Dealing with Divisions and False Accusations (Digging into Dort: Conclusion, Part 1)

The Canons of Dort don’t have much of an introduction, but it does have a pointed conclusion. The title of the conclusion is “Rejection of False Accusations,” and it deals with some false claims about some of the teachings in the Canons. It’s a reminder of why the Canons of Dort were written and the need to examine the teachings themselves rather than simply look at what others say about it.

Why Was This Written?

The opening words of the conclusion remind us why the Canons of Dort were written - there was division and confusion in the Church of the Netherlands; a Synod wrote this document to help settle this dispute. “And so this is the clear, simple, and straightforward explanation of the orthodox teaching on the five articles in dispute in the Netherlands, as well as the rejection of the errors by which the Dutch churches have for some time been disturbed. This explanation and rejection the Synod declares to be derived from God's Word and in agreement with the confessions of the Reformed churches.” While you may not think the Canons are “clear, simple, and straightforward,” these words show us the goal of the Synod that wrote the Canons was to examine the Scriptures to solve the dispute that was started by the Remonstrants. Therefore, the Canons of Dort were never designed to cause divisions but rather to end them, and were not written by a single individual but a group of church leaders from a wide variety of places (the Netherlands and other countries as well).

This background should cause us to consider what happens when there is confusion and dispute about doctrine. Do we ever say, “I am not positive about this or I’m confused about this issue, but I will submit my opinion under the authority of the church leaders who have done the work of examining the Scriptures”? While it is important for us to use our minds and think for ourselves, are we willing to be part of a larger group and acknowledge the wisdom of others whom we know and trust? We can’t know everything about everything, so we trust the wisdom of the “experts” or  “leaders.” When it comes to ideas about which we are confused, do we turn to the councils and creeds to see their wisdom and unless we see clear reasons to reject it, accept it even if we do not understand it?

Don’t Always Believe What Others Say

The bulk of the conclusion notes false accusations against the teaching of the Canons and calls upon people to read them to see how these are false. Here is the list of these false accusations:

  • “the teaching of the Reformed churches on predestination and on the points associated with it by its very nature and tendency draws the minds of people away from all godliness and religion, is an opiate of the flesh and the devil, and is a stronghold where Satan lies in wait for all people, wounds most of them, and fatally pierces many of them with the arrows of both despair and self-assurance;
  • this teaching makes God the author of sin, unjust, a tyrant, and a hypocrite …;
  • this teaching makes people carnally self-assured, since it persuades them that nothing endangers the salvation of the elect, no matter how they live, so that they may commit the most outrageous crimes with self-assurance; and that on the other hand nothing is of use to the reprobate for salvation even if they have truly performed all the works of the saints;
  • this teaching means that God predestined and created, by the bare and unqualified choice of his will, without the least regard or consideration of any sin, the greatest part of the world to eternal condemnation; that in the same manner in which election is the source and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and ungodliness; that many infant children of believers are snatched in their innocence from their mothers' breasts and cruelly cast into hell so that neither the blood of Christ nor their baptism nor the prayers of the church at their baptism can be of any use to them; and very many other slanderous accusations of this kind which the Reformed churches not only disavow but even denounce with their whole heart.”

Again, these are false accusations – what some wrongly say the Canons of Dort teach. When you read the Canons, however, you will see they do not teach these things – in fact, the Canons explicitly reject them.

How do you respond to false accusations? Do you simply say, “No, no, that is not what we believe?” That is one method – and the Canons of Dort do point to that by saying these things are false. But the best method is to invite people to examine it for themselves. Don’t just tell them, show them what you believe. This is really the ultimate solution offered in the Canons:

“Therefore this Synod of Dort in the name of the Lord pleads with all who devoutly call on the name of our Savior Jesus Christ to form their judgment about the faith of the Reformed churches, not on the basis of false accusations gathered from here or there, or even on the basis of the personal statements of a number of ancient and modern authorities—statements which are also often either quoted out of context or misquoted and twisted to convey a different meaning—but on the basis of the churches' own official confessions and of the present explanation of the orthodox teaching which has been endorsed by the unanimous consent of the members of the whole Synod, one and all.”

Be sure to read and thoroughly digest any teaching of the Canons of Dort before you reject it. Even if you are not convinced by it, I believe you will see that the writers of the Canons carefully seek to show how they do not believe that God is the author of evil, that the doctrines can lead to ungodliness, and reject other false accusations that were lodged against them.

Haters are Going to Hate But We Should Remain Steady in Our Beliefs

Regardless of whether a Christian finds him or herself in agreement with the teachings of the Canons of Dort, we can learn some important truths from this conclusion. First, it is a reminder that people will misrepresent what others believe and that these misrepresentations will lead to people rejecting our beliefs at times. It happened during the Reformation, in the early church, and even happened to Jesus! Second, we must not be afraid of rejection, and while we want to do all that we can  to correct misunderstandings, some people may still misrepresent what we believe. Third, we should show people, not just tell them, what we believe.

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