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Dutch Reformed Church

(Hervormde Kerk). The major Protestant church in the Netherlands, Calvinist in theology, presbyterian in church government, organized during the revolt of the Low Countries against Spanish rule in the sixteenth century. The Lowlands (the Netherlands and Belgium), after partial unification under the Burgundian dukes in the 1400s, passed to Hapsburg rule: Charles V, being Luther's sovereign, reigned also over the Lowlands. Anabaptism and Lutheranism spread during the 1520s and 1530s. Thereafter the dominant version of Protestantism was Calvinism.* Under the Spanish son of Charles, Philip II, the Inquisition* was stepped up, and martyrs soon abounded. The “seventeen provinces” revolted against Philip under the leadership of William of Orange (1568), with the Calvinists playing the role of a militant and influential minority. The Belgic Confession* (1561), with the Heidelberg Catechism,* were accepted generally as standards of the Reformed Church. In the “liberated” areas, Calvinism was the religion favored by the state. The first national synod was held in 1578. As the revolt went on, the N Lowlands gradually drove out the Spanish, while the revolt was slowly crushed in the south, which thus remained Catholic. By 1609, when a Twelve Year Truce recognized for all practical purposes the independence of the north, the Calvinists were free to turn to difficulties within their own ranks. The controversy on the teachings of Arminius* and his followers, the Remonstrants, ended with the triumph of orthodox Calvinism at the Synod of Dort* (1618-19); the Remonstrants were ousted from the Reformed Church.

During the Dutch “golden age” of the 1600s, when the Netherlands was a major power, the Reformed Church, as the established church, played an important role in Dutch life. Its efforts in theology became increasingly defensive. The effort to preserve the orthodoxy of Dort resulted in controversy on doctrinal detail (notably the confrontation between Voetius* and Cocceius,* which caused a great uproar), as well as protest against overstructuralization (Labadie). By the 1700s the great days of scholastic Calvinism were over. Intellectuals turned to the new ideas of the Enlightenment* rather than to theology, and Deism* made some inroads in the church itself. By the 1780s, as the rhetoric of the “Patriot” movement showed, many regarded it as a bulwark of privilege. The storms of the French Revolution affected the Netherlands as well as the rest of Europe. French troops, greeted by many as liberators, occupied the country (1792). The privileges of the Reformed Church were taken away, and full religious freedom granted. The Napoleonic reorganization of the Revolution resulted in a modification: existing churches were recognized by the state, and supported by it, at the price of submitting to some regulation. After Napoleon's defeat and the end of the Revolution (1815), the Dutch Republic was replaced by a kingdom (which for a while, until 1830, included Belgium). William I retained the Napoleonic approach in matters of religion.

The Reformed Church was by now given to a good deal of tolerance in matters of religious dogma. Partly in reaction to this tolerance, a conservative wing emerged, as the “Awakening” (Réveil*) called for a revival of heartfelt religion; Bilderdijk,* Da Costa,* Groen Van Prinsterer, and others opposed the increasing “modernism” of the church. Some conservatives left the church (1834, the Separation or Afscheiding). The tension between evangelical and modernist helped the efforts of the Groningen School* to bridge the gap by stressing way of life rather than dogma; it controlled most of the theological faculties around midcentury. In the 1880s, the revival of a dogmatic Calvinism (notably by Abraham Kuyper*) produced another and larger exodus of conservatives (1886, the Doleantie; they soon joined with the earlier separatist group to form the Gereformeerde Kerk). The Reformed Church remained as it had been, with evangelical and modernist in the same communion, stressing heritage of three centuries, united in desiring a Christian way of life. It remains today by far the largest Protestant church in the Netherlands, with some three million members.

The Reformed Church spread also wherever the Dutch colonized or emigrated: thus, in the 1600s, to the East Indies, the West Indies, Ceylon, South Africa (see following entry), and New Amsterdam (New York). Mission efforts had some success in the Indies and in South Africa. In North America, the Reformed Church* grew out of the early Dutch settlement; emigration to the USA in the 1800s increased its numbers (and also produced the more conservative Christian Reformed Church*).