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The Broad Way

Category Articles
Date November 8, 2011

Jakob Herman did not have an easy childhood. Born into a Reformed family, he lost his father while still a child. Adopted by the family Pastor, young Jakob was sent to school, but when he was fourteen the Pastor died, and his mother was tragically killed just a year later. Befriended by Rudy Snell, a teacher who recognized Jake’s intellectual ability, the young man was given the opportunity to enter a respected university, where he took up the study of theology.

For the next six years, Jake was taught by a faculty which included several highly esteemed Professors, some of whom, sad to say, delighted in challenging Mr. Herman’s faith. Though the university was considered Reformed, one Professor in particular doubted Calvinism and, over time, imparted that doubt to his still vulnerable student. Although Jakob Herman later studied under one of the most noted Calvinists of his day, those seeds of doubt slowly grew within him.

Called to the ministry at the age of 27, Rev. Herman gained a reputation as a good preacher, but eventually his doubts began to surface in the pulpit; before long a dispute arose between Herman and other ministers, and a few years later Rev. Herman left the pulpit to become Professor Herman at the very university where he had earlier learned to doubt. While questions about his orthodoxy had arisen occasionally when a Pastor, as a Professor of Theology Jakob faced almost daily opposition from his far more Calvinist colleagues. Herman gained few allies when he began advocating for the Church to rewrite both the Netherlands (Belgic) Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, especially when he refused to say what he thought should be changed; later, while still soliciting changes to two of the Three Forms of Unity, Herman bafflingly argued that his views were in conformity with the very Confessions he wished to change.

The dispute occupied the remainder of Jakob Herman’s life, during which he argued both before Classis meetings and in court for the ideas which had begun to undermine his faith while still a young man. Even so, he remained a faculty member at the university, and both among his students and in the general public his ideas found a following. Jakob died, still defending those ideas, at the age of 49, but what he taught continued to gather support, to the extent that almost a decade after his death a meeting of the Reformed Church across a number of countries was called to deal with what had by then become a major disturbance within the Church. We remember that meeting as the Great Synod of Dordrecht, and Jakob Herman by his Latinized name: Jacobus Arminius.

In God’s providence, that Synod’s response to Arminius’ errors gave us the formal doctrinal structure we today recognize as ‘The Five Points of Calvinism,’ as well as our third Form of Unity, not altering but rather reinforcing those which Arminius petitioned to change. Nevertheless, the false doctrines of Arminianism remain with us to this day, blatantly on religious radio and TV shows, sometimes more subtly in religious literature, and most insidiously in some of the songs many of us learned in Sunday School – and which some teach children to this day. As we pause once again this year to remember the Reformation, we do well to take time to read the Canons of Dort and consider prayerfully whether any of the errors of the Remonstrants have wormed their way into some quiet corner of our own theology.

My heart owns none before Thee,
For Thy rich grace I thirst;
This knowing: if I love Thee,
Thou must have loved me first.

Taken with permission from Christian Renewal, October 26, 2011.

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