The Sessions of the Synod of Dordt, Week Twenty-Seven: Sessions 155-166

Session 155: Monday, May 13 AM
The foreign delegates had left, but the Dutch delegates remained in session to treat matters that pertained to the Dutch churches in particular. On this date, unrelated to the work of the Synod but relevant to the political context of its work, the national government beheaded Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.

The States General deputies informed Synod that it should review the Church Order adopted by the national synod of ’s Gravenhage in 1586. Synod read this Church Order.

Synod also decided to compare the Latin, French, and Dutch translations of the Belgic Confession. Various men had translated this confessions at different times, with the result that one translation sometimes used different words than another to express the meaning of the original. Anyone involved in translating from one language to another can understand how this would happen. Seeing the benefit of an authoritative Latin, French, and Dutch edition of the confession, Synod appointed four men to prepare such an edition.

Session 156: Monday, May 13 PM
Synod approved the substance of the articles of the 1586 Church Order. That Church Order, however, did not address every matter found in the Church Order that the Synod would finally adopt. Beginning with session 158, Synod would approve of additions to the Church Order, resulting finally in the Church Order of Dordt.

Synod began to discuss the “right of patrons.” Remember that the national government supported the clergy and had its say in the government of the church. In keeping with this, it had been the practice to permit certain nobles or other influential people to nominate clergymen to fill church vacancies. If we had this practice today, consistories of vacant churches would permit certain members of the church, probably some of the wealthier or more influential, to nominate a name for the next minister.

Synod discussed whether this practice should be abolished. The States General deputies informed Synod that abolishing the practice was not an option, but that the Synod could devise a way to correct any potential abuses.

Session 157: Tuesday, May 14 AM
Synod recommended to the States General that the national government approve the following regulations regarding the right of patrons:
• Before proposing a minister’s name, one must prove he has the right of patronage.
• The patron must make his nomination within three months after a vacancy begins.
• The patron’s right is limited to the proposing of a minister’s name. The patron does not have the right to dismiss a minister form office.
• The patron must support the minister financially, but was not permitted to treat the minister as if he was the patron’s employee.
• The patron may propose only men who are sound in doctrine and will serve the congregation well.
• If the church accepts the patron’s proposal, the nominee must still be examined by the classis.
• The church has the right to reject the proposed name. If the church and patron disagree regarding a nomination, the classis or synod must settle the matter or the name must be dropped.

Session 158: Tuesday, May 14 PM
Synod discussed six overtures, all relating to church political matters. One regarded appointing church visitors, a second regarded synodical deputies (which we also know as delegates ad examina), and a third regarded how the various provincial synods could correspond with each other to keep each other informed of their decisions. Synod also discussed overtures regarding admitting the insane to the ministry, regarding whether more than one minister per church may have a vote at classis, and regarding drawing up the Formula of Subscription.

Session 159: Wednesday, May 15 AM
Synod adopted its response to the six overtures that it had discussed at the previous session. Its answer to the first five overtures became incorporated in articles 44, 49, 48, 8, and 42 of the Church Order of Dordt, respectively. However, regarding the matter of how many ministers of any given church may vote at a classis meeting, Synod originally permitted any minister the right to vote, whereas our Church Order now permits any minister the right of advisory vote.

Synod decided to prepare the Formula of Subscription, by signing which ministers could give testimony of their doctrinal soundness. Six more overtures regarding church political matters were then read so that the delegates could consider them.

Session 160: Wednesday, May 15 PM
Synod discussed a proposed form for calling ministers. Desiring that some points be added to the proposed form, it “recommitted” the matter.

Session 161: Thursday, May 16 AM
Synod adopted a revision of the form for calling ministers. What Synod adopted is found in articles 4 and 5 of Dordt’s Church Order.

Synod also adopted a resolution regarding the relationship of the civil authorities to the church. Synod stated that civil authorities are duty bound to promote the worship service and to protect church officers. It then required church officers to impress on the congregations the calling to love, honor, and obey the magistrates.

Session 162: Thursday, May 16 PM
In response to the overtures that were read at session 159, Synod made decisions regarding the observance of ecclesiastical holidays (Church Order article 67), which songs could be sung in the worship services (article 69), and the use of the baptism forms and procedure to follow in adult baptism (articles 58-59). Other decisions that are not specifically reflected in the Church Order were:
• A person who had been baptized by a Romish priest or Anabaptist need not be rebaptized.
• Marriages of those who have not yet been baptized may not be solemnized in the churches.
• Synod would ask the States General to decide how to correspond with the foreign churches, especially the French, regarding the decisions of Synod.
• Synod would also request the States General to prepare a marriage ordinance that could be uniformly observed in the nation.
• Synod would exhort the churches to administer discipline in accordance with the articles of the Church Order. Synod’s point here was not to remind churches of the necessity of discipline, but of the proper manner of discipline.
Seven more overtures were read that would be treated in upcoming sessions. Synod also appointed a committee to draw up the Formula of Subscription, and questions to be asked of adults at adult baptism (see session 175).

Session 163: Friday, May 17 AM
Synod made several more significant decisions in responses to the overtures it had read at the previous session. First, it decided that baptism may be administered to the sick outside of the worship service only in instances of great need, with the consistory’s approval, and in the consistory’s presence.

Second, regarding admitting to the ministry those who are newcomers, or had been priests, monks, or members of a sect, Synod said this may happen only with great caution and after a time of testing; this was incorporated into Article 9 of the Church Order.

Third, it asked the States General to adopt some resolutions pertaining to the founding of universities and prestigious schools. These include that the curators be learned Reformed men who serve terms; that the appointment of professors of theology be approved by the provincial synods; that only those be appointed as professors whose godliness and piety is assured, who have never been lawfully suspected of unsoundness of doctrine, and who are proficient in Hebrew, Greek, theology, and other faculties. Also it asked the States General to prepare some guidelines for the lower schools, so that the fundamentals of grammar, logic, and rhetoric be uniformly taught.

Synod declared it unfitting that marriages of excommunicated persons or those unknown to Reformed churches be publicly solemnized and blessed in the churches.

Synod asked the States General to address the increasing abuse and desecration of the Sabbath.

Session 164: Friday, May 17 PM
Synod adopted the six principles regarding Sabbath keeping. These emphasized that the fourth commandment has both a ceremonial element that is no longer in force (resting the seventh day), and a moral element that remains (setting aside a day for worship and rest from earthly labor).

Synod adopted the Formula of Subscription as the Protestant Reformed Churches and some other Reformed denominations use it yet today. A similar document was drawn up for school teachers to sign.

Session 165: Saturday, May 18 AM
Synod read the Dutch translation of the first head of the Canons.

Session 166: Saturday, May 18 PM
Synod continued reading the Dutch translation of the first head of the Canons.