The Synod Of Dort Opposed Funeral Sermons

Where funeral sermons are not held, they shall not be introduced; and where they already have been accepted, diligence shall be exercised to do away with them by the most appropriate means.

Church Order of the Synod of Dort (1619).

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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    • I’m not certain. I suspect that it was a response to eulogies and an desire to distinguish private events (e.g., weddings and funerals) from ecclesiastical services. The Church Order of Dort does not mention weddings.

      The Directory for Publick Worship (1644; England) says:

      WHEN any person departeth this life, let the dead body, upon the day of burial, be decently attended from the house to the place appointed for publick burial, and there immediately interred, without any ceremony.

      And because the custom of kneeling down, and praying by or towards the dead corpse, and other such usages, in the place where it lies before it be carried to burial, are superstitious; and for that praying, reading, and singing, both in going to and at the grave, have been grossly abused, are no way beneficial to the dead, and have proved many ways hurtful to the living; therefore let all such things be laid aside.

      Howbeit, we judge it very convenient, that the Christian friends, which accompany the dead body to the place appointed for publick burial, do apply themselves to meditations and conferences suitable to the occasion and that the minister, as upon other occasions, so at this time, if he be present, may put them in remembrance of their duty.

      That this shall not extend to deny any civil respects or deferences at the burial, suitable to the rank and condition of the party deceased, while he was living.

    • I think Horton Davies discusses this in his book on the English Puritans. As I recall, one of the English commissioners died during the Westminster Assembly and the Scots commissioners refused to attend the funeral because there was going to be preaching there. I think Scott is right in seeing this as a desire to distinguish private events from ecclesiastical services. If funerals are worship services, where was the Biblical warrant for them?

      I understand their concern, but personally, I’m happy to preach the gospel whenever the opportunity presents itself….

      • Thank you Iain.

        Indeed. I posted this because I was struck by the discontinuity between their practice and ours. It’s good for us to be brought up short, to be made to think a bit about what we are doing and why. We often assume the way things are is the way they ought to be.

  1. I assume the synod means eulogizing sermons, not simply sermons preaching the gospel at funerals; am I correct?

  2. Traditionally in Reformed churches- in Scotland at least- I believe that there would have been a short time of family worship- prayer, the singing of psalms and the reading of Scripture- at home and then the burial at the grave, where the minister may say a few things suitable to the occasion. Some churches didn’t have funeral services in the church building itself until relatively recently.

    The same happened with weddings- often small affairs in a person’s home.

  3. My father preaches a lot of funeral sermons. He sees them as a chance to share the gospel; fair enough, but to be honest, the Synod of Dort might have something here. The whole affair lends itself to excess.

  4. If it’s eulogies they objected to, you only have to dip into Bossuet (Don’t waste time actually READING him!) on the Grand Duc of Conde to understand why. However, there is a practical reason when a church dominates the landscape and most of the population go to church: If the minister preaches at one person’s funeral, everyone will expect him to preach at theirs. Then what happens to the regular ministry, visitation, catechising, etc.?

    In present day Britain and out there in Africa, it’s another story.

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