Serious Theological Debate
It’s easy for us to look back at previous centuries and see their own blindspots. So for example when we talk about the Synod of Dort, 1618 to 1619, we can look back and see that they shouldn’t have been threatening to kill each other over these doctrines and they shouldn’t have been threatening to imprison each other—the country was on the brink of civil war over these issues.
As is often the case, it was theological but it was also political and international that certain classes of people were wanting a closer relationship with Spain for trading purposes and other people wanted more distance from Spain after they had their independence from Spain. And so that divided people as some saw Arminianism as maybe what would help bring someone closer to a Catholic nation like Spain. Then you have people that don’t like the merchant class who side with the pastor’s class so it becomes a messy issue of politics.
They wanted to go to great lengths to ensure that the faith that they were teaching, that they were believing, that they were subscribing to was true and right and giving glory to God.
At this time, you still have a debate in countries like the Netherlands about whether your leader is an elected president, prime minister, king, or prince—and so you have these sorts of warring factions as well.
Up in Arms
All of that is going on in the midst of this theological controversy and it’s easy for us to say, “Well, they shouldn’t have been so literally up-in-arms about it.” And yet, there’s something to learn from that cultural context.
They cared about their theology so much. There’s a story even in the Synod of Dort when one particular delegate was expressing himself—perhaps not very well—and was showing some Arminian sympathies and one of the leading delegates challenged him to a duel on the spot.
The presiding officer over the Senate tried to calm things down and have people spend some time in prayer. After the prayer ended, he stood up again and challenged him to a duel again. Now thankfully they didn’t fight to the death over it.
We can laugh at that and think that you shouldn’t be fighting in duels over points of theology. True, and yet there’s something to learn in our age about how much they cared about these points and how they saw that the worship of God was at stake, the purity of the church was at stake, the understanding of Scripture was at stake. And so they wanted to go to great lengths to ensure that the faith that they were teaching, that they were believing, that they were subscribing to was true and right and giving glory to God.
The Synod of Dort's desire was to defend Reformed theology from slander and to call upon Christ to protect the truth and sanctify his church.
Many of us, even Christians, have little patience for rigorous thinking and little interest in careful definition.
Especially as Christians, we understand how important it is to have been saved by grace.