The Dutch Reformed and Observance of Holy Days

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Nate

Puritan Board Junior
The attached paper outlining the history of the Dutch Reformed observance of feast days might pique the interest of some here. @NaphtaliPress has posted this paper in past years, but I thought it is worth a re-post. My apologies if it was already posted this year and I missed it.

As a brief reminder, Church Orders in denominations with Dutch Reformed roots typically advocate the observance of multiple holy (or special) days. For example, in my denomination, eight “special services” are observed each year. The extent to which these special services are prescribed or “enforced” varies between denominations. Some denominations have modified their Church Order to deemphasize these special services, while others strongly encourage observance. The following announcement, which was issued this past Lord’s Day, is representative of how these services are observed in my denomination:
In harmony with Article 67 of the Church Order the consistory calls the congregation to worship this Wednesday, December 25 at 10:00 a.m. for Christmas.

The attached paper is short but well-cited and certainly worth the time to read for those interested in the general topic of Protestant ecclesiastical countenancing of feast days or holy days.

I found it particularly interesting that, in the late 16th century, numerous provincial synods remonstrated the government to cease observing the feast days or at least to allow citizens to keep their business open and work six days in the week. It seems that from the 1570s – 1610s, this issue was a source of real disagreement and confusion between church and state and consumed considerable attention at provincial and national synods. The last national synod of the 17th and 18th centuries (the great Synod of Dort 1618/19) seemed to attempt to limit the number of feast days by taking the following decision:
The churches shall observe in addition to the Lord’s Day, also Christmas day, Easter, and Pentecost, together with the following day. And since in most cities and provinces of the Netherlands the day of circumcision and the ascension day are also observed, the ministers everywhere shall remonstrate the government so that in those regions where it is not the case, a uniform practice may be maintained.

Interestingly, although many contemporary denominations with Dutch Reformed roots now include Good Friday in their list of feast days to be ecclesiastically celebrated, this particular day was left out of the Synod of Dort’s list, as up to this point, the Remonstrants were the only group who had formalized the Good Friday celebration.

Following the Synod of Dort, there was some discussion as to whether the above decision was taken for the purpose of making the celebration of these days compulsory in churches, or for the purpose of limiting the creep of additional days into the church. The attached paper provides several points of analysis by Voetius (who was the youngest delegate to Dort). Voetius was adamant that Dort’s decision was “tolerating and limiting, not positive and prescriptive”. He calls those who were teaching that observance of these days is commanded “scandalisers”.

Many contemporary Dutch Reformed denominations consider the churches of the 1834 Secession to be their spiritual forbearers. This paper relates the first synod of the Secession’s decision on feast days, which was that
…people may indeed gather together on those days to be edified from and according to God’s Word, provided that the conscience of men is not bound to the observance of fixed and annually returning feast days; the conscience must be left completely free in this matter.

If you can find the time, the paper is well-worth the read!
 

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  • feastdays.pdf
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NaphtaliPress

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Rev. Anderson has updated the paper with source material and this will appear in the just gone to print 2019 issue of The Confessional Presbyterian; issues likely ready late January.

The original tact in many Reformed on the continent was similar to Calvin who was willing to tolerate such things but was working to reduce if not remove them. Voetius sums up the reason the old pretended holy days were retained was because of magisterial insistence and stubborn people.
 

Nate

Puritan Board Junior
Rev. Anderson has updated the paper with source material and this will appear in the just gone to print 2019 issue of The Confessional Presbyterian; issues likely ready late January.
Nice! Yet another reason to purchase the next issue.
 
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