The Place of the Confederation of Churches in Scripture and History - Rev. I. de Wolff

Taken from the"almond-branch" [Later known as "The Interleague Publication Board" ] Vol. 1 Sept. 1970, No. 1- No. 4


(A speech given by the Rev. I. de Wolff at the General Meeting of the League of Reformed Men's Societies, held at Amsterdam, May 15, 1952; with additional notes resulting from the discussion.)


Our fathers of the 16th century did not break with the Church, but with its organization. In Rome as is well known, this organization is papal, Wherever it was the government which introduced the Reformation, it was a foregone conclusion that the state became Protestant, and that first of all the national church was instituted. The whole came before the parts. The magistrate (civil authorities) were recognized as magistrates also in the Church. Instead of the papal hierarchy there arose the "magisterial authority", where the government rules the church, assisted by the clerical dignitaries who are appointed by the government. The confederation of churches then has its basis in the will of the territorial prince. Thus it happened in Lutheran Germany, as well as in Calvinist England, and the Dutch King William I, following the example of other countries, in 1816 introduced this magisterial system of church government also in the Netherlands. [1]

Radically opposed to this is the independentistic movement as it historically arose in England during the 16th century, under the influence of Anabaptism, which takes as its starting point the sovereignty of the people, and refuses to acknowledge any external organization with a confession and a church order. [2]

When it was the church itself which introduced the Reformation, the independence of the local church was recognized; at least wherever the teachings of Calvin were followed, who clearly saw the scriptural principle of church government. However, to promote unity, it was decided from the beginning to have a confederate organization as well, with synods and classes. That organization was not, however, to restrict the rights and freedoms of the local churches. The confederation of churches exists for the sake of the local churches, and not vice versa. According to this principle then it has been attempted to guarantee (as far as is humanly possible) the internal unity by means of a common confession, and to give form to the external unity and organization by means of a common church order. The principles were taken from the Scriptures, as Calvin had confessed them in his works on dogma and church policy. As long as there was not yet a confederation of churches, Calvin, who was generally acknowledged as an authority, was as it were the "unifying link"; the churches allowed themselves to be led by his publications and advice. But this situation could not, of course, continue. A confederation of churches was necessary, and Calvin himself has had a large part in its establishment.

Because the confederation of churches has time and again been a point of discussion, [3] and because in our time also many questions concerning it have been raised, the Board of the League (of Men's Societies) considered it advisable to have this topic, which is still of great interest and importance, introduced at the General Meeting of this year. It is the intention that we first consider what the Scriptures teach us concerning this subject and what lessons we may draw from the history of the 16th century.

The word ecclesia occurs several times in the N.T., in Math. 16:18, 18:17, the Acts, the epistles of Paul, Hebrews, James, John III, and Revelation. The Staten Vertaling (Dutch: The States General Translation) translates this word as "congregation" and whereas the word "Church" [4] has been established through common usage, either word may be used interchangeably, unless a specific agreement has been made.[5]

When the question is raised in what sense the N.T. uses the word "ecclesia", it appears that a few times it is used to point out the whole Church, but most frequently, and therefore to be called as such, the church within its local boundaries.

The significance of the whole Church throughout the entire world, the "Gesamtgemeinde", the Church as it is everywhere and at all times, can he found for instance in Math. 16:18 where Christ says that "upon this rock" He will build His church. Likewise in Eph. 1:22 and Col. 1:18, where it is written that Christ, Who has created all things and under whose feet all things have been subjected, has been given to be the head of His church. The Heidelberg Catechism, in Lords Day 21, also speaks in this sense about the Church.

However, the N.T. speaks far more about the Church within its local boundaries. We have purposely expressed it thus, since it appears that the NT mentions not only the local Church, but also "huisgemeenten", house congregations, as distinguished from the local Church. We may perhaps infer from Rome. 16:5, 14, 15 (comp. 1 Cor. 16:19) that when Paul wrote this epistle there were three house congregations in Rome. We know nothing about their relationship but it is possible that together they formed one congregation. The reason for gathering in different locations may he explained by either a lack of a suitable meeting place or by great distances. We may perhaps assume a similar situation in Corinth, this with reference to I Cor. 14:23 - "If therefore the whole church be come together into one place". In Col. 4:15 we find another example, "Salute the brethren which are in Laodicea, and Nympha, and the church which is in his house." A distinction is made here between the congregation (local Church) and a house congregation.

There is a similar situation in the epistle to Philemon. Paul writes to Philemon, Appia and Archippus, "and to the church in thy house." (vs. 2). It is fairly certain that Appia was the wife of Philemon and Archippus their son, while the word "church" would indicate first of all their servants, including Onesimus, about whom Paul writes in this epistle. Now we may assume that Philemon dwelt in Colosse [6] so that we have to distinguish here too, just as in Laodicia, between a local church, and a separate house congregation.

This then may be considered a tolerated remnant of the heathen religious practices of Paul's days, when the wealthy, although belonging to a certain religious community, nonetheless had their own religious cult as well, forming as it were, their own circle. It is remarkable that Paul gives these separate circles also the name Church or congregation. It is not apparent from the NT what the organizational relationship was to the local church, although we may be certain that such circles did not arise due to strife and disagreements.[7]

As to the origin of these local congregations, we must consider especially Acts 9.31, Gal. 1.22 and James 5.14. We read in Acts 9:31 "Then had the churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria and were edified, etc." The most reliable manuscripts have the word congregation in the singular, thus we get this strange figure that one church is mentioned as existing in all of Palestine. This might create the impression as if there was one national church at the time.

An explanation for this has been sought in different ways. Kuyper was dubious about this text-critical modification, and even if it should be justified, he nevertheless refused to speak about a national institution, but evaded the issue by pointing out that it is only the spiritual welfare that is considered here.[8] Against this reasoning we must remark that nonetheless a historical situation is pointed out here, also as to the question whether there were one or more churches. We must make the same objection to the opinion that reference is made here to the Church as a unity, existing, it is true, in many instituted congregations, but being one in Christ, for we are dealing here with a record of history and not with dogmatic distinctions.

Grosheide believes that Luke describes a historical situation in which all the congregations together actually formed one Church under the leadership of the apostles.[9] However our objection to this (which also applies to the above mentioned opinions) is, that the explanations are based on the assumption that at that time already several local congregations were found in Palestine, which should first be proven.

This verse is to be read in connection with the following part of the chapter, and then it appears that the situation is given as it existed shortly after Paul's conversion, when Peter began his apostolic journey, hence in the year 31 or 32 (having taken the year 31 as the date of Paul's conversion). [10] At that time, therefore, there was a church in Palestine.

In Gal. 1:22 Paul writes: "and (I) was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ." Paul relates at this point that three years after his conversion, that is in 34, he came to Jerusalem, where he met only Peter and James, and remained unknown to the churches in Judaea, (meant is all of the Jewish country), where the other apostles probably were at the time. Here the Scripture therefore points out clearly that in 34 A.D. there were churches (plural).

In this connection a third text in the Scriptures is important, James 5:14, "Is any sick among you? Let him call the elders of the church; etc." James, the brother of the Lord, who was sometimes referred to as apostle, although he was not one of the twelve, was the minister of the church at Jerusalem, and wrote his epistle to the dispersed Christians, "the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad" shortly after the persecution. This epistle of James is the first of the N.T. writings. [11] It appears from James 5:14 that churches had been instituted already everywhere (probably by the apostles although this is not certain) and that they had elders. It is remarkable that he speaks of elders "of the church" which is a specific indication that he did not mean the elders of the synagogue, but of the church. The Church existed still in its first phase, and its members still had often contacts with those of the Jewish synagogue. It is also noteworthy that the Greek text of James 2:2 speaks of synagogue to indicate a meeting of the congregation. It may appear from the above that the words "synagogue" and "ecclesia" were sometimes used interchangeably, just as is still done today with respect to the words: Reformed, liberated and synodical. The epistle of James was therefore written at a time when the formation of churches had just been completed, perhaps in the year 34. Comparing these texts with each other, we reach the obvious conclusion that the formation of churches took place between the years 31 (32) and 34. Acts 9:31 still mentions only one church, that of Jerusalem as it was actually spread out over all of Palestine at the time, due to the many thousands of fugitives who had settled everywhere. Then in the year 34 there were churches everywhere, although they were still young, as appears from James epistle; these were probably instituted by the apostles.

While in Judaea, congregations were established in many places, undoubtedly also because of the preaching to non-Christians, but especially because of the circles formed by the fugitives. It appears from Acts 11:20 that Hellenistic Jews from Cyprus and Cyrene brought in Antioch the gospel to gentiles, and that a congregation was formed there not so much as a result of circles of fugitives, but rather as a result of the preaching of the gospel and the conversion of gentiles. Out of Antioch the gospel was preached by Paul and others at many places in Asia and Europe.

The unity of the Church therefore is not rooted in its external organization, but lies in Christ, and historically in the Church at Jerusalem as Christ Himself has begun to gather it.


When we consider all these facts, it is apparent that the Church has continually spread itself, and that wherever it was found, it actually originated from the mother church at Jerusalem. Now we realize that the Lord Christ, Who brings forth His Church through regeneration by the Holy Spirit, by means of the preaching of the gospel, also historically since He Himself taught, and gathered a circle of disciples around Him, is the founder of the Church in its NT phase in Palestine and in the world of the gentiles.

Historically we may therefore speak of a process of growth. First of all there were the apostles and other disciples, who on the day of the Pentecost formed the first nucleus of the Church, gathered out of Jewry.

Then, through the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, this small congregation grows in a short period into a Church estimated at some 20,000 members.

After this the Church, as it were, propagates itself throughout all of Palestine and the heathen world, for which purpose God used the persecution.

And still the Great Sower continues, so that today the Church is spread over the entire world, and still the sowing process is not finished. And again and again the Church originates historically from the Church.

The unity of the Church therefore is not rooted in its external organization, but lies in Christ, and historically in the Church at Jerusalem as Christ Himself has begun to gather it.

The unity of the Church, then, does not come about because the local churches are united by an external federation, but because it has spread ever further and has branched out in many places and countries.

The unity of the Church is essentially not organizational, but is historically given and is spiritual in nature. In this sense we follow the Scriptures when we say: "There is one Church throughout the entire world"; and with art. 27 of the Belg. Conf.: "(The Church) is spread and dispersed over the whole world; and yet is joined united with heart and will, by the power of faith, in one and the same Spirit," which is to say that no disunity or contrast arises because of the dispersion, because we all (Churches and individuals) are joined by the one Spirit and united in the fear of God's name, in the same service, in one faith, one love, and one hope of life eternal.

The fact that many congregations and communities have fallen into apostasy or have isolated themselves in self-willed worship, does not detract from this truth that the Church of Christ is one in faith through the one Spirit.

Now the question arises whether the NT does not also mention an external organizational confederacy. In this connection we must consider 2 Cor. 8:19 and Acts 15. According to 2 Cor. 8:19, the churches of Macedonia elected a brother to bring money to Jerusalem. This brother, together with another (whose name is not mentioned) and Titus, were sent to the Church at Corinth and later journeyed with Paul to Jerusalem. It is not apparent from the NT whether all the other churches who had held collections for the impoverished Church at Jerusalem also elected deputies. Even if this were so, it is difficult to maintain that this should indicate that a synod was held at Jerusalem. What is mentioned here is the delivery of a substantial sum of money, and it is only natural to appoint for such a purpose dependable persons, even, if necessary, by elections. In the case mentioned in 2 Cor. 8:19 this happened according to Paul's wish, because he was suspected of trying to enrich himself.

Acts 15 seems to give more reason for the opinion that a synod was already held in apostolic times. Here we read of the convention held at Jerusalem by representatives from Antioch with the apostles and elders in the presence of the congregation of Jerusalem. In his commentary Grosheide refers to it as a synod. It is true that only two churches had come together while none of the others is mentioned, nevertheless, it has been suggested this could he considered a beginning of a synodical confederacy; for the first time a major assembly had come together. Now we should realize that by careful reading several questions arise, which cannot he answered with certainty. But even apart from that, an objection against this reasoning is that Paul writes in Gal. 2:2, "And I went up by revelation" (the apostle is speaking here of his journey to Jerusalem in connection with the convention of Acts 15.) It was therefore a unusual delegation.

Acts 15:2 relates that when a severe dispute arose between Paul and Barnabas on the one hand, and some Judaists on the other, who demanded that the congregation of Antioch be brought under the law of Moses and be forced to accept circumcision, the Church decided to send Paul and Barnabas and certain others to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, to discuss the matter with them. The intention probably was that the Church of Antioch would like to know what were the thoughts of the other apostles and the Church of Jerusalem on this matter. However Paul writes later that he went in accordance with a divine revelation. Naturally the one need not exclude the other, although we may draw the conclusion that Paul, before accepting the deputation, was instructed by the Lord Himself to go. It therefore does not appear to have been a case of the church, because of a revelation, sending Paul and Barnabus, since Luke would have mentioned this in that case. (comp. Acts 13:2.)

We must consider at this point that the matter of the circumcision may well have been a dubious one for the Church at Antioch, but it most certainly could not have been so for Paul. Having received the gospel from Christ Himself, Paul knew very well that circumcision had been done away with and must not bind the consciences, so that he did not need to go to Jerusalem for more information. His severe dispute in Antioch against the Judaists arises from his apostolic calling to oppose the error, and to advance the gospel more and more. And it is understandable that Paul would not immediately consent to the request of the congregation to discuss this matter with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. It is not even impossible to suppose that Paul feared a conflict there. And we may assume that if a different decision had been taken in that city, Paul certainly would not have submitted to it.

The apostle to the gentiles knew only too well that whoever wanted to impose circumcision as binding, would make the cross of Christ of non-effect. Now however he writes about a divine revelation. The Lord Himself commands Paul to go to Jerusalem, for which He has His divine purpose. It is only then that Paul departs. In his epistle to the Galatians, he therefore does not mention delegation, but places all the emphasis on the revelation. Therefore we may say that although Antioch sent out the apostle and the others, Paul went only because of God's revelation. This then immediately casts a very special light on the conference at Jerusalem. Here there were no representatives of a church with a mandate to discover together what is the will of God, but here was Paul, sent by the Lord, without Whose commission that of the Church would have been of no effect for him, and completely assured of his own dogmatic viewpoint from which he would not have been moved, since his doctrine was that of Christ. That convention at Jerusalem, therefore, was permitted by the Lord, but was completely unnecessary as far as Paul was concerned.

Of an external organization of local churches in synodical confederacy there is not a trace in the NT Yet there was contact between the churches. The inner union, resulting from the fact that they were one in Christ, and had come out of one mother church, that they possessed one faith, served one God, and were governed by one Holy Spirit, revealed itself outwardly; e.g. in supporting each other, whenever necessary, with gifts of charity; but not as yet in an external form of organization. It is a beautiful thought that the first revelation of the internal spiritual bond was the act of offering.

An ecclesiastical organization was, in fact, not necessary, because the apostles were yet alive, and Paul especially was the "oracle" and leader of the churches, as is clearly shown, e.g., in the Epistles to the Church at Corinth. Paul assumed that position, which in the beginning of the Reformation of the 16th century was filled by Calvin, although with this distinction of course, that Paul acted with apostolic authority.

On the other hand, we learn from Acts 15 that God did not forbid the assemblies of several churches. We add immediately, however, that such assemblies were not necessary in apostolic times. Scripture therefore does not teach the necessity in such a manner that organized confederacy should belong to the essence of the Church, and that the local churches could not exist without such an organization. Rather, the NT fully emphasizes that the centralization of the O.T. has had to yield to the decentralization of the NT The tabernacle containing one candlestick with seven lamps, symbolized Israel's religious community; on the other hand Rev. 1 describes Christ walking among seven candlesticks, which are the seven churches, symbolizing the entire New Testament Church. Israel had to assemble in one place to serve God at the religious feasts; according to the NT the Church continues to be spread out over the entire world, wherever communities of men are to be found, and so the one Church differentiates into a multitude of Churches, which all have equal authority concerning the preaching of the gospel, administration of the sacraments, and discipline.

In this way the glory of the kingship of Christ shines forth, Who Himself reigns His Church and churches by His Word and Spirit. For what is the meaning of Christ's kingship, other than that He governs His people, and maintains, protects and preserves His Church.

Naturally this does not mean that the churches, after the passing away of the apostles, entered upon a sinful way when they began to have contact with each other, and before too long sent representatives to each other, which gradually resulted in an external organization. It seems not improbable that the organization of Churches arose out of the need to assist each other in the severe battle against the heresies, which caused such extreme damage during the first centuries. Nevertheless there is room for the opinion that the love of power (of which the first traces were found already in the Church of Rome towards the end of the first century) also had its influence. Little can be said concerning the second and third centuries since almost nothing is known about that time.

However, let us ask rather how the confederacy of churches arose in the 16th century, and what caused our fathers to establish an external organization, after they had cast off the papal hierarchy. For if there was one generation that must have feared the hierarchy, it must have been that of our forefathers who personally experienced the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

The Reformed confederacy of churches came to life in France. In 1558 the church of Paris, which had been instituted three years earlier, sent Antoine de Chandieu, a pupil of Calvin and Beza, to Poitiers, for the purpose of solving certain difficulties. During his stay there, the Lord's Supper was celebrated, which many ministers of the surrounding area attended as guests. After the Lord's Supper, when the ministers gathered together and talked about the progress the Reformation had made and about doctrine and discipline, someone suggested that it would be a good thing for the French churches to accept a joint confession and church order.

It is a beautiful thought that the very first beginning of the confederacy of churches lies at the communion table of Poitiers. As the churches of the apostolic time outwardly revealed their unity especially in the financial offerings for Jerusalem, so the unity in France was experienced at the celebration of the Lord's Supper, and plans were made to invite all the churches in France to experience this unity in outwardly confessing their mutual faith and in adopting a common church order. Chandieu was requested to discuss this with the Church of Paris, "to see whether there were any means to supply such a benefit for the future of the Churches, without which they appeared to be threatened with much confusion" (Beza) Paris notified the churches of this proposal, and it was decided to meet in the capital, as it indeed happened in the suburb of St. Germain. It was understandable that, in that time of persecution and oppression, a large city was chosen as a meeting place where strangers would not as easily attract attention.

The synod convened on Thursday, May 2 5, 1559 and lasted a good two weeks. The work was done in great haste, so that the representatives would not be together too long in those troubled times, and they managed in the first three days to adopt a church order while the remaining time was used to formulate a confession. It is possible that Chandieu drafted the church order. The author of the confession was probably Calvin, although some consider it to he Beza, Calvin's colleague and a man of similar conviction. In a letter dated May 8, Francois de Morel, who had been elected chairman of the synod, had informed Calvin of the plans to draw up a confession and had asked for Calvin's advice. Calvin wrote in reply that the time was too short to give a documented advice before synod convened; he warned against acting rashly, and further indicated that he would send some brethren from Geneva to assist the synod with their advice. Such things apparently were possible at that time! During the synod, after the church order had been adopted, Arnoldus, Gilbertus and Gallarius arrived (from Geneva), who had brought a draft of a confession from Calvin, as can be gathered from a later letter written by Francois de Morel. After some editorial alterations the synod adopted this confession, which is known by the name: Confession de Foi.

It is a beautiful thought that the very first beginning of the confederacy of churches lies at the communion table of Poitiers.


Regarding the church order, its significance lies mainly in its presbyterial/synodical character. Until that time, only local rules or church orders were known, such as the one Calvin gave to the church of Geneva in 1514. And in contrast with Rome, the office of elders came strongly to the foreground in those local church orders. However, the synodical confederacy, regulated by a church order, such as we know it, was still unknown to Calvin. In imitation of the ancient councils, the Churches of Switzerland were familiar with the meetings of ministers, which were held optionally and were considered of great value by Calvin and Beza, but they were unacquainted with a synod of ministers and elders, thus of a presbyterial character, which was to be held at regular times. This is found for the first time in the church order of the synod of Paris of 1559. The origin of our confederacy of churches is found in France, and it is in accordance with Calvin's teachings.

The French confession was edited two years later by Guido de Bres in a Dutch translation for the churches in the Netherlands. The reason why Guido de Bres was not satisfied with a simple translation was because he wanted to give attention in the Confession to the sect of the Anabaptists, who had caused so much trouble in the Netherlands. Also he did not wish to hurt national feelings, since the French at that time had made plans to annex the Netherlands.

The church order received the finishing touches at the synod of Nimes in 1572, where also the system of classical meetings was introduced, and was edited for the churches of the Southern Netherlands in the church order of Antwerp, 1564. The latter served as model for the church organization which was adopted in the Northern Netherlands in 1572 and following years.

History teaches that the organizational confederacy of churches was born from the need of the churches, at least where the 16th century is concerned. There were many disturbances in the different churches. How frequently did they not have to ask Calvin's advice, or turn for advice to the Church of Emden, (where around 1560 there were five ministers, among whom the able Johannes A. Lasco) or contact neighbouring churches. There were for example many difficulties in the Dutch Church at London, among other things concerning their relationship with the resistance and the practices of the Sea Beggars (Watergeuzen), about which they asked the opinion of the Church at Geneva. In Antwerp there was a minister, Cornelis van Haamstede, who refused to submit himself to the regulations of his consistory, saying that he was subject to the Word of God, but refused to he burdened with human institutions, concerning which problem the Church of Emden was approached. The many congregations of refugees in the Paltz and the Rhine area had difficulties regarding the relationship towards the German Lutherans and the assistance to refugees.

In the circle of the Dutch Churches along the English coast there was one congregation which considered it unnecessary to attend the assembly of churches in London every year. [12] There were many discipline problems, and later doctrinal problems were added. Also it was not healthy for all those churches at the beginning to depend completely on Calvin. The Confederacy of churches therefore is born out of practical difficulties. The danger was by no means imaginary that the churches were growing apart, and that, as a result of widely different practices and even doctrines, the simple souls would become confused and a spiritual chaos would arise. For that reason the joint confession of faith came into being, which also arose out of necessity, i.e. to serve one another in the preservation of the pure doctrine; as well as the joint church order, in order to assist each other, for the good of the members in the practical difficulties of church government. Are not the Churches one? Is not there the spiritual unity of the one Church which was sown, and which in the 16th century, through reformation, was purified in many places, and which in the office of elders regained a local, scriptural form of government? The unity of the Church does not mean that we turn our backs on each other in order to be completely independent, but that we help and serve each other. The Holy Spirit, Who dwells in His Church, causes the desire to come together and work together. That which applies to every local church, also applies to the entire true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ: "There is one body and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all." (Eph. 4:4-6).

The "Unity in the Spirit" is different from that unity found among "soul mates" or a "society of friends". With respect to the church we do well to remember, time and time again, that she is a FAITH accompli.

From "Tolle Lege", aphorisms by Dr.K.Schilder.
(paraphrased by J.J.Kuntz)


[1]Return In 18 5 2 King William II returned the supreme authority over the Reformed (Hervorrode) Church to this church. However, it remained one national institution, of which the local churches were mere divisions. This remained the same when a reorganization was introduced in May, 1950.

[2]Return The doctrine of independentism (which still survives in the English and American Congregational Churches, including the groups emerging from them) is as follows: all authority rests with the congregational meeting, which decides on all matters of doctrine, supervision, and discipline, the acceptance and excommunication of members and the appointments and dismissals of church officials, who, in actual fact, merely execute the will of the people. Through the free will of the believers, it is possible for one or more congregations to he established in a certain place alongside an existing one. An organized confederation with a common confession and church order is not recognized.

The founder of the (English) independentistic movement was Robert Browne. During his stay in the port city of Norwich, he was strongly influenced by the Anabaptists who had settled there, and who joined him in large numbers. He belonged to the Church of England, which at the time of the Reformation had retained the hierarchical organization of bishops, but recognized the supremacy of the crown instead of the pope. Because of his activities he encountered great difficulties, and in 1581 he fled to Middelburg with some of his followers. After a number of years he departed to Scotland. He died in prison at an old age.

We must distinguish this English independentism from the activities of Jean Morelli, who, about twenty years previous to Robert Browne, had fought in France for free elections by the congregational meetings. He lived in Paris, but, as a result of the persecutions, escaped to Geneva, where he showed himself a zealous supporter of the Calvinistic reformation. But due to his views on church policy, which he publicized in writing, he came into conflict with the reformed. The Synod of Orleans of 1562 condemned his opinions and the following year, when he refused to submit, he was excommunicated by the consistory of Geneva, after which he fled.

[3]Return Already in the 16th century the organization of the confederation of churches met with opposition in the Netherlands, as appears from a letter written by the congregation at Cologne to William of Orange on August 22, 1571. Herein the request was made that the Prince promote, and even, if necessary, command (!) the convocation of a Synod, and it was stated that some people in Holland refused to meet for a Synod, for which refusal several reasons were given, which were accounted in this letter as of no importance. The consistory of Cologne wrote also to the ministers of Heidelberg on August 18, 1571, with respect to the opposition in Holland to the convocation of the first synod, "Car nous entendons (a notre tres grand regret touttefoys) que Satan se vouldrois bien servir des freres Hollandois pour rompre ceste sainte entreprise; chose vrayment a deplorer" we learn. however, to our great sorrow that Satan might well wish to serve himself of the Dutch brethren in order to prevent this enterprise; truly a deplorable situation.)

In 1706 Campegius Vitringa held a discourse (Oratio de synode earumque utilitate, etc.) which appeared in Dutch translation under the title: "Over de synoden, derzelver nuttigheid, noodzakelijkheid, engezag" (Concerning synods, their usefulness, necessity and authority.) Herein Vitringa points out that in apostolic times there was no reason for the existence of synods because the apostles were there. Synods were said to have originated at a later date as a result of lust for power, "running in all things contrary to the first and real principles of christianity." With the apostles we hear of teaching rather than commanding; of preaching instead of law-giving; sometimes, giving their opinions, 1 Cor. 4:17, Col. 1:28, 1 Cor. 2:4, 1 Cor. 7:25, 1 The-ss. 2:6.

However, although the rise of the synodical confederation of churches coincided with the rise of the hierarchy of the first centuries, it is nevertheless true that this confederation became necessary because of practical reasons.

It is also evident from the discourse mentioned that at that time there were a great many different opinions regarding the holding of synods, also among reformed people, some of whom referred to them (with reference to Isaiah 59) as spider webs; their judgment was consequently hardly flattering.

It is a well known fact that there was no less strife concerning the confederation of churches during the first years following the Separation (Afscheiding). H. de Cock wished to go back to the historical line by returning in all things to the service and discipline of the fathers of Dordt. H. P. Scholte, however, who had been somewhat influenced by independentistic ideas, did not really believe in a common church order.

A publication still worth reading is "Independentism" by G. F. Kerkhof, 1917, wherein he points out the independentistic tendencies which were easily noticeable in his time, favoured as they were by the individualistic nature of the people of the Netherlands.

[4]Return In the confession our fathers wrote the word "Church" with a capital letter whenever the true Church was meant, and with a small letter to indicate the false church.

[5]Return In the new church order of the "Hervormde Kerk", introduced May 1, 1950, the word Church is used to indicate the national institute, and the word congregation to point out the local congregation.

[6]Return The assumption that Philemon lived in Colosse is based on the fact that the names of Onesimus (Col. 4:9 and Phil. :10) and Archippus (Col. 4:17 and Phil. :2) occur in both epistles which were written from Rome at the same time. Although it is possible that in the epistle to Colosse other persons were mentioned having the same names as in the epistle to Philemon, this is not likely.

[7]Return In this connection one might point to 1 Cor. 1: 10, where Paul mentions dissensions, because people said that they were of Paul, or of Apollos, or of Cephas, or of Christ. Nevertheless, as appears from 1 Cor. 11:17, 18, they did not gather separately in Paul, Apollos-, Cephas-, and Christ-groups.

[8]Return Encycl. III 228.

[9] Commentary on Acts.

[10] This calculation is obtained as follows: Herod Agrippa died in the year 44 (Acts 12:21). After his death there was peace once more for the Church at Jerusalem, from which the apostles had fled during Herod's persecutions. During that time must have taken place the journey of Paul and Barnabas from Antioch to Jerusalem to deliver the charitable donations (Acts 11:30; 12:25), that is approx. in the year 45 or 46. Then followed the first missionary journey, which lasted about a year and a half, after which Paul and Barnabas again remained some time in Antioch. After this the convention of Acts 15 occurred, around 48 or 49. Paul's conversion had taken place approx. 16 years previously, for he went to Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Gal. 1:18), which were not necessarily three full years, and he returned 14 years later (Gal. 2:1) to Jerusalem because of the convention. Together this makes 16 or 17 years. From this we gather that his conversion took place in 31 or 32. It is definitely an error to assume that Christ was horn in the year 1, because in recalculating the pagan calendar at the time of the introduction of the Christian calendar a miscalculation of a few years was made. Christ was born before Herod died (Math. 2), and Herod's death took place in the year 4 before our Christian era; therefore the Lord Christ must have been born in that same year (4), or earlier. The exact date cannot be calculated so far because of insufficient information.

[11] The conclusion that this epistle dated back to the earliest times may he drawn from the following: church life in the dispersion has barely begun to unfold; there is no mention of any doctrinal development as in Paul's epistles; the epistle is practical and comforting for persecuted people, who are now in poor social circumstances, and the manner of speaking relates itself closely to that of the Sermon on the Mount; there is no evidence yet of doctrinal problems, and of the severe dissensions with the Judaists, which began around 48, there is not a word, which one might otherwise have expected to have been the case, since the dispersed people to whom James wrote were scattered as far as pagan Syria. The epistle shows in every way that it was written before church life had developed very far.

[12] This was the Church of Norwich. In March of 1575 a preparatory meeting was held to arrive at a confederacy between the seven Dutch refugee Churches along the English coast. This confederacy of churches was established at the next meeting, May 1576. Since the Churches were very poor (according to English law immigrants were forbidden to establish themselves as independent businessmen) it was decided to meet once a year as classis. Originally the meetings were called "Colloquium. or Tsamengespreck"(!) It was determined "that these colloquies would have their authority through the submissions of all the Churches" (i.e., because of representation)! It was also decided that "no Churches shall he forced to accept that which they can prove with reasons to he unable to accept". Here lie golden rules for reformed church law. The aim was to preserve the unity in doctrine, conduct, discipline, ceremonies, church government, and to advise each other; matters which could not be settled within the Churches would be brought before the colloquium. It was that urge for unity that drove the Churches more and more together. Had there not been the complaint in earlier days that many simple souls no longer knew what they should abide by, since before the existence of the church confederacy there were differences everywhere in church customs, liturgy, discipline, etc.?

Confusion is harmful for the souls. How remarkable nevertheless was the flexible attitude towards the Church of Norwich which refused to follow suit. At the assembly of 1578 Norwich was absent because their only minister was too busy - which argument the classis naturally considered unacceptable. At the next meeting (which was not held until 1581 due to persecutions) Norwich was absent because it considered it unnecessary to meet for such an agenda (to elect representatives for the synod of Middelburg, which representation it considered unnecessary). At the meeting of 1583 (there was none in 1582) the representatives of Norwich were absent once more because they did not think the meeting necessary. At the next one, 1584, Norwich is again absent. Not until 15 8 6, after an absence of eight years altogether, there were two delegates present, but only to cooperate on one item of the agenda. Even then the assembly is so easy-going that for this reason that specific item is placed first for discussion. Only in 1599 (there was no earlier meeting) when there is a different minister in Norwich is everything normal. Our forefathers did not easily become nervous. Meanwhile this shows how great was their fear of the hierarchy of ecclesiastical assemblies, now that they had been freed from the papacy. But there was also an individualistic tendency apparent, characteristic of the Dutch. Yet our forefathers did present us with a church order!