22. Acts of the Synod of the Netherlands Churches both under the Cross and Scattered through Germany and East Friesland, held at Emden, 4 October 1571

Explanatory Note : The synod held at Emden in the autum of 1571 is commonly regarded as the first ‘national’ synod of the Netherlands churches even though it took place, for obvious reasons, outside the Low Countries. The acts of this synod left an enduring mark on the further development of Dutch Protestantism. In the first place, ‘Emden’ confirmed that the Reformed churches in the Low Countries would adopt a presbyterian style of church government. Secondly, since the strict Calvinists made the running at the synod, it was decided that only members of the Church, i.e. those who had submitted themselves to the authority of the consistory, might receive the Lord’s Supper. Though the Reformed Church was prepared, reluctantly, to baptise children irrespective of the confessional background of their parents, access to the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper was restricted to church members. The exclusivism of Dutch Calvinism was long to remain a matter of contention because many moderates, especially among the political elites, favoured a comprehensive Protestant ‘state’ church similar to those in Germany and in England which not only placed no obstacle in the path of those who wanted to receive Communion, but required everyone to attend the communion services at the parish church. Of course the magistrates in the Netherlands not only took no part in the discussions at Emden, but would have been unaware that any such synod had taken place. When after 1572 the Beggars gained control of Holland, the magistrates accepted more or less grudgingly the necessity of granting freedom of worship to Protestants, but they expected to determine the nature of the new church order. Thus the ground was laid for a long-running debate between the civil powers and the Calvinist ministers about the relation of the Protestant church to the magistrates and about the matter of discipline.

In 1571 Orange required the support, financial as well as organisational, of the exiled Protestants from the Netherlands. In April 1571 the political leaders of the French Hugunots had cooperated with the Calvinist ministers at the synod of La Rochelle, which Orange’s younger brother had attended. Orange may have hoped for a similarly close cooperation between the political and religious leaders from the Low Countries. If so,. he was to be disappointed, for the participants at the synod eschewed political issues. Some church leaders even hesitated to give their backing to military action against the regime of Alva for any reasons other than religious. But Orange knew that an invasion justified on such grounds would have alienated the support of the German evangelical princes and many others who, while being strongly opposed to ‘Alva’s tyranny’, had no thought of becoming Calvinists.

Text : 1. No church shall have dominion over another Church, no minister of the Word, or elder or deacon shall exercise dominion over another. Rather shall they be vigilant lest they should give cause to be suspected of desiring dominion.

2. In order to bear witness to the doctrinal harmony between the Netherlands Churches, the brethren thought it good that they should subscribe to the Confession of Faith of the Netherlands Churches and also to sign the Confession of the Churches in France to attest their common faith and consensus with the same French Churches, surely trusting that the ministers of the same French Churches shall, for their part, in like manner subscribe to the Confession of the Netherlands Churches in order to demonstrate their agreement.

3. Petrus Dathenus and Joannes Taffin have been appointed to inform the ministers of this decision at the next synod in France and to report back to the following meeting of the brethren of the Netherlands Churches.

4. Netherlands ministers who are not present at this synod shall be exhorted to subscribe to the same. In future all those called to the ministry of the Word shall be asked to do likewise before they enter upon their ministry.

5. The brethren are of the opinion that French-speaking congregations should use the Genevan Catechism and Dutch-speaking congregations the Heidelberg Catechism. However, if some Churches use another form of catechism, which is consonant with the Word of God, they should not be obliged to change.

6. Each church shall have assemblies or consistories, composed of the ministers of the Word, the elders and deacons. These shall meet at least once a week at a time and place which each congregation finds most convenient and suitable.

7. Besides these consistories, classical meetings of neighbouring churches shall take place every three or six months, as seems expedient and necessary.

8. In addition special meetings shall be held each year for all the churches scattered through Germany and East Friesland, all the churches in England and for all those under the cross.

9. Furthermore, a general assembly of all the Netherlands Churches shall be held every two years.

The Classes of the Netherlands Churches scattered
through Germany and East Friesland

10. One classis shall be composed of the two congregations at Frankfurt, the congregations at Schönau, the French congregation at Heidelberg and the congregation at Frankenthal and St. Lambert [Lambrecht]. Another shall be composed of the two congregations at Cologne and Aachen, the congregations at Maastricht, Limburg, Neuss and those in the Duchy of Jülich. Another classis shall be composed of the congregations at Wesel, Emmerich, Goch, Rees, Gennep and those in the Duchy of Cleves. Another classis shall be composed of the church at Emden, with the fugitive ministers and elders from Brabant, Holland and Friesland.

The Classes of the Churches under the Cross

11. One classis shall be formed from the two congregations at Antwerp and the congregations at ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Breda, Brussels and any others there may be in Brabant. Another classis shall be formed from the congregations at Ghent, Ronse, Oudenaarde, Wervik, Comines and any others situated in East and West Flanders. Another classis shall be formed from the congregations at Tournai, Lilles, Arras, Douai, Armèntieres, Valenciennes and other French-speaking churches. A further classis shall be formed from the congregations at Amsterdam, Delft and the other churches in Holland, Overijssel and Friesland.

12. The brethren in England shall be exhorted to divide their churches into classes.1

13. Ministers of the Word shall be chosen by the consistory with the counsel and approval of the classical assembly, or of two or three ministers from neighbouring churches. Once chosen, they shall be presented to the congregation which may give its silent consent or, in the event of the congregation refusing to endorse the election, the objections should be declared within a fortnight. However those churches which prefer the ministers to be chosen by the congregation may continue to do so until the General Synod decides otherwise.

14. Elders and deacons shall be chosen in the same manner, though there is no obligation to seek the opinion of the classis or the local ministers.

15. Each year half the elders and deacons should stand down and others appointed in their stead to serve for two years. However, the Church, and especially those under the cross, may keep their freedom to appoint them for a longer or shorter period, as may seem appropriate and necessary.

16. Ministers of the Word shall be examined by those who choose them. If their doctrine and conversation meets with approval, they shall be confirmed in their offices with fitting prayers and with the laying on of hands, though the latter is not obligatory and should be done without superstition.

17.No minister shall be allowed to preach to another congregation, without the consent of the minister and consistory of the same, or, in the absence of the minister, without the consent of the consistory.

18. A minister who intrudes into a church, where the ministry already exists, shall be admonished to desist by the consistory. But if he continues obstinately, three or four of the neighbouring ministers in the classis, more if possible, shall be summoned and shall declare him a schismatic. Any who persists in attending the services of one who has been declared a schismatic, obstinately despising all exhortations and admonitions, shall be dealt with by the consistory in accordance with ecclesiastical discipline.

Adiaphora at Baptism

19. It is a matter of indifference whether at baptism one sprinkles with water once or three times. The Churches shall be free to follow their own practice until such time as the next general synod decides otherwise.

20. It is a matter of indifference whether or not there are sponsors at baptism. The Churches shall therefore be free to follow their old practices until such time as the next general synod shall decide otherwise.

Adiaphora at the Lord’s Supper

21. In the Churches where we are at liberty to arrange matters as we desire ordinary bread should be used and the same should be broken in the administration of the Lord’s Supper. But we consider it a matter of indifference whether the Lord’s Supper is taken standing or sitting. Congregation should use the form which seems most apt to them. Churches are free to sing psalms or to read from the Holy Scriptures while the Lord’s Supper is administered. Likewise, the Churches are free to use the words of Christ or Paul during the distribution of the bread and the wine. But care should be taken to avoid giving the impression that any consecration has occurred because these words are spoken.

Matrimonial Matters

22. No one who is still under his parents’ or guardians’ authority should enter into matrimony without their consent: a betrothal without such consent is null. If however there are parents, who are so shameless and obstinate as to refuse utterly to give their consent (as sometimes happens out of hatred for the Religion and for other reasons), the consistory shall judge whether there is sufficient cause to oppose or set aside this holy ordinance.

23. Once the engagement has been legally made, it shall on no account be broken, even if both parties give their consent. It is therefore advisable for the minister or an elder to be present when the engagement is entered into so that, before the partners exchange promises, it may be discovered whether they both profess the pure Religion; whether their marriage has their parents’ consent and, where one or both parties has been previously married, whether there are reputable and sure testimonies to the death of the first marriage partner.

24. The names of those who wish to enter into matrimony shall be called before the congregation on three Sundays, or on three other occasions, provided there is a reasonable interval between these.

Ecclesiastical Discipline

25. We believe that ecclesiastical or Christian discipline should be kept in each congregation. Therefore the office of the minister of the Word shall not only be to preach publicly, to exhort and to censure, but also privately to remind everyone of his obligation. The elders should also see their work here.

26. Wherefore, if anyone should stray from the pure doctrine or transgress in the conduct of his life, the rule expressly laid down by Christ in Matthew 18 [vv. 15-18] should be followed, provided that the offence has been hidden and not caused public scandal.

27. In the case of sins, which have remained hidden, and the sinner (having been admonished privately by one, two or three witnesses) has repented, no report shall be made to the consistory. But hidden sins which might do grave damage to the commonweal or the Churches, for example treachery or the seduction of souls, should be reported to the minister so that he may advise what should be done.

28. If someone has sinned secretly but has not heeded the admonition of two or three persons, or has committed a public offence, he should be reported to the consistory.

29. Sins which by their nature are public or which have been made known to the congregation (because the admonitions have gone unheeded) shall be publicly reconciled, but only after the judgement of the entire consistory, not that of one or two individuals, and in a manner considered best suited to edify the respective congregations.

30. Anyone who obstinately rejects the admonitions of the consistory shall be suspended from the Lord’s Supper. If he shows no sign of repentance despite repeated admonitions, he shall be excommunicated.

31. The minister shall admonish the obstinate sinner from the pulpit, publicly declaring his offence and informing (the congregation) what endeavours have been made to censure and to suspend him from the Lord’s Supper. He shall exhort the congregation to pray fervently for this unrepentant sinner before the congregation is compelled to proceed to the final instrument of excommunication. Three such admonitions shall take place. On the first occasion the sinner shall not be named so that he may to some extent be spared; on the second occasion he shall be named and on the third occasion the congregation shall be told that he shall be excommunicated unless he repents. If he remains obstinate, he shall be excommunicated with the tacit consent of the congregation. The interval between one admonition and the next shall be left to the discretion of the consistory. If, despite the diligence of the ministers, he cannot be brought to repentance, the congregation shall be told that the obstinate individual has been banned and excommunicated from the Body of Christ. The minister shall explain at length the practice and purpose of excommunication and he shall admonish the congregation not to have close and unnecessary dealings with the excommunicant: they should avoid his company in order that the excommunicant may thereby be brought to a sense of shame and so to repentance.

32. Those who commit grave sins which defame the Church or acts which should be punished by the magistrates, should be suspended from the Lord’s Supper, even though they have repented. The period of suspension shall be determined by the consistory.

33. When ministers of the Word, elders or deacons commit public sins, which bring scandal and disrepute on the congregation, or offences which should be punished by the magistrates, the elders and deacons should be promptly dismissed from their office on the authority of the consistory, and ministers of the Word should be temporarily suspended: it should be left to the classis to decide whether they should be finally dismissed from their office, in which case ministers, dissatisfied with their decision, may appeal to the provincial synod.

34. Whether ministers of the Word, elders and deacons, who have been dismissed, may be re-admitted to their office if they are chosen again, once the Church has been satisfied that they have repented. Discretion in the case of elders and deacons shall be left to the consistory, and in the case of ministers of the Word to the classis.

35. When ministers, who are native Netherlanders and who have entered the service of churches abroad, are recalled by the churches in the Netherlands, they should diligently seek to heed that calling. They should agree with their [present] churches a fixed time within which these should acquire other ministers. But if these churches abroad refuse to release them, the matter should be referred to other impartial churches. Those who have no obligations should be exhorted to keep themselves free so that they can respond to a call.

36. The members of the Church who have been served by ministers in the time of freedom [i.e. 1566-1567] should be exhorted to maintain these, if they are in need.

37. Those who in this diaspora are gathered in some town shall support some students, who shall be under an obligation to them. If those who have supported them can do without their service, they may allow another Church to take these completely into their service, in which case they may recover their expenses, though not when those whom they have supported are lent out for a time.

38. A list of ministers not at present in service and of those considered fit for the ministry has been drawn up. One minister from each of the classes represented here [at the Synod] has been appointed to exhort the ministers of his own classis, on behalf of this synod, to enquire diligently whether any of the churches in their classis are in need of ministers and to admonish them to call a minister and to include some from the list so that their calling may be by common consent.

39. Dominicus Julius, Cornelius Rhetius and Joannes Arnoldi have been chosen for Emden and Joannes Lippius, Petrus Rickius and Michael Jordanis for Wesel. Netherlands churches in need of ministers should write to these to discover whether there are any ministers there or in the vicinity.

40. If any church should be too poor and needy to support the minister whom it has called, the classis should consider whether first some neighbouring churches might be combined. In addition the ministers of the fugitive congregations shall be exhorted to call on the members of the church to come to their aid. They shall especially exhort those who belong to the same province as the poor congregation. Here the ministers should set an example.

41. Where the ministry of the Word cannot be established the ministers of the classis should appoint readers, elders and deacons so that the congregations may be gathered together.

42. The ministers and elders of the classes under the cross should diligently enquire in all the towns and villages in their classis or the neighbourhood after those inclined to the pure Religion. These should be exhorted to do their duty. They shall try thus to gather together churches, or at least make a start. To achieve this more effectively the classes shall divide up all the nearby towns and villages so that none is overlooked. The dispersed congregations should show the same concern for the towns and places close by, and especially for those distant from the classis. The faithful in exile shall help the ministers belonging to classes under the cross in this, cautiously giving the names of those whom they know are well disposed to the Religion in the places whether they have been driven or taken refuge.

43. It is most expedient that the churches are closely united so that they may correspond frequently with one another about what would be useful for the upkeep and increase of the Churches in general, or certain in particular. They should especially inform each other about heretics, schismatics, mercenaries, vagabonds and other mischievous men of that sort so that the churches can keep a watch on them.

44. To reduce the heavy burdens of the Churches which daily increase from the fickleness of those who move too quickly from place to place and who, on the pretext that they are needy faithful, appropriate the alms which are intended for co-religionists in distress. We therefore consider that it should be made known in all Churches that those who leave will in future only be treated as co-religionists in other congregations if they carry an attestation to their doctrine and conversation in their former church.

45. The ministers should be careful to ask all those who desire an attestation why they wish to leave and they should refuse attestations, if they consider that the reasons are insufficient. The ministers and deacons should also beware lest they too readily relieve their church of its poor only to burden other churches without any necessity. Those who furnish attestations should state the surname, forename, place of birth, trade, the reasons for the departure, length of time in the congregation, conversation, time of their departure, their destination and other such matters.

46. Those who leave should be given enough to travel to the next congregation and the amount should be stated on the attestation. The other churches on their itinerary should do likewise, according to their means. They should examine the attestation and, if it is in order, they should give the holder sufficient to travel to the next congregation, making a note on the attestation of the amount given and the date of departure. Other congregations should follow the same procedure until they reach their destination, where the attestation shall be surrendered and destroyed.

47. Those who leave congregations after November next without an attestation, or without an attestation of the kind prescribed, shall no longer be accounted as co-religionists whom, on the instructions of Paul, we should treat as well as possible. Nevertheless, if any should come from churches under the cross or from places where no ministry has been established, they should be examined to see whether they pray, whether they can give an account of their faith, why they have left and such like. The deacons shall have discretion to decide how much support should be given to such persons.

48. The Heer van St.Aldegonde [Marnix van Sinte Aldegonde] shall be asked on behalf of this synod to write an account of recent events in the Low Countries and chiefly of those matters which pertain to the establishment of the Churches and their persecutions, the overthrow and the restoration of images, the constancy of the martyrs and God’s terrible judgements against the persecutors and the mutability of governments [mutationes Politiarum].

49. All ministers as well as all others who can advance this purpose should diligently search out anything pertinent to such a history. These [documents] should be sent under seal to those appointed to receive them and they shall then faithfully transcribe these for the Heer van St.Aldegonde.

50. The following have been chosen for this purpose: for Emden Christoffel de la Becque and Cornelius Rhetius; for Wesel Pieter de Rijcke and Charles de Nielles; for Cologne Adriaen van Conincksloo and Johannes de Roy; for Aachen Johannes Christiani and Johannes Heuckelom; for Frankfurt the Heer van Belle and Sebastian Matte; for Heidelberg Pieter Dathenus and Jean Taffin; at Frankenthal Caspar van der Heyden and Petrus Anthonius; for Schönau Franciscus Junius; for St. Lambert Nicolaus Schoubroeck.

51. No one shall publish or have published a book written by himself or another concerning matters of faith unless the said book has been examined and approved by the ministers of the classis or recognized professors of divinity, who belong to our confession.

52. In the larger churches those who give promise of entering the ministry of God’s Church at some stage may be trained in preaching. A minister should preside at the exercises to see that order is kept.

53. These articles regarding the constitution and due order of the Churches have been agreed unanimously. But they can, and should, be changed, increased or diminished, if the good of the Church requires. Nevertheless, individual churches are not at liberty to make changes: all churches should endeavour to maintain these articles until a synod decides otherwise.

Emden 12 October 1571.
Gaspar vander Heyden, praeses
Johannes Polyander, scriba

Ch.1 Particular Questions

2. To the first question raised by Cologne, whether everything had to be based on the Holy Scripture. The brethren replied that in matters touching the conscience, the confirmation of the Word of God was essential, but in matters concerning the [church] order or adiaphora, this was not necessary.

3. To the second question about an accurate Dutch translation of the Bible, the brethren decided to postpone this until the general synod.

9. In answer to the tenth question from the brethren at Cologne, whether a child of papist parents, who testify that the form of baptism in the Reformed Churches is purer that used in popery, may be baptised, it is said that those who wish for satisfaction here should take a copy of the opinion about this matter which the brethren from Geneva sent.

10. To the eleventh question from Cologne, whether godfathers who do not wish to belong to the congregation but who incline to the pure doctrine, may be permitted, the brethren replied that the practice of godparents at baptism should be optional. Where the godparents only act as witnesses to the act of baptism, such men may be permitted, but in churches where godparents are responsible for the upbringing of the children, these should be members of the congregation.

13. To the question, whether a Christian wife, married to an unbelieving husband, may present his son, against his wishes, for baptism in the congregation, is replied that this was permitted and should happen, but because this might not always be expedient for the condition of the church, she should seek the advice of the consistory in this difficult matter. It would be prudent neither to relax the reins too much for the fearful, nor to burden consciences excessively.

16. The brethren from Ghent asked whether the following offences should be considered as public or private sins, namely the secret acquisition of indulgences, marrying before the papists, allowing children to be baptised by priests, denying Christ in private in the presence of a burgomaster or a magistrate, swearing by the saints or whatever. A reply was delayed until another meeting because opinions were divided on this matter.

Ch. 2 Ordinances for Classical Meetings

1. At the meeting of the classis one of the ministers shall preach a sermon, which shall be considered by the other ministers present. They shall say how, if necessary, it might be improved. In the subsequent classical meetings all the other ministers shall, each in turn, do likewise.

2. Then the praeses [president] shall be chosen by the common consent of the ministers. After a prayer he shall ask each in turn whether consistorial meetings have taken place in their churches, whether the ecclesiastical discipline has been enforced, whether they have been troubled by heretics, whether they have any doubts concerning a point of doctrine, whether the poor and the schools are cared for and whether they need the counsel and advice of other ministers in the direction of their churches and such like matters.

3. If something should arise in a church of the classis, which cannot be settled by the consistory, it shall be brought before the classis for a decision. An appeal may be made to the provincial synod.

4. Further, matters relating to the churches of the classis shall be raised at the classical meetings.

5. The president shall next raise one or other of the chief doctrines at issue between ourselves and the papists and others so that we may be instructed by one another and spurred on to study.

6. At the meetings of the classis immediately before the provincial synod deputies shall be chosen to attend the provincial synod on behalf of the classis.

7. Each classis should send two ministers and as many elders or deacons, and at least one minister and one elder or deacon.

8. Before the matters which are to be brought forward to the provincial synod are set down in writing, the acts and ordinances of the previous synod should be carefully read over in order to avoid raising again matters at the provincial synod, and especially at the general synod, which have already been discussed and resolved by common consent, unless there are fresh grounds for querying an earlier decision.

9. Finally, the time and place of the next meeting shall be arranged and the president shall give thanks to God.

Ch. 3 Ordinances for Provincial Synods

1. The deputies to the provincial synod shall bring letters of accreditation as well as those matters they wish to raise which should be put in writing. They shall only raise those matters which could not be resolved in the consistorial or classical meeting, or which concern all the churches of the province so that the provincial synods are not protracted by unnecessary business.

2. Having assembled the local minister, or if there is none, the president at the previous synod shall pray for the election of a president, an assistant and a secretary.

3. When the president has been elected, he shall deliver a suitable prayer for the whole session. Then he shall direct that the names of those present be recorded as well as though who are absent so that these may explain their failure to attend. Then he shall require their letters of accreditation to be read out and their instructions, duly signed and sealed, to be presented in order. He shall discover the sense of the whole meeting on these matters, count the votes and declare the decision of the larger and sounder party. The secretary shall record this in writing and, having done so, read it out clearly so that it may be approved by all.

4. First matters of doctrine, then matters of ecclesiastical discipline shall be read out and carefully put in writing; finally particular matters.

5. The president shall order each man to speak in his turn; he shall silence the acrimonious and contentious, and if they do not obey, he shall order them out of the meeting so that they may be reprimanded as they deserve by the judgement of the brethren.

6. The office of the president ends with the conclusion of the synod. The following provincial synod shall be free to choose the same minister or another as president.

7. The elders or deacons who have been sent to these assemblies shall cast their votes in all the sessions, like the ministers of their churches. But the elders from the place where the meeting is held may only cast two votes, though the other elders may attend and express their opinions.

8. The president shall open each session with prayers and close with a thanksgiving.

9. All the acts which have been put into writing and settled shall be read again so that they may be approved and signed by all and everyone shall take away a copy, signed by the president and the secretary, which shall be read out in the consistory of each church.

10. With the consent of the whole provincial synod a church shall be chosen and it shall, in consultation with the other ministers in its classis, be charged with the authority and responsibility to decide the time and place of the next provincial synod.

11. All difficult matters which have occurred in other churches or which cannot be resolved in the consistorial or classical assemblies, or weighty matters which concern the whole province shall diligently and punctually be referred to this church.

12. This church shall inform the other churches of the time and place of the next provincial meeting three months in advance and shall at the same time send a copy of the principal points, which have been submitted, so that each church may have time to consider these and make known their opinions in the classical assembly so that the delegates of the classis may, after due deliberation, present the opinion of the churches in their classis.

13. To spare the church charged with the arrangements for the next provincial synod with the burden of writing to the churches of all the classes in the province, a church shall be appointed in each classis to which [the organizing church] shall write. When this church has received the same, it shall inform the ministers of the classis.

14. The expenses of participants at the synod shall be borne by each classis.

15. After the synod has concluded, the ministers and elders in attendance at the synod shall celebrate the Lord’s Supper, where possible, with the congregation where the synod was convened.

16. The church where the synod is held shall be responsible for bringing or sending the protocols or acts to the following synod.

Ch.4 General Synods

The same regulations shall also apply in the case of the general synod. The ministers and elders in attendance shall be commissioned by the provinces, not the classes. They shall bring letters of accreditation and instructions concerning doctrine, church order and particular matters, which cannot be resolved in the provincial synods, or which concern all churches.

Then follow the signatures of the 29 ministers and elders in attendance at Emden.

Source : Based on the Dutch text in Acta van de Nederlandsche synoden der 16 eeuw , ed. F.L.Rutgers, (Utrecht, 1889) 55-119. Reference has also been made to the original Latin text and to a modern German translation by D. Perlich, ‘Die Akten der Emder Synode von 1571’, in: Emder Synode, 1571-1971 (Neukirchen Vluyn, 1973) 46-66. For another Dutch translation see F. Meiners, Oostvrieschlandts kerkelyke geschiedenisse I, (Groningen, 1738) 427-45.

1 The English Churches were not represented at the Synod. Although they had met to elect representatives as requested, the English government intervened at the last moment and forbade them from attending a synod abroad.