Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

Dutch Lutheranism Keeps Its Identity as It Becomes Part of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands

Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

Dutch Lutheranism Keeps Its Identity as It Becomes Part of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands

Article excerpt

In May 2004 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Netherlands merged with the two largest Dutch Reformed Churches into the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. In this article I outline this reunion process. I briefly sketch the development of Lutheranism in the Netherlands, indicate the motives to participate in this merger, and point out the expectations Dutch Lutherans have of this new Protestant Church.

History of Dutch Lutheranism

Martin Luther's ideas found early acceptance in the Netherlands. (1) The stage was set by movements like the Devotio Moderna and by the biblically inspired Humanism of thinkers like Erasmus. The adherence to Luther's ideas had consequences as his fellow members of the Augustinian order in Antwerp, Hendrik Vos and Johannes van Essen, had to pay with their lives for propagating Lutheran ideas in 1523. A shocked Luther reacted to their execution with an encouraging letter to the Christians in the Netherlands and was inspired to write the song "Ein neues lied wir heben an." In the Northern Netherlands Jan de Bakker shared the fate of the martyrs in Antwerp.

The exact origins of Dutch Lutheranism are disputable. The dispute is connected with the meaning of the word "Lutheran." In the first half of the sixteenth century "Lutheran" did not specify a confessional Lutheran identity or indicate the existence of a Lutheran church but was an umbrella term for all those who opposed the Roman Catholic Church of those days. From that point of view, Lutheranism can be spoken of as movements inspired by Luther, not so much as specific Lutheran congregations in the Netherlands.

Antwerp. (2) The birth of a Lutheran Church in the Netherlands can be set on September 2, 1566, when the "Martinists" in Antwerp got permission from the city government to build a few churches via a contract between Prince William of Orange and the Lutheran deputies representing the Lutheran congregation. That contract was vital for the Antwerp Lutherans, because it implied governmental approval of the Lutheran Church. Around 1540 Antwerp Lutherans, who had asked Luther whether it was legitimate to found churches "under the cross," received from him a negative reply. They could read the Bible and pray together at home, he said, but for all public worship they should remain dependent on the Roman Catholic Church. Reluctantly Lutherans resigned themselves to Luther's advice.

In 1566 the government allowed the Lutherans as well as the much larger Calvinist congregations in Antwerp to hold their own religious worship services. Under the influence of German advisers, among them Matthias Flacius Illyricus, the Antwerp Martinists developed into a more confessional Lutheran community. Unfortunately, opposition to the Calvinists also increased, especially on the nature of the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the Lord's Supper. (3) The Calvinists also thought the Lutherans were too docile politically, and the Lutherans accused the Calvinists of resisting the legitimate Prince.

The victory of the government troops at Oosterweel in the spring of 1567 led to the end of the tolerance of the Reformed and the Lutherans in Antwerp. In the middle of 1567 Roman Catholic worship was restored and the Lutheran congregation largely expelled. Among the Lutherans an exodus took place to Aachen and Cologne (Germany), where for the first time the organization of the Lutheran Church was taken into their own hands according to principles which later would be used for the founding of Lutheran congregations in the Northern Netherlands.

The "Pacification of Ghent" (1567) brought some improvement to the fate of the remaining Lutherans at Antwerp. The government allowed the Lutherans to worship in two places in the city, and Lutherans overcame their shyness to found and organize a church themselves. When Antwerp was occupied again by Parma in 1585, it meant the definite end of the Lutheran congregation. …

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