Dutch Reformed background

I realize, that it is often hardly possible for people, who are not acquainted with this background, to imagine oneself in such environment. So, as an opening and to refresh that history I include some factual background information by a text from Wikipedia about the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands.

The starting time with the Synod of Dordrecht, that adopted after the Reformation in 1618-1619 the ‘Drie Formulieren van Enigheid’ (Three Forms of Unity’) as the creed of the reformed church of that time (out of this original Reformed Church the ‘Nederlands Hervormde Kerk’ or Dutch Reformed Church and later on the various Reformed church denominations resulted).

The three confession documents are:
– the Catechism, formulated by Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus in 1563
– the ‘Nederlandse geloofsbelijdenis’ (Dutch Creed), formulated by Guido de Brès in 1561
– the ‘Dordtse Leerregels’ (Tenets of Dordrecht), formulated by the Synod in 1618 and 1619 as the ‘Vijf Artikelen tegen de Remonstranten’ (Five Articles against the Remonstrants).

Besides these Three Forms these churches also acknowledge the general christian confessions as confession document: Apostolic Confession or “12 Artikelen des geloofs” (Articles of belief), the Nycene Creed and the Creed of Athanasius.

Reformed Churches in The Netherlands
The ‘Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland (GKN)’, often just called the Reformed Church, in popular terms also just called “gereformeerd” (Reformed) and  among the separated denomination ‘vrijgemaakten’ also called as “synodalen” or “Gereformeerd synodaal” (Synodal Reformed), was until May 1st, 2004 a reformed church. Since that date the GKN joined the PKN: The Protestant Church in The Netherlands (often abbreviated as Protestant Church), which in that way became the largest protestant church in The Netherlands. That merger consisted of the three ‘Samen op Weg-kerken’ (Churches on the move): the Dutch Reformed Church, the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands, and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of The Netherlands.

The beginning was in 1892 when two groups united, which had separated themselves from the Dutch Reformed Church:

  • the majority of the ‘Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Nederland’ (Christian Reformed Church in The Netherlands), which had resulted from the ‘Afscheiding’ (Separation) of 1834 (a very small part continued to exist and is called since 1947 the ‘Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken’ or Christian Reformed Churches).
  • the group die which resulted from the ‘Doleantie’ in 1886, under leadership of Abraham Kuyper.

The Reformed Churches in The Netherlands counted after the ‘Vereniging’ (Union) of 1892 700 local communities (394 from the ‘Afscheiding’, 306 from the ‘Doleantie’) and 370,000 members (189.000 from the ‘Afscheiding’, 181,000 from the ‘Doleantie’). This number of members would increase by 1975 towards almost 900,000 members (according to church statistics) and more than 940,000 members (according to the census), whic decreased to about 675,000 early 2004 when the Reformed Churches joined the PKN.

Abraham Kuyper became by far the most important leader of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands and initiated the beginning of the ‘Reformed pillar’. Within this network organizations were established which were closely related to the Reformed Church, like for instance the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, the NCRV, the CNV (Christian trade union), the daily paper De Standaard (later on Trouw) and the Anti-Revolutionaire Partij, which is now part of the CDA (Christian Democratic Appeal).

Separation and merger
Since its establishment in 1892 the church experienced twice a schism. The first was in 1926. Due to a conflict about an interpretation to the letter of the Bible a wing separated from the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands, and formed the Reformed Churches in ‘Hersteld Verband’ (Restored Order). Because the  Bible in Genesis states that the serpent in paradise spoke to Eve, the orthodox majority concluded that God would have given the animal the capability to speak. The members of the separating group saw that some more allegoric. At the Synod of Assen in 1926 the ultimate question was whether the Scriptures gave a reliable and factual presentation in Genesis 3. The Synod of 1926 stated that indeed there was a “perceptible” serpent. So, Genesis 3 didn’t concern stories, fables, myths or fiction, but factually perceptible realities, like a serpent, trees, people, etcetera. In 1971/1972 the Synod of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands abrogated the decisions of the Synod of 1926.

The second schism took place in 1944, when during the so called ‘Vrijmaking’ (Liberation) the Liberated Reformed Churches (‘Gereformeerde Kerken vrijgemaakt’) separated from the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands.

In 1909 the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands addressed a request to the Reformed Communities (GG) to establish a church union. Due to differences in theological views the GG rejected this request. Until the 70’s the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands, the Reformed Communities (and the Christian Reformed Churches) did, however, on a modest scale cooperate in non-church organizations like the Reformed Sociological Institute and (till 2001) the ‘Contact orgaan Gereformeerde Gezindte’ (a contact platform).

In 1962 the long ‘Samen op Weg’ process started. This was finalized May 1st, 2004, with the merger of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands with the Dutch Reformed Church and the Evangelical-Lutheran Church to the Protestant Church in The Netherlands (PKN). At that time the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands had about 675,000 members, of whom 400,000 confessing members. In total there were 857 local churches with in total some 1,000 church buildings. Some seven communities didn’t join the merger. They established on May 8th, 2004 the continued Reformed Churches in The Netherlands. One community joined the Netherlands Reformed Churches. Also the fourteen communities and 7,000 members of the ‘Evangelische-altreformierte Kirche’ in Niedersachsen belonged to the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands. They are now associated member of the Protestant Church in The Netherlands and delegate two members to the General Synod of the PKN.

The Reformed Churches in Belgium established in 1894 from The Netherlands, which joined the United Protestant Church in Belgium in 1979, were part of the private synod of Noord-Brabant and Limburg of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands as a separate classis.

Name giving
Although the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands were often were called in short as ‘Reformed Church’, the local communities were quite independent. The local reformed church community was legally considered as an independent reformed church, aligned within the coordinating church organization of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands.

Theological development
Until World War II, the Reformed Church was characterized by a classical neo-Calvinist belief. The church thought of itself as the most true church of Christ and had a closed, rationalist and strict character. The main influence on the theological views was from Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. After World War II – also influenced by Karl Barth – the character of the church changed. After 1962, the church became an open church, with space and freedom for various beliefs. In 1980 the Reformed Churches left the absolute authority of the Bible on tenets and life by accepting the sensational report “God with us”. Modern theologians in the reformed church are Gerrit Cornelis Berkouwer (1903-1996) and Harry M. Kuitert (born 1924).
While the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands were considered for decades as a bastion of orthodoxy, due to the above theological developments they are nowadays considered to be the least orthodox church among the reformed denominations.

Many of my generation will hardly be able to remember or don’t want to know that historical development at all, let alone the generation of our children and not even to think of our grandchildren. In view of that a short typifying for people, for whom that is a strange world. It is though the hinterland where my spiritual life commenced in the strongly ‘pillarized’ Netherlands, where in the small village of Duivendrecht there was a Christian School behind the Dutch Reformed Church and a Roman Catholic School opposite the church of that name. From that same small village and from another ‘pillar’, however, originates also Wim Eijk, the current Arch-Bishop of Utrecht. There was no Public School. We went as Reformed people by the way to our own Reformed Church in Diemen.

You were baptized as a baby as “child of God”, learned the Biblical stories from the Children’s Bible and by the reading of a part from the Bible after the meals. Before a meal blessing was asked for the “de spijze” (old word for food) and thanks were given after the meal. On Sundays you went two times, at 10:00 o’clock and 17:00 o’clock, to church. The songs in those services were accompanied by the organ (Psalms and Songs with often difficult to understand texts and later on also from a modernized Songbook) and there was a sermon, which seldom appealed to you. There was an annual “Dankdag voor het Gewas” (Thanksgiving). And there was “de Zending” (Mission) with specially to that end nominated pastors with a separate task, who were sent to “the Mission regions” (initially in particular our previous colonies Indonesia and Surinam). During the service money was collected in various collections (with a long stick and a collecting bag with a tassel at its end) for different destinations within and outward of the own community. On Sundays the “Sunday rest” was kept, which meant no sport (Christian sports practices were on Saturdays) and buying nothing (all shops were closed by the way). We still established in Diemen a Christian Korfball Society (CKV Diemen) and you went once a week to catechism to learn from the 52 Sunday texts of the Heidelberger Catechism what the religion consisted of. And later on, I think I was 18 or 19, you did “Openbare belijdenis des Geloofs” (Public confession of your belief) in front of the church and opposite all of the community after which you were considered to participate in the “Heilig Avondmaal” (Consacred Dinner) as a full-fledged community member. And in that way I became around my thirtieth also a bit uneasy “ouderling” (elder) when realizing as a young person what that role consisted of.

Elements in that belief were (under the menu-button ‘Concepts’ I elaborate on that):

  • The Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit.
  • Sin and Forgiving – the sacrifice on the cross of Jesus for our sins. “Soli Deo Gloria” your sins were only forgiven by grace, not by your own well doing like in the Roman Catholic Church.
  • The Bible was true (even though it was human’s work, then yet “inspired/hinted by the Holy Spirit”)
  • Praying, a.o. before and after the meals and before sleeping. The Our Father is the prayer by Jesus called as an example; praying is also usual under difficult or stressful circumstances.
  • Daily reading a part from the Bible after the meals. Due to the stories from the Children’s Bible and reading the bible yourself we have quite some Bible knowledge, which our children and grandchildren are lacking to a large extent. Only much later – different from the stories in it – I started to understand the structure and the taking shape of the Old and New Testament also in its historical context.
  • Eternal life, Heaven and Hell were vague concepts which you couldn’t imagine very well.
  • Predestination, an impossible artificial concept
  • Baptism and Confession
  • The ‘Avondmaal’ (Evening Meal) for confessing members
  • The Creed, expressed in the Services.

And after that a new world opened itself for me when I went to the university and had many new impressions.

Renewed experiencing of my philosophy of life
During my study I read very much and thus widened my world view. My religious experience didn’t still change too much at that time and after marrying and getting our children (and being baptized by Grandpa) our life in Ouderkerk and from my 33st went along traditional reformed pathways. We were also active in the church in Den Bosch and I was still some years chairman of the ‘Commissie van Beheer’ (financial administration), but at a certain moment I realized that my spiritual experience had become rather obsolete and mainly concerned social contacts. In that period becoming acquainted with Buddhism gave me new impulses for experiencing the real meaning of concepts that had become obsolete. In that time I became involved in organizing discussion groups in order to look across the borders of the reformed world and later on also active from the same intention for the community periodical with writing also articles with opinions. Active going to church started to diminish and with the restructuring from Den Bosch to PKN Vught the contacts stopped and my religious life had completely become private, and inward.

During that same period of extinguishing active church involvement there were also the developments on which I elaborate under the other sub-menu’s like Other religions, Edgar Cayce, Changing world view, and The Law of One.

Differentiation in a core of personal spiritual experience and a wider philosophy of life
When looking back now then I have to admit that ‘believing’ was previously for me more or less similar with ‘being reformed’, being member of a church. On the question whether you believed, you used to say “I am reformed”.
That encompassed the total of that institutionalized protestant religion, of which the reformed church then was a more and more specific part with all its dogmatized religious opinions.
As a teenager you went to ‘catechism’ at the pastor in order to familiarize with those tenets, amongst others formulated in paragraphs in the questions and answers in the text blocks of the 52 Sundays of the Heidelberger Catechism.
And when ‘doing confession’ in front of the whole church community you confessed that belief.

My belief consisted of a mixture of things, which you really experienced, and things which were rather formal tenets, of which you distanced yourself somewhat or didn’t really know what actually to think of
There already commenced the differentiation in gradations between your really experienced personal belief and more distant matters like “you take them in account, of possibly being true, but you actually don’t know” and things that in fact don’t mean anything to you when you honestly had to formulate what it really means to you.

In growing up and discovering and widening your horizon of the world around you – in which over the years in itself also continuously emerged new insights (for instance in physics, archeology, dna, etc) – my personal spiritual religious experience became more and more intertwined with and became part of my wider philosophy of life or world view.