The Synod of Dordt (8) Baptism

This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in Standard Bearer, March 15, 2019 (95.12.284).

During its sessions the Synod treated four distinct matters relating to the administration of the sacrament of baptism.

Baptism in the Dutch East Indies
Synod met during the Dutch Golden Age. The Dutch had established a merchant colony in the East Indies. Dutch families who moved there had adopted or enslaved some of the native children. At session 18 (December 1, 1618), the delegates from North Holland (the province from which ships were ready to sail) asked whether these children could be baptized if the ones bringing them for baptism promised to raise them according to the Christian faith.

On December 3 (session 19), Synod answered that baptism should be administered only to those children who have been instructed in the faith and have made profession of faith. Often the Dutch had not instructed these children: many of these children did not understand the Dutch language, and some Dutchmen may have been concerned more with their own earthly interests than with teaching the gospel to such children.

Baptism Form
An overture to Synod requested that it require consistency in the churches regarding how baptism is administered. The Dutch already had the Form for Infant Baptism that we use. Synod required the churches to use this Form (session 162, May 16, 1619). At the same session it also decided to draw up the Form to be used for adult baptism. This Form was adopted on May 25 (session 175). Synod expressed this same requirement that all Reformed churches use the same Form when it adopted its Church Order (Art. 58).

Baptism by non-Reformed ministers
What if one had been baptized by a Romish priest or an Anabaptist, and then came to the Reformed faith? Should such be baptized again?

At session 162 (May 16, 1619), Synod said that such baptisms must not be repeated if the baptism had the form and essence of Christian baptism. (Although the Acts does not spell this out, the point is that one was baptized with water, in the name of the Triune God.)

Baptism outside the public worship service
Synod also faced the question whether sick people may be baptized outside the public worship service, if they cannot come to the worship service. At session 163 (May 17), Synod answered in three points: 1) only in instances of “great need” could such baptisms be administered; 2) such administrations must be with the knowledge of and in presence of the consistory; and 3) only with advice of classis could such baptism be administered to a condemned criminal.

The Synod of Dordt (7) Training Students for the Ministry

This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in Standard Bearer, February 15, 2019 (95.10.233).

The Synod of Dordt’s 180 sessions can be divided into four phases. During the first phase, from November 13 to December 5, 1618, Synod treated four matters: 1) Bible translation (sessions 6-13); 2) Heidelberg Catechism preaching (sessions 14-17, 20); 3) baptism of slaves and adopted children in the Dutch East Indies (sessions 18-19); and 4) training students for the ministry (sessions 18-20). The May 1, 2019 issue of the Standard Bearer (a special issue commemorating the Synod) will include articles that examine the first two of these matters in more depth.

The Dutch Reformed churches have historically understood the need for a trained ministry. They permit gifted men to enter the ministry without formal training (see Article 8 of the Church Order of Dordt). However, this is the exception; the rule is that men be trained, and that the churches do the training (Articles 8, 19).

An Overture from the Synod of Zeeland
The provincial Synod of Zeeland overtured the Synod of Dordt to adopt a uniform policy for the Dutch churches regarding how these students should be trained. At the eighteenth session (Friday, December 1, 1618), the delegates from Zeeland informed the Synod of their proposal. (Footnote 1)

First, they desired that wealthy parents finance the education of their sons who studied for the ministry, but that the national government finance the education of other promising men.

Second, the men who would be trained must be children of godly believers. The men must give evidence of godliness, modesty, and ability. They would be educated in a Dutch university for five or six years (which education included their theological training), then study for a time at a foreign university.

Regarding the duration of the training for the ministry, the delegates from Zeeland were consciously trying to avoid two extremes: on the one hand, having zealous men enter pastoral ministry with relatively little training; and on the other, having the churches support students so long that the churches benefit from their service for a relatively short time, or having the students become lifelong students.

To study awhile at a foreign university and visit foreign churches “would not be unprofitable,” said the overture. The profit would be that of broadening the student’s horizon; he ought remain there until he has learned what he can and observed how the foreign churches operate.

Third, the students must gain experience and become known to the churches by reading Scripture during the worship service and by exhorting. The students were to be judged both as to the content of their sermons and as to their delivery. They would also accompany pastors in visiting the sick and comforting the oppressed, thus learning how to do the pastoral work of the ministry. In addition, the students would attend classis, consistory, and diaconal meetings in order to understand the work of church government and care for the poor.

When examining prospective ministers, the practice to that point had been to ask only regarding their doctrinal convictions. The fourth point of the overture from Zeeland was that Synod mandate that the examinations include questions regarding practical matters, such as their own godliness and their ability to teach. For that matter, their university training must include instruction in practical theology.

Synod’s Treatment of this Overture
The various delegations spent Saturday afternoon preparing their individual judgments regarding this proposal. When these judgments were read Monday morning (session 19), many referred positively to the advice of the delegates from Zeeland. The delegates from Great Britain particularly emphasized the need for students to accompany pastors to observe them doing their labors. (Footnote 2)

Not every delegate favored every aspect of these decisions. Gomarus opposed the idea of students delivering a sermon. Others opposed the idea of students observing consistory, diaconal, and classical meetings. However, as a whole Synod saw the need to promote the concept of preparing students for the ministry by giving them hands-on experience.

On Tuesday, December 4, at its twentieth session, Synod decided not to make a rule for all the churches, but to encourage the various classes (plural of classis) to consider how best to prepare students for the ministry. One matter the Synod did not leave to the discretion of the classes: it insisted, contrary to the proposal from Zeeland, that students may not baptize; only ordained ministers were to administer the sacraments.

We appreciate and implement the essential aspects of this overture from Zeeland. We too insist on a trained ministry. Let us continue to pray for our seminary as it gives that instruction, and pray that God will continually provide students who are knowledgeable and faithful in doctrine as well as in life.

We do distinguish between those already in the office of minister and those training for the office. The seminary faculty licenses our students to speak a word of edification in the churches, and the consistories do evaluate them for the benefit of the faculty. However, these students are not yet ministers. Realizing that they are still learning, we can bear patiently with them if we recognize weaknesses.

And, how valuable we have found our internship program for seminary students to be. During it, the students gain valuable insights and experience. Let us continue to pray that by this program our students will be well prepared for the work to which God will call them.

Footnote 1: I glean this information from four sources: 1) J. H. Donner and S. A. Van Den Hoorn, eds, Acta of Handelingen der Nationale Synod te Dordrecht (Kampen: J. H. Bos), 44-46 [This is the Dutch translation of the Acts of the Synod]; 2) Theodore G. Van Raalte, “Summary,” in Donald Sinnema, Christian Moser and Herman J. Selderhuis, eds., Acta et Documenta Synodi Nationalis Dordrechtanae (1618-1619), vol. II/2: Early Sessions of the Synod of Dordt (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2018), 168-169; 3) Gerard Brandt, The History of the Reformation and Other Ecclesiastical Transactions In and About the Low-Countries (London: T. Wood, 1722), 3:34-37; and 4) John Hales, Golden Remains of the Ever Memorable, Mr. John Hales (London: Theo. Newcomb, 1673), 17-18, 21-22.

Footnote 2: Anthony Milton, ed., The British Delegation and the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619), Suffolk: The Boydell Press, 2005),144-145.

The Synod of Dordt (6) The Expulsion of the Remonstrants

This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in The Standard Bearer, January 15, 2019 (95.8.182).

The Synod was growing frustrated with the Remonstrants. The Acts helps us understand why (see the category “400 Years Ago” in this blogsite): the Remonstrants would not directly answer questions put to them; they tried to divert the discussion to other matters; and they repeatedly referred to the Synod as a conference, viewing themselves as equals with the delegates. They would not submit to the Synod or cooperate with its investigation into their views.

At the momentous 57th session, on January 14, 1619, the matter came to a head: President Johannes Bogerman expelled the Remonstrants from the Synod.

Bogerman’s Speech
His expulsion speech is not recorded in the official Acts, but several eyewitness accounts exist. He told them (I quote from Gerard Brandt, The History of the Reformation and other Ecclesiastical Transactions in and about the Low-Countries [London: T. Wood, 1722], 3:151-152):

“The Synod has treated you with all gentleness, mildness, friendliness, patience, forbearance, and long-suffering, plainly, sincerely, honestly, and kindly; but all the returns made by you have been nothing but base artifices, cheats, and lies. . . . All your actions have ever been full of tricks, deceits, and equivocations. . . . [S]ince your obstinacy has been very great and complicated, and has discovered itself even in opposition to the Resolutions of the Synod, and of the supreme Powers, care will be taken to inform all Christendom of it, and you shall find that the Church wants [lacks] no spiritual weapons for punishing you. . . . I therefore dismiss you in the name of the Lords Commissioners, and of this Synod: Be gone.”

Evaluating This Dismissal
From that day to the present, many have rued the dismissal of the Remonstrants and the way in which President Bogerman spoke. I speak in his defense.

First, while broader assemblies are to investigate matters carefully, they may conduct their investigation based entirely on one’s writings. That a synod hear the person verbally is not absolutely necessary. Our own classes and synods judge on the basis of written appeals, protests, and overtures. Even when an assembly permits the one bringing an issue to address it, that person may not bring any new material or arguments; the assemblies judge on the basis of the written documents. Dordt was not out of line to judge the Remonstrants on the basis of their writings.

Second, the expulsion of the Remonstrants is regrettable not because of the words Bogerman spoke, but because their own conduct made it necessary. They had been obstructing the progress of the Synod.

Third, President Bogerman was not acting according to his own whim. On December 29 the Synod had come to a consensus that the Remonstrants must be dismissed and judged from their writings, if they did not begin soon to cooperate. This consensus grew at the sessions on January 4 and 10, and a final decision to that effect was made on January 11.

Fourth, the States General and some of the foreign delegations had previously recommended that the Remonstrants be dismissed if they did not change their tactics. Bogerman was not speaking his own personal wish; he was indeed speaking “in the name of the Lords Commissioners, and of this Synod.”

With the Remonstrants gone, the Synod could make progress in judging the issue at hand.

The Synod of Dordt (5) The Meetings of the Synod

This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in The Standard Bearer December 15, 2018 (95.6.132).

Between November 13, 1618 and May 29, 1619, the Synod of Dordt met in 180 sessions. The interested reader can find a weekly summary of the Synod’s work at www.dordt400.org. In this article I will give only a broad overview of the sessions. (My main sources for this material are Herman J. Selderhuis, “Introduction to the Synod of Dordt (1618-1619)” in Donald Sinnema, Christian Moser and Herman J. Selderhuis, eds., Acta et Documenta Synodi Nationalis Dordrechtanae (1618-1619), vol. I: Acta of the Synod of Dordt (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), XXV-XXX, and Hendrik Kaajan, De Pro-Acta Der Dordtsche Synode in 1618 (Rotterdam: T. DeVries, 1914), 42-56.

180 sessions
The Synod’s sessions included four phases: before the Arminians appeared (sessions 1-21, Nov. 13 to Dec. 5); the examination of the Arminians (sessions 22-57, Dec. 6 to Jan. 14); the deliberations regarding the Arminians and the drafting of the Canons of Dordt (sessions 58-154, Jan. 14-May 9); and after the foreign delegates left (sessions 155-180, May 13-29).

Synod almost always met from Monday through Friday, and it met many Saturday mornings. Its morning sessions usually began at 9:00, with afternoon sessions beginning at 4:00 or 6:00. Synod did not meet during the days when the committee to draft the Canons was working, or other times when smaller groups of men were working to bring advice. It also recessed from December 22-26 for the Christmas holiday.

The official language (both spoken and written) of the synod was Latin. Though the delegates all had different native tongues, they all understood Latin; at the time, it was the language of the academics and scholars.

Formulating decisions
Our synods generally formulate decisions by assigning a committee of pre-advice to draw up recommendations, which are then presented to the entire synod for discussion and voting. The Synod of Dordt used a different method. Each of the nineteen delegations (all the delegates from a provincial synod, or from a foreign country) met individually to discuss the matters the Synod was facing, and to present written advice. The judgment of each delegation was read aloud on the floor of the Synod, discussion followed, and the Synod’s officers would then formulate the final version of the decision. The final version was adopted either by vote or by common consent; when it was adopted by vote, each delegation (not each delegate) received one vote.

Perhaps the Synod used this method because the States General (the national government) used it. Regardless, many of the delegates found this process cumbersome. At one point the Synod faced whether to change the method, but decided to keep it, after which the president exhorted members not to complain.

Although we might have had the same impatience regarding the speed with which the Synod worked, the Reformed churches reap the benefit centuries later. Careful deliberation, careful expression of the truth, careful rebutting of error, takes time. Had the Synod rushed, it is possible it would not have left us with as valuable a document as it did.

The Synod of Dordt (4) The Synod’s Location

     This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in The Standard Bearer December 1, 2018 (95.5.109). In the SB article, three sources are cited in full. In this blog, the sources are abbreviated.

     The Synod of Dordt met in the city of Dordrecht, in a building called the Kloveniersdoelen.

The City.
     Two other cities were considered as possible locations for the synod: The Hague (the national capital) and Utrecht. Utrecht was ruled out because it was “a stronghold of Remonstrants.” (van Lieburg) On November 20, 1617, the national government decided that the synod should meet in Dordrecht (Selderhuis). This city had been the site of a significant provincial synod in 1574, and of the first national synod in 1578. More importantly, the city was considered safe. It was an island city with walled gates, so entry could be monitored. Some Arminians lived there, but most ministers and citizens opposed Arminianism. Civil unrest in Dordrecht was unlikely.
     Two consequences of choosing Dordrecht were that the city had a brief economic boom, and that many citizens were asked to open their homes to house delegates.

The Building.
     The city decided to house the synod in the Kloveniersdoelen, located on the Doelstraat. The local militia used this building for meetings, practice, and ammunition storage. The building was named after the kind of gun that the militia used, and was the largest civil building in the city. (nl.wikipedia.org) The building was destroyed in 1857 to make way for a new prison. Currently the site is the location of the hall of justice. A plaque is attached to the outside wall of the modern building identifying it as the site at which the synod met.
     The synod met in the second story of the building. The paintings indicate that this second story had large windows, and was tall enough that the upper clerestory windows could let light in. Within the building were at least two other smaller rooms, one of which was used for committee meetings, and another the place where the Remonstrants could go when they were sent out from the sessions of synod. The tower contained a room in which the delegates could relax when not in session. Some even held evening dinner parties in this room.
     The synod met during the late fall, winter, and early spring. To ward off chill, a fire was always burning on the hearth, and each delegate had his own footwarmer.

The Synod of Dordt (3) The States General

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.

The Synod of Dordt (2) Delegates

This blog submission is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper. It is a republication of the article that appeared in The Standard Bearer  September 1, 2018 (94.20.467).

     Delegates to the Synod of Dordt numbered 104 men. They fall into four groups: 1) minister and elder delegates from the provincial synods, 2) theological professors, 3) international delegates, and 4) delegates from the national government.
     Of the ten Dutch provincial synods that sent delegates, nine were synods of geographical regions–Gelderland-Zutphen, South Holland, North Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Overijssel, Groningen, and Drenthe. The tenth, the Walloon synod, was made up of French- speaking refugees from southern Belgium who had organized churches in the Netherlands. These ten synods delegated a total of 37 ministers and 19 elders to the Synod of Dordt. Three minister delegates whose names might be familiar to some readers are Gisbertus Voetius (South Holland), Jacobus Trigland (North Holland), and Godefridus Udemans (Zeeland). Three elder delegates died during the time the synod was meeting.
     The national government delegated five professors of theology to attend the synod–one each from the universities of Leiden, Franeker, Groningen, Harderwijk, and Middelburg. The professor from Groningen was none other than Franciscus Gomarus, who had earlier been Arminius’s colleague and opponent at Leiden.
     Most of the 25 international delegates were professors of theology or ministers in their homelands. They came from Great Britain; from the German regions of the Palatinate, Hesse, and Nassau-Wettaravia (one delegate from the latter region died during the time synod met); from the Swiss Cantons and Geneva; and from Bremen and East Frisia (regions immediately east of the Netherlands, in the northwestern part of Germany). France chose delegates, but the French king later refused to let them go. Delegates from Brandenburg (another German region) were prevented from coming by other circumstances.
     Eighteen delegates represented the national government. These were called the States General. In my next article I will explain why they were at the synod, and what role they played.
     Finally, four non-delegated men served the Synod in other capacities. One was secretary to the government’s delegation; another was liason between the city of Dordrecht and the government delegation; a third was the synodical treasurer; and a fourth was theological advisor to the Synod’s president.

Key Dates

The Synod of Dordt met from November 1618 to May 1619.  Below is an article discussing key dates written by Prof. D. Kuiper and published in the August 2018 Standard Bearer.

1604: Two professors at Leiden, Jacobus Arminius and Franciscus Gomarus, publicly debate the doctrine of predestination.

1607: Church delegates gather for a national synod to settle the issue. The national government refuses to call a national synod, in part because it is preoccupied with war against Spain. At this time, the national government sympathizes with the Arminians.

1610: Some Arminian sympathizers write five position statements. The statements are called the Remonstrance, and the Arminians became known as the “Remonstrants,” because the word “remonstrate” can mean to present a written demonstration of error or protest. The five heads of the Canons correspond to the Remonstrance.

1611: A conference between Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants (representing the truly Reformed position) fails to help settle the issue.

1617, Nov: The national government, now opposed to the Arminians, approves calling a national synod.

1618, Oct. 17: The national government designated this day one of fasting and prayer for God’s blessing on the synod.

1618, Nov. 13: Synod begins. It treats matters of Bible translation, Heidelberg Catechism preaching, baptism of slave children in the Dutch East Indies, and the training of ministers.

1618, Dec. 6: Synod begins treating the Arminian controversy.

1619, Jan. 14: President Bogerman dismisses the Arminians with a memorable speech.

1619, Mar. 25-Apr. 16: Synod recesses while a committee drafts the Canons of Dordt. The word “Canons” refers to a rule or standard; the Synod of Dordt adopted the Canons of Dordt as the standard of orthodoxy regarding the five contested points of doctrine.

1619, May 6: The date on which the Canons were officially adopted in their final form.

1619, May 9: The foreign delegates are dismissed. Synod adopts the Church Order, an official translation of the Belgic Confession, the liturgical forms, and the Formula of Subscription. It also gives its pronouncements regarding Sabbath observance.

1619, May 29: Synod adjourns.