As was stated, to understand this struggle especially in its continuation we must have before us all the issues on which it concentrated.
First, there was the doctrinal issue. Here the question was whether grace is resistible.
Second, there was the issue of the authority, that is, the binding power of the Confessions, to wit, the Belgic Confessions and the Heidelberg Catechism.
Third, there was the issue that touched on the relation of church and state.
Regard must now be had to this third issue. Here the question was one of who rules the church, that is, rules the church as to its internal affairs. There was the view that the civil government rules the church as the vicegerent of Christ. Accordingly the government initiates and. assumes control of all church reform. The government determines the membership of the church. It controls her discipline so that no one can be excommunicated out of the church without its consent. The government controls the election of officebearers in the church by designating the persons from whose names the nomination is voted. The government calls together the synods of the church and presides upon their meetings. And the government dictates the creeds of the church.
This is the caesaro-papalism of Constantine the great. At the time of the Reformation these ideas had an ardent exponent in Thomas Liebler, better known by the name of Erastus. According to Liebler the en tire body of citizens of a Christian land, the whole of its people without exception, is the church, the kingdom of Christ on earth. The church is thus “volks-kerk,” people’s church. In this church or kingdom or spiritual commonwealth there is under Christ but one ruling power, and this power is the government. It punishes the offenders of both tables of the law. Hence there is no call for Christian discipline as, exercised by the church. The consistory therefore is unnecessary. Such was the contention of Liebler.
Liebler had many followers for his ideas also in The Netherlands. Included were several high-placed government officials such as the prime-minister Old-enbarnevelt.
According to these erastian conceptions the reformation of churches was worked in the parish of Saint Jacob in Utrecht. Here the erastian parish priest, Hubert Duifhuis, having become convinced of Rome’s errors, desired the reform of his parish. With the permission of the government the Roman hierarchy was officially and publicly repudiated and the entire community or parish, as including the entire body of residents, Catholics and Protestants alike, formerly brought under the yoke of the Gospel. As the government stood watch over the morals of the community, no consistory was chosen. So Duifhuis wanted it.
As could be expected, the reformed Confessions were of little account to Duifhuis. He preached the Gospel of the Reformation in terms and spirit as general as possible. To the communion table he invited all persons who believed themselves to be children of God. What they believed, whether they had broken with the errors of Rome and embraced the principles of truth of the reformation, as formulated in the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism was of no concern to him. He himself had no love for these creeds. They were too pointedly Calvinistic in the matter of election and reprobation. This was plain from his public statements. He said that in doctrine he agreed fairly well with the Reformed but that he did not share their conception of predestination.
However, outside of Utrecht in all the other parishes the reformation of the churches took place in much closer agreement with right principles of church polity, especially in this one respect that the churches were allowed to choose them consistories even without governmental interference. Nevertheless all were community, that is, people’s churches, “Volkskerken.” Churches they were whose membership included without exception all the residents of the parish, district or town. If the town had formerly been shepherded by Roman Catholic priests and bishops, it was now the flock of reformed protestant pastors. Under the protection of and with the support of the protestant local government the old shepherds—Roman priests and bishops—had been expelled and their places taken by reformed consistories. What it meant is that especially in the town and villages the entire population was now reformed, but, of course only nominally so. Fact is that only about 1/8 of the entire citizenry had really forsaken the old errors and embraced the principles of truth of the reformation. The vast majority had not reformed. Of this number the greater part was a combination of Romanists and Anabaptists. By their refusal to attend the meetings for public worship of the reformed churches they lived in open rebellion of the Reformation, and had soon therefore to be discounted as members of the Reformed Churches. It was the same in Germany and in all the other countries where the Reformation had taken root.
But there were also other churches, not people’s churches but churches “closed and secret.” So they were called at the time. On their own initiative and thus not as mandated by the government a number of believers known to one another as inclined to the Reformation came together and organized through their electing them officebearers. The election was free. Church discipline was exercised independent of government control. To belong to the church one had to join. And only such persons of the community were admitted into the fellowship of the church who indicated by their good confession and sanctified walk of life that they were true children of God. It was thus a congregation constituted only of believers and their seed.
Here was a church reform in strict accordance with the principles of Reformed Church Polity. For according to this polity Christ rules His church through the agency not of the civil magistrate but of the ruling and teaching ministry in the church that He instituted for that purpose. And as to church reform, it proceeds from the church. That is, it is a task to which the believers must be addressed by virtue of the office of believers. And neither is the church peoples’ church but the assembly of believers, God’s spiritual house open to the contrite but closed to the impenitent.
There were many such churches in the land, most of which were found in the cities. |
In 1568 the Reformed churches assembled in a national synod in Wezel and adopted a reformed Church Order. It was set in operation in the churches. But The Netherlands government was strongly inclined toward Erastianism. Like the lay rulers in general of that day, it was addicted to the view that a self-governing church is a state within the state and therefore a menace. But how erroneous this view. The church is a heavenly creation, while the state is an institution that is of this earth. The power of the church is spiritual, while the power of the state is of the sword. But of this The Netherlands government was willingly ignorant. Its persistent striving therefore was to reduce the church to a branch of the state and in that way break its power and gain control over its organism.
In 1575 it took action. The states of Zeeland instructed the stadholder, the Prince of Orange, to appoint 4 commissioners for the department of religion with authority to supervise the ministers of the Gospel and their work and provide in their support. In addition they requested the Prince to draft a Church Order and set it in working in the churches. It was a bold step, seeing that the churches already had adopted a Church Order, one thoroughly Calvinistic. Notwithstanding the Prince appointed the commissioners and the Church Order that they prepared actually proposed that the magistrate appoint the ministers, elders, and deacons who should function as a kind of committee of the government, seeing that there could not well be in one place two magistrates, one ecclesiastical and one worldly. It was now up to the Prince to impose the New Church Order on the churches. But fearing the Calvinists in the land, he took no action, and here the matter rested.
But in 1591 the government in the persons of the prime minister, Oldenbarnevelt, and his supporters again took action. In this year a Staatscommission, meeting in the Hague, prepared a Church Order.
In the cities the election of ministers of the Gospel shall be by a college of 8 members to be chosen by the Magistrate and the Consistory, each appointing 4. The elected minister shall be presented to the magistrate and the congregation for approbation and thereupon installed in office if no objections are raised.
By eliminating the phrase, “and in the articles of the Christian faith,” the second baptismal question was made to read, “Whether you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and which is taught here in this Christian Church, to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation.”
Not a word was said about the binding power of the Confessions. The ministers were to preach the Gospel and present no new doctrines.
These are some of the most characteristic rulings of this Staats-Church order. But it was not approved by the government in the Hague. It yielded too much to the Calvinists to suit these gentlemen. That was a relief for the churches.
Such was the state of affairs at the time of the passing of Arminius 1609. But the striving of the Erastian government to have the Calvinistic church order replaced by one of its own fabrication did not end here. It continued and became more and more radical at every new stage.
The Calvinistic Church Order was a hated thing. Why was it hated? What was the basic reason? It was this: it vested the churches with the key power. What was wanted is a Church Order vesting not the churches but the government with this power, i he church might handle this key (power), but handle it merely as a committee of the government.
It. is plain that this effort to reduce the church to a branch of the state was a strategy the purpose of which was the securing of the freedom to cast off the yoke of the hated confession. With the church under its control and as vested with the right to reform the church, the government had but to speak the word a.id the desired freedom would be there for anyone to use who had need of it. This is stating the matter plainly. But the Arminians chose to veil their real purposes in noble sounding phrases. After the death of Arminius they began to speak openly of their effort, but they called it a striving for the “liberty of the church” What they meant is liberty for themselves to repudiate the Confessions and to proclaim their own heretical doctrines without the Reformed being at liberty to do anything about it. As champions of their cause they formed under the leadership of Wtenbogaert, the court preacher of the Prince, a formidable band. Judging from their fire, they spoke and wrote under the impulse of a mighty conviction. And their discourses bristled with learning both in the field of dogmatics and church polity. But their opinions were not thought through and superficial.
Gomarus and his supporters never failed to expose these opinions for what they were and to oppose to them the truth of the Scriptures doing so with skill and determination. The result was perpetual debate most disgusting to many in the church including a not insignificant number of sentimental and ostensibly earnest ministers of the Gospel. For seeing that the continuation of the controversy must needs end in a split in the church, they strongly counseled peace. Not that they wanted the churches to discard their confessions and unite on the basis of the Scriptures. Peace could be had, according to their reasoned opinion, by placing upon the Confessions a construction broad enough to enable a man like Wtenbogaert, who certainly preached the Christ, to feel at home in the church. The violent in both camps should be deposed, the hair-splitters silenced, and the pulpits closed to the extreme Calvinism of Gomarus.
Had this advice been followed, Arminianism would have triumphed in the churches legally, there would never have been a great synod of Dort, and the “Declaration of Principles” known as The Five Articles against the Remonstants (the Canons of Dort) would never have seen the light.
The real Calvinists in the church did not allow themselves to be influenced by the peace-talk of this
Modarate party in the church. They were men of definite and strong convictions. Their Confessions cried out the truth. Their church right was the right of Christ. These Confessions were being corrupted, and this right trampled. Their call therefore was to arms. And the love of God and of the truth and of the neighbor constrained them. Let the assailants of the truth, be excommunicated out of the Christian church. And if they keep not silence but insist on making propaganda for their heresies, let them then be banished from the land. Better a land sparsely settled than a land peopled with heretics. Their ideal was: every city a miniature Geneva. For this ideal their brethren in the faith had fought and bled and died for forty long years. It was the ideal by which they now were being inspired. They were men therefore not to be trifled with. Wtenbogaert well realized what fate awaited him and his party, should the struggle end in a Calvinist triumph. Wtenbogaert therefore also called his party to arms. But like Arminius had done, be worked in secret and under cover.
His first move was to arrange a meeting of the leading spirits of his party. The meeting was held on the 14th of January, 1910 in Gouda, a small city in the province Holland. The group assemble was likewise small. It numbered less than 25. Wtenbogaert presided. From the deliberations it appeared that all were agreed on the following.
A national synod, if held at the present time, doubt less would pronounce the new doctrine—their Arminianism—unreformed by a large majority of vote. Measures must be taken to overcome this danger. Notice was taken of the fact that on the classes the Calvinists were insisting that the Formula of Subscription be signed by all without exception, a thing that none of those present could do.
It was agreed that a writing be composed and signed by all wherein assurance is given that their peculiar conceptions do not differ essentially from the general reformed faith. They agreed also not to set forth openly and clearly their position. That would not be tactful. It might even prove their undoing. The thing to do now is to express in writing their abhorrence of the extremes of some regarding predestination.
Wtenbogaert has prepared a concept-Act, which is read, discussed and adopted. It was decided to give the document the form of a remonstration and to place it in the hands of the counsel of the States of Holland. The historical name that was soon to be given to the members of this assembly is “The Remonstrants.”
The introduction of this famous document—“Remonstantie”—sets out as follows:
“It is becoming more and more evident that the ministers of the Gospel, who have agreed to the resolution of the lords of the states (by which is to be understood The Netherlands government that sat in the Hague) regarding the revision of the Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, and thereby let it be known to their colleges that they have some remarks bearing on these documents, which they will present to Synod— are being slandered! They are being calumniated to greatest extremes. They are accused of seeking a change in religion and of being thereby the cause of all the strife and disturbances in these lands and churches.
“They notice that the minds are being inflamed and disturbed to such an extent, as to cause an understanding that will easily give rise to the greatest difficulties. All their protestations have been without effect. Many will not believe that these ministers are innocent. The slander is that violent that it receives much more credence than it should. If the desired synod could only be held, the contrary would indeed appear. But it may be greatly feared that before synod convenes this slander will triumph to the disservice of land and churches, wherein God has called us to be pastors and teachers, and to the injury of name and fame. Considering that ministers of the Gospel are obliged to prefer these (land and churches, etc.) above all that is dear to them in this world, the undersigned have decided to do all that is possible to remove the heavy blame and quiet the minds. Often they have prayed with fervent hearts. Now they are unanimously decided to deliver a remonstration and argument to the lords of the States of Holland and West Friesland as to their exalted government and mandating lords.”
In this introduction the Arminians present themselves as a people pure in doctrine, yet greatly slandered. But they were not men pure in doctrine but verily heretics. They taught that grace is resistible, and that the salvation of man is determined not by the counsel and will of God but by the will of the creature. This is incipient Atheism. To say of such people that they sought a change in religion, that is, the true religion of the Reformed Confessions, thus sought to change the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto the corruptible creature—is not slander; it is the truth. Of that exactly they were guilty.
But had their accusers ever faced them with this charge and called them to repentance? If not, they were being backbited but not slandered. But the accusers had faced them with this charge. Gomarus had over and over. But we have seen with what results. We have taken notice of the duplicity of Arminius, of his evasions and equivocations by which he would disarm Gomarus. We have seen for what blasphemies he was trying to win over his friends in private correspondence, while at the same time avowing in public that he was in full agreement with the reformed confessions. We have seen how guardedly he expressed himself in public, how careful he was about his public utterance. Indeed that careful that no charge could be based on anything he said. Yet the court preacher of the Prince could present himself and his colleagues as men pure in doctrines yet slandered. But such are the ways of the heretic.