Dutch synod tries to heal centuries-old Protestant divisions

By Ecumenical News International
December 21, 2010

A gathering to improve relations between the many Protestant denominations in the Netherlands has taken place on the site of an earlier historic synod, though any idea of complete church unity taking place is said to be, "an unrealistic utopia" - writes Andreas Havinga.

About 700 Christians from 50 Protestant churches attended what was billed as a "national synod" last week in the main church in the town of Dordrecht.

The gathering's name echoed that of the Synod of Dordt, a six-month-long historic assembly held in the same building from November 1618 to May 1619, and called to settle a dispute between Calvinists and Arminians.

Calvinists believe that God preordains only some people for salvation; Arminians say that all can be saved.

Calvinism won the day at the 17th-century Dordt synod, and has held sway in the Netherlands ever since. Still, its history has been marked by disputes that have resulted in distinct, rival Reformed denominations in The Netherlands. Today, Protestant Christians, mainly Calvinist, make up about one-third of the country's 16.3 million population.

"Our society can rely on us to be people who seek to go on their way in faith, hope and love," the latest synod said in a statement presented during the meeting to the government's home affairs minister, Piet Hein Donner.

Despite its title, the national synod had no authority to take binding decisions. Instead, its members discussed with each other what their religious beliefs have in common. An often-heard phrase was, "There is more that binds us than divides us."

The country's ecumenical broadcaster, IKON, reported that the establishment of a single Protestant church was not one of the assembly's aims, and quoted one participant as saying that such an outcome was, "an unrealistic utopia".

Barend Kamphuis, one of the organisers, said that a national synod would not be an annual event, though there will "certainly" be two more such synods before 2018, the 400th anniversary year of the Synod of Dordt. It is hoped that there will be a synod in 2018, and that it will be able to take binding decisions.

Gerrit de Fijter, a former president of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, and the person credited with the idea of holding the modern-day national synod, said that the next step was to involve denominations that had refused to attend the December meeting.

The absentees included both liberal and conservative Protestant denominations, notable of which was the Remonstrants Brotherhood. The 17th-century synod had condemned the Remonstrants as heretics and banished them from the Reformed churches.

The Protestant Church in the Netherlands was founded in 2004 as a result of the merger of the country's two largest Reformed denominations and the smaller Lutheran church.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]


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