35. Select Acts from the Synod of Dordrecht, 3-18 June 1578

The States of Holland Consent to the Summoning of the Synod

Forasmuch his Excellence, the Prince, having learned from the report of certain ministers and preachers from Holland and Zeeland about the condition and circumstances of the churches there, has found it necessary and has agreed that an assembly of all the ministers of the same provinces should be held in the town of Dordrecht so that good order might be established in the affairs of the Christian church, so also have the States of Holland found it good and expedient for the better upbuilding and strengthening of God’s Church that on 1 June next the same assembly shall be opened and held to that end in the aforesaid town and that the official intimation and notice shall be issued by Caspar vander Heyden, minister of Middelburg, to all the ministers and preachers in the provinces of Holland and Zeeland, as necessary.

Issued by the aforesaid States in the town of Delft on 15 March in the year 1578. On the orders of the States by me, De Rechtere 1578.

Ch. 1: The Ministers of the Word, the Elders and Deacons

4.The nomination of ministers shall be made by the consistory, assisted by the deacons and the ruling of the classis, if the same can meet; if not, with [the ruling] of two or three of the closest ministers of the same. The examination shall be conducted by those responsible for calling [the minister]. However in the case of those adjudged fit by the University of Leiden or any other University subscribing to our religion there shall be no re-examination concerning doctrine. When the ministers have been tried and chosen, the Reformed civil authority shall be informed and then they shall be presented to the congregation for a period of fourteen days so that if anyone has any objection, he may without hindrance disclose the same. He shall do this in good time in the consistory so that the same, with some members of the classis, may carefully consider the matter. If no one presents any objection silence shall be taken as consent. [143]

8.Those who serve as ministers of the Word in the court of some prince or nobleman shall also be called in an orderly and proper manner like any other [ministers]. They shall subscribe to the church order and shall appoint as elders and deacons the best-qualified in the household. They shall also attend classes and synods and shall submit themselves to the ruling of the same, like other ministers. [145]

11. In those places where a congregation must first be gathered and order established, the minister who is sent there, shall use some of the most pious to advise him, to govern the church and to dispense alms; then he shall exhort his hearers to prepare themselves for the exercise of the [Lord’s] Supper by making confession of their faith. Once the congregation has grown somewhat in size, he shall appoint some as elders and deacons in the proper way from among those who have been to the [Lord’s] Supper. [146]

Ch.2:The Consistory and Other Ecclesiastical Assemblies

17. Only ecclesiastical matters shall be treated in these assemblies and these after the manner of the ecclesiastical government. And in the case of matters which touch both the ecclesiastical and political spheres, any difference that may arise as a result shall be jointly resolved by the civil authority and the consistory. [148]

Ch.4: Doctrines, Sacraments and Ceremonies

53. In order to bear witness to their doctrinal unanimity we recommend that all the churches in the Low Countries should subscribe to the Confession of Faith contained in the thirty-seven articles, which was reprinted in this year 1578 and which was presented to the King Philip many years ago. And this should also be done by the elders as it is done by the ministers of the Word and professors of theology. [153]

60. Baptism may only be administered during the sermon. However in those villages where there is infrequent preaching a particular day in the week shall be appointed for the administration of baptism. Nevertheless the same shall not take place without a short sermon. [155]

64. No one shall be received into the congregation [ghemeynte] until he has been examined by the consistory or at least by one minister and elder touching the chief heads of the Christian doctrine. And before they go to the Lord’s Supper, they shall publicly affirm in the consistory room or in the church after the sermon which immediately precedes the administration of the Supper that they approve the doctrine received by the congregation, which shall be briefly explained by the minister, and that they wish to persevere in the same with the Lord’s help and that they submit themselves to the Christian admonition [vermaninghe]. [156]

67. Before the [Lord’s] Supper the ministers and elders shall visit the members of the church, especially the weakest and those most in need so that to the best of their ability they may properly prepare the congregation for this most worthy act by giving instructions admonition and consolation and by settling objections, which have arisen. [157]

73. Likewise, the Lord’s Supper shall not be administered where no church order has yet been established, but in the best ordered churches it should be administered, as far as possible, every two months. But the churches shall be free to hold it as frequently as they deem fit, especially the secret congregations and those which live under the cross. [158]

Ch.5: Matrimony

84. The civil authority shall be asked not to prohibit marriages (insofar as can properly be done considering the times and circumstances) within the degrees of consanguinity and blood relationships permitted by divine and imperial law. But as long as this cannot be obtained, it would be better to obey the laws than to suffer the difficulties and scandals which would ensue [from departing from these]. [161]

91. When some great problem arises in matrimonial matters, the civil authorities shall be asked to appoint two or three of their number to resolve the same difficulty with the ministers of the classis. [161]

Ch.6: Ecclesiastical Admonition and Discipline

92. Since the Lord Christ, besides the service of the Word and the Sacraments, also instituted the ecclesiastical admonition and discipline, the ministers shall not only publicly teach, censure, exhort and refute, but they shall also especially exhort everyone to do his duty. But as Christian discipline is spiritual and exempts no one from the civil punishment, so the ecclesiastical censure is of necessity required, over and above the civil censure, in order to reconcile the sinner with God and his neighbours and to remove the offence from the congregation of Christ. [163]

96. The stiffnecked [sinner] who rejects the admonition of the consistory shall be suspended from the [Lord’s] Supper; but if, after suspension, he shows no sign of repentance, despite several admonitions, it [the consistory] shall proceed to excommunicate him. [163]

97. The minister shall publicly warn the congregation about the obstinate sinner, make known the sin and the proper measures taken to punish him by suspending him from the Supper and then he shall diligently admonish and expound to the congregation; he shall exhort the congregation to pray for this unrepentant sinner before [the church] is forced to adopt the final remedy. Three such admonitions shall be given. On the first occasion the sinner’s name shall not be revealed so that he may to some degree be spared. On the second occasion he shall be named. On the third occasion the congregation shall be told that he shall be excommunicated unless he repents, so that if he remains obstinate, his excommunication shall take place with the silent consent of the congregation. The interval between the admonitions shall be decided by the consistory. At the excommunication of such an obstinate sinner the minister shall explain at length the practice and purpose of the same and warn the faithful not to have any unnecessary dealings or conversation with the excommunicant, but to avoid his company so that the excommunicant, overcome by shame, may be brought to consider seriously repentance. [163-4]

Particular Questions

2. Whether it is necessary for the civil authority to confirm the synodal articles. It is replied that the civil authority shall be asked to confirm with their authority those articles, where the authority of the same is necessary for these to be put into effect. And to that end two persons shall be appointed to request the same from the States [of Holland]. [167]

5. Whether the opinion of the magistrates belonging to the Reformed religion should be consulted when a minister is dismissed. It is replied that since the office of the Christian magistrate is to ensure that men lead godly and upright lives, for which reason faithful ministers are necessary, their approval should be sought in the same way as the synod has ruled [should happen] in the case of the calling of ministers. The same [procedure] shall be followed for the transfer and replacement of ministers, especially if this change is permanent or at least for a long time. [168]

6. Whether the civil authority may engage or dismiss ministers of the Word without the knowledge and consent of the consistory. It is replied: indeed not. [168]

7. Whether all ministers born in Flanders and serving the Netherlands Churches [elsewhere] in these Low Countries or in other places are bound to observe, if they are called by any church in Flanders, that call. It is replied: since the whole Netherlands is our common fatherland [het gheheele Nederlant onse alghemeyne vaderlant is], it would be quite unreasonable if ministers outside the province of Flanders, yet in the service of the Church of Christ in the Netherlands, should be under an obligation to Flanders. And as for those who are serving outside the Netherlands, the synod ruled that the same also may be called without the consent of their churches. [168]

21. Whether it is useful to record the history of happenings in the Netherlands [de Historie der Nederlantsche gheschiedenissen]. It is replied that it is most profitable. The Heer van St.Aldegonde [Marnix] has been charged with this. And all the ministers are charged to record diligently what has happened in their part of the country since the first freedom [1566] and to submit the same insofar as they have certain knowledge to their classical assembly with information about when each event took place. And they shall be carefully read in the aforesaid assemblies to see whether they are accurate. Lest all this is postponed out of negligence, the praeses [president] shall admonish the ministers at each assembly to have their memorial ready by 1 June 1579 and the same shall be forwarded to the church of Antwerp for delivery to the Heer van St.Aldegonde. [171]

27. Whether the children of all and sundry, including those of fornicators, excommunicants, papists and such like should be baptised without distinction. Answer: since baptism pertains to children who stand in the covenant of God and it is certain that these children are not outside the covenant, they shall not be turned away. Nevertheless they shall be baptised in a proper manner: they shall be represented by someone who can reply with understanding to the questions in the ceremony of baptism and who accepts the doctrine. [173]

35. Whether one may admit to the Lord’s Supper persons who acknowledge the Bible alone as the Word of God but who refuse to answer the customary questions put to those who wish to go to the Supper and will not consent to these. Answer: the churches shall maintain their usual practice of requiring the Confession of faith. Everyone is bound to give an account of his faith after the teaching of Peter [1 Peter 4 v. 5]. For it is moreover unseemly to change the common practice of the congregation for the sake of some special persons. [174-5]

47. Whether the children who have been baptised in the Reformed congregation shall be subject to the ecclesiastical discipline on reaching the age of discretion, and if they should be excommunicated when, after admonition, they remain stubborn, even though they have not yet professed their faith and gone to the Lord’s Supper. Answer: since baptism is a general testimony to God’s covenant which belongs to the children of Christians, unless they repudiate it by public apostasy, the public and general exhortations, like those directed at the people of Israel by the prophets, in public and free assemblies are sufficient. But since the Confession of faith and the Communion of the Lord’s Supper is a special testimony to the church of God, by which those who have sinned against God’s covenant have been again taken up [as the renegade Israelites of old were brought again to the true Church of Israel by the communion of the passover, not by a new circumcision] excommunication should only be used against those in whom the covenant of God has been sealed anew by the Lord’s Supper. [177]

55. Whether it is seemly for the ministers in their sermons to cite from the ancient fathers [Church Fathers] and to refer listeners to the works of recent writers like Luther, Calvin and such like. Answer: the articles of the Christian doctrine should only be confirmed in sermons with the testimony of the holy Scriptures. But the testimonies of the fathers may be used in moderation, chiefly in order to convict papists of their stubbornness. But the names of the recent authors should be omitted entirely from sermons. [179]

Sources : Translated from the edition of Acta published by W.van ‘t Spijker, `Acta synode van Dordrecht (1578)’, in: De nationale synode van Dordrecht 1578 ed. D.Nauta et al. (Amsterdam, 1978) 142-84. Additional material is included by F.L.Rutgers, Acta van de Nederlandsche synoden der 16e eeuw (Utrecht, 1889) 234-338, chiefly letters of credence. C. Hooijer, Oude kerkordeningen der Nederlandsche hervormde gemeenten (1563-1638) (Zaltbommel, 1865) 145-70 prints an inferior text.