Arminianism (4) Events Leading Up to the Synod of Dordt

In the last article we spent some time analyzing the character and personality of Arminius. We then went on to look at what God’s Word has to say about those who are teachers in the church. The lesson that we learned is that we are to evaluate teachers by the contents of the gospel that they bring. Of lesser importance is the pleasantness of their personality. The ministers of Satan transform themselves into the apostles of Christ and they come with good words and fair speeches to deceive the simple.

Knowing this about false teachers, we now move on to examine some of the events which took place while Arminius was still living, and events which took place that brought about the Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-1619. These events are recorded for us in what is known as the “Historical Foreword Addressed to the Reformed Churches of Christ.” This Foreword was attached to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht. A copy of this Foreword can be found in The Voice of Our Fathers, An Exposition of the Canons of Dordrecht. The author, Prof. Homer Hoeksema, translated that Foreword into English and it is placed in his book before his exposition of the Canons. The Foreword makes for some very interesting reading for those interested in the history of that time and educates the reader as to why it was absolutely necessary that a National Synod be held in the Dutch churches at that time. Throughout this article we will draw heavily from that Foreword for much of our information.

During the century before the Arminian controversy there was, for the most part, peace in the churches of the Netherlands. When certain men tried to introduce false doctrine into the church, they were dealt with in a proper way through church discipline. Some of these false teachers included Casper Coolhaas of Leiden, Hermannus Herbertz at Dordrecht and Gouda, and Cornelius Wiggers at Hoorn. These forerunners of Arminius, “having forsaken the papacy, but not having been fully purged of the leaven of the papacy, had come over to our churches and had been admitted to the ministry during the early period when there was a scarcity of preachers” (Voice of Our Fathers, pp. 46, 47). All of these men were in time “suppressed by the authority of the Government as well as by the carefulness of the Ministers and the appropriate censures of the churches” (V.O.O.F., p. 47).

The doctrinal errors which these men introduced, Arminius advanced with more boldness. It is important to notice “that Arminius was not the originator of the Arminian heresy, on the one hand, but that he was led by and learned from others” (V.O.O.F., p. 3). Prof. Hoeksema continues with this thought by adding,

And, on the other hand, it was not even Arminius personally who was condemned by the National Synod: for by the time our fathers served the antidote to the poison of Arminianism in 1618-19, the man who gave his name to the errors of the Remonstrants had long since passed from this earth into the realm of the dead. And yet, as we shall see, it is not without reason historically that the errors rejected in our Canons are popularly known as Arminianism (V.O.O.F., pp. 3, 4).

This boldness of Arminius was practiced in a very crafty manner, for Arminius knew that it would not be to his advantage to suddenly and openly attack every truth of the Reformed faith. So he began his attack through more subtle means. One way in which he did this was by “belittling and blackening the name, fame, and authority of the most outstanding teachers of the Reformed Church—Calvin, Zanchius, Beza, Martyr, and others—aiming to achieve respect for himself at the expense of their good name” (V.O.O.F., p. 47). Further, he spread views that were Pelagian in nature, and he did this among his fellows ministers, including Uitenbogaard. (We will discuss Pelagianism in a future article.)

Later, after he had secured his professorship at the Academy of Leiden by hiding his true convictions in a conference with Gomarus, he began to spread his views to the students he taught. He did not immediately teach false doctrine at the Academy, but waited for a short time and then he began to slander the doctrine as it was taught in the Reformed Churches. He did this by various means. “Both openly and secretly” he would “call them into question” and “create suspicion among his pupils” (V.O.O.F., p. 49). Arminius “sought to render impotent the chief proofs by which those same doctrines were established from God’s Word” and “he exalted the proofs of the opposite doctrines” (V.O.O.F., p. 49). Further, he put in a bad light the writings of Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Zanchius, and Ursinus.

Not suprisingly, his students, upon leaving the Academy, began to teach doctrines which contradicted the accepted doctrines of the Reformed Churches. The Holland Churches began to take note of these troubling events and their delegates thought it necessary to bring these matters to the attention of the next Synod. Therefore, the Deputies of the North and South Holland Churches “confronted” Arminius concerning rumors surrounding him (V.O.O.F., p. 50). Arminius refused to cooperate with them as long as they remained in their capacity as Deputies. He said he would confer with them as preachers as long as they wouldn’t report to Synod. This the Deputies knew to be improper.

On July 26, 1604, Arminius was instructed by two elders of his church (Leiden) to have a conference with his fellow professors in the presence of the consistory in order to make known what he might have against Reformed doctrine. Again, Arminius refused, claiming the Curators of the Academy would have to approve and that he did not see the benefit of this kind of meeting.

This matter soon made it to the Synod of the South Holland churches by way of a protest from the Classis of Dordrecht. They heard also from the Deputies concerning the situation at Leiden. The Synod instructed the Deputies to “charge” the Curators that all the professors openly declare what they believed concerning the doctrines at issue (V.O.O.F., p. 51). This the Curators refused, saying that it would be better if a National Synod investigated the matter, which they said would soon be called.

The churches, seeing that the matter was not resolved and getting worse, petitioned the States-General to convene a National Synod, which for so many years had been delayed. The States-General declared that all of the States of the Provinces agreed, but some added the condition that at the Synod, the Confession and the Catechism must be revised. The Deputies, knowing that it was the Arminian party who had inserted this condition, requested that the Synod be authorized in general terms and not as if the States and Churches had doubts about these creeds.

Later, the States-General desired that “learned and peaceable Theologians” from every Province get together to discuss the “time, place, and manner of holding the National Synod” (V.O.O.F., p. 53). In anticipation of this meeting, the Deputies of the Synod of the Churches of Holland were instructed by the Synod to work to get removed the clause concerning the revision of the Confession and Catechism and to replace it with “softer” words (V.O.O.F., p. 54).

Further, this Synod also demanded of all the South Holland ministers and professors at Leiden to declare any “suspicions and their insights against the doctrine contained in the Confession and the Catechism” (V.O.O.F., p. 54). The ministers were to answer to the Classis, the professors to the Deputies, and the Classis would bring the objections to the National Synod.

When this demand was put before the ministers who sided with Arminius, they refused, saying they would do so at the right place and time. Arminius also refused the Deputies. He said that he could not now do it “in an edifying manner,” but would reveal his objections at a National Synod (V.O.O.F., p. 54).

From this chain of events which took place while Arminius yet lived, it is plain to see the difficult situation developing in the churches. Arminius and those who sided with him craftily pushed their agenda forward and the churches became more and more disturbed. We can learn from this history the tactics that the enemies of the truth use against the church.

First of all, those men knew that they could do much to damage the truth if they could infiltrate the seminaries. Once professors, they could spread their lies on a mass scale. Many young men would leave the theological schools infected with the lie which they passed on in their preaching as time passed. Arminius himself infected many young men with his errors.

Secondly, those enemies of the truth attempted to discredit the creeds of the Reformed Churches of the time, the Catechism and the Confession. No doubt their intent was to create doubt in the minds of the people concerning the doctrines which the Spirit of Truth had led the churches to develop in times of controversy. Having done this, they could then proceed to slowly lead the church away from Christ and more towards man.

Thirdly, those men did everything in their power to short-circuit the proper ecclesiastical operations of the churches. While they claimed to desire a National Synod, they worked deceitfully to avoid one. Whenever they were called upon by synodical deputies to clearly state what they believed, they would always have an excuse why they could not answer. Whenever they knew that any kind of ecclesiastical decision upon their errors was imminent, they would do everything in their power, including appealing to the state, to postpone that action.

These were some of the tactics which the Arminian party used in their disturbing of the churches. Next time, Lord willing, we will look at more of the events leading up to the Synod of Dordt, as well as noticing more of the tactics that the Remonstrants used in their attempt to destroy the Reformed faith.


Much of the information in this article has been taken from the book The Voice of Our Fathers, An Exposition of the Canons of Dordrecht, by Homer Hoeksema. Reformed Free Publishing Association, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Copyright 1980.