What Hath Dort to do With Moscow? On WITCH HUNTING, Extra-Confessional Binding & TOLERATION (Part IV)

What Hath Dort to do With Moscow? On WITCH HUNTING, Extra-Confessional Binding & TOLERATION

(Editors Note: The following section from Hales is difficult to read. It is a collection of bits and fragments of Simon Episcopious’ oration. I summarize the oration in the Notes section to help the reader understand his main concerns)

Dort 7 December, 1618. Stylo Novo

Then were the Remonstrants called in…Episcopius standing up required that a little time might be granted to them to speak, and forthwith uttered an Oration, acrem sane animosam, and about which, by reason of some particulars in it, there will grow some stir. The effect of the oration was this.

That religion was the chief note of a man, and we were more distinguished by it from other creatures than by our reason….That religion was nothing else but a right conceit and worship of God. That the conceits concerning God are of two sorts: some absolutely necessary, which were the grounds of all true worship—in these to error might finally endanger a man; and some not absolutely necessary—and in these sometimes without great danger men might mistake. That they decried many conceits passing in our churches, which could not stand with the goodness and justice of God, with the use of the sacraments, with the duties of Christian men; these had given occasion to the adversaries abroad to accuse our churches, and lay upon them many strange imputations, and to provide as much as in them lay, that the conceits of some few might not pass for the general doctrine of our churches.

But this their endeavor had hitherto had but ill success. And as in a diseased body many times when physick is administered, the humors which before were quiet are now stirred, and hence the body proves more distempered; so their endeavors to cure the church had caused greater disorder, yet in this they had not offended. For they labored to none other end, but that the church might not be traduced by reason of the private conceits of some of her ministers. That in this behalf the world had been exceedingly incensed against them, but this envy they esteemed their gloriam & palmarious; that for this they did not mean to forsake their cause, and were it so that they should lose the day, yet would they joy in it, and think it glory enough magnis ausis excidisse…

First matters were handled against them clancularly, and by stealth, after this they broke out into the open, but false accusations, and after this into wrath, into scoffing, and bitterness, till at length effractic moderationis repagulis every one came with open mouth against them, tanguam in publici odii victimis. [Here followed a grave and serious invocation of Christ as a witness to the truth of what they said]. True indeed it was, that in their books many things were to be found amiss. For a very hard matter they thought it for minds exasperated simper rectum clavem tenere. That for the settling of these things, they could but three courses be thought of; either a national Synod, or a mutual toleration of each others opinions, or the cession and resignation of their calling and place in the church. To quit them of their calling and to fly, this were a not of the hireling. As for a Synod, which they much desired, remorabantur qui minime debebant; and it was pretended that the condition of the times would not suffer it. There remains only a mutual toleration, of the possibility of which alone they had hope. And for this end they did exceedingly approve of the decree of the states of Holland and West-Friesland, which they thought confirmed by the example of Beza’s dealing with some, of their own dealing with the Lutherans, of the advice of the king of Great Britian.

But all this was labor lost for there was a buzz and jealousy spread in the head of mean, that under this larve, this whistling suit of toleration there lay personated more dangerous designs. That behind this, tanquam post fiparium, there lay intents of opening a way to the profession of all the ancient heresies, and that the Remonstrants could pro tempore, conscientiae fuae imperere quod volunt, upon this begin men’s minds to be alienated from them, which thing at length broke forth into schism and open separation. Now began their books to be more narrowly inquired into, every line, every phrase, every word and tittle to be stretched to the uttermost to prove them heretics…that all fundamental points of divinity they had preserved untouched.

For they knew that there were many things of which it is now lawful to dispute, and they abhorred from that conceit of many men, who would believe nothing but what they were able to give a reason of. That what they questioned was only such a matter, which for a long time had been without danger, both pro and contra disputed of. They thought it sufficient if the chief points of religion remain unshaken. That there had been always sundry opinions even amongst the fathers themselves which yet had not broken out into separation of minds and breach of charity. That it was impossible for all wits to jump in one point. It was the judgment of Paraeus, a great divine, that the greatest cause of contentions in the church was this, that the school men’s conclusions, and cathedral decisions had been received as oracles, and articles of faith.

That they were therefore unjustly charged with the bringing in of a sceptick theologie. They sought for nothing else but for that liberty which is the mean between servitude and liberty. That now they appeared before Synod…that they profess they oppose themselves, first against those conclusions concerning predestination, which the authors themselves have called Horrida Decreta. Second, against those who for the Five Articles so called have made a separation, never expecting any synodical sentence. Third, against those who cast from them all those who in some things dissent from them…

These are the fragments of Episcopious’ speech…


On December 7, 1618 the Synod called in the Remonstrants. The decree was set before them to make known, plainly, what they believed concerning their Five Points they had propounded to the world at large in their many writings, sermons, and books. Hales records a long oration that then ensued by Simon Episcopious, a leader in the Remonstrant party. Hales mentions that Episcopious oration, at some points, caused quite a stir in the assembly. There are three major emphases of the speech that directly speak to our current controversy. They are as follows:

1. No Extra Confessional Binding
2. Stop Breaking the Ninth Commandment Against Us
3. Tolerate Our Views

The first is the Remonstrant appeal to things indifferent.
The Remonstrants wanted to, categorically, place the issues in question as belonging to non-necessary issues. Episcopious argued that the Remonstrants had always fought for the purity of religion in the things essential, in the things that “endanger a man”, and were even willing to suffer with joy for a defense of these truths. But the assembly was taking none of this into account, for now they were being “attacked” on matters that are of lawful dispute, after all, stated Episcopious, good church fathers had not separate minds over things indifferent. Further, Pareus warned that a great cause for division in the church has been the receiving of “synodical” decisions as articles of faith. In other words, the Remonstants were pleading with the Synod not to make a determination beyond their received doctrine—or no extra-confessional binding.

The second charge of Episcopious had to do with a breaking of the ninth commandment. According to Episcopious, everyone at the Synod of Dort, including the secular authorities, had been treating their writings clancularly (in secret), breaking out into bitterness and scoffing, and falsely representing their views. According to Episcopious, everyone was spewing falsehood about them, failing to properly understand them, coming with “open mouth” against them. They were being accused of opening up all the ancient heresies and their books were being read unfairly—line upon line, precept upon precept, in order to make them heretics. Every word was being read to find heresy.

Episcopius then proposed to the Synod three possible ways of handling the matter: 1) There could be a national Synod, 2) they could resign their callings, 3) they could learn to mutually tolerate each other’s views. As for the first, Episcopious argued against this due to the nature of the times. They were being judged on things, as he viewed it, indifferent. Charity was a lost fruit and the times would not allow for a fair trial. The Remonstrants desired a Synod, but believed it could not happen without a great injustice to their consciences. As for resigning from their callings, according to Episcopious, such actions only belong to a hireling, and would not be a possibility for the Remonstrants.

The only answer to the present controversy was then to have mutual tolerance of one another’s views. The plea for tolerance was based on three things: 1) They opposed the Counter-Remonstrant views on predestination, agreeing with many of the church fathers that it was a horrid decree (horrida decreta), 2) they never came to the Synod expecting a decree against them, and 3) they thought it unfair for those bringing charges against them to be their judges. Therefore, it was the position of the Remonstrants that they would not submit their consciences to such a determination. The Counter-Remonstrants should learn to tolerate their teachings as within the sphere of orthodoxy.

Again, the parallels to our current controversy almost make for a one-to-one correspondence. The FV would have us to believe that their teachings also fall within the pale of orthodoxy and within the bounds of our Reformed confessions. Numerous pleas have been made to recognize their defense of the classic doctrines of the Christian faith—the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, etc. Like the Remonstrants, the FV have consistently argued that there is room for their views within the Reformed confessions. Many FV proponents have likewise appealed to the church fathers in defense of their views. All division in the life of the church has resulted from imposing determinations beyond the received doctrine. In other words, the FV has consistently made the same plea that we should simply let the confessions speak for themselves, without the imposing of our interpretations upon them.

All of this has led to the FV’s main proposal in the controversy, namely, that we should tolerate their views, that there should be mutual understanding and acceptance. Anyone who questions their views is being uncharitable. Accusations made by FV proponents are the very same as made by the Remonstrants, that everyone is reading their writings line upon line, precept upon precept, to find heresy. Everyone has an open mouth against them, facilitating slander and disregard of the ninth commandment.

The first challenge for Reformed churches today has to do with making a clear determination as to whether FV doctrines are matters indifferent. Our Reformed confessions provide a boundary by which we walk together in unity, defining for us the essentials of the Christian faith, and the basis for our communion.

Determinations have been made by many Reformed ecclesiastical bodies that FV views do in fact fall outside the bounds of our Reformed confessions, essentially attacking the crucial article by which the church stands or falls—justification by faith alone. The FV has redefined many of our confessional terms such as election, baptism, covenant, faith, et al. These are not matters in different, and become correlate to Paul’s warning to the church in Galatia who was entertaining a different gospel.

The challenge, like Dort, has to do with how we address FV errors. We have already looked into the problem of the FV Joint Statement (see Part III), similar to the challenge faced at Dort. For some, the answer is clear, merely reaffirm what our confessions already say—they speak clearly to the FV errors. The challenge with this common proposition is manifold.

What is not being recognized is that FV proponents say they agree with our Reformed confessions, at all points. They take no exceptions. This has led many to believe that the entire controversy is just a matter of speaking past one another. But the problem is much more acute. There are two fundamentally different paradigms that are unable to function in tandem and in a cohesive manner. In other words, the FV paradigm is different than the Reformed confessional one. Essentially, they are trying to inculcate an Arminian paradigm into Reformed covenant theology.

Thus, the FV claims to be Reformed, gives full subscription to the Reformed confessions at all points, but has wrested new meanings from our confessional terms, foreign to how our Reformed fathers defined them. This has made discussion nearly impossible since they rarely answer questions on the precise point of the doctrine in question.

If our paradigm is Reformed and confessional and theirs “other/and” (meaning they can pick and choose) then no manner of critique will ever allow them to accept that our critique is correct. This is why it has never happened with any report, even when the critique is spot on. This point has not been properly considered by many who were quick to criticize our URCNA report on justification.  They don't understand the nature of the FV movement. The FV can jump from tent to tent and then say, "you are not characterizing us fairly and breaking the ninth commandment against us."

This challenge directly correlates to the Remonstrants concern at Dort who essentially argued that the Synod cannot bind their consciences with extra-confessional statements. The Remonstrant’s appealed to the Synod that they should not make a determination beyond their received doctrine. The FV makes the same plea. But what happens when terms are understood in multiple ways? What happens when doctrines are being redefined and reinterpreted in new garb that has not been directly addressed in our history or confessions? What then?

Some would have us to believe that we are binding consciences to superimpose new statements upon our confessions. But what shall we say, for instance, when an FV proponent inculcates virtuous qualities into the nature of justifying faith, or makes baptism a means similar to faith in the act of justification. If we say, “our confessions don’t teach that” and they say, “we disagree”, or “I agree with the confessions on the point you raise, we just read it differently”—then what? The obvious answer is that you are going to have to look at historical intent, and make a plain declaration of what is meant when certain things are confessed. In fact, this gets to the heart of the controversy. Unless we are willing to interpret and make clear what we mean when we say certain things, this plague will infect our churches for years to come.

Further, if we refuse to correct FV error by providing historical intent and perspicuous interpretations of what our terms mean when we confess them, can’t our confessions then become a smokescreen to hide behind, sinfully keeping us from doing what we promised in our ordinations?

We face an interesting challenge in Reformed churches, and particularly the URCNA as we anticipate our next Synodical meeting in London, ON. The FV is calling for tolerance. If we will agree that FV views are outside the bounds of our confessions, then we need to speak swiftly, clearly, and powerfully to the URCNA concerning what we believe in light of this controversy, and what we will not tolerate among us.  Let us in preparation of Synod, strive to better understand what we are up against, and make informed decisions as we receive our committees report on the dangers of the FV movement.  May the Lord give us all wisdom and strength to honor him above all personal loyalties.


  1. "May the Lord give us all wisdom and strength to honor him above all personal loyalties."

    If we don't stand - we will become like them and our fruits will look like theirs also. If we don't stand - we will essentially be saying,

    1)We will agree to become indifferent on matters of justification.

    2)We will agree to tolerate error in order to not offend.

    3)We will agree to disavow our Confessions in favor of new interpretations that come our way and make allowances for the old errors in principle like those of Episcopius.

    All which tend to evert the fundamentals of the faith, essentially.

    Look at their fruits.

  2. Kevin, it's just amazing to me that we are even faced with the prospect of putting this off for another three years. This is clearly a push by those who have no idea what the movement is. But you raise a good point, look at their fruit. The whole movement has done nothing but sow incredible discord and produce dangerous doctrine among us. These things alone demand an immediate response.

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  4. Kevin - great assessment of the FV advocates and our response - the one idea that comes crashing in after having read Hales transcript and then Pastors comments is "if you are not against them ( FV) then you are tacitly or actively for them" - you will and do further the FV agenda - it is a "them " against us - the phrase used out of context of being unloving or not showing charity to apostates( Remonstrants )is the age old smoke screen - my prayers are that we hold to the truth and avoid error and that the FV naysayers will be set at naught and will be convicted to reject the error and repent of this schismatic apostasy