21. Select Articles from the so-called
Assembly at Wesel (1571)
Explanatory Comment: The Reformed Church increasingly felt the need for a church order or constitution. The ministers who attended this assembly based their order for the Reformed Churches in the Low Countries on earlier church orders. These included the Ecclesiastical Ordinance of Geneva (1541, revised in 1561), the orders composed for the Dutch Strangers' Congregation in London by Martin Micron and John à Lasco and the Discipline of the French Reformed Church.
Mystery surrounds the date, place and purpose of this particular ecclesiastical assembly. The articles bear the date 3 November 1568 and give Wesel as the place, but the first mention of an assembly having taken place then only occurs in 1618 and the original acts are no longer extant. It has recently been argued that a meeting occurred at Wesel shortly after 4 July 1571 to draft a church order in preparation for the synod of Emden which met on 4 October 1571.1 Whatever the time and place of the meeting, we should note that 'Wesel' was not strictly a synod: those who attended had not been delegated by classes. In effect it was a meeting of leading ministers and lay persons from the Low Countries, many of whom had been forced to go into exile. At this formative stage in the development of the Reformed Church, the ecclesiastical ordinances were not cast in tablets of stone, indeed the authors of these articles foresaw the time when it would be necessary to change these to some degree.
Text: Ch.2. Of Ministers and Doctors
1. In the first place it is quite essential that no one be admitted to the service of the Word of God or any other office in the Church without a valid calling, election, approval, a proper examination and a valid church order.
2. A calling and election cannot in any way be considered valid unless everything possible has been done to exclude the intrigue of the candidate, the unbridled and giddy dispositions of the people and the ambitions for power among the elders and the ministers.
3. To allow the calling to take place in the best way, it is strongly recommended that a godly magistrate should lend his assistance in the mature deliberations and prudent choice of the elders. In this way the whole decision of the people may be safely vested in their united authority. But since such an arrangement seems scarcely possible, we believe that no better regulation can be instituted than that the general consent of the Church should be united with the authority of the elders. And this practice shall be followed in every church until the synod, (once the classes have been divided) shall have decided that the ministers and elders of several churches should meet together for the election and examination of a minister. When that happens the consent of the people does not seem so necessary because the authority of many churches should be able to check the presumption of the elders (if this should, God forbid, have crept in).
4. Meanwhile, however, so long as this cannot be achieved, we believe that to ensure that the elders do not have more power and freedom in relation to the congregation than is reasonable the names of two candidates, who have been approved and examined (if they may be found), should after mature deliberation be made known to the congregation and one of these may then be chosen by vote and admitted to the exercise of the ministry.
8. On the issue of doctrine four points should be remembered. First a testimonial should be sought from the church, school or place where the candidate previously resided so that it may be uite clear whether he inclines to any heresy; whether he has busied himself to an unbecoming degree with singular and curious questions and vain speculations; whether he has read the books of heretics more diligently than is seemly and whether he has conversed much with fanatics and men given over to their own imaginings. Next, he should be asked whether he concurs with the doctrine which is publicly professed in the Church as it is contained in the Confession of Faith, which was first presented to the King of France by the ministers of the churches in that country, and subsequently also, having been translated into the vernacular, dedicated and submitted to the King of Spain and the other civil powers in the Netherlands and finally contained in the catechism. Thirdly, he should be examined on the chief heads of religion. And finally, he should be given two or three scriptural passages, which he must expound in the prophetic manner before the ministers, if they are present, and the prophets and doctors or (in their absence), the elders.
Ch.6 The Sacraments. The Lord's Supper
7. No one shall be admitted to the Lord's Supper who has not already made confession of his faith and submitted himself to the ecclesiastical discipline.
8. Those who wish to be admitted to the Lord's Supper shall give their names to the minister one week in advance; directly afterwards one or more elders, according to the circumstances of the wards and the number of persons, shall be appointed by the consistory to enquire diligently into their previous conduct and to make known their findings to the consistory so that it may intervene in time if there is an obstacle such as to hinder admission [to the Lord's Table]; if otherwise, so that it may proceed to an examination of faith.
Ch. 8 Discipline
1. Great care shall be taken to ensure that when a church has been newly founded ecclesiastical discipline is not neglected. Both the institution by, and the teaching of, Christ the Lord and the apostles as well as the practice of the apostolic and the older church everywhere, not to speak of daily experience, instruct us thoroughly how salutary and necessary [ecclesiastical discipline] is.
2. It is therefore reasonable that no one may be admitted to the ministry of the Word who is not prepared to maintain and preserve this ordinance of discipline.
3. We believe that discipline comprises both censorship of doctrine or religion and of conduct and the proper punishment, as well as excommunication, where the power of the keys, which was given to the Church by the Lord, is above all to be found.
4. It is beyond dispute that censorship over the religion and conduct of individual members of the Church belongs to the ecclesiastical senate [consistory], to wit, the assembly of elders supplemented by the ministers, doctors and prophets, if there be any of these.
5. It is clear to everyone that it would be contrary to all right and reason to exclude those whose duty it is to take note of all matters from judgement and correction. Therefore the correction of doctrine properly belongs to the ministers and doctors, and the correction of conduct to the elders. But these should certainly render one another mutual assistance.
22. Concerning the establishment of these essentials, which are here set out for the advancement of the well-being of the Churches of the Netherlands and her uniform and consistent ordering, the ministers, who have taken the trouble to draw these [articles] up, wish to bear witness before God and man that they have not in any way done this to the prejudice of other Churches. They have only taken account of time, place, persons and other circumstances and they have examined with the greatest care and diligence (after first having invoked God's help) what would, or would not be, expedient for the Churches of the Netherlands. And they have so conducted their business that, if it should happen that Our Lord Jesus Christ hereafter bestow his grace more abundantly on the Netherlands, there shall be room, both with regard to a pious reformation of the magistrate and the growth of the church, to develop these points more fully, as circumstances and times require, be it to augment, diminish or to revise these as necessary.
Source: Translated from the Dutch texts in Documenta
reformatoria, I, ed. J.N. Bakhuizen van den Brink et al., (Kampen, 1960) 181-91 and
Oude kerkordeningen, ed. C. Hooijer (Zaltbommel, 1865) 34-53. The Latin version in
Acta van de Nederlandsche synoden der 16e eeuw, ed. F.L. Rutgers, (Utrecht,
1889) 9-41 has been consulted.
1 For the most recent and most plausible interpretation see O. Boersma, Vluchtig voorbeeld
: de Nederlandse, Franse en Italiaanse vluchtelingenkerken in Londen, 1568-1585 (Kampen,