days of Christianity. This point of doctrine is drawn from the book of Genesis and the fall of Adam. Central to this is Genesis 3:6 which states, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, and he ate.” In the opinion of Calvinists that this corruption of our human nature was inherited from Adam and his actions in the garden.
Total Depravity does not mean that man is unable to do well to each other, but that man is unable to do good on his own in the sight of God. We are in need of the grace of Christ to do any good in his name. In Christendom this has been the prevailing thought as the Roman Catholic Church holds a similar view in its doctrine of original sin. However Calvin said that the fathers of the church did not take Original sin far enough. Calvin leaned on Job 14:4 and Psalm 51:5 in support of what he said was the “root of sin and the impure seed man is born from.
This doctrine would soon be attacked by the Arminians who claimed that man had free will. In the Arminian remonstrance of 1610 the Arminians “were unwilling to say that man was unable to save himself.” However by studying the Five Articles of the Remonstrants we can see what the Arminians were purporting. In article three the Remonstrants state, “In his state of Apostasy and sin he can by himself and for himself think that nothing is good –nothing, that is, truly good, such as saving faith is above all else.”
The nature of the disagreement seems to be after one is saved, and such was the emphasis at the Synod of Dort. The Calvinists were of the idea that man was incapable of free will and grace worked through him to achieve good. While the Armninians were of the opinion that man could choose to do good but only by the grace bestowed on him by Christ. The Synod echoed the conclusions of Calvin who wrote in his Institutes, “For our nature is not merely bereft of good, but is so productive of every kind of evil that it cannot be inactive.”
This the history of Total Depravity has roots in scripture, developed further roots in Augustine, and was championed by Calvin. However it did not get its formal name until the Synod of Dort you coined the term to suppress Free Will as preached by the Arminians.
Unconditional election is also commonly known as Predestination. Predestination is the “The divine determination of human beings to eternal salvation or eternal damnation. The doctrine of predestination is a branch, so to speak, of the doctrine of election; God’s predestinating activity is a function of his existence as the electing God.” A form of predestination is found in scripture. In fact Romans 8:30 states, “And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”
To be certain predestination is something that has been argued about for several centuries. Augustine wrote a scathing letter to the Pelagians about what he believed to be predestination. Augustine wrote in his work De Anima, “that “they whom the Lord has predestinated for baptism can be snatched away from his predestination, or die before that has been accomplished in them which the Almighty has predestined.” During the Scholastic period the idea was reiterated by St. Anslem who held the view that all there would be a kingdom where a predetermined number of creatures would serve him.
In unconditional election the argument is that God chooses to give some people eternal life without looking for anything good in them as a condition. Those in the Calvinist camp saw conditional election as God chooses to love those who first loved him. This is once again at odds with the Arminian view that one must choose to accept to gain eternal life. The views would once again come to a head at the Synod of Dort which stated, “Unconditional election and faith are a gift from God.” Unconditional election and limited atonement are often used synonymously, but this is not the case. Unconditional election means that God chooses to save his elect, while limited atonement means that his elect are limited. A distinction must be made between the two.
As previously stated there is a difference between unconditional election and limited atonement, and some of the confusion may lie in the fact that they are often used together in debate. The definition of limited atonement is, “The view that sees the value of the cross-work of Christ as intended only for the elect, although sufficient for all.” The sacrifice of Christ was the cause of salvation for the elect. This is in contrast to the Arminian view of unlimited atonement which states that Christ death made salvation possible for all. There are many passages of scripture that are used in the defense of the doctrine, and there we will start our historical analysis. One common passage in Romans 9:13 which states, “As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
Historically the first person to make an argument for Limited Atonement was Gottschalk of Orbais in the 9th century. Gottschalk wrote, “Indeed, just as He [God] predestined all of the elect to life through the gratuity of the free grace of His kindness, as the pages of the Old and New Testaments very clearly, skillfully, and soberly show those seeking wisdom on this matter, so also He altogether predestined the reprobate to the punishment of eternal death.
The great theologian Thomas Aquinas spoke of a similar topic which Calvin saw as his endorsing of limited Atonement. In his work the Summa Theologica Aquinas states, “But Christ’s passion could not touch all mankind. Therefore it could not sufficiently bring about the salvation of all men.” Calvin’s theology did have some scriptural and historical basis but in his writing he emphasized other points regarding the limited atonement. In book twenty three of his Institutes Calvin states, “The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should; why he deemed it we know not.”
In the 1600’s a dispute arose between the followers of Arminius (i.e. Arminians) who said the atonement was for all of mankind, and not just the elect. This is called Unlimited Atonement and states that Christ died so that all may be saved. Those who subscribe to limited atonement stated that Christ died so that the elect will be saved. The latter is what the Synod of Dort held to, and subsequently condemned the Arminian view of Unlimited Atonement though it has many adherents today.
The doctrine of irresistible grace is the fourth leaf of TULIP, and in some circles is known as efficacious grace. Charles Hodge describes irresistible grace by stating, “It will of course be admitted that, if efficacious grace is the exercise of almighty power it is irresistible. That common grace, or that influence of the Spirit which is granted more or less to all men is often effectually resisted, is of course admitted.” In contrast the Arminians were of the opinion that the grace of God could be rejected based on one’s free will.
The history of the doctrine come from Romans 8:28, 30 which states, “Those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” The idea is that those whom God chooses can only resist his grace for a moment and will eventually do his will. Throughout history the church, including the Roman Catholic Church and Martin Luther, rejected this view of grace. Their view are similar to the Wesleyan view that God gives resistible prevenient grace to overcome the effects of the fall. This grace would allow an individual to obey God’s command or not. The Synod of Dort in article ten condemns this view and sealed its fate within the reformed churches. In Article ten states, “Election is therefore unalterable: the elect cannot be cast away, nor their number diminished.”
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
The perseverance of the saints has everything to do with everyday life. If one is of the elect the he will persevere in the faith of trial and keep the faith. The future is faced with confidence knowing that all has already been conquered. The question of eternal security is also dealt with in this doctrine, and the believer is assured of his salvation.
The history of the doctrine can be complex and goes back to the church fathers. If the previous paragraphs are any indication, it would seem that John Calvin was a fan of Augustine. This doctrine is also traced back to the great theologian of Hippo. R.E.O. White writes, “Augustine traced every thought and motion Godward to the operation of divine grace within those elected to salvation.” The church father Origen held a similar view, but strayed by God willed all men to be saved but granted perseverance to a limited number. The doctrine was dealt a blow at the Council of Trent in 1545 which stated that if anyone believes that he absolutely has the power to persevere then he shall be accursed. Later on Calvin would state that the elect were regenerated and equipped with the ability to persevere. This development was later affirmed by the Synod of Dort.
TULIP is a very important part of not only Christian theology, but church history. The developments of the doctrines have some elements that can be traced back to the church fathers, and to scripture itself. Having an understanding of how these doctrines grew to the state they are today is not only interesting, but will allow further dialogue between Calvinist and Arminian camps. Two often the two sides are vitriolic towards each other, and this has the potential of hurting the whole body of Christ.
In terms of history the Synod of Dort, which affirmed the doctrines, in very influential. For one it brought the controversies of the two sides into view, and it gave direction to the Reformed church in Holland for centuries. Many other creeds and confessions, such as the Westminster confession, used Dort as a template for further explanation of reformed beliefs.
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