Calvin College Chimes

Calvin Seminary celebrates 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort

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Donald Sinnema, Professor of Theology Emeritus at Trinity Christian College, dressed in full costume as John Borgman, the chairman of the Dutch Delegates at the Synod of Dort.

Photo Credit: Zack DeBruyne, seminary student.

Donald Sinnema, Professor of Theology Emeritus at Trinity Christian College, dressed in full costume as John Borgman, the chairman of the Dutch Delegates at the Synod of Dort. Photo Credit: Zack DeBruyne, seminary student.

Donald Sinnema, Professor of Theology Emeritus at Trinity Christian College, dressed in full costume as John Borgman, the chairman of the Dutch Delegates at the Synod of Dort. Photo Credit: Zack DeBruyne, seminary student.

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The 400th anniversary of the Synod of Dort occurs later this year on November 13. To commemorate this formative moment in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), Calvin Theological seminary hosted the 2018 Synod of Dort Conference this past weekend, from Friday, September 14 to Saturday, September 15.

The Synod of Dort was a church council of the Dutch Reformed Church held in Dordrecht 400 years ago from 1618 to 1619. The synod gathered to provide a judgement for the Remonstrants, a group of pastors that objected to the Church’s interpretation of predestination in the Belgic Confessions and Heidelberg Catechism. The ruling of the synod resulted in the banishment of the Remonstrants and the production of the Canons of Dort, a standard confession for the CRC.

The conference opened with a lecture by Donald Sinnema, Professor of Theology Emeritus at Trinity Christian College. Sinnema appeared in full costume as John Borgman, the chairman of the Dutch Delegates at the Synod of Dort, and used the first person as he described the proceedings of the Synod. Sinnema joked, “The Synod of Dort was 400 years ago, so I still remember it well.”

The conference also included a lecture on the Remonstrant position by Keith Stanglin, professor of theology at Austin Graduate School of Theology, and a lecture on the Synod’s musician, Henderick Joostenszoon Speuij, by Randall Engle, professor of religious studies at Oakland University.

Karin Maag, professor of history and Director of H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies, explained that one of the goals of the conference was to show how a church conflict 400 years ago is still relevant today.

The Dutch Reformed Church first organized the synod to issue a rebuttal against the Remonstrant position of conditional predestination. However, Maag argued that the Synod’s real importance was in defining the Church’s self-identity. Maag said “They were asking questions like ‘What does it mean to be in the church?’” and continued, “‘Are we universal? Are we confessional?’”

The questions Maag described are questions that are relevant for Calvin students as they try to understand the religious tradition of the CRC. “The Synod of Dort is important,” she said, “Because it helps us understand the story of the church.”

The conference was sponsored by Calvin College, Calvin Theological Seminary, the H. Henry Meeter Center, Western Theological Seminary and the CRC. It included several lectures concerning the historical context of the Synod, an exhibit of the Statenbijbels (the translation of the Bible in Dutch commissioned by the Synod) and a panel discussion.

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