7.06.2010

What Hath Dort to do With Moscow? On PRETENCE, RANCOR, & COVENANTAL SPEAKING (PART V)


Dort This 7/27 December, 1618 Stylo Novo JO HALES

On Thursday 17/27 of the present, the deputies being met in the morning the Remonstrants were called in, and willed to give up their considerations upon the Catechism, according to the injunction laid on them on Friday last…Then did the Praeses require them Coram Deo to answer directly and truly…

Here Scultetus stood up, and in the name of the Palatine churches, required a copy of these considerations upon the Catechism. We have, saith he, a command from our Prince to see that nothing be done in prejudice in our churches. The Catechism is ours known by the name of the Palatine Catechism, and from us you received it. The Observations therefore upon it concern us, we require therefore a draft of them, which purpose to answer them, and submit our answer to the judgment of the Synod. This request of the Palatines was thought very reasonable.

These Considerations (I speak of those on the Confession; for those others I saw not) are nothing else but queries upon some passages of the confession, of little or no moment, for that it seems a wonder unto many, how these men, which for so many years past, in so many of their books, have threatened Churches with such wonderful discoveries of falsehood and error in their confession and catechism, should at last produce such poor impertinent stuff. There is not, I persuade myself, any writing in the world, against which wits disposed to wrangle cannot take abundance of such exceptions.

After this did the Praeses put the Remonstrants in mind of the judgment of the Synod past upon the manner of propounding their theses on the articles. Two things there were misliked. First, their propounding of so many negatives. Secondly, their urging so much to handle the point of reprobation, and that in the first place, whereas the Synod required they should deliver themselves as much as was possible in affirmatives, and being first from election, and from thence come to the point of reprobation in its due place. He required them therefore to signify whether they would follow the judgment of the Synod of their own. They answered that they had given up their reason to justify their proceeding, and otherwise to proceed their consciences would not permit them…But when this would not content them, the Praeses proposes unto them whether they were resolved so to proceed, or else relinquish all farther disputation. They replied, they resolved to break off all farther treaty if that matter [reprobation] might not be handled. It was told them that it should be treated in its due place…For when the Praeses told them again, that is was the pleasure of he Synod, first to handle of election, and then of reprobation as much as should seem necessary, and for the churches good, and withal charged them to answer roundly and categorically, whether they would proceed according to this order, they answered, No.

Then did the Praeses require them to withdraw, and give the Synod leave to advise of this. The sum of that which past in the mean time was this: That their pretence of conscience was in vain, since it was not of anything which concerned faith and good manners, but only of order and method and disputing, which could not at all concern conscience; that the disputation must begin from election. First, because the order of nature so required, to deal of the affirmative before the negative; and again, because that all divines, who ever handled this question did hold the same order; and the Holy Ghost in Scripture had taken the same course…that whatsoever they pretended, yet the true end of their so hotly urging question of reprobation, was only to exaggerate the counter-Remonstrant’s doctrine, and to make way for their own doctrine of election…

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NOTES:
On the previous Friday, the Remonstrants were called to give their views on the Confession of Faith, and the Heidelberg Catechism. At this point, the Remonstrants began to use whatever means possible to evade giving clear, direct answers to the Synod concerning their positions on the confessional documents the Reformed churches had agreed to live by. Their first reply was a plea to ignorance, “we didn’t expect the Synod to ask for this.”

The Praeses reminded the Remonstrants of their many public attacks in their books against the received teachings of the confessions, and that the judgment of the Synod would be much more thorough when it “learned of their opinion as a whole.” The Remonstrants required that they meet and decide on the matter. Upon returning, they refused to answer the Synod regarding their position on the Confession and Catechism until the Five Articles were discussed. The Praeses reminded them that such teachings essentially run together, and that no harm is intended in proceeding in this manner.

At this point, Martinus Gregorii motioned to the Remontrants to remain silent, and not to answer any further, stating that all their opinions on the Confession and Catechism were in the Dutch language. The Synod then required the right to translate the documents. and the seculars, seeing the Remonstrant refusal to be open, made a decree requiring the Remonstrants to state their opinions on the Confessions. Requiring more time, Hales records, “first there was given them two days, then three, then four…”

On Thursday, the Remonstrants were again called in and asked to give an account of their interpretations of the confessions, the Praeses reminding them of their responsibility to answer “directly and truly”. It seems that a draft of their positions on the Confession of Faith was then submitted to the synodical delegates.

At this point Hales makes an interesting observation about the Remonstants considerations on the Confession.
The uncertainties expressed by the Remonstrants seem only to be based upon some of the passages of the confession, nothing that is of any real importance to substantiate the upheaval they have caused in the churches in claiming to have exposed weakness, errors, wonderful discoveries, etc., over and against the received doctrine in the confessions. In other words, Hales is essentially wondering why, since the Remontrants make so many great claims, are mere side issues being presented to the Synod.

Now that the Remonstrants are being called upon to give an answer to the many things they have taught against the confessions in their books and writings, they can provide nothing of real substance against them, mere quibbles. So this leads to one of two possibilities, or both: 1) the Remontrants are being dishonest, 2) or they are simply wresting out of the confession heterodox ideas that are so poor, it's an amazement the controversy has gotten this far. Hales admits, any “wit” who is disposed to wrangle can wrest different meaning and exceptions from whatever writing he wants.

The Praeses then reminded the Remonstrants of their failure to deal honestly with the Five Points in question by only answering with negatives, and playing the conscience card by requiring the Synod to first deal with the doctrine of reprobation. The Synod had determined that the doctrine of election should be taken up first, then reprobation in its proper place. Under this determination, the Remonstrants refused to comply, and stated that they would not answer and “break off all treaty.”

The Praeses responded to this challenge by asking the Remonstrants to leave that they might consider how to move forward. After much discussion, the Synod determined that the Remontrants were playing the conscience card deceptively. According to the Synod, the order and manner of dealing with doctrine is not a conscience issue. It has nothing directly to do with faith and good manners,and therefore, cannot belong properly to a conscience issue. Further, all divines, and the Holy Spirit himself, had treated election before reprobation—it was only reasonable to handle the controversy in the same manner. The Synod viewed this tactic by the Remonstrants as a pretence to advance their “own” doctrine of election.

THE FEDERAL VISION
Probably the greatest frustration with the Federal Vision is their lack of clarity in declaring exactly what they believe. Insightful Reformed Christians should be asking by now, why has this movement caused so much grief in the church of Jesus Christ? Why is it a movement so difficult to understand? Why aren’t things very clear now, on the fundamentals, after all these years--doctrines like justification by faith alone, baptism, election, etc? And, what has been the fruit of such a movement? Has it promoted the peace and purity of doctrine in the Church of Jesus Christ, or have we seen it do nothing but tear it apart with division, rancor, useless wranglings, and much more? Didn’t Christ tell us that we would know them by their fruit? What fruit has this movement brought in the church of Jesus Christ?

Like the Remonstrants, the Federal Visionists boast of greater improvements on our doctrines, Biblically speaking. They consistently say they agree with the Reformed confessions, but also want to maintain Biblical fidelity to the language, thereby positing a dichotomy between confessional and Biblical language. But is this a permissible dichotomy? Do the confessions impose categories upon things foreign to the freedom the Bible allows, for instance, when speaking of baptism? Should we allow for greater room for understanding our terms, beyond the way our Reformed confessions have defined them classically?

The parallels to Dort, again, are breathtaking. As stated, the greatest frustration of the FV movement has been the tactics of evasion in answering for us precisely what they believe. Generally, the FV gives full subscription to the Reformed confessions, but has wrested new meanings from our confessional terms, foreign to how our Reformed fathers defined them. The frustration has come in that they do not answer precisely on point of the doctrine in question.

In part four, we considered the reason for this, namely, that the FV tries to mingle Arminian categories and meanings into our Reformed confessions. This point, many have failed to grasp. It’s like speaking to an Englishman using Spanish words. You’re not just talking past him, nor is he merely “misunderstanding” the speech, you are speaking an entirely different language to him, outside of his "understanding". Likewise, the FV imposes meanings upon confessional terms that do not belong to their historical understanding and intent--it's a foreign language.

Another clear connection to the FV has to do with Hales' observations of the Remontrants position on the Confession of Faith. Hales appeared to be in dismay over the disingenuous approach of the Remontrants in declaring exactly what they believe. Their “queries” seemed miniscule in comparison with the magnitude of claims made in their books against the Confessions. The same has been true with the FV. When questioned, everything sounds orthodox. They say they agree with the confessions. They say openly, we believe that a man is justified by faith alone. We believe baptism is a sign and seal. We believe in election, as you do. In many of the ecclesiastical trials that have occurred, pleas to confessionaly fidelity are the same. Any neutral reporter, like Hales, might throw up his arms and ask what all the fuss is about. Is this the doctrine that has shaken up the Reformed world? What is the problem here?

We should be reminded that what Hales observed about the Remonstrants at Dort has always been a tactic used by false teachers. Samuel Miller’s perennial warning could not be any more relevant to our current controversy: “
When heresy rises in an evangelical body, it is never frank and open. It always begins by skulking, and assuming a disguise. Its advocates, when together, boast of great improvements, and congratulate one another on having gone greatly beyond the old dead orthodoxy, and on having left behind many of its antiquated errors: but when taxed with deviations from the received faith, they complain of the unreasonableness of their accusers, as they differ from it only in words. This has been the standing course of errorists ever since the apostolic age. They are almost never honest and candid as a party, until they gain strength enough to be sure of some degree of popularity.”[1]
Any knowledgeable reader of FV material likewise sees a glaring inconsistency—their claims to confessional fidelity simply do not comport with the level of challenge made to the confessions in their many books and writings. With regard to election, of course, they believe in it. But they teach two kinds of election, a decretal and provisional one. The decretally elect cannot lose their salvation, but the provisionally elect can, and do. And what of baptism? The FV claims that they merely want to speak covenantally with regard to their children. They want to be able to tell their children that the promises are for them. AMEN! Our confessions teach this. But they go much further. They teach that all recipients of water baptism receive everything baptism signifies--forgiveness of sins, justification, adoption, sanctification, and, that the provisionally elect can lose this salvation if they are not covenantaly faithful. They would have us believe that we are only dealing with a covenantal way of speaking! The conclusion of the matter is the same as Hales observed, that, like the Remonstrants, the FV is wresting out of the confession heterodox ideas that are so poor, it's an amazement the controversy has gotten this far.

So, what should we learn from the Synod of Dort? We must take up their doctrine and deal with them, as the Synod did, “as a whole.” We must recognize and be willing to say that things are being done in pretence, deviance, and manipulation to advance their own doctrines among us. And, we must be willing to swiftly and courageously render a judgment. It should be “outrageous” to us that in Reformed and Presbyterian churches, teachings have crept in that advance the idea that man can have all the benefits of Christ given to him through water baptism, and, then, if he is not covenantaly faithful, will be cut off. May we with holy zeal defend the gospel of our salvation.

From Dort December 17, 1618 Stylo Novo
Your Lordships Chaplain and bounded in all Duty, Jo. Hales.


[1] Introductory Essay by Samuel Miller, 1841. As found in Scott, Thomas. The Articles of the Synod of Dort. Harrisonburg, Virginia: Sprinkle Publications, 1993.

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