For the first time in the history of Westminster Seminary California, a WSC course was held outside of Escondido, CA, last September. Dr. J.V. Fesko, WSC Academic Dean and Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, taught a one-credit course on covenant theology. This April, WSC held its second WSC in OC course at New Life Fullerton (PCA). President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Church History, Dr. W. Robert Godfrey, taught a course titled, “Saving the Reformation: The Pastoral Theology of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).”
This Synod, which convened in Dordrecht, Holland, was the only genuinely international ecclesiastical assembly in the history of the Reformed churches, and it prepared a formal response to the Arminian challenge to Calvinism. The Synod of Dort is part of the Three Forms of Unity (in addition to the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism), to which Reformed churches subscribe. It is a fitting topic considering this year marks the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort commencing its work. It is also fitting that Dr. Godfrey taught this course considering he wrote his dissertation at Stanford University on the Synod of Dort and is working on a new book on the same topic.
Dr. Godfrey led students and auditors in studying the background, work, and conclusions of the Synod. The Synod’s broader context includes the Dutch Reformation and the teachings and legacy of Jacobus Arminius. In 1610, followers of Arminius, known as the Remonstrants or Arminians, presented their views to the States General in the form of five articles. These “Five Articles of Remonstrance” included affirmations of universal atonement, that man can resist God’s saving grace, and that a believer can lose his salvation. The Synod of Dort sought to correct these unbiblical tenets, issuing the Canons of Dort. The substance of the Canons, which have come to be known as the TULIP of Calvinism, included affirmations of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints.
While most Reformed Christians are aware of the significance of the Synod of Dort for its defense of the “five points” of Calvinism, many do not appreciate the pastoral nature of the Canons. Dr. Godfrey pointed out that the Canons stress the importance of the faithful preaching of the Word of God, the free and sincere offer of the gospel, the seriousness and effects of sin, and that the regenerate must strive for personal holiness. In addition, the Canons address the topic of assurance repeatedly. This defense and affirmation of a believer’s assurance of salvation provides deep comfort that our salvation depends in no part on our own works. Instead, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, our only comfort in life and death is that we are not our own, but belong with body and soul to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who will preserve us to the end.
Stay tuned for details about our next off-campus course.