37. Select Acts from the Synod of Middelburg, 30 May-21 June 1581

21. In these [church] assemblies only ecclesiastical matters shall be treated and these after the manner of the church. [85]

30. Classical meetings shall be made up of several neighbouring churches, each of which shall send one minister with an elder. The time and place shall be approved at the conclusion of each meeting (provided it is not delayed for more than three months). At these assemblies the ministers shall either preside in turn or else (the president) shall be chosen by the same assembly, though the same man may not be elected twice in succession. Then the president shall, among other matters, enquire from everyone whether consistories are held in their churches, whether ecclesiastical discipline is kept, whether the poor and the schools are cared for and, finally, whether there is anything on which they require the ruling and advice of the classis for the proper institution of their church. The minister appointed at the previous classis shall preach a short sermon from God’s Word and the others shall give their opinions and indicate whether there are any shortcomings. Finally, at the [classical] meeting immediately preceding the particular synod, those who shall attend the same synod shall be chosen. [85-86]

37. The ministers of the Word, elders and deacons and likewise the professors of theology (indeed it would be also fitting for the other professors) and schoolmasters should subscribe to the confession of faith of the churches of the Netherlands. [87]

43. No one should be admitted to the Lord’s Supper unless he has affirmed the confession of the Reformed religion, after the custom of the church which he is joining, as well as having an attestation to a godly life. Without this those who come from other churches shall not be admitted. [87]

45. The Lord’s Supper should be held once every two months, as far as possible. But where no church order exists, elders and deacons shall first be instituted. [88]

50. The churches shall press their magistrates to abolish all the festivals with the exception of Sunday, Christmas and Ascension. But where additional feast-days are observed at the behest of the magistracy, the ministers shall strive by their preaching to turn the unprofitable and harmful idleness into a holy and worthwhile exercise. [88]

58. Whereas the Christian discipline is spiritual and exempts no one from the civil courts and the punishment of the magistracy, so too is ecclesiastical discipline necessarily required in addition to civil punishment to reconcile the sinner with the Church and his neighbour and to remove the offence from the congregation of Christ. [89-90]

62. Anyone who obstinately rejects the admonition of the consistory or has committed some flagrant or grave sin should be suspended from the Lord’s Supper. And if, while under suspension, he shows no sign of repentance after several admonitions, you should proceed to the final remedy, namely excommunication in accordance with the custom used by the congregation. Nevertheless no one should be excommunicated unless the classis had been consulted beforehand. [90]

Synodal Decisions of 1581 arising from
Particular Questions of 1578

10. How should a minister proceed when he is sent to a place where a church has yet to be gathered and order established? Answer. For the time being he should choose some of the most pious who consider and acknowledge the Confession of faith as good and honourable and who undertake to submit themselves to the ecclesiastical discipline; with their help he should administer the Lord’s Supper. [99-100]

40. What is the most fitting procedure for excommunication? Answer. Though several procedures could have been prescribed, the churches should nevertheless be able to use the following with edification. ‘Dear brethren, we have told you on many occasions that N. has committed the sin of X. Though the same in itself is grievous and highly offensive to the Church of God, he has nevertheless aggravated and made matters worse by his obstinacy. This is so great that despite frequent admonitions and exhortations in private and in public before many witnesses to repent, he has nevertheless never shown any awareness of his sins or signs of repentance. Meanwhile we have already exhorted you to pray on his behalf to God and to admonish him officially and furthermore informed him that unless he repents, we shall be compelled to proceed to the last resort of excommunication and that none of you has told us that he has noticed any sign of repentance on his part. Therefore on account of the reason stated above, we who are gathered here in the name and power of Our Lord Jesus Christ declare N. to be outside the congregation of God and robbed of the hope of external salvation (for as long as he remains obstinate) and therefore excluded both from the communion of the sacraments and from all the blessings and benefits bestowed by God on his Church, and to be treated as a heathen and publican. Finally we deliver him (as Paul says) to Satan so that if possible the wisdom and power of both the flesh and Satan, to which he has been too obedient, may be subdued and extinguished and he may submit himself to the Holy Spirit and live accordingly so that at the last he may obtain eternal life. With this we admonish you to refrain from routine and needless conversation with him so that he may be brought by a sense of shame to repentance. [103-104]

Particular Questions

44. Whether it would be good to admit only members of the Church as schoolmasters and schoolmistresses? How should one proceed in the case of rectors and schoolmasters who refuse to amend their ways? Answer. Everyone must carry this out locally as best he can.

56. Whether it might not be good to ask the magistracy in each province to draw up an ordinance on matrimonial affairs and to appoint certain people to whom all the difficulties arising in matrimonial affairs, including divorce, may be referred for a ruling, since the ecclesiastical courts have now ceased and matrimonial matters are very unfamiliar to ordinary magistrates, especially in the small towns and villages? Also if more attention should be given to [the possibility] that separation from bed and board [i.e. separation of married couple] was permitted too readily? Answer. It is most essential to keep an eye on this matter.

83. Whether it is necessary to submit the names of those nominated for the office of elder or deacon to the magistrates so that they may either choose half of those or confirm those nominated? Answer. The nomination, like the election, is an ecclesiastical matter and those magistrates who profess the [Reformed] religion are included in the congregation to whom the nominated elders and deacons (following article 15 of the synod of Dordrecht)1 are presented. However if the magistrates press the matter and the church is in danger of division or fears some other difficulty, you should consider in a Christian way to what extent the magistrates may be indulged, after having consulted the consistory, classis and particular synod. [116].

Sources : The text of the acts translated here has been edited by W. van ‘t Spijker, ‘De acta van de synode van Middelburg (1581)’, in: De nationale synode te Middelburg in 1581. Calvinisme in opbouw in de noordelijke en zuidelijke Nederlanden (Middelburg, 1981) 71-122 and references are to this edition. A slightly different version is printed by F.L.Rutgers, Acta van de Nederlandsche synoden der 16e eeuw (Utrecht, 1889) 356-480.

1 Presumably article 12 of the Synod of 1578, Rutgers, Acta van de nederlandsche synoden, p. 238-39.