What Hath Dort to do with Moscow? On Schism And Toleration (Part 2)

What follows is from John Hales Letters from The Synod of Dort


Dort, 10 December 1618 Stylo Novo (Continued) John Hales

The same day after dinner the deputies met again; where the Praeses commended to the Synod the consideration of that reproachful name of schism, which the Remonstrants did so openly and so often brand them with. For it was Episcopius his palmarium argumentum, the Synod was all either schismatics or favorers of them, and therefore could not be their judges. It was much that they should grow to that boldness, as that openly they should call the Synod, the seculars, the chief Magistrates, yes the Prince of Orange himself, schismatics. For what had formerly been done in the matter of secession and division of the churches was done by their consent and approbation.

He required therefore the Synod to deliver themselves to what was to be done. Divers spoke diversely: Lydius of South Holland relating the story of what had been done in the time of separation, cleared them of schism; and showed first, that the name of schism was used craftily by them, as for a reproach, so likewise for a farther end they had for themselves. For a schism is only a breach of charity and peace of the church, the doctrine remaining entire. If there were a separation by reason of doctrinal heretical (as here he thought there was) it was not to be called a schism. Now the Remonstrants did therefore use the name of schism, that they might persuade the world, that the difference was only in certain points indifferent, in which it matter not which end went forward, by this means to make their way open to toleration. Again, the separation which was made, was made upon good reason. For they were forced unto it by the Remonstrants violence, as in particular he did show. At length he and the rest of the Synod concluded, that they should roundly be put in mind of their duty, and to speak more respectively to the Synod.

Upon this, the Remonstrants being called in, the Praeses signified what he disliked in them, and what behavior it expected at their hands, and withal willed them to attend the decree of the states. Episcopius would have answered, but he was prohibited. Then immediately followed a decree of the states to this purpose: that whereas the Remonstrants had hitherto made many dilatory answers, to the injury both of the ecclesiastics and seculars, it was to be decreed by them, that they should lay aside by all frivolous exceptions and dilatory answers, and forthwith proceed to set down their minds concerning the Five Articles, for which end they came together.

Then began Episcopius to purge himself, and declare, that in the imputation of schism they included not the seculars, they only charged the Ecclesiastics; and if the Seculars had a hand in it, they meddled not with that. The Praeses urged them to give their answer, whether or no they would set down their minds concerning the Points in controversy; they still excepted, that the Synod were not their competent judges. The Praeses asked by whom they would be judged? They replied, they would not answer this it was sufficient that the Synod not be their judges. They were willed to remember they were Citati. They replied, Citatorum est excipere de compententia judicis.

The Praeses of the Seculars willed them to remember that they were subjects; they replied, the Magistrate could not command their consciences. Being again willed to give their answer, whether or no they would exhibit their minds concerning the Five Articles, they required first to have their exceptions answered; when no other answer would be given, they dismissed them, and appointed that of the Synod two should be chosen delegates, who should immediately go to them, and in the name of the Synod warn them to lay by all other answers, and at the next session categorically answer; whether they would exhibit their minds concerning the points in controversy, or no; that so the Synod might know what they had to do—and so they broke up, this morning therefore we look what will be done. And so for this time I humbly take my leave, commended your honor to God’s Good Protection.

Your Honors Chaplain, and Bounden in All Duty, Jo Hales.


There are a number of struggles the Synod had to overcome to make a judgment that would be accepted by the world at large. The first was the Remonstrant charge that the Synod meeting, deliberating to make a judgment on Remonstrant doctrine, was itself an act of schism in the church of Jesus Christ. Hales expresses his astonishment that the Remonstrants had grown in such boldness so as to charge not only the Ecclesiastical government of the church of Christ as being schismatic, but also to extend such a charge to the secular government who, in those days, had the authority to summon a church synodical meeting.

After much discussion, the Synod determined that the charge of schism was being used craftily and as an opportunity for the Remonstrants to convince the world that the differences were only minor, on highly disputable matters, and that there should be open toleration within the bounds of their doctrine to hold to their views. The Synod overcame this charge of schism by reminding the delegates that when a church assembly meets to determine whether the doctrine in question is heretical, then the charge of schism cannot be legitimately applied. The Synod viewed the Remonstrants charge of schism as a tactic to prevent the body from its very purpose of deliberation, namely, to make a determination on Remonstrant doctrine. Therefore, the Synod was reminded of its purpose and moved forward to the goal for which they had convened.

The second struggle had to do with the Remonstrant dishonesty in being open and plain about what they believed. Hales describes the Remonstrants answers as dilatory and frivolous, causing much confusion among the church and secular provinces. The Synod, therefore, determined to make a decree that the Remonstrants should produce a concise statement concerning their five points.

Episcopious, again challenging the legitimacy of the Synod to make a ruling against them, proceeded to answer on behalf of the Remonstrants stating that if their concerns already expressed to the Synod would not be answered, then there would be no statement given to the Synod concerning what they believe on the disputed points in question. Therefore, the Synod dismissed and appointed two delegates to admonish the Remonstrants to declare what they believed on the disputed points so that the Synod might know how they should move forward in making a determination of Remonstrant doctrine.

The tactics of the Federal Visionists in our day have been the same as that of the Remonstants—we should note their fruits carefully. In our present controversy, those questioning Federal Vision teaching have been incessantly accused of breaking the ninth commandment and promoting schism in the body of Christ. In fact, this has probably been the greatest weapon of the Federal Vision to do exactly what the Synod of Dort exposed about Remonstrant tactics.

The Federal vision would have the world to believe that we are being hasty in condemning their views, and, like the Remonstrant cry, the points in question are of no great substance, falling within the pale of Reformed orthodoxy. When challenged by the many books, articles, church reports, and legitimate avenues of exposure by confessionally Reformed pastors and theologians, not one, according to the FV, has accurately characterized their viewpoint. Now why is this? The answer is simple: the same deviant tactics employed by the Remonstrants against Dort are employed today by the FV against anyone who questions their views.

It should be noted that at the Synod of Dort, there was an unbreakable dilemma between the Remonstrant charge of being misunderstood, and their refusal to state openly what they believed. This should be a red flag for us by now, especially since we tell our children that those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it. The Remonstrants were dilatory (negligent) and frivolous in stating their views. The Synod of Dort had no problem making this determination, but, sadly, many Reformed pastors and elders have bought into the lie that we are not being accurate in our representation of the FV. After ten years into this mess, they would have us to believe that we still are not characterizing them fairly.

We might put their concerns to a test. Imagine asking the Praeses of the Synod of Dort this question. “Dear Mr. Praeses, I’m not sure you are being fair in understanding the Remonstrants. We have to maintain the highest accountability standard. You do not seem to be giving the Remonstrants opportunity to answer and provide clarity in what they believe. Nor are you characterizing their views fairly.” What do you think would be his response? It would probably go something like this. “Dear Sir, have you considered your ordination as a gospel minister. We are dealing with expressed heresies. Those holding heterodox views in the history of the church have never been cooperative, kind, and clear in making known what they believe. We have gathered here to render a judgment, and have called upon them to be open in what they believe. But look at their fruit! By your fruits you shall know them. As of yet, they refuse to be open and honest, and grow in such boldness to condemn anyone who questions them. We must render a judgment according to what we promised when stood before God at our ordinations.”

We have given the FV opportunity to make clear what they believe. They have done nothing but grow in boldness against anyone who questions their doctrine. We understand what they are saying. The responsibility at this point is to learn from the Synod of Dort and render the judgment. Their tactics of employing schism is crafty, and we need to keep our eyes focused on our callings as ministers, and the purpose for which we deliberate, that is, to make a judgment concerning FV doctrine and defend the gospel for the sake of the souls we oversee. This is how our brethren at Dort managed to overcome Remonstrant errors, let us learn from them.

—Chris Gordon, Escondido (first published in 2010).