My students are often confused as to why there are sections called “Rejection of Errors” in the Canons of Dort, but also, that they are not confessional. Their non-confessional status is not because they have been excluded, but rather, they had always been omitted. That is, they were never there. In doing research for something else, I came across this little historical nugget, which may be of interest.
There was an letter from the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, the denomination which formed out of three secessions from the Reformed Church in America in 1822, 1857, and 1880-ish. In 1902, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church had a couple of inquiries about the practice of the RCA, and one of them is why the “Rejection of Errors” was missing from the Canons of Dort.
The omission must be explained by the history of our Church in this land. It is not necessary to burden the Minutes of the General Synod with a statement of the results of a long historical research.
We can satisfy the demands of the case by stating the conditions in which the Reformed Church in America found itself, when it adopted its constitution, 1792, and those which obtained in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands in the 17th century.
These entirely different conditions rendered it unnecessary for the Reformed Church in America to repeat in a negative form what was already declared with sufficient fullness and emphasis in the positive articles of faith.
The Reformed Churches in the Netherlands were confronted by an organized effort of anti-reformed forces. These forces sought admission and standing within the Reformed Churches for recognition-and for propaganda of their peculiar doctrinal views.
The Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-19, felt itself in duty bound to give both a positive and negative declaration, why the Remonstrants, with their subtle statements of doctrinal truths, could not be regarded as true and reliable expositors of God’s revelation.
It was a most dangerous and deceptive doctrine to ascribe to the unrenewed and uninfluenced will of man the functions of the Holy Spirit.
The Synod of Dort could not leave any doubt whatever in the minds of men in regard to the destructive effects of the views held by the Remonstrants.
The Reformed Church in this country was not confronted by such opposing forces. Were there then no Remonstrants or Arminians in this country at that time? There may have been. But they did not knock at the door of the Reformed Church in America in an organized capacity for recognition, and for the purpose of propaganada [sic].
The Synod of Dort had to pass what we may call a law of exclusion.
And it did this most effectively by formulating, first positive statements of truth, and then emphasizing the same in a negative or antithetical form, so that there might not be left the shadow of a doubt in regard to the recognition of heresies stated in the most subtle manner.
No such conditions existed in the Reformed Church in America, hence she fulfilled her whole duty by adopting the doctrinal Standards, or Canons, of the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands, whose daughter she was, and whom she has honored until this day by preserving these doctrines wholly unaltered.
Those that enter her fold must agree to her Confession of Faith, and all her ministers, have always subscribed, and still subscribe the Canons of Dordrecht.
Again there is in the “Rejection of the Errors” no additional truth, which is not already found stated in the positive Confession of Faith.
He, who accepts the five Canons of Faith, accepts a complete and not a partial confession.
The adoption of the “Rejection of Errors” is not necessary to a complete statement of the doctrines of the Bible.
But, it has been said, that by the statement of the “Rejections” the truth stands out in brighter light, and that for that reason they should remain a part of the Articles of Faith.
The general truth of this is readily admitted. Contrasts make any truth of whatever kind all the more intensive. But, he, who does not wish to teach by contrast, does not lay himself open to the charge of not holding the whole truth, if the whole truth has already been fully and clearly stated.
It is only a matter of opinion, whether a truth already Scripturally formulated shall once more be stated over again in another form.
There may exist conditions in the Church at any given period when it is highly commendable and even necessary to do this.
Such conditions did then exist in the Netherlands, where this form of error sought lodgment in the Church alongside of the truth.
The Synod of Dort had to deal with men, and not with mere abstract truths; and, we believe, that we are not far wrong when we say, that the adoption of the “Rejection of the Errors” found its main reason in this fact.
As already stated there was no set of men in the Reformed Church in this country in its early history, at that time (1792), who had to be excluded because of heretical views.
Moreover, it is a matter of history, that the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America never passed a resolution to exclude the “Rejection of the Errors” from our Standards.
We may therefore justly and logically conclude, that the omission of the “Rejection of the Errors” does not weaken the claim of the Reformed Church in America to being a true scion of the Church of the Reformation of the 17th century.
And she will ever avow to be strictly loyal to the teachings of the Word of God, and of all her confessional symbols of truth.Minutes of General Synod, 1902, 123-25.