6. The Reformed Church under the Cross: extracts from the so-called Walloon Synods, 1563-1565

Explanatory Comment : During the early 1560s the Reformed churches in the southern Netherlands gradually acquired a more formal and settled character. ‘House churches’ replace informal bible readings, consistories with elders maintain discipline and deacons provide alms for poor brethren and ministers are ‘called’. In the southern Netherlands ministers from Antwerp helped to organise congregations elsewhere in Brabant. Antwerp too provided the obvious place for meetings of representatives from the churches. In this way the supra-congregational structures, the synods (or provincial councils) gradually come into being.

The Reformed churches in the Low Countries often took their cue from their coreligionists in France and the wording of many of the earliest resolutions betrays a close, sometimes literal, dependence on the synodal acts of the French Reformed churches. Note the synods’ concern to uphold the dignity of the magisterial office.

Text :
Presbyterian Principle

1. No church shall claim primacy or dominion over another, nor likewise any minister over another, especially those who belong to the same church, nor likewise the deacons and elders. [art. ii La Vigne,1 (1564) p.141 = art. i Discipline ecclésiastique]

2. The ministers shall preside in turn in their consistory and synod so that no one may claim superiority over a colleague. [art. iii La Vigne, p.141 = art. ii Discipline ecclésiastique]

Election of Elders

3. In those places where no church order has yet been established, both deacons and elders shall be chosen by the common consent of all the people with their ministers. But where discipline already exists, they [elders] shall be elected to the church’s consistory [senat de l’eglise] with the ministers and deacons; their office shall be explained and they shall subscribe to the Confession of faith decreed by us; they shall then be presented to the people [congregation]; in the event of objections, these shall be discussed and resolved by the consistory; but if they cannot reach agreement, the matter shall be referred to the provincial council [concile provincial]. [art. i Bouton, (1563) p.135]


4. Each church shall have only one consistory, composed of ministers, deacons and elders faithfully discharging their offices. They shall seek advice from such men as shall seem appropriate when the business requires it. [art. i La Vigne, p.141]


5. Anyone who has enjoyed for a long time the preaching of God’s Word, yet nevertheless declines to communicate at the Lord’s Supper, alleging his infirmity, shall be exhorted to participate at the following Lord’s Supper; then he shall be exhorted immediately to participate at the next Communion, if he refuses to attend [the first]. But if, on being admonished for a third time, he still refuses, he shall be deprived of the communion of the Word. Each consistory, however, shall have discretion in judging infirmity, bearing in mind the obligation to show charity. [art. iv La Vigne, Whitsun 1565, pp. 154-55]

Lord’s Supper

6. No one shall be admitted to the Lord’s Supper, unless he has first been instructed and found worthy, both in his conduct and his doctrine. [ art. xi Bouton, 26 April 1563 p.138]


7. Those who bring their children to baptism should have submitted themselves to the ecclesiastical discipline. [art. ix Bouton, p.138]

8. Children of those who have not yet submitted to the Church shall not be baptised unless these are presented by gens fideles [faithful], who have a responsibility for the child. [art.x Bouton, p.138]

Poor Relief

9. The deacons shall warn that none of their poor, who have registered, may go from door to door through the town, on pain of being deprived of all relief. [art. xviii La Vigne 1564 p.145]

Confession of Faith

10. At the opening of each synod the Confession of faith of the churches of this country shall be read out in order to demonstrate our unity and to [allow] consideration whether it should be changed or amended. [art. i La Vigne, Whitsun 1565 p. 152]

Exercises at Synods

11. Since the ministers shall not often have an opportunity to discuss Christian doctrine together, except at the synod, the ministers should each time they meet for this purpose expound in turn some passage of holy scripture each morning and each evening after the meal to bear witness to their doctrinal unity and in like manner the perpetual deacons so that they may see how they have improved in the exercise of their calling. [art. iii La Vigne, 21 November 1564]


12. Neither the ministers or any other [members] of the church shall have printed or otherwise publish any books whatsoever without first showing these to two or three reputable ministers of the Word. [art. x La Vigne, 1 May 1564 p.143 = art 26 Discipline ecclésiastique]

Keeping the Records of the Churches

13. The consistories are exhorted to collect the important records of their churches carefully and to send these to the provincial synods. [art. xxxii La Vigne, p.148]

Authority of the Magistrates

14. The faithful may be adjured by the consistory to tell the truth, when they have asked about some matter, but this shall not in any way detract from the authority of the magistrate. [art. xlii La Vigne, pp.149-50]

15. The authority of the ordinances of the King and of the magistrates must be faithfully observed in the matter of the export of commodities abroad as in all other respects. [art. iii La Vigne, 3 December 1565]

Sources : De synoden der Nederlandsche hervormde kerken onder het kruis gedurende de jaren l563-1577 , ed.N.C.Kist (1849) 125-160. Also: Livre synodal contenant les synodes des églises wallonnes I (1563-1685) (The Hague, 1896) 1-13.

Literature: G. Moreau, `Les synodes des églises wallonnes des Pays-Bas en 1563′, Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis 47 (1965) 1-11; F.R.J.Knetsch, ‘Kerkordelijke bepalingen van de Nederlandse synoden “onder het kruis” (1563-1564) vergeleken met die van de Franse (1559-1564)’, in: Feestbundel uitgegeven…van het kerkhistorisch gezelschap S.S.S. , ed. J.Fabius et al., (Leiden, 1982) 29-44.

1 The earliest Calvinist churches were identified by code names: Vigne = Antwerp; Bouton = Armentières.