3. The Netherlands
The territory of today’s Netherlands is not identical with the
Netherlands of the time of the Reformation. This included today’s
Belgium and Luxemburg. The first Protestant martyrs were burnt at the
stake in Brussels in 1523. Until about 1560 one must assume the coexistence
of various groups and movements of reformational persuasion. These were
heavily persecuted, most of all in the South of the Netherlands. There
was a whole series of pastors and intellectuals influenced by followers
of Erasmus and by Luther. Besides this there existed from about 1530
various groups of so-called Anabaptists, which were to a large extent
the reason for the rise of the Anabaptist Rule in Munster in 1534/1535.
After the breaking up of the Anabaptist rule in Munster, the Anabaptists
were persecuted. Only from around 1550 did a second generation of new
Anabaptist movements emerge, initiated by Menno Simons, after whom the
Mennonites are named. These movements also founded churches.
Soon after 1571, the organisation of the various different churches
took place. Provincial synods were formed and in 1578 the first Dutch
general synod took place. It was already clear early on that the members
of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands could not look back to a uniform
origin. Rather, there were various people by whom one oriented oneself.
There was above all Calvin, but besides him also Zwingli and Erasmus.
These various orientations led to a severe conflict. The Leuven Professor
Jacobus Arminius took the view that the predestination (election) of
human beings occurrs because God has foreseen their faith. His opponent,
Franciscus Gomarus, who also taught in Leuven, took the opposite view
that faith is only given to those who are chosen by God. The theological
background was the question of the relation between divine action (election)
and human action (faith), which were thought to compete with one another.
Both theologians gained many followers. Both the remonstrants (followers
of Arminius) and contra-remonstrants (followers of Gomarus) filed their
petitions with the Dutch state. In 1618/19 the general synod took place
in Dordrecht, which decided in favour of the contra-remonstrants. Subsequently
there arose beside the Reformed Church a small remonstrants’ church,
which still exists today (Remonstrantsche Broederschap).
Partly as a protest against this influencial Groningen orientation,
there took place from 1843 on the so-called “Afscheiding” (segregation)
under the leadership of the pastor Hendrik de Cock. From this “Afscheiding” a
small church soon developed with several thousand members who also formed
their own synod. This was persecuted until 1840. Then in 1870 Abraham
Kuyper (1837-1920) entered the scene, causing a stir. He established
his own newspaper, his own university (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)
and his own party. Kuyper, who had had the purpose of waking the Reformed
Church out of its sleep and of overcoming liberalism, met resistance
in the Hervormden Kerk. When agreement was no longer possible, he broke
with the Hervormden Kerk and founded his own church communities (in a
movement called “Doleantie” [from dolere = to mourn]). Over
200000 people followed Kuyper. In 1892 the Afscheiding and Doleantie
merged to form the “Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland” (Reformed
Church in the Netherlands). Around 1900 this new church encompassed roughly
8% of the Dutch population. Further church divisions in the 20th Century
have led to the existence of 17 Reformed churches in the Netherlands
today, of which the majority are admittedly very small. Nevertheless,
since the 1960s a counter-movement has existed: the Hervormde Kerk and
the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland together with the very small Protestant-Lutheran
Church have taken steps towards one another on a not yet completed path.
This process is called “Samen op weg” (together on the way).