40. Ecclesiastical Ordinances drafted by order of the States of Holland (1583)

William by the Grace of God etc.,

Forasmuch as it is proper for the Christian magistrate everywhere to ensure that the doctrines of the holy gospel of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, are presented to the people in all purity and that good order and government are maintained in the Christian Church, which shall not be unless certain regulations and ordinances are framed so that everyone may know how he should conduct himself in his office, calling and life wherefore, in order to supply this want and to ensure that the churches of Holland are governed in good concord and harmony in a uniform way and that no abuses or schisms creep in, but that the community may commit itself to accept the pure doctrine of the holy gospel, which no one wishes to impose by force, and after having first and foremost consulted — and having meanwhile paid special regard to the present circumstances and to whatever else shall be found pertinent, and without nevertheless rejecting [the example] of any foreign churches, although these may adhere to or may have ordained and enacted some other customs in indifferent matters, we hereby ordain and enact that throughout the lands and counties of Holland the following heads and articles concerning the ministry of God’s Word and other ecclesiastical matters, or such as may appertain thereunto, shall be observed and followed.

1. The Election and Appointment of Ministers in the Towns

When a minister of the Word is required in the towns, the four burgomasters, or (where there are not four burgomasters) the most senior schepenen then in office shall join with the burgomasters to make up that number together with the minister or ministers of the same town or the most senior elder in service who together should make up four in number. After holding prayers and carrying out an examination among themselves, these shall proceed to choose such a person or persons as they consider necessary, useful and qualified for the said ministry and the same shall present their choice to the college of burgomasters and schepenen of the aforesaid town and, if the same choice is acceptable to the magistracy, the chosen person shall be examined in the following manner and insofar as he is found to be competent and sufficiently endued by God, he shall be presented to the congregation of the church and, if within fourteen days, no one gives any reason why they should not accept him, he shall be admitted to the aforesaid ministry, either with the laying on of hands or in accordance with the practice of each church and instituted in the ministry of the aforesaid charge. But insofar as the burgomasters and schepenen object to the aforesaid election, the aforesaid deputies shall proceed to elect a new candidate as before.

2. [The Election and Appointment of Ministers] in the Countryside

And whenever a minister of the Word is required in the villages, the chief officer with the schout and two or three of the most senior magistrates in the village, as well as the elders, if there be any, and four of the neighbouring ministers from the classis shall proceed to the election of a competent minister of the church. They shall examine the same properly and then present him to the congregation in the church so that the minister-elect may be admitted to his charge in the manner described above and instituted in the ministry. It shall be understood that the aforesaid persons who meet for such an election may not recover the expenses of their meeting from the village. Every year each classis shall appoint from their number four ministers, who shall appear, when required, at the aforesaid election, though the aforesaid election shall not be delayed by the absence of the said deputies, after these have been officially informed to that end.

4. Oath to be taken by Ministers of the Church concerning
their Obligation as Teachers

All ministers of the church shall on admission to their charge be bound to take an oath at the hands of the magistrates in the presence of the people: first that he shall teach and preach God’s Word and Gospel sincerely and faithfully for the edification of the church to which he has bound himself, that he shall not bring before the people any new doctrine, which has not previously been accepted by the church, and that he shall not misuse his learning for his own inclinations or thereby to please someone, but that he shall apply the same with an upright conscience for the glory of God and the most edification of the church.

5. Concerning the Obedience due to the Ecclesiastical Authorities

Secondly, he shall observe such ecclesiastical ordinances as the eminent authority and the provincial states may make and to acquit himself faithfully in this and all other matters as befits and behoves a good and faithful servant of the church.

6. [His Duty] towards the Congregation

Thirdly, he shall seek in everything the honour and greatest good of the province and in particular he shall seek to advance this in his place of residence and he shall do everything in his power to keep a good peace and unity in the church and that he shall not leave his charge, either in bad time or in good, whether it be on account of peace, war, pestilence or whatever.

7. His Duty of Obedience to the Magistrate

And finally he shall submit himself to all civil laws and ordinances of the province and to set everyone in this matter a good example; to obey the magistrates in all things so far as his ministry permits, that is without thereby diminishing his liberty to proclaim boldly the Word of God.

10. Elders and Deacons: The Nomination and Appointment of the Same

The elders and deacons shall be chosen each year from among the best qualified of those who profess the [Reformed] Religion in such numbers as the condition of each church shall require; half of these shall stand down each year, it being understood that anyone who has served for two years in succession shall not be chosen for the next two years, unless he has declared his willingness, or the small size of the congregation requires otherwise. In the towns the aforesaid election of the ministers of the Word and those nominated shall be approved by the college of burgomasters and schepenen and then presented to the congregation and that [shall be done] in the way set out above for the aforesaid ministers. In the villages [the aforesaid election shall be made] by the schout, three or four of the most senior village magistrates with the ministers and elders, if any have been appointed by this time, and if not, on the first occasion by the deputies from the classis in such number as been set out above in the case of the election of the aforesaid ministers, and then also presented to the congregation.

19. Administration of the Lord’s Supper

Anyone who wishes to attend the Lord’s Supper for the first time shall approach one of the ministers in good time to confer with him about the faith and then, on the day before the Lord’s Supper is held, he shall come to the church to make with the others a general confession of faith after the minister. After he has done this he shall be admitted to the Lord’s Table, unless he has been told at the aforesaid meeting or subsequently by the minister that he should continue to stay away on account of some public scandal or other hindrance.

43. The Consistory

The aforesaid consistory shall take place each week with the minister or ministers of the Word and the elders of each church, though where the number of elders is small, the deacons may attend; the magistrates or regents of the towns and villages respectively shall also be permitted to send one of their number to keep an eye on everything done there, though he shall not have a vote, so that all the business of the church may be conducted in good order and in the most edifying way and all scandals which may arise or have arisen in the congregation may be removed or prevented.

45. Provincial Synod

Every year a provincial synod of all the churches of Holland shall take place in the Hague on the second Sunday after Whitsun. There the professors of divinity from the University of Leiden and two ministers and two elders who have been deputed by each classis shall meet and vote. They shall meet at the aforesaid time and place without any special summons being issued and there they shall discuss everything likely to advance the good peace of the churches, to build up the congregations and to remove anything which shall be found a hindrance to the evangelical doctrine. And this shall take place on behalf of the superior magistrate and provincial states and in the presence of their deputies from the College van Raede [Gecommitteerde Raden, or standing committee of the States] or any others whom they shall depute to give assistance there and to ensure that all the affairs are properly conducted.

48. Purity of Doctrine

And in order that the ecclesiastical discipline (which notwithstanding exempts no one from the punishments laid down by the criminal law) may be properly applied in the province of Holland, it is enacted that whenever any person commits an offence against the purity of the doctrine and pious conduct, and that offence is private and no public offence has been given, the rule prescribed by Christ (Matthew 18) [vv.15-18] shall be observed; if after the offender has been admonished by one person in private or before two or three witnesses, he repents, he shall not be brought before the consistory; but if he has been admonished by two or three people and he pays no heed, or otherwise has committed a public sin and offence, he shall be reported to the consistory.

And insofar as he obstinately rejects the admonition of the consistory and refuses to make a declaration of repentance before the consistory, he shall be suspended from the Lord’s Supper, and if, after suspension and several [further] admonitions, he refuses to make a declaration of repentance, the consistory shall report the same to the civil authorities, ie. the burgomasters and schepenen in the towns or the chief officer and local judges in the country districts, and having obtained their consent to proceed to the final sanction, to wit public excommunication of the sinner, who shall be named. But if the magistrates shall object to the aforesaid public excommunication, and the members of the consistory still consider that the same [ie. excommunication] should be followed for the sake of the church, the same shall be brought before the next provincial synod and there resolved and the sentence shall be pronounced by the synod, which shall be attended by as many deputies as the superior magistrate and the provincial states think appropriate for the matter in hand.

Source : C. Hooijer, Oude kerkordeningen der Nederlandsche hervormde gemeenten (1563-1638) (Zaltbommel, 1865) 233-246. See also G. Brandt, Historie der reformatie , I, 685-86.