January 15, 2009

Robert Godfrey on the Concerns of the Moderates at Dort

The broader concerns influencing the moderate group, composed of Martinius, Davenant and Ward, were quite different [from the strict delegations]. The main theological motive of the moderate group could also be called a concern for Reformed catholicity, but the moderates had quite a different vision of Reformed catholicity from that of their strict colleagues. For the moderates, catholicity encompassed more than a clear rejection of the Remonstrant heterodoxy. All the moderates did join in a fundamental rejection of the Remonstrant position, yet they felt that the threat to the Reformed faith was not exclusively the threat of the heterodox. They feared that the strict orthodox erred in using some novel theological expressions which tended to cut them off from the tradition of Christendom. The moderates contended that an excessively rigorous rejection of the universal significance of the death of Christ would simply feed Roman Catholic and Lutheran charges that the Reformed were sectarian. The moderates perceived Reformed catholicity in terms of the continuity of Reformed doctrine with the whole history of the Church.

This moderate concern focused on a particular doctrinal point: the importance of the universal offer of the Gospel. The Christian preacher must be able to declare the offer of salvation unreservedly to all who would believe. The moderates claimed that the sincere offer of the Gospel could only be undergirded by a broad statement on the sufficiency of Christ's death. Only such a statement, the moderates argued, would insure the continuity of the Reformed Church with the patristic and medieval history of the Church and guard against any charge of sectarianism.
W. Robert Godfrey, Tensions within International Calvinism: The Debate on the Atonement at the Synod of Dort, 1618–1619 (PhD dissertation, Stanford University, 1974), 231–232.

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