Reformation and TULIP

In 1517 a Roman Catholic monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 theses to a church door at Wittenberg University in Germany. This act wasn’t intended to ignite a movement that would eventually split the Roman Catholic Church. Luther meant to challenge the Church he loved in a positive way. He wanted it to re-examine its teachings about how man goes to heaven. He also wanted to see “reforms” made in a Church that had become corrupt in many ways. The movement for reform blossomed into what history now refers to as the Reformation.

The theologians who followed Luther in this Reformation confronted the same questions people have had about salvation since the time of the Apostles. They were also concerned with HOW such questions should be answered.

The Scriptures as the Source of Truth

Reformers purposely went back to the source of all Christian truth, the Scriptures, to avoid the tradition-guided and arbitrary opinions of Church leaders and philosophers. Their reasons were simple:

  • The Scriptures themselves claim to be the infallible Word of God.
  • The Scriptures also claim to be truthful and authoritative in what they teach concerning God’s redemptive program.
  • Since doctrines and practices can become corrupt through the influences of human tradition and opinion (as Scripture itself teaches) then the Church ought to revere God’s Word in higher esteem than human traditions and opinions.
  • Since man’s traditions can be flawed then Scripture alone (sola scriptura) must be looked to as the only source of knowledge for Church doctrines and practices.

When Protestants searched for answers in the Bible they weren’t at first attempting to form brand new doctrines. They simply wanted to re- affirm biblical teachings about God and how man is saved. They wanted to discover what God had always taught about salvation through His prophets and apostles.

The 5-Points of Arminius

Leading reformers shared a general theological consensus about the main doctrinal points of salvation in the early years of the Reformation. Martin Luther and John Calvin, for example, were leaders of different branches of the Reformation, yet each respected and admired the other’s work. But in the early 1600’s a theology professor named Joseph Arminius rejected established Reformation teaching regarding salvation.

Arminius’ views were set forth in five distinct articles promoted in a document called the Remonstrance shortly after his death. This document was backed by a group of 46 ministers. The following five points summarize Arminius’ teachings in the Remonstrance:

  1. Even though mankind fell into sin people aren’t spiritually helpless in that they are able to believe the Gospel.
  2. Because God knows all things by His foreknowledge He knew who would be saved. Thus, He decreed all who would be saved and He did so based upon what choice fallen individuals would make in response to the Gospel.
  3. Christ came to pay the price and redeem every human being. In other words, His death was universal in its scope and purpose. Although only actual believers receive forgiveness for their sins, Christ’s death provides atonement for all people without exception.
  4. Men can reject the work of God’s grace in their life by an act of their own free will. The Holy Spirit’s work to regenerate (bring a “new birth” to) a person can be resisted.
  5. A believer is assisted by the Holy Spirit to persevere in their faith. But it’s possible for a true believer to fall from grace and lose their salvation.

Responding With the TULIP

A gathering of 84 Reformed Protestant leaders officially answered these five points a few years after they were published at a meeting known as the Synod of Dort from 1618-1619. Their work, which responded to each one of Arminius’ points, is now often referred to by the acronym TULIP. The “T” stands for Total Depravity. The “U” for Unconditional Election. The “L” refers to Limited Atonement. The “I” signifies Irresistible Grace. The “P” is short for Perseverance of the Saints.

Have We Replaced Tradition with Tradition?

It must be emphasized that Reformed Protestant churches don’t teach these doctrines because they want to hold to their own man-made type of Reformed “tradition.” Doing this would be committing the same errors that brought about the Reformation in the first place. Churches holding to the Reformed tradition preach and teach these doctrines because they’re biblical.

Now, it stands to reason that if early reformers correctly interpreted the biblical view of salvation, then a lot of Christian theology today might be “missing the mark.” After all, many Protestants don’t currently understand or teach salvation the way early reformers taught it. Those of us in the Reformed community (who believe Calvin and his comrades basically got it right) see tradition and philosophy once again influencing most Christians. Except now, at least in the American church, Arminian influences abound, as did Catholic ones in the pre-Reformation age.

Doctrinal discussions are important because they go to the heart of our understanding of God, man, and the entire work accomplished by Christ on our behalf. To ignore these truths dishonors God and prevents us from having a coherent understanding of the Bible. It also weakens biblical Christian theology in contrast to non-Christian views of God and salvation.

These statements aren’t meant to offend anybody. The goal here is to encourage thinking about the widespread influence of Arminianism within Protestantism today.

It’s often pointed out (and rightly so) that complete escape from “tradition” is impossible. The person who imagines their church (or culture or family or school or whatever) isn’t hugely influenced in some way by tradition is mistaken. Reformed Christians aren’t against tradition per se. But, tradition becomes a problem when it hinders true worship of God or replaces Scripture as the root of all truth.

Written by: Dr. Charles F. Betters and Joe Farinacchio