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Religion Library: Presbyterian and Reformed

Early Developments

Written by: Ted Vial

The Reformed churches entered a period of "Protestant Orthodoxy" or "Protestant Scholasticism" in the 17th century, in which the focus seemed to shift from the liberating message of God's grace to a fixation on getting doctrine correct.  Calvinism underwent an important split in Holland because of Calvin's doctrine of predestination (the idea that God has decided at creation everyone's eternal destiny).  The Dutch Reformed Church asked one of its theologians, Jacob Arminius (1560-1609), to present a defense of Calvin's doctrine of predestination.  In studying it he came to the conclusion that it inevitably made God the author of sin.  He argued that sin had not completely destroyed human nature, but had left enough free will so that one's fate depended on one freely choosing to accept or reject God's offer of saving grace, which was made to all humans. 

Arminianism, as this interpretation came to be known, was rejected by the Reformed Church at the Synod of Dort (1618), which formulated five key Calvinist beliefs that have since come to characterize Reformed faith: Total Depravity (of human nature), Unconditional Election (you cannot merit salvation), Limited Atonement (Christ died only for those elected to salvation, God's grace is not offered to all), Irresistible Grace (you cannot choose whether or not to accept God's offer of saving grace), and Perseverance of the Saints (once elected, you cannot lose your salvation).

Study Questions:
     1.    Why is belief in the Holy Spirit necessary for biblical interpretations within the Presbyterian Church?
     2.    Why did Zwingli want to abolish Mass? What was the outcome of the Second Disputation?
     3.    Why was Zwingli labeled a “half-way man”? What did his opponents argue?
     4.    Who were the Anabaptists? How did they receive this name?
     5.    Who was Jacob Arminius? What did he study, and what did he argue?


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