Part Three: What Hath Dort to do With Moscow?—On JOINT STATEMENTS & Anti-Synods.
Dort, 15 December 1618 Stylo Novo
On Thursday the 4/14 of December, the Synod being sat, and repetition being made, according to the custom, of what had past in the former session, the Remonstrants being called in, were asked whether or not they had set down in writing their opinion concerning the first article. Forthwith they exhibited to the Synod their opinion subscribed with all their hands. The copy of this your Lordship shall receive here with these letters.
The paper being read, the Praeses asked them all one by one, whether this were their opinion, to which each man answered affirmatively. The Remonstrants being dismissed, the Praeses proposed to the Synod, whether it were not fit that they should be sent for one by one, and examined singly as concerning their tenant. His reason was, because he understood they made themselves an Anti-Synod, and had among themselves ordained a Praeses, two assessors, and two scribes, according to the form of the Synod, and so they did these all things communi consensus—like a little Synod.
To this some answered, that they thought it fit, some, that those only should be singled out where were carried away with respect to their company, and if they were alone would think and do otherwise; others thought it utterly unfit, because it might seem olere artificium aliquod, to favor of a trick, whereas it best become the Synod to do all things candid and sincere. Others would have no man examined alone, but when all the rest were by; others left it to the judgment of the Praeses, to do as he thought good when occasion served—which last sentence, as it seemed, stood good.
After this, there was a general exception against the manner in which they had proposed their sentence; that they had done it confuse, distracte & obscure; that they had intermingled things impertinent and belonging to other questions; that the most of their proposals were negatives, what they did not hold, and not affirmatives—what they did; whereas their appearance there was to show what they did hold, not what they did not hold. And it was discovered that this their proceeding by negatives was, that they might take occasions to refute other opinions, and not to confirm their own; whereas by the decree of the states they were called thither ut Sententiam SUAM dilucide, perspicue, & exponerent & dedenderent, not that they should oppugn others.
That it had been their custom very liberally to examine other men’s opinions and to be sparing in confirming their own. That if they did refuse to deal more plainly in expounding their mind, they Synod should take order that the state of the question should be taken out of their books, especially out of the Hague Conference, and so they should be questioned whether they would stand it or not; that they did maintain among them an implicit faith, and it was usual with some of them, when they were pressed with any reason they could not put by, to answer, that thought themselves could say little to it, yet such and such could say much, which was enough for them.
When all had spoken their pleasure, the conclusion of the Synod was, that they must reform the manner of propounding their mind; that they must give us their answer in affirmatives, as much as was possible; that this form of answer was not according to decree of the states; and that this was the effect of the session….
From Dort December 15, 1618 Stylo November
Your Lordships Chaplain and bounded in all Duty, Jo. Hales
Just when it seemed that the Synod
had made some advancement in determining the doctrine of the Remonstrants, they were set back by two new deviant tactics they had not yet faced. The Synod decreed that the Remonstrants put down in writing their expressed views on the Five Articles in question. On the 15th of December, they were to receive a joint statement, signed by each member of the Remonstrant party, concerning the first point in question, namely, election.
The first problem had to do with the fact that the Remonstrants had set up an entire Anti-Synod alongside the Synod of Dort. A Praeses and synodical officers were appointed by the Remonstrants in direct accordance with the rules and credentials provided for a synodical assembly to properly operate, thereby making it appear also to be a legitimate synod. This caused much upheaval as delegates voiced uncertainty as to whether all members of the Remonstrant party were truly united. It was proposed that they should be singled out to determine their points of difference with the hopes that some would stand against the decisions of the Anti-Synod. The Synod, wanting to maintain a high standard of accountability and credibility, decided to do everything openly and candidly before the eyes of all parties involved.
The second challenge had to do with the document itself that was produced by the Remonstrants. Using the words of Hales, they produced their thoughts in a distracting, confusing, and obscure manner. The statement was full of negatives, and ambiguous in the affirmatives, so as to appear to be clear in what they believed, while actually only divulging what they were against. The Synod’s answer to this dilemma came in the form of an admonishment. If they would not produce a joint statement that would be clear and concise in stating their actual positions, the Synod would base their judgment on the many Remonstrant books and speeches that had for sometime been made public. The Remontrants were then given until Monday to produce such a joint statement.
There has probably been nothing more similar to Dort’s struggle in our current controversy with the Federal Vision than the problem of “anti-Synods” and confusing “joint-statements”. Throughout this controversy, not only have we witnessed the rise of an entire new federation of churches (The CREC-Confederation of Reformed Evangelical Churches) that have aligned and tolerated Federal Vision teachings, we have also witnessed quasi-synodical trials exonerating those involved—examiners being those from the FV party itself. See http://www.christkirk.com/DougWilsonCREC/WilsonExamAnswers.pdf
The challenge on this front has been immense. Many believe, similar to the position of some at Dort, that due to some of the confusion within the movement itself, individuals should be singled out, discussion should continue, and judgments rendered accordingly. Though it is often advocated that the FV is not a well-defined movement, the FV, nevertheless, is de facto functioning as a cohesive and unified movement. On this basis, Reformed and Presbyterian churches have treated them as such.
The second similarity has to do with a Joint Statement that was signed by a list of influential FV proponents. See the following link: http://www.federal-vision.com/resources/joint_FV_Statement.pdf
Many believe that this statement functions as the lowest common denominator, and should be the basis for interaction and judgment of FV teachings. In fact, this was the basis for a recent criticism of our URCNA Committee Report on Justification expressed by one of our consistories in the URCNA. Some are voicing concerns that our report does not do well enough in addressing the FV Joint Statement, misunderstanding and even falsely characterizing FV teachings. We would do well to lean from Dort who also faced the same dilemma. The FV Joint Statement is often confusing, distracting, and obscure. It intermingles things and uses terminology that equivocates on the some of the most fundamental doctrines of the Reformed faith.
For instance, in the Fv Joint Statement on justification by faith alone we read the following:
We affirm we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone. Faith alone is the hand which is given to us by God so that we may receive the offered grace of God. Justification is God’s forensic declaration that we are counted as righteous, with our sins forgiven, for the sake of Jesus Christ alone.In the affirmation section, standard Reformed language is employed. Justification is described as a forensic declaration, received by faith alone which is described as the hand given by God by which we are accounted righteous for the sake of Jesus Christ alone. In the denial, however, we find a clear presentation of the FV’s understanding of the nature of this justifying faith.
We deny that the faith which is the sole instrument of justification can be understood as anything other than the only kind of faith which God gives, which is to say, a living, active and personally loyal faith. Justifying faith encompasses the elements of assent, knowledge, and living trust in accordance with the age and maturity of the believer. We deny that faith is ever alone, even at the moment of the effectual call.
There are two important points to observe. First, the FV statement correctly denies that faith in God’s act of justifying the sinner can be understood as anything other than that which has been given by God. But when prompted as to what kind of faith justifies, and what is the kind of faith that God gives, the statement is obscure: justifying faith is “a living, active, and personally loyal faith.” So what do they mean by this? This gets to the heart of the FV controversy.
In order words, to make an informed judgment, we have to know, from their books, what they mean. And this is what we find from one of their authors, “Obedient faith is the only kind that God ever gives, and when He gives it, this justifying faith obeys the gospel, obeys the truth, obeys His salvation. Faith that does not obey the gospel is not justifying faith.” What we learn in their other extant writings, is that the kind of faith that justifies must include these virtuous qualities. In other words, in God’s act of justifying sinners, the kind of faith that justifies is an “obedient” faith, thereby making faith not merely receptive in the act, but as having built into it, good works. This is not a Protestant definition of justifying faith, and exposes that the FV Joint Statement in ambiquous and does not provide enough detail to make an informed judgment on their teachings.
Like the Synod of Dort, we should recognize that the FV is not being clear in their formulations, and no manner of further discussion or clarification will make them accept our judgments against their doctrine. To properly discern their views judgments will need to be determined from their many books, speeches, sermons that express just what they mean when they affirm and deny certain things. We have given them much longer than until next Monday to make this clear for us, they’ve had ten years. Like the Synod of Dort, we must be candid and sincere in speaking forthrightly and in rendering a clear judgment that these teachings are not Protestant. Let us again learn from Dort and do what is required of us as stewards of the manifold grace of God.