This year and next we’re celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort. The Synod of Dort 1618-19 is remembered most for the Canons of Dort dealing with the Arminian problem. However, the synod actually discussed and decided on far more matters. One of the topics discussed was catechetical instruction.
Early on at the synod, there was a significant discussion held on the best way to catechize the youth and others in the Reformed churches in the Netherlands. Advice was requested from the foreign delegates and many of them obliged. It’s interesting that a number of these foreign delegations wrote about the importance of involving parents in catechesis. For instance, the theologians of Hesse wrote, “We reckon and judge that this work of teaching catechism to the youth belongs to the Ministers of the Word of God, the teachers in the school, and finally the parents.” Parents who were nonchalant about that work were to be admonished by the consistory to diligently and faithfully teach the catechism to their children and families. Similarly, the theologians of Bremen advised the synod that they recognized three sorts of catechesis: scholastic (i.e., in the schools), ecclesiastical, and domestic. Parents, especially fathers, bore responsibility for domestic catechesis.
On Friday November 30, 1618 in its morning session, the Synod of Dort issued its decree on the manner of catechesis. Dort followed Bremen’s division of catechetical duties. The work of parents, however, was put up front. According to Dort, it is the work of parents to instruct their children and the whole family with all diligence in the elements of Christian religion. With an eye to each one’s capacity, parents are to seriously and diligently exhort their families in the fear of God and sincere piety. They are to discuss the sermons and especially the teaching of the Catechism. They are to read the Scriptures and explain them. If parents were not faithful in these duties, they were to be admonished by the pastors, and if necessary reprimanded and censured by the consistory.
It’s unfortunate that parental or domestic catechesis has been lost in so many places. It’s regrettable that many Reformed parents today expect the church to do virtually everything when it comes to the catechesis of covenant youth. The first responsibility lies with parents. Dort was right.
This past year will be remembered for our celebrations of the 500th birthday of the Reformation. All around the world, believers praised God again for what he did in leading Luther and others to recover the biblical gospel. What a great time to recall our Father’s mercies to his people!
The year of our Lord 2018 is going to feature more such celebrations. This year is the beginning of the 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort 1618-19. This year we’ll begin celebrating how God helped his church to reject the man-centered doctrines of Arminius and his followers. By God’s mercies, the doctrines of grace were defended and then codified in that faithful summary of Scripture we call the Canons of Dort.
This new year is also notable because it’s a synod year for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia (FRCA). Synod Bunbury is scheduled to begin on Monday June 18. Though it’s being convened by the church of Bunbury, the synod will actually be held in the facilities of the Southern River church (in the Perth metro area of Western Australia). There are a number of big items of interest, but let me just mention two, both pertaining to inter-church relations.
First is our relationship with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (RCN). As readers know, the RCN last year opened all the offices of the church to women. The FRCA has warned the RCN that if they did this, our relationship (which is currently suspended) will be terminated. It is expected that Synod Bunbury will carry through with this. If it does, we will be the first sister church to cut ties with the RCN over their unfaithfulness.
Second, there is a proposal to investigate the possibility of ecumenical relationships with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and the Southern Presbyterian Church. While this proposal originated with FRC Launceston, it has been adopted by Classis North of 20 October 2017. Moving in this direction will have the greatest impact on the Tasmanian churches, since this is the “heartland” of the EPC and SPC. Their congregations only exist in the eastern part of Australia. Here in Tasmania, we already enjoy many contacts with EP and SP brothers and sisters. Many of their children attend our John Calvin School. We’re working together to establish a Christian counselling organization. The EPC and FRC recently jointly hosted a Reformation commemoration. I just returned from speaking at the EPC biennial youth camp — I taught apologetics to about 60 young people, of whom over a quarter were from our Free Reformed Churches. We have many good connections already — it remains to be seen if we can draw closer together in a more formal relationship. Here we’re certainly praying for that!
This new year certainly promises to be interesting. God willing, I hope to be able to share developments with you here. Whoever you are and wherever you are, I pray that God will give you a most blessed 2018!