|Origin||4 October, 1571 |
Joined the Protestant Church in the Netherlands in 2004
|Separations||Restored Reformed Church (2004)|
|Congregations||1,350 at the time of merger|
|Members||2 million at the time of merger|
The Dutch Reformed Church (in Dutch: Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk or NHK) was a Reformed Christian denomination which existed from the 1570s to 2004 when it merged with three other Dutch churches to form the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (Protestantse Kerk in Nederland, or PKN). At the time of the 2004 merger, the Dutch Reformed Church had 2 million members organised in 1,350 congregations. A minority of members of the Church chose not to participate in the merger. These former members organized the Restored Reformed Church (Hersteld Hervormde Kerk).
It was one of the many new churches established across Europe during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. While the Dutch Reformed Church was based in the Netherlands, other churches holding similar theological views were founded in France, Switzerland, Germany, Hungary, England, and Scotland. The theology and practice of the Dutch Reformed Church, and its sister churches in the countries named, were based on the teachings of John Calvin and the many other Reformers of his time.
The Reformation was a time of religious violence and persecution, and many leaders of the newly established Reformed congregations fled abroad. The first Synod of 23 Dutch Reformed leaders was held in October 1571 in the German city of Emden. The Synod of Emden is generally considered to be the founding of the Dutch Reformed Church, the oldest of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands.
The first Synod in the Dutch Republic itself was held in Dordrecht in 1578. This synodical meeting is not to be confused with the better known Second Synod of Dort of 1618, during which Arminians were expelled from the Church and the Canons of Dort were added to the Confessions. The Canons of Dordt, together with the previously adopted Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, were called the Drie formulieren van Enigheid (Three Forms of Unity). In fact, most conflicts and splits in the Church were brought about by disagreement over the substance and interpretation of these doctrinal documents. The government of the Dutch Republic, which had instigated the Arminians' expulsion, subsequently prohibited the Reformed Church from assembling synodically. No Synod was held in the Netherlands until after the end of the Republic in 1795.
Before the demise of the Dutch Republic in 1795, it enjoyed the status of "public" or "privileged" church. Though it was never formally adopted as the state religion, the law demanded that every public official should be a communicant member. Consequently, the Church had close relations with the Dutch government.
The 17th and early 18th centuries were the age of the Dutch Nadere Reformatie (best translated in English as the Further Reformation). This was a movement of piety and a desire to apply the teachings of the Reformation to Dutch homes, churches, and society of that day. The main protagonists of the Nadere Reformatie were Wilhelmus à Brakel and Gisbertus Voetius. Lesser-known figures include Bernardus Smytegelt and Jodocus van Lodensteyn. Publications by these authors are still read, whether in Dutch or in translation, among various Reformed Christians throughout the world.
When the Kingdom of the Netherlands was established in 1815, the organisation of the Dutch Reformed Church became more centralized than ever. The existing church organisation was swept aside by the "Regulations" imposed by the new government, and the Church was put under royal control, with its Synod members being personally nominated by the King until 1852. It was not until 1853 that Church and state became fully separated.
During this period, the Church experienced two schisms: the Afscheiding (the Separation) in 1834 and the Doleantie (the Sorrow) led by Abraham Kuyper in 1886.
The Dutch Reformed Church remained the largest church body in the Netherlands until the middle of the 20th century, when it was overtaken by the Roman Catholic Church. The rapid secularization of the Netherlands in the 1960s dramatically reduced participation in the mainstream Protestant church. From the '60s onward, a number of attempts were made to effect a reunion with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland). This led to the two churches uniting with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Evangelisch-Lutherse Kerk in het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) to establish the Protestant Church in the Netherlands in 2004.
The 2004 merger led to a schism in which a number of congregations and members of the Dutch Reformed Church separated to form the Restored Reformed Church (Hersteld Hervormde Kerk). Estimations of their membership vary from 35,000 up to 70,000 in about 120 local congregations served by 88 ministers. The Restored Reformed Church disapproves of the pluralistic nature of the merged church, which they allege contains partly contradicting Reformed and Lutheran confessions. This group also opposes the blessing of same-sex unions in Christian churches and the ordination of women.
Outside the Netherlands
Wherever the Netherlands established colonies, the Dutch Reformed Church became the official denomination.
The Dutch Reformed Church expanded to the Americas beginning in 1628 with Marble Collegiate Church in New York City (then called New Amsterdam). St. Thomas Reformed Church was formed in 1660 in St. Thomas, Danish West Indies, and was the first Dutch Reformed Church in the Caribbean.
In the United States, the Reformed Church in America (RCA) is the largest among the several churches with Dutch Reformed heritage. The next largest is the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). Smaller related denominations are the Canadian and American Reformed Churches, the Free Reformed Churches of North America (FRC), the Heritage Reformed Congregations (HRC), the Netherlands Reformed Congregations (NRC), the Protestant Reformed Churches in America (PRC), and the United Reformed Churches in North America (URC). Former US Presidents Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt, both of Dutch descent, were affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church.
The Dutch Reformed Church gave rise to several Reformed denominations in South Africa, including the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk), the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk, the Gereformeerde Kerke in Suid-Afrika, the Afrikaans Protestant Church (Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk), and the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa.
Through the Dutch East India Company, the Dutch Reformed Church was established in Ceylon in 1642. The Dutch Reformed Church of Ceylon officially changed its name in 2007 to the Christian Reformed Church of Sri Lanka to focus its identity more clearly on being Christian rather than on its Dutch heritage. As of 2007, its membership stands around 5,000, comprising both communicant and baptized members in 29 congregations, preaching stations, and mission outposts.
- Presbyterian Church