This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in The Standard Bearer October 1, 2018 (95.1.13). In the SB article, three sources are cited in full; in the blog, I cite only the author.
Of the 104 men delegated to the Synod of Dordt (see “The Synod of Dordt (2) Delegates”) 18 represented the Dutch national government, known as the States General.
Why were they there?
The Reformed church in the Netherlands was supervised and supported by the national government. Without the government’s permission, no national synod could meet. Only three national synods had been held previously (at Dordt in 1578; Middelburg, 1581; and ’s Gravenhage, 1586). It would be thirty-two years before the government permitted the fourth national synod. In 1607 the States General had refused an initial request to call a national synod to settle the Arminian controversy. And it would never permit another: the fifth national synod would meet in 1816, after the Dutch Republic ended in 1795. Government approval did not come easily.
When the States General finally did authorize the convening of the synod, it also promised to finance the synod, budgeting 100,000 guilders. This was an enormous sum in a time when a laborer made 300 guilders a year and a pastor made 500 guilders a year. (Vanosnabrugge) Reading the minutes, and understanding how long the synod lasted, one is not surprised to read that “In practice this amount was exceeded by far.” (van Lieburg)
Having authorized the synod, and promised to pay for it, the States General desired some involvement in the synod’s work. So it sent eighteen lay deputies as its representatives.
What did they do?
In a letter dated November 16, 1618, the States General specifically mandated its deputies, among other things, to 1) examine the credentials of the international delegates; 2) ensure that the synod treated only the ecclesiastical matters that it was authorized to treat and did not interfere with any aspect of national or provincial government; 3) ensure that the Synod was conducted in an orderly way; 4) see to it that all decisions and reports of Synod were headed by this phrase, “The National Synod [held] under the authority of their high Mightinesses the States-General at Dort”; 5) write and maintain their own copy of the decisions of Synod; and 6) oversee the synod’s finances and pay its bills.
The deputies corresponded often with the national government regarding the progress of the synod. Occasionally they received instructions from the States General about what concerns they should address to the synod.
In giving advice to the synod, these deputies could speak only as a body, not as individuals. Before addressing the synod, they had to consult together and come to a formal agreement regarding their advice. For this reason they had their own president (actually, the presidency rotated among the deputies weekly), secretary, and minutes. (Roelevink)
This all seems cumbersome and intrusive to us. We can be thankful that our political entities do not insist on being present at and involved in making the decisions of our classes and synods. However, in God’s providence, the presence of the state deputies hurt the cause of the Remonstrants and helped the Reformed cause. Perhaps in another article I can develop this thought further.